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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, September 15, 2012


Last week I started to answer the following question another early childhood professional posed to me:  Why do I build apparatus for the sand and water table?  I gave two reasons in that post.  One was, when a bucket was serendipitously placed next to the table, children demonstrated their need to transport and to do it constructively by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes. The second reason was, by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes, they demonstrated their ability to manage their own behavior with minimal guidance or participation on my part.

The picture below illustrates both points well.  First, the children are transporting the water into the bucket.  Second, they are filling the bucket as full as they can and still being careful not to spill.
  Flood or no flood?

Those are important reasons why I build.  Another important reason surfaced from reflections on a book I read this summer: a child's work; the IMPORTANCE of FANTASY PLAY by Vivian Gussin Paley.   In the book, Paley talks about fantasy play as the children's agenda that spontaneously emerges between all the teacher-planned activities and projects.  Her first teacher told the undergraduates that children in the nursery school where they were observing were the only age group that was constantly busy making their own work assignments.  Because Paley provides the time and space and respect for children's fantasy play, she sees the children creating and recreating dramatic themes that span human history and that are reflected in the great works of literature and drama.  She says: "Words, words, words, where do they all come from?  It sounds like the poetry of a child's soul, nothing less, but the children are imagining vivid drama that must be acted out." (p. 32)

After reading the book, I began to construct a parallel between fantasy play and sand and water play. All the operations the children recreate in and around the sensory table span human history. I have often wondered why children dig, pour, fill, and transport as soon as they see the sand or water. Maybe the children are recreating those operations from a time when they were important to our very survival.    Not only are they recreating those primary operations, but they are using contemporary implements to create new and novel operations.  Those elemental operations must come out.  (Additionally, those operations around the sensory table often lead to a good deal of fantasy play, especially with the older children.)

Below is just a sampling of those operations.  Some operations involve just the hands and arms, and others use various implements.  Some are straight forward and simple, and some are more complex.

After reading Paley's book, I now see that I build apparatus at the sensory table to create time and space and respect for those fundamental operations that must come out.

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