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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, January 21, 2012


One of my favorite sensory apparatus is the Horizontal Channels.

This apparatus is a large box that is long, flat, and narrow and has one of its large sides cut away. Cardboard dividers are inserted to make channels.  The whole apparatus rests on top of the lid of the sensory table.  This post tells you how it is made.  This post illustrates types of play that occur around this apparatus.  And this post highlights some infectious play that emerged at this particular apparatus over the past couple of years.

There are several reasons why I like this apparatus so much.  The first reason is because of the number of children who can play at this apparatus at any one time.  If you count the number of young children around the table in the video below, you will see ten.  Yes, ten!  Ten two-year-olds around the sensory table is amazing in itself, but watch their calm and focused play.

I am a little embarrassed with the sound on the video.  Did you hear the humming?  That was me. I was enjoying video taping the children so much that I must of lost all self-consciousness. Maybe I thought the play was too quiet so I had to add some background music :-)  In any case, you saw ten totally engaged two-year-olds.  If another child had arrived to play, she would have found room for herself at the table.

The second video is a mixed-age group of three- to five-year-olds.  You will notice right away a difference in tenor.  These children have bigger motions and are louder because they narrate what they are doing.  (You will not hear me humming.)   Watch.

There are only six children in this video, but again, if another child or two---or more---had come to join the play, there would have been room.  There would have been room because the children would have accommodated more players.

That is a nice lead-in to another reason I like this apparatus: when you have many children around the table at the same time, you are creating lots of opportunity for the children to negotiate space. Look at the picture below.  The two children are almost in the same space.  The boy is actually reaching across the girl's body to move his truck.

Because of the parallel channels, this occupying of similar space is possible and inevitable.

Here you see five children in pretty much the same space.

One of the boys is emptying the five gallon pail back into the apparatus.  As he does this, notice how the two girls right next to him have to physically adjust their bodies to accommodate his actions.   Once he is done, they all go right back to their original positions, shoulder-to-shoulder.

That closeness doesn't just happen in the channels.  On the other end of the apparatus---the chute---children negotiate close spaces, too.

The three children on the left side of the picture are so close that as they operate their cars, their bodies keep bumping into each other.  Bumping is too strong of a word, though.  Touching, on the other hand, is too weak of a word.  They are making constant physical contact and constantly making adjustments and accommodations so there is minimal conflict.

This apparatus demonstrates that given the opportunity, children can and will negotiate space with minimal conflict.

Yet another reason I like this apparatus so much is because it is a melding of form and function. The horizontal nature of apparatus plus the addition of the parallel channels elicit lateral and linear motions from the children.  The first video shows a child following the channels with his hand.

The boy is enjoying the texture of the soft, white sand.  As you watch his hand move in the channels, you see the apparatus directs his motions.  In other words, the linear and lateral motions are a function of how the apparatus is configured.

The second video shows a child with a car.  In this video, the sand has been replaced with pellets. Though the operation is louder and more energetic, you will see the same linear and lateral motion created by the structure of the apparatus as in the previous video.

How do children learn about space?  They learn about space with their bodies and moving their bodies through space.  The horizontal structure of this apparatus with its accompanying channels offers a spacial experience that is distinctive.  Put another way, this apparatus fosters a unique form of spacial literacy.

Accommodating multiple children, allowing the opportunity to negotiate space, and promoting a unique kind of spacial literacy: those are three good reasons to like this apparatus.