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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 14, 2012


I specifically built the Table Covering with Holes out of wood because I also wanted to use it for water play.  Since I still wanted to connect the two sensory tables fitted with the table top covering, I had to replace the cardboard tubes from the previous post with PVC pipes cut in half.  I set the half-pipes at a slight slant: one slant favored the larger table and the other favored the smaller table.

Besides the medium of water, I also introduced water beads.  (You could find water beads across the blogosphere late last year.)  They are soft, slippery, and translucent.

A word of caution about water beads.  If you read the label it says to keep out of the reach of young children.  It also says things like it will plug up plumbing.  You will have to think what that means for you.  For me it meant knowing the children in my classroom and knowing when to supervise more closely.  The week I had them out, I did not have any children try to put them in their mouths.  I did have to ask them not squish them; that was the great temptation.  Oh, and it also meant I could not pour any down the drain.

I added a new tool with the change of medium.  Two sizes of minnow nets were provided to scoop and collect water beads.

Scooping with the nets is easy.  The children were almost always surprised at how many water beads they could catch with the net.  Emptying the nets is a little trickier.  The normal operation for emptying a net does not work.  A child cannot just tip it to pour the beads out because of the gauzy, limp structure of the net.  When pouring and shaking motions don't work, it is easier just to reach into the net to take the beads out.

After experimenting a bit, some children figure out how to invert the net to empty the beads

So what kind of operations emerge with this new medium?   Watch.

The girl is using the spoon to gather water beads.   Did you notice the quiet focus?  The water is quiet as the spoon moves through it---especially in relation to the pellets in previous posts.  The beads are also quiet and have to be transported carefully so they do not slip off the spoon.  In this clip, the quiet focus to transport the beads looks meditative.

Here is a second operation that uses the half-pipe to transport the beads.

The boy is dropping water beads into the half-pipe. He does it twice, each time watching carefully the motion of the beads rolling and bouncing down the half-pipe and not starting again until he sees where the bead ends up.  The third time he goes to set the bead in the half-pipe, he notices a broken bead in the tube.  This time he does not watch where the bead goes that he places in the half-pipe.  Instead, he tries to help the broken bead down the half-pipe. It doesn't roll.  Why does one bead roll down and the other doesn't?  His actions show how he is trying to figure it out.

This post is third is a series using an apparatus I call Table Covering with Holes.  The previous two posts are this one and this one. Taken together, they demonstrate how an apparatus can be expanded and the medium changed with minimal effort using common materials. The expansion and change in medium, however, expand the possibilities for play and exploration into novel directions.  Some of those new directions are planned, but many emerge from the open-ended nature of the apparatus and the children's ingenious interface with the apparatus and the medium. What a joy to watch that whole process unfold.


  1. Our kids love the sensory table -- it's the first thing they go to when we walk into the classroom. Many thanks! - J&J (Wed night)

  2. Thanks for the endorsement. Parents often report that on their way to school their children try to guess what will be in the sensory table. That just keeps encouraging me. Again, thanks