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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, November 17, 2011


Last week I wrote about building an apparatus I called Vertical Boxes.

One of the beauties of this apparatus is the number of spaces it creates for the children to explore and create large and small motor operations within those spaces.  In other words, it creates a spacial palette for motor and cognitive operations.

The first space to consider is the sensory table itself.  With this apparatus, the table is a large, open space.  Watch how seven toddlers use this space.

That was seven toddlers standing side-by-side busy scooping and pouring with no conflict.  Near the end of the video, you can see one child pour pellets into the big hole.  She seems pleased with her actions and swings the bowl and the cup as she lets out some happy sounds.  She then moves around to the other side of the box to reach into the hole to retrieve an object.  Remember, that is seven toddlers content to stand shoulder-to-shoulder exploring the medium in the space and accommodating to each other's presence in that space.

(If you watch the video again, you can see her actions set off actions by the two children closest to her.  But that will have to be another post.)

On the apparatus itself, the first space to notice is the big hole on the side of the box facing the sensory table.  In the short video below the child is pouring pellets into the big hole.  If you watch carefully, though, you will see he is targeting his pour so the pellets go into a hole in a second box that is embedded in the big box.  Watch.

Some children start by just pouring the pellets in the hole.  As the children get to know the space, they become more intentional and start to direct where they want the pellets to go.

Another space on the apparatus is the space created by one hole in the side of the big box opposite the table.

And again, the space created by the other hole on that side of the box.

There is also the space created by the embedded box.

Did you notice that the space not only includes the holes of the box, but the top of the box, which provides another space on which to operate.  The boy has set the measuring cup on the top of the orange box and is about to take the pellets he has just scooped from the hole and pour them into the cup

And if you use both the holes at the same time, you have an operation through spaces that even draws the interest of a friend.

Did you see that the boy is putting his hand through the top hole, scooping pellets in his cup, and then reaching through the lower hole to pour the pellets into the bucket?  Why did he do that? Maybe he was just experimenting motorically or maybe he is has figured out that this operation is more efficient than pulling the cup back out the top hole.  It is certainly a more interesting operation.

Finally, there is also the space created by the smaller, vertical box on the side.

What must it feel like for a child to operate in a tall, vertical space? The video below shows a boy operating in that space.

As you saw, this boy is scooping pellets from the bottom of the big narrow box.  Note that the scoop is almost as wide as the box itself; that sets up an interesting challenge in itself.   He first has to reach into the box all the way to the bottom.  As he does this, he fits his head along with his shoulder so he can reach the pellets and see where he is scooping.  He has to carefully lift the scoop up without spilling.  That means he has to keep the scoop level.  As he gets the scoop up to the height of the window, he has to turn it slightly so the scoop fits through the window.  While he adjusts the scoop ever so slightly, he still has to keep from spilling the pellets as he pulls it through the window.  He has already learned to operate in that narrow, vertical space to complete his task.  That is some serious spacial literacy.

If you look at axiom #2 to the right and its corollary, you can see clearly with this apparatus that the multiple spaces lead to more exploration.  Those spaces do two things.  First, they present physical challenges for them to carry on their initial operations.  Second, those spaces also offer children a spacial palette on which to create and expand their initial operations in those same spaces.


  1. Thanks for joining my blog!
    Your blog is exceptional! Thanks for sharing such great ideas for the sensory table. I will certainly be checking back to your site for ideas since this is one area in which I have the most challenge in being creative.

  2. Thanks, Kristin. I noticed you have a amazing water table. And just think about applying you philosophy of outdoor play to the sensory table and you may find that you are more creative than you think.