About Me

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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.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


I work for a public school district in Minnesota.  As part of the district, we are required to pursue some of our staff development in a "professional learning community."  Last year, I worked with four colleagues in a learning community we called: Nurturing Relationships.  Our stated goal was to increase the incidents of sensitive and responsive play between children in the classroom.

If you were to ask any of us if we thought we reached our goal, we would say yes.  But we would also add that we do not know if our efforts to increase sensitive and responsive play were the reason we reached our goal.  Maybe sensitive and responsive play was always there and we just started to pay attention and name it as such.  We did conclude that there was a big shift in our own observations and dialogue; instead of focusing on children's problem behaviors, we focused on the positive interactions between children.  In doing so, we intervened less and began to show a trust in the children to demonstrate their innate competence and kindness.  Because we were looking for those positive interactions, we also began to notice more subtle gestures of sensitive and responsive play that could be easily overlooked.  Since we were a group that consisted of infant/toddler teachers, a preschool teacher, and a parent educator, our observations and documentations applied to infants through adults.

That whole gestalt of looking for the positive has carried over into this school year.  If fact, a day does not go by without pointing out several positive interactions that happened between the children.  Let me share four with you that happened in the last month.  Please note that since this blog emphasizes sensory table play, the examples are from that area of the classroom.  Be assured that these interactions occur in all areas of the room.

In the first interaction, one boy is asking for help to get the centipede out of the swamp.  He asks for help from his friend who is busy doing his own thing in another part of the table..  His friend stops what he is doing to come over to get the centipede out of the swamp for him.  After reaching into the swamp to retrieve the centipede, he says:"here you go."  The helper then immediately returns to what he was doing.   Watch.

Why would another child stop what he is doing to fulfill another child's request for help?  We now see this as the norm rather than the exception in the classroom.

In the second interaction, one boy has been trying to get a black spoon out of the tub.  The older boy next to him says: "I'll help you."  As the older boys pulls out the spoon and hands it to the other child, he says: "Here you go."  The younger boy looks up at him and says: "Thank you." The older boy then says: "You're welcome."  Watch.

The little guy looking up into the older boy's eyes and saying "thank you" is so affable that the older boy mirrors the younger boy's manner in his "your welcome."  This is as real and sincere as it gets between a two-year-old and a three-year-old.

In the third interaction, the children were collecting water beads.  One girl, the girl in pink, found a big yellow water bead and shows it for all to see.  The second girl, the girl in red, asked if she could have it.  The girl in pink did not want to give up her yellow bead.  It was so big and so beautiful.  She did not simply say no to the other's request.  Instead, she said that she would look for another big yellow bead for the girl in red.  She did add, though, that if she could not find another big yellow bead, she would give her the bead.  Shortly, she did happen to find another big yellow bead.  The picture below shows her giving the other girl the second one she just found.

With a request like the one made by the girl in red, I can well imagine someone telling her to find one herself.  Instead, the girl in the pink generously offers to find her a bead, and if she can't, then she can have her original find.  Would she have given up her precious water bead?  Knowing the child and the tone of the exchange, I do believe so.

The fourth interaction comes from last week's post.  In that post, I used a video to highlight a particular operation of a child transfering pellets.  This week I would like to use that same video to point out one of those subtle gestures of kindness and appreciation that are so often overlooked. In the video, the little boy is working on transferring pellets to a container.  A couple of seconds into the video, his sister gives him another bowl.  He immediately switches the target of his actions to the new bowl that his sister has given him.  After getting a few pellets in the bowl, he looks over to his sister and smiles.  Watch and see if you think he is showing his appreciation to his sister for her favor.

From our learning community, we had another conclusion worth mentioning: the acts of kindness and generosity were generative.

Happy New Year,  Tom


  1. This has to be one of my favorite blog posts ever. And this blog is being added to my bookmarks. Thank you for your passion!

  2. Thanks. I am continually amazed at the power of looking for the positive instead of highlighting the negative. Tom