How about 9?
There are at least three reasons why I do not regulate the number of children at the sensory table. The first is that I believe that children have the capacity to self-regulate their behavior and to cooperate and make accommodations with others. To do that, the children have to be able to negotiate both space and materials. By reading children's cues, I am able to help them do that. For instance, it may be as simple as saying to a child that another child would like to play with him. A simple overture like that often has astonishing results with the one child letting the other play. Sometimes more negotiation is necessary, but I am OK with that because I know if I can help them exploit opportunities for using those skills, they will use them on their own throughout the classroom and beyond.
Watch this video below and see if you can figure out how these two children can use the same cup at the same time for two different purposes. Do their opposing actions lead to conflict? Watch.
To tell you the truth, I do not know how they did it. I just know there is a whole lot of self-regulation and accommodation going on in this little space. If there was some negotiation going on, I did not hear it. For sure there was no cooperation because they were not doing the same thing. Where did this play lead? Well, cooperation, of course.
The second reason I do not regulate the number of children around the table is because, as they negotiate, accommodate, and cooperate in their play, they are exercising their ability to self-regulate their behavior. As they do that, the types of play and exploration that emerge multiplies exponentially as more children join the space and the activity in that space. Take a look at this video which actually comes from a previous post.
These boys are making a concoction. Each is adding an ingredient. One child has taken the lead and the others are following and even echoing the named ingredients. This is rich role play. Role play by its very nature requires negotiation, cooperation, accommodation, and self-regulation. If those things are not present, play breaks down. If they are present, the play becomes infectious and more imaginative.
The third reason I do not regulate is onerous rather than positive. To regulate, there has to be rules. And with rules there has to be a way to manage those rules. I do not want the role of police officer in the classroom and I am really adverse to children tattling about how another child is not following the rules. Besides, if the first two reasons hold up, then there should be no reason for rules regulating numbers at the sensory table.
By the way, that is true for any space in my classroom. My job is not to regulate spaces according to my agenda, but to provide guidance and opportunity for the children to develop their innate abilities to negotiate, cooperate, accommodate, and self-regulate.
Just a quick note for those of you who follow my blog in Wisconsin. I will be presenting on sand and water tables next Saturday afternoon, October 22, at the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association 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.