About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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 13, 2011


People have asked me how many children do I allow at the sensory table at a time.  My answer has always been that I do not regulate the number of children at the sensory table.  It is not uncommon for there to be anywhere from 1 to 8 children at the sensory table at a time.

1                                          2

    3                    4

5                                     6

                 7            8

How about 9?

So how many can fit around the table?  More than you think.  Parents are in the room with their children at the beginning of every class, so when there are adults, I have had as many as 11 people around the sensory table at one time.  That is 7 children and 4 adults in a 6'x8' space. That means they are literally shoulder-to-shoulder; personal space is not an option.

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.


  1. Refreshing!
    We need more of you! Can you duplicate yourself?
    On a serious note, you sincerely respect children and clearly believe that children are competent.
    So often teachers have so much fear about losing control that they only allow themselves to have it.
    This post should be required reading. Thank you so much.

  2. Marla, thanks for the kind words. I can freely admit that there was a time when I felt I needed control as a teacher. A few years back, though, I came to the realization that building respectful, reciprocal relationships was my most important endeavor in the classroom. If and when that happens, the flow of engaged children in the room is a thing of beauty.

  3. I love the reasoning you give to back up your philosophy & practice. I recently posted about spontaneity vs structure. I too believe in enabling children to be guardians in their own learning & development. I also want to provide them with the tools to cope with the realities of school as early as their toddler years. These approaches don't have to be in opposition. they can actually compliment one another to empower children to self regulate in a vast range of situations.

    By the way, I love your use of videos to let your readers discover what is happening for themselves.

  4. Greg, thank you. Though it may sound like I know what I am talking about, I am continually thinking and reassessing my thoughts. Last year I had a boy who did not want to sit down for group time. I did not "make" him sit down. Instead of engaging in a power struggle to "make" him sit down, I started the group time. In less than two minutes, he sat down on his own volition. Because he did that on his own, he sat down for all the the group times for the rest of the year when requested. Sometimes structure doesn't look like structure and sometimes spontaneity looks like out-of-control when it is not. Knowing the difference is the rub for a teacher.

    The videos are invaluable and when I revisit them, they always reveal new material that I did not see before.

  5. Incredible! Could we have more detailed descriptions of various sensory materials and media you've used? I need to do more of this, but lack the inner engineer that you obviously have living in your brain. An actual blueprint of what you use and how you put it together wouldn't be too much information.

    Thanks for taking the time to help the rest of us along. - DR

  6. Aha! I found all your vimeos. Now I have plenty of ideas to work with. Thanks again for putting all of this together. I'm forever grateful to people like you who publish your ideas online where the rest of us can benefit from them. - DR

  7. DR, you are welcome and thanks for the nice comments. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me.