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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, October 5, 2013


The story of my most recent apparatus begins last spring during the last week of school.   I was given two gifts: one was a large cardboard tube from a colleague and the other was a small cardboard tube from a five-year-old from one of my classes.  I wrote about the gifts in a post called An Ideal Gift.   As presaged in that post, these gifts produced the spark that led to a new apparatus: Cardboard Tubes Embedded in a Cardboard Tube.

I used a special kind of drill bit to cut the holes in the large cardboard tube.  It is called a hole saw drill bit.

I cut the holes big enough so the smaller cardboard tubes could be put in or taken out.  I did not want them to fall through the holes, though, so I made pins from wooden dowels and inserted them through the narrow tubes to suspend them in the larger tube.

On a whim, I cut the smaller tubes to different lengths.  Part of the reason I did that was an attempt at aesthetics.  Another reason was the thought that maybe we could figure out a way to make music on the apparatus.  One of my colleagues thought the apparatus looked like a pan flute.  
(Before any music can be made on this apparatus I will have to consult Alec, a colleague in Australia, who has a wonderful blog called Child's Play Music.)

The smaller, narrower tubes present challenges and a wide array of opportunities for pouring the sand into the holes.  You can try to pour with a big scoop, but what is the result?
This picture is a good illustration of how an activity like this on an apparatus like this promotes large motor development. For example, there is the strength it takes to lift and pour the sand. There is also good trunk extension as she reaches to pour.  And as she reaches, she has to balance.  And look how she balances: she uses her body to brace herself at her waist against the the table and she uses her left arm---right down to the finger tips---for counter balance.

Of course, you can still use the big scoop and get more sand in the hole, but that takes a little more effort and control.
Contrast this child's large muscle efforts to the previous child's.  She is balancing again with her waist against the table with her left arm as a counter balance.  Since she is trying to pour with more accuracy, though, she has to control her right arm at least two different ways: first she has to pour more slowly and second, and at the same time, she has to hold the scoop so the spout pours directly into the hole.  By the way, imagine the concentration of the the child on the other side of the table as he watches the sand filter through the bottom of the tube.

Because there are a variety of pouring scoops available to the children, some can choose one that allows them to be very accurate in pouring sand into the holes.   
Now we are getting into more fine motor development, not to mention more refined eye-to-hand coordination.

When a child discovers the funnel, it opens up a whole new experience to pouring sand into the small holes.  The child pictured below has chosen to work with the long tube at the end of the apparatus.   He is filling a cup by spooning sand into the tube through the funnel.   
Did you notice that the funnel allows him to pour accurately even above eye level?

There is more to tell about the unique explorations of the children, but I will leave that for another post.  I would like to leave you with a picture that gives you one child's perspective as she catches the sand falling through one of the narrow tubes.  

I can't help but think this apparatus has come full circle.  It was sparked by An Ideal Gift from a child and now it is the spark for a multitude of explorations by other children.


  1. Love, love, love this! I always share on Facebook to my early childhood special education teacher friends. And my son Matt who has a two year old. Want him to make this wonderful contraption!

    1. Thanks Kathy. Share as much as you like. For a two-year-old it does not even need to be this elaborate. She/he would be happy with two or three tubes embedded in a larger tube. If he makes a version, I would love to see a picture.

  2. This is so brilliant and beautiful to look at! Question: (actually 2) How long do you leave each masterpiece in the classroom before changing and where do you keep the ones that are not currently being explored? Thanks.

    1. Thanks Eileen. I usually only leave an apparatus up a week and replace it with something new. The things I make with boxes, I do not keep but make new each year. I store the ones that are study in a room in my basement. With this apparatus, I can take it apart and store the pieces separately. In fact, I may even bring it out again with modifications.

  3. What a great idea. I have all the tools to make it, except it probably won't look like yours. I do love cardboard tubes. Thanks for the idea.

    1. Great! I don't think it has to look like mine. I'd be delighted if you share a picture.

  4. I love this one! I read your blog every week and you inspired me to create my own structures over our sensory trays. I have a folder for blog entries that I find particularly exciting. This is definitely getting bookmarked in that folder!

    I'm taking a year off work to travel but I shall share this with my ex-colleagues. They plan to keep building structures. We have all loved seeing how it extends the children's play.

    1. It is great to hear that this stuff inspires you to build and that you pass it on. That is the reason for this blog. If you ever want to share any of your contraptions, I would be delighted.

      Traveling for a year! I used to dream about that. There is a great big world out there. All the best.