About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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, June 23, 2012


Big Box on Top sounds like it could be a Dr. Seuss book.  But no, Big Box on Top is an apparatus for the sensory table.  It is what its name implies: a big box set on top of the sensory table.

I have set up big boxes around the sensory table before.  In each case, though, they have been placed next to the table like this:

I could have created a similar set up, but I started to play with different placements for the box. I chose this time to place the box on top of the table itself.  To make it secure, I cut notches in the box so it would fit over the table.  The box could then be anchored to the table with duct tape.
I then inserted cardboard tubes.  Two tubes completely transverse the box in opposite directions. That allows the children to transport the corn from one side of the box to the other.  Another tube is placed so that corn from outside the box can be poured into the box.  And the fourth tube is placed so corn is transported from inside the box to outside the box.

What did I expect the children to do with an apparatus like this?  I expected them to pour corn into the tubes from the outside.
One of the interesting aspects of this operation is that when the corn is poured down the tube it seems to disappear.  That is unless you actually watch it fall through the tube.

I expected children on the other end to catch the corn either with buckets or their hands.  
The interesting thing about this operation is that the child cannot see when the corn his coming. Because the big box blocks his view of the children pouring, he has to rely on his sense of hearing to know that corn is coming down the tube.

I expected children to work under the "dome" of the box to pour the corn out of a the box---

and since there were cut-outs in the tubes that transverse the box, I expected children to investigate how the corn moves through the tubes in the box.

What I did not expect was that the space would be so inviting that a child would actually crawl into the box itself.  I actually thought the tubes would prevent the children from crawling in.  As it turned out, the tubes were mere obstacles to navigate going in and out of the box.

Once one child crawls in the box, it can pretty much be expected that more children will crawl in the box.  A little crowded you say?  Yes, but what better way to explore the space than with your friends.

Axiom #2 on the right-hand column of this blog states that children with explore all the spaces in an apparatus.  After play with this apparatus, there seems to be a natural extension of that axiom: If the spaces are big enough, they will use their whole body to explore those spaces.  And Axiom #5 states that children are compelled to put things in holes. After play with this apparatus, there seems to be a natural extension of that axiom: If the holes are big enough, they will actually put their bodies in the holes.

My original thought in placing the box on top of the sensory table was to create large spaces that the children would experience "in," "out," and "under" in their play and exploration of the apparatus. Leave it to the children to take those simple concepts to the max.


  1. Hi Tom

    This is a lovely, immaculate post - thanks. A quick query... I presume you store your boxes - do you flat pack everything or do you have a massive spare room with lots of boxes - how does the behind-the-scenes part of this operation work?


    1. I do not store a box unless it is an unusual box with unique properties. I store those at home in the basement. It has to be really unusual for me to store because there is not that much room. As to the process, cardboard boxes are ubiquitous in my neck of the woods, so when I want to build something from boxes, I start to look for them either at schools or businesses. I find good ones at big hardware stores. The end result is an apparatus that is a melding between my original idea based on the dimensions and elements I want to highlight and the actual shape of the boxes I have found. If you are wondering about the big box in this post, it was the "cave" in my book area for most of the year. It was the last apparatus of the year and, since school is out, it has already been recycled.

      Wow, Juliet, your question really made me stop and think. Why? Because it has started a more in-depth reflection for me about the actual underlying processes I use to build things. It may be a good boomerang question for you or a great generative question for all of us who teach, who blog. Maybe even a future post.

      Thanks---more than you know,

  2. This is such an amazing idea. I just put together a sensory table for my twin nieces. I will wait for a while until they get bored with the table before introducing Big Box on Top.

    1. I am glad you like the idea. The use of boxes is all about creating different spaces for the children to explore---often in ways I did not imagine.