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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.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I have never mapped out how an idea is realized.  That is because it is not always clear to me how it all comes together.   However, with Tall Cardboard Tubes with Rope---the latest apparatus--I have a clear, yet convoluted, view of how this apparatus came to fruition.

The seed for the idea was planted by a post back in June 2011 by Juliet Robertson at Creative Star Learning.  She wrote a piece called A rope trail for everyone.  Juliet's posts often jettison me back to my childhood when I was outside everyday, often down by the Mississippi River.  In our play, we used many of the things Juliet writes about.  The post on ropes hit a cord---pun intended--so I resolved to build an apparatus indoors at the sensory table for ropes.  

I forgot about the idea, but in December of 2011, Juliet again wrote about using ropes.  This post was called Reflections on ropes.  In that post, Juliet writes: "There is something about rope that just makes it fun and appealing to children of all ages. The more I use it, the more I learn about its potential, particularly for group and cooperative work."   At that point, I redoubled my resolve to make a rope apparatus for the sensory table.

In Juliet's posts, the trees were the anchors for the ropes.  Since I could not bring trees inside, I imagined building a framework over and around the table.  Attached to the framework on two sides and the top would be panels with holes. I thought the side panels would be 18 to 24 inches taller than the height of the table so the top panel would be higher than the table itself creating a space under the structure for play.  The panels with holes would be the anchors through which the children would pull and tug the rope.  Here is a crude drawing of how I envisioned the apparatus.
There was one problem that kept bothering me: how to make it strong enough to withstand the tugs and pulls of children on the rope.

In the winter of 2012, I was in a large hardware store.  I was attracted to pieces of pegboard that were on sale.  I thought these would make the perfect panel for an apparatus for ropes.  The existing holes in the pegboard offered the opportunity I was looking for in a panel.  I bought several pegboard panels---they were on sale, after all.  

The pegboard sat in the basement for a couple of months taunting me to build the apparatus.  I have found that to build anything, I need to start the building process, otherwise doubts keep popping up about the feasibility of the construction.  Even knowing that, I still could not get over the nagging problem of how to make it strong enough.

In the meantime, I remembered an apparatus I had built in October 2012 that was a platform on which the children could mix and pour.  The apparatus was called Aksel's tray.
This was basically a large wooden tray set between two sensory tables that allowed the children to mix and pour hands-free on a comfortable level.

Remembering the tray, I wondered if I could set up a piece of pegboard over the table as a platform to the children to work on.  Thus, the Pegboard platform was born.

At this point, the pegboard had already dropped out of contention for building an apparatus for ropes because the actual breakthrough I needed to envision the rope apparatus came a month or so earlier after I made an apparatus called Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  
The actual "aha" moment came when I was drilling the holes in the horizontal tubes.  It occurred to me that if these long tubes with holes were set on the vertical around the table, they would constitute "trees" and serve as anchors for the ropes.  There was only one problem.  I had a viable idea but I did not have the materials because I had used the long cardboard tubes I had on hand for the Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  

In June of this year, just as the school year was ending, I got The Ideal Gift.  The ideal gift was a small cardboard tube given to me by a student.  At about the same time, a colleague brought me several large cardboard tubes.  Those larger tubes provided me with just what I needed to to build the rope apparatus: long and sturdy cardboard tubes.  More than two years after the seed was planted the apparatus was built.

If you are a detail person and checked the dates for the posts I have mentioned leading up to the realization of the rope apparatus, you will notice that the dates actually jump back and forth.   That is how my mind works.  The pegboard platform actually happened after I figured out that placing the tubes on the vertical would work for the rope apparatus.  Because I no longer needed the pegboard for the rope apparatus, it was freed up to be used in another apparatus, the pegboard platform.  But I would not have had one without the other.  Does that make any sense?

Make no mistake about it; building things for the sensory table is a chance for me to play.   Not only do I think it is vitally important for children to play in the classroom, but I think adults need to play, too.  I was telling a parent a couple of weeks ago that the sensory table is my playground and when I am done building, I turn it over to the children to use as their playground.  One of the children heard me and took me to task saying that the sensory table was too small to be a playground.   I stand corrected.  It is my play space that then becomes the children's play space.    

This post is an experiment of sorts.  Instead of giving an idea for you to play with, I tried to show you how I played with an idea.  It was fun for me, but I have no idea if was of any value to you.  If you feel so inclined, let me know either way and I will be the wiser.


  1. this was of great value... I loved reading your idea process - VERY interesting. Afterall as teachers it is always the process and not the product that is the most important... it's where the learning happens...

    1. Thanks Suzanne. This one was especially interesting for me because it took so long to come to fruition---and then there were the tangents that also led to a different apparatus.

  2. Eu achei muito interessante mas não entendi a função, pode me explicar como as crianças vão interagir? Qual a função das cordas?