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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.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Back in July of 2010, my second post on this blog was called: 5 GALLON PAIL.  The gist of the post was that there is always a bucket next to the sensory table to give children a constructive choice into which they can transport the medium from the sensory table.  Why?  Because they will.  I would go so far as to say they need to.  (See Axiom #1 in the right-hand column of this blog.)

There is no apparatus to build.  This is just a 5 gallon pail that I retrieved from the cafeteria in the school. I set it next to the table; I do not attach it.  Children are free to move it---or dare I say, transport it---around the table.

But it doesn't have to be a 5 gallon bucket.  It could be a waste basket.

It could be a wash bucket.

Or it could be a big storage tub.

The tub above is actually part of a cardboard chute apparatus, but it works in accordance with Axiom #1.   When they are not using the cardboard chute, they will still transport the medium directly into the tub---or try to transport it out of the tub.

And even if you have a tub, you will still want to provide an unattached pail or bucket.

In the picture above, water has already been transported into the tub from the table through a tube apparatus.  The child is now transporting the water from the tub to the bucket.  Transporting once removed!

Sometimes the pail will sit next to the table and not be part of the play.

But sometimes it becomes a very integral part of the play. 

And sometimes that play is quite unique.


And don't overlook the possibility that the child will use the bucket to transport the medium back into the table.

I have always wanted to have a video of how I guide children in using the bucket.  This year, I was finally able to get it.

In the first video, the child scoops some pellets from the sensory table and dumps them on the floor.  I am nearby, so I push the bucket so it is right next to him and tell him to "put it in the bucket."  Watch what happens.

With the bucket handy, I simply request that he puts it in the bucket. Remember, he has an innate drive to transport the pellets.   I have just given him a constructive alternative which he willingly takes advantage off.  That's a win-win.

So what happens once he has found the bucket?  Watch.

As he starts scooping from the bucket, he now has more choices to transport.  He scoops from the bucket and drops it back in the bucket; he scoops from the bucket and puts it back into the table.  He can also scoop from the table and drop it somewhere else in the table; he can scoop from the table and drop it in the bucket.  So many choices and all constructive.

Here is one more video illustrating how I redirect a child to "put it in the bucket."  The little girl takes some sand from the sensory table.  She puts some of it in the bucket because she knows she can transport it into the bucket.  However, she does not dump all the sand in the bucket and starts to walk away with some still in her hand.  Watch what happens.

As she was walking away, I ask her to put it in the bucket.  She stops, turns around, and puts some more in the bucket.  She looks up at me as if to ask if it is enough.  I ask her to put it all in the bucket.  And she does.

I know children need to transport.  Instead of expending a lot of negative energy in an effort to keep the medium in the table and off the floor, I set up constructive avenues for them to transport any medium out of the table and back into the table.  As a consequence, all my communication is simple, direct, and positive.

I also know that when they transport, they will spill (Corollary to Axiom #1) .  I do try to minimize the spilling, but I won't get bent out of shape if it happens.  Life is too short and there is too much living to do when you are surrounded by the boundless energy and imagination of young children.


  1. I completely agree! I kind of discovered the importance of big buckets or trays by chance last year - they just seemed important to the children. Mine are very into cause and effect so what goes in, will be tipped out.

    Thanks for another super post Tom.

    1. Thanks Juliet - I am glad to hear that you found the pails and trays so elemental, too. I can just imagine the thrill children get by watching the water flow out of a big pail outside as it moves and disperses.

  2. So simple, yet so effective. I've been meaning to ask- what type of pellets are you using in your bins? Thanks!

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  4. Kristin, I was actually surprised how well it worked the very first time I asked a child to "put it in the bucket" after he hand dumped some sand on the floor. Children are not trying to be bad when they dump on the floor. I think it has to do with what Juliet alluded to that children are into cause and effect. Anyway, the pellets are fuel pellets made from wood. They are used in Minnesota in pellets stoves for heating. A medium that has many of the same properties is whole feed corn.