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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.

Monday, October 22, 2012


A Channel Board is a board divided into three channels.  The channels are formed by 2 x 4's screwed into the base board from the bottom side.  Each channel is then rigged with a different surface so that when water flows down the individual channels, it flows with different effects.
One channel has bubble wrap that is held in place with carpet tape.  As water flows down the bubble wrap, it disperses around the channels between the bubbles of the bubble wrap.  If water is poured slowly, the effect is dramatic: water creeps down through the channel.  The middle channel is black plastic drainage pipe cut in half and attached to the channel with screws.  When water is poured down this channel, large ripples are created.  The third channel has a piece of rubber floor mat that is stapled in the channel.  The rubber floor mat has smaller ribs, so when water is poured down the channel, little ripples are created.

This is a take-off on the Water Ramp apparatus featured in this post.

I have tried different materials in the channels.  One year, I lined one channel with carpet.  Can you guess what happened to the water when it was poured down that channel?  It disappeared and then slowly leaked out the bottom of the channel.  One year, the middle channel was outfitted with a PVC pipe that was cut in half.
If you think about it, there is no end to what material---and subsequent effects---you can use in the channels.

Another interesting aspect of this apparatus is illustrated by the picture below.  Two girls are trying to catch the water that is poured down the channels.  Once the water hits the flat board, though, it is anybody's guess where it goes.
That, by no means, is a deterrent for any child.

The apparatus is very sturdy; it has lasted at least a decade.  The one drawback, though, is that it is heavy, and because it is heavy, it is hard to secure.   One year, I actually had the bottom of the apparatus resting on the bottom of the tub.  That damaged the board because it was always in water, which is not good for wood.  One year I used less of an incline and formed a short bridge between the table and a tub.  The problem there was that water would drip off the side.  Below is the configuration and the subsequent solution that year.

Since I do not look over my documentation before I set up an apparatus, I re-invent the wheel, so to speak, each time I set up an apparatus I have used before.  That was true this year, too.  I forgot how heavy the channel apparatus was so I set it up at a fairly steep angle (see the first picture in this post). The apparatus only lasted a day on that incline because its weight made the setup unsustainable.  Below is this year's final configuration that lasted the week.
The incline is not so great.  It rests on the tray on the blue table and the lip on the clear table. There is no need for a tray underneath because the channels keep the water from spilling out the side.  One addition this year is the unattached crate.  It ended up to be a surface above the water on which to operate and area of focused play.

That is enough explanation for now.  Take a look at how the children actually use the apparatus. In the video below one child is filling a bowl with water and rolling it down a channel on its side. She fills the bowl each time.  It's almost like the bowl and water are racing down the channel together.  A second child is pushing a copper pot down the middle channel.  That takes a little more effort than the rolling the bowl on its side.  She is looking at the child rolling the bowl down the adjacent channel as if to reference her own actions.  A third child is pouring water down the bubble wrap channel with a pink cup.  A fourth child is gathering water at the bottom tub.  She comes around to the top of the board and pours the water down the same channel as the child who is rolling the bowl.  Whether intentional or not, it is a nice bit of choreographed action.  The fifth child is an active observer. After observing she goes over to the shelf to pick out what she wants to work with.

Channel Board Work from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did you notice there are only girls around the sensory table this day?

There is more than pouring water and rolling objects down the channels.  Often times the children will run their hands down the different channels to feel the texture.  Sometimes it is a full-on texture experience with the feel of the water rubbed over the channel.

Another girl at the sensory table!  How great is that?

P.S.  My posts may be a little spotty over the next month.  I am doing a session on reflective practice at the sensory table for the 
Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota this coming weekend. I am also finalizing my presentation on building a dynamic sensory table for the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference in Atlanta November 7 - 10. If you are attending the conference and want to see my presentation it is on Saturday morning from 8 - 9:30 am.  If you are at the conference but can't attend the presentation---maybe a little too early---drop me a line and maybe we can meet and chat.


  1. What a great idea, I'll see if my woodworking skills are up to it!