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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, November 10, 2011


Last year I worked with an infant/toddler teacher who brought in a box that had height and width, but not much depth.  As she was looking at placing it in her sensory table, we talked about orientations it could take.  As we talked, she kept trying the different orientations.  She settled on an orientation that was a vertical box next to the table.   Here is what it looked like.

This teacher put objects---juice lids, clothes pins and cardboard shapes---in the sensory table for the children to put in the holes on both sides of the box.  The objects would disappear and then come out the bottom on the side opposite the table.  It was great play and exploration with toddlers using their fine and large motor skills to put things in holes.   And there was always the wonderment of figuring out where those things went and the discovery of finding out they ended up at the bottom of the vertical box.  Basically, it was a relatively flat, vertical plane that the children could operate on different levels.

I liked the orientation so much that I told myself if a similar box appeared, I would set up something with the same orientation.  That box appeared a couple of weeks ago so I set it up on the side of the table.  I also decided to add two other boxes with a similar orientation to form an apparatus I call Vertical Boxes.

I took the first big box which was tall and wide but was not deep and set it next to the table.

I cut a big hole in the side facing the table and taped the flap to the lip of the table.

On the opposite side,  I embedded a second box.

Before I embedded the box, though, I cut a hole in the top that would be embedded in the bigger box so when children put the pellets into the big hole, some would go into the embedded box. After embedding, I cut two holes in the box, one on the side and one on the top.

I added a third box on one side of the table.  This one I did not embed.   Rather I cut a hole in the side on the bottom.  That left me a flap.  I then cut a matching hole in the big box and was able to tape the flap from the smaller box into the bigger box.

I then taped the smaller box to the bigger box on all sides.  So the box below is connected to the bigger box by the hole in the bottom of the smaller box matching a hole in the bigger box.  (If you can understand that, then you must be really good at putting things together from directions that come in packages.  If you did not understand, no problem,  just experiment with attaching boxing by embedding and not embedding.)

I cut holes in the big box on the side opposite the table.

The holes do not match up to the big hole on the other side.  That allows a child on one side of the apparatus to pour into the hole on the table side without it spilling on the floor or interfering with the play of a child on the other side.  Watch it in action.

If those holes had matched up, there would be pellets spilling all over the floor on the opposite side of the table.

If you can visualize the spaces these two are operating in, you would know that their heads at one point in the video are only separated by about the six inches---the depth of the large vertical box. Though their heads are close, they are operating on two different levels.  The boy kneeling is basically operating on the floor.  The other boy is scooping from the table into the large hole of the box.  They might as well be playing totally separate spaces.  But wait. What you may not be able to visualize is that the boy scooping the pellets from the table and pouring them in the larger box is supplying the child who is kneeling with more pellets.  In other words, one child is operating on the pellets and wondering where are they going, while the other one is counting on a continual supply of pellets. So they are connected even though they do not know it.  It doesn't show in this video, but at times the children figured that out.  That, in turn, changes the nature of the play and the nature of the communication between children.  Pretty interesting, no?

After a couple of days of play with the apparatus, I had to add a box---not vertical---under one of the holes in the orange box.

This doesn't fit with the theme of vertical boxes, but it does catch the pellets that were spilling out of the hole on the side of that orange box.  Besides that, it also creates a place to put a bowl for the following activity. Watch and see what I mean.

As you see, We needed a little containment for "the bowl that wouldn't fill".

I originally took this video to document why I needed the new box.  As I continued to watch it, I could not help but wonder what was going on.  Did the child really know that the bowl was not full? Or was he telling me that he was not done filling the bowl?  Those are two very different operations, both of which are valid.  If he was filling the bowl, then he didn't understand the concept---or his understanding included the pile getting bigger as he added to the bowl.  If he was not done filling the bowl, then he is wrapped up in the actions of scooping and pouring.

I vote for the second reason because for a child thinking and doing are one and the same.

1 comment:

  1. LOL! I vote for the second reason as well! He looks like he was having too much fun :)