About Me

My photo
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 8, 2012


This past June, another early childhood professional asked me: "Why do you build apparatus for the sensory table?"  Even though I have been doing it for over 23 years, I did not have good answer. I have been thinking about that question a lot ever since.

My answer at this point harkens back to the second post in this blog from July, 2010.  The post was about the lowly 5-gallon pail that you see below.
A mother, who worked at a fast food restaurant, brought in this dill pickle pail and asked me if I could use it.  Maybe she thought since I had such a small room, I could use it for storage. Instead---and because I had no place to store it---I put it next to the table.  What happened next was transformative for my practice as an early childhood teacher.

You can read the first transformation in the post about the 5-gallon pail referenced above.  The gist of the post is that the children use the pail to transport in a constructive way (Axiom #1 in the right hand column).  As a consequence, my communication with the children becomes much more positive about operations of transporting around the sand and water table.  In other words, instead of always saying: "No,! No dumping on the floor, I can now say: "Put it in the bucket."  That positive communication completely changes the tenor of communication around the table.

Something else happened in relation to the pail that transformed my practice.  I no longer felt like I had to manage the children around the table.  Rather, I began to see the children as capable of managing their own actions in the environment.  Instead of managing, I was able to observe.  By taking the time to observe, I started to notice how the children were able to manage even more of their own actions.  This whole process is now a wonderful, virtuous circle that carries the day throughout the classroom.  

That may seem like a lowly bucket, but it started it all.  The bucket afforded a chance for the children to figure out a constructive way to do what they needed to do: transport.  Since then, almost every apparatus incorporates opportunities for children to discover new and constructive ways to transport.  

Though I have not answered the question to my full satisfaction, it will do for now.  And I will keep building.


  1. What a poignant post. Thanks Tom. I think I might have a look at my outdoor provision in a similar context. Yesterday, my group of children were playing at the water wall and one child brought over the water tray (stand and tray) to put beside the wall. I think he was telling me in his own way to wise up!

  2. Thanks Juliet. Yes, yes, yes. When we leave room for children to create their own agenda, some incredible things happen.

  3. Hmmm. I have a bucket in my classroom that I've been wondering how to use. I think I'll pop it between the sensory tables to see what happens.

  4. Tom, I was watching a boy in my class quietly working his way around a room designed for older children posting all the collections down spaces too narrow for a teachers hand and realised that we just didn't properly cater for his age and schema. So I've come to your blog with more intent than a casual read as a fellow male teacher, but to start building some real cool sensory spaces to keep our toddlers happy and our paint brushes out of the garden. Awesome ideas. I'll let you know how it all goes.


    1. Children are the great explorers; everything is new to them. They find the cracks in the sidewalk, the holes in the walls, and the spaces in between the cabinets. I would really like to know how it goes.