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, July 27, 2013


Two weeks ago I wrote a post called Ruminations on a Bucket.  A simple, five-gallon bucket had a profound effect on my practice and the flow of activity in my classroom.  The bucket provided a constructive outlet for children to transport the sand from the sensory table to somewhere else. By having a constructive outlet for their inner drive to transport, the children managed many of their operations, either communally or alone, with focused engagement leaving me more time to observe, instead of manage, the children's behavior.

This week let me introduce a second apparatus that shapes what I offer in the sensory table.  In addition, it has changed how I perceive children's play at the table.   The apparatus is a wooden tray that spans the width of the table creating a play zone above the table.  The tray is a simple construction from scrap wood I found in the shed. There is a 1" x 10" base with 1" x 4" pieces nailed in place to form the sides.  The seams are caulked and the whole thing painted.  I did have to drill holes in the sides so water could drip back into the table preventing any potential overflow.

I had specific purpose in mind when I built this apparatus.  I wanted to construct a small platform to allow children to work and pour hands-free.  Imagine a child pouring water from the water table into a container he is holding---usually against his chest.   Two things usually happen: 1) since he is just learning to pour, he misses the container so the water drips down his smock into his shoes; or 2) since he is just learning to pour, he overfills the container so the water drips down his smock into his shoes.  Wet shoes, have you seen them before in your classroom?

Did it work?  Yes, sometimes, like in these two pictures. Instead of holding the container against their chest, these two children chose to place the container in the tray and to pour hands-free.  Notice the child on the left is overfilling his container---but none is going in his shoes.

As I watched the children play using the tray with different types of medium such as moon sand,

Or animal bedding,

or a myriad of other medium, I realized that children easily moved from one physical level to another in their play and exploration.  Analyzing the apparatus, you can see there are two levels: there is the level that is created by the bottom of the table and then there is the level that is created by the tray fixed above the table.  Just as it is important for children to have a constructive outlet to transport, there is something about moving between levels in their operations that is also important to children and their operations.  What is it?

Sometime during the course of my observations, I found a different type of tray.  I was walking through the hardware store in the clearance section one Fall when I saw two planter trays that I thought I could somehow use in the sensory table.  As luck would have it, they fit perfectly into the table.  The lips of the planter trays rested nicely on the lip of the sensory table.

I also came across several more trays in our storage area at school.  Since levels seemed to be an attractive element for the children, I decided to build a multilevel tray apparatus.
How many levels are there?  1 is the bottom of the table itself; 2 is the bottom of the two white trays; 3 is the bottom of the trays one level above the white trays; and 4 is the bottom of the top tray.

As you can guess, the children continually moved the medium from one level to another with abandon.

I do not know what the attraction is about levels.  I think part of it is that children are constructively transporting from one space to another.  Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.  I do know that the children will find every level and use every level in their play and exploration.  (See axiom #3 on the right-hand column of this blog.)

When you think in terms of levels, then, you realize that the original bucket also creates another level. For all intents and purposes, the level created by the bottom of the bucket is the floor. Believe it or not, children like to use the floor, so why not make it a constructive option?

We know the lowest level is the floor.  What is the highest level?  Since the children will use all the levels offered, maybe the question should be: What is the highest level you will allow?


  1. Tom,

    I love the idea of multiple level trays. I currently have two levels in my sensory table (two flat boards laid across the table to create small work spaces). I'm now thinking of adding a third level on top of those two boards.

    Like you, I'm not sure why there is such an appeal for multi-level play. With the group of children I have now, I suspect part of it is that they can create their own space where nobody else is playing. (We're working on cooperative play, but not quite there yet.)


    1. Thanks Jen. It was a real eyeopener for me when I saw how the children took to exploring the levels. If you are interested, I have just started a pinterest board. I am starting with trays in the sensory table and I am adding a new picture every day. If you wan to check it out, her is the address: http://pinterest.com/tpbedard/

      So what's the highest level you will allow?

    2. Tom,

      My sensory table is built with a cross beam that is supposed to hold pulleys and/or funnels.


      I usually keep the beam at a height of about 3 1/2 feet because children can't really reach much higher than that. I have step stools available for children who need them. I often have tubes or chutes coming down from the beam onto other levels.

      Thanks for the info about the pinterest board. I'll check it out.