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 3, 2011


Every year I like to set up a "Swamp" in the sensory table.  The swamp from last year is here.  It featured a tray with the leaves, sticks, stones, and water.  This year instead of a tray, I opted to use larger branches and a stump because I wanted natural elements to provide the additional level of play that the tray offered last year.

I also added plenty of bugs, frogs and snakes.

Near the sensory table, I set up two other small tables with items to be used in the swamp.  One table had more bugs, rocks, and sticks for the children to expand and add variety to the swamp. The other table had pots, pans, bowls, spoons, and tongs in case there was an interest in making a swamp brew.

I did keep this apparatus up for two weeks.  For the second week, though, I expanded the swamp to include another small sensory table, a large log that formed a bridge between the two tables, and more, longer sticks.

What do children do when presented with such a set up?  With a little provocation and a little encouragement, one child decided to make a little house for a bug.  He gathered extra sticks to make a roof over a bug and then added wet leaves and grass from the swamp to make a covering for the roof.

Can you see the bug's legs under the covering?

One group decided to collect the bugs in the pail next to the table.  That sounds simple enough, but watch as one of the boys picks up a lady bug with his tongs.

At first he is able to pick it up, but another boy wants to get the lady bug, too, without realizing the first boy has it in his tongs.  The second boy accidentally knocks it off the first boy's tongs.  That does not deter the first boy and he grabs the lady bug again.  At this point the second boy realizes that the first boy has the lady bug, so he defers to him and begins he search anew for another bug.  As the first boy transfers the lady bug, he almost looses it but makes a last second adjustment so he can drop it in the bucket.  The enthusiasm is palpable.  It may as well be boys collecting real bugs in a real swamp.

One of the children decided to make "swamp salad."  Watch as she works with the tongs.

At the beginning of the clip, she dropped the leaves as she was transferring them from the table to the pot.  That does not seem to bother her one bit; it is part of learning how to use tongs.  It is similar to trying to balance the gourds in the pot while trying to make your next move.  In both cases, the learning happens by trial-and-error.    The children take it for granted and do not get upset.  We can learn a lot from watching children play.

Here is a provocation I set up for one of the classes.

Where did this provocation lead?  Take a look.

It led to "building bridges".

Where did the "building bridges" lead?  It led to a falling bug game, a game these two created on their own.  Watch to see how it is played.  (If the video looks a bit staged, I came in when the game was well underway so I asked them to explain it to me.)

When you engage all the senses, creativity flourishes like bugs in a swamp.  Sorry, I could not resist.


  1. This is wonderful! Your ideas always inspire me to think about the sensory table in a completely different way.

  2. Thanks, Scott. The inspiration thing is contagious because I in turn am inspired by many others. For this set up, I can specifically cite Juliet and all her blogs about nature and sticks at I'm a Teacher, get me OUTSIDE here (http://creativestarlearning.blogspot.com/) and Jennifer with her posts about loose parts, creek and bush walks at let the children play (http://progressiveearlychildhoodeducation.blogspot.com/)

  3. Excellent idea! Your sensory tables are ingenious...the use of levels, loose parts, and duct tape amaze me. This may just have to be our next outdoor bin!!


  4. Thanks, Kristin. I have begun to experiment more with bringing natural elements inside that children can manipulate, not just look at.

  5. I was fortunate enough to see your presentation at the WECA conference last fall and you have completely changed my approach to sensory tables! My sensory table (in a small space) now incorporates an elevated bin, a floor bin, and a five gallon bucket. I've started building outside of the table with boxes, tubes, and copious amounts of duct tape. It has drastically improved my classroom! I no longer limit the number of students playing there and it always works great with very little arguing and lots of teamwork. I will be taking the idea of branches since they have been having so much fun building with plastic tubes!

  6. Thanks for the feedback. I am not always sure what happens after I give a presentation. It is rewarding to know some of my ideas were passed on and used to fit your classroom. I especially appreciate the comment about the effect on the room. So often there is resistance to try things in the sensory table because they are so messy. You have validated one of my observations, namely that it improves life in the classroom. I would love to see pictures. Tom

  7. love this idea and am wondering if it will work in a sensory tray that is on the floor...

    1. Yatty, I do not know why not. I actually count the floor as one of the levels to work on and I constantly see children operatingon the floor around the apparatus.