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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, May 3, 2014


A planter tray has been a staple in my sensory table for more than 12 years.  It all began so innocently.  One fall in the hardware store, I found two planter trays on clearance and thought they might be useful in the sensory table.  To my surprise and good fortune, the trays fit perfectly inside the table.  Not only that, they also created a second level in which the children could play.

Next, I found bins that are similar to the planter trays in the our back storage area and decided to stack those bins on top of the planter trays.  The result was a multiple tray apparatus.
This apparatus created more levels and more spaces in which the children could operate.  The spaces were also more complex.  To scoop the medium from the bottom of the table or from one of the lower trays, it was necessary to navigate under and through spaces.  In other words, it took more motor control to transport within the table from one level to the next.

A couple years later---again in the fall and on clearance---I bought a couple more planter trays and built a bigger multiple tray apparatus with more levels.
From this one apparatus I was able to document at least five types of play: motor, sensory, cause-and-effect, science, and social.  As long as the apparatus is open-ended, there is no end to the variety of play children will create in such intriguing and complex spaces.

This school year, I visited the hardware story again to find more planter trays.  I went hog wild.
This multiple tray apparatus lives up to its name.  It is a total of 11 trays creating five distinct levels.

Here is what one half of the apparatus looks like from a slightly higher vantage point.  The levels are labeled.

Watch how a two-year-old navigates scooping pellets from the bottom of the table to depositing them into the very top tray.

Maximum reach from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What an operation by this two-year-old.  After she scoops the pellets into her tiny scoop, she slowly stands---she is on a stool---to keep her balance without spilling any of the pellets.  Next, she uses her left hand to help her reposition the scoop in her right hand so she can grab the handle.  By holding the handle, she will have her maximum reach. She reaches as high as she can and drops the pellets from her scoop into the top tray even though she cannot see into the top tray.  She cannot even see if all the pellets drop out of the scoop, so she shakes the scoop a couple of times to make sure all the pellets are out.

One of the upshots of building vertically is that it beckons the children to engage in vertical endeavors. What are vertical endeavors?  Operating on the lip of the table can be considered one.

There is one more reason why planter trays are a staple at the sensory table.  They often serve as a base to hold other apparatus above the table.

When the trays are turned upside down, they span the table and create a higher base for structures that need higher elevation over the table.

P. S.  No matter how many levels I create using the planter trays, the children have no compunction about adding their own levels.
Can you see the children have turned one of the stools upside down to hold containers that they are filling?  Another level just above the floor is now available for their operations.

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