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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Colleagues have always asked me whether I allow children to help build the apparatus I make for the sand and water table.  To this point, I have not.  But in an attempt to provide a building experience for children at the sensory table, I made a Duplo Board Ramp.

The Duplo boards I used are listed in the Lego catalogue in the education section under Lego Wall Board.  They have their own bin and are attached to the wall.  When you buy them, you buy them in a pair.  They are quite pricey.  Amazon has them listed here and they look like this:

I have had these in my room on the wall for several years with alphabet and mosaic tiles (which cost extra). A couple of years ago, a colleague showed me an apparatus her son had built for a sensory table using Lego boards.  I did not build anything that looked like his apparatus, but that was enough to get me wondering what I could do with my Duplo boards.  I did decide to built a wooden ramp in which to lay the boards end-to-end.

I used a tray to set the board on a slant.

If you look at the structure of the board, you can see strips of wood on the bottom that run the width of the ramp.  That was to give the structure strength.

Those strips also provided the extra wood necessary to hold the screws that fix the Duplo boards to the wooden ramp.  I used a thin piece of plywood for the base, so without that extra wood, the screws would stick out the bottom.

I caulked the inside joints of the wood---not the Duplo boards---so water would not leak through them onto the floor.

The Duplo board extends over the lip of the sensory table and empties into a tub.

The idea was to have children build in such a way as to impede the flow of water.  Below was my provocation.

There was building, but not as much as I would have thought.  The Duplos do not actually dam up the water.  Water finds its way around and through.  Interestingly, the knobs of the Duplo board disperse the water as it flows down the ramp.  There is an added benefit to this apparatus: the children are building on an incline surface.  How often does a child get to do that and what does that mean for spacial literacy?

This year I decided to add the Duplo zoo animals.  That fostered an extra bit of role play with the children spending a long time arranging the animals.

And then pouring water over them.

Several children noticed how the water slowed and dispersed when they poured it down the Duplo ramp. Watch the 13-second video below as a child pours the water down the ramp.

After pouring water down the ramp with a small pot, the boy runs around to the other end to see it come out.  He says: "Here it comes. It's..."  He stops his sentence and seems a bit surprised when it does not come out as one stream.  (The the knobs on the Duplo board slow the water flow by dispersing the water.)  He processes what he is seeing and then declares: "It's...leaking, leaking, leaking."

Children experiment with other things going down the ramp besides water.  Watch this little guy as he tries to slide some Duplo pieces down the ramp.

This boy experiments with sliding three different Duplo pieces down the ramp.  First he tries the giraffe.  The giraffe needs help so he uses the tree to knock it down the ramp.  Next he flips the chicken down.  He uses his left hand so it doesn't have as far to go and it is smaller and lighter and bounces nicely down the board into the tub.  Last comes the tree.  That takes two flicks with the fingers before twirling down the ramp.  As you watch him observe what happens with each piece, you can almost see him trying to make sense of how things tumble down this ramp that is not so smooth.

Though the ramp was set up to build, the was an awful lot of deconstructing, too.  When that happens, it is not at all unusual for the children to take everything off the Duplo board and collect everything in the tub at the end.  That is OK because then that leads to yet another type of play.

This little girl said she was washing dishes.  She was immersing her hands and arms in the water and swirling all the objects around the tub.  Besides the feeling of putting her arms in the water up to her elbows and swirling objects around, she must have associated the sound of all the legos bumping into each other in the water  with the sound of washing dishes.  In other words, there was an important auditory component to this play.

Here I thought I was making a building apparatus for the sensory table.  Silly me!

Just a quick note for those of you who follow my blog in Wisconsin.  I will be presenting on sand and water tables on Saturday afternoon at the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association conference October  20 - 22 in Appleton.  If you get a chance, check it out.  If you would like to meet to ask questions or exchange ideas, email me and we can figure out a time to meet during the conference.


  1. Oh what fun! I could see the duplo ramp working well with marbles too.
    Thank you for sharing all your great ideas.
    Donna :) :)

  2. Donna, thanks. Sometimes I get so focused on the sensory table that I don't realize that an apparatus could be used somewhere else in the room. Building diversions and blockages on the board would work with marbles and many kinds of balls. Thanks for expanding my mind to new possibilities.