About Me

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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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


What does the North Sea have to do with Sand and Water Tables?

This blog, Sand and Water Tables, has brought me to the North Sea.  I am in Aberdeen Scotland for a talk and a workshop on sand and water play to early childhood practitioners on Saturday, June 14th.  From there, I head to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Birmingham, Derby, Bournemouth, Odstock, Andover, Cwmbran, and Newport before catching a ferry to the Netherlands to do a workshop in Rotterdam.

How does a journey like this come together?  It does not happen alone.  For well over two years I watched to see where people were coming from when they visited the blog.  I especially remember mapping all the places in the UK.  I also remember thinking that it would be quite exciting to try to do a tour of the UK.

About a year and a half ago, I did a silly thing.  I mentioned the idea via email to three people I knew who followed my blog.  Julia Robertson of Creative Star Learning, Peter Ellse of Cosy and Nancy Adamson of Odstock Day Nursery all said yes, come to the UK and we will help.  I must say that Juliet was especially encouraging.  That was enough for me to put out the word that I would come, so here I am.

(By the way, Juliet's book Dirty Teaching has just been published and is available on Amazon in the UK.  The book is written for practitioners who want to teach outside.  It is aimed at the primary grades, but has plenty of insight for all teachers at all levels.  You really should check it out and have it in your library.)

I was talking to my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, before the trip.  I expressed a lot of apprehension and excitement about this endeavor.  She uses the analogy which I quite like.  I am like a child going to a new playground.  Like that child, I am not sure of the rules and conventions of the new playground and hope the new players are willing to accept me and to play along.

I have 13 presentations is 18 days.  I hope to reflect on the trip, but it may be hit and miss until I get back to the States.

The journey to the new playground begins.

P.S.  I wrote this a couple of days ago.  I now have a presentation and a workshop under my belt. I can tell you that there was no need to worry about the players in this new playground.  They were welcoming and kind and gracious beyond description.  Thank you players from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.  If the rest of the new playgrounds are anything like this one, I am in for a treat.  I need to give a special thank you to Heather Smith who arranged the first gig in Aberdeen at King's College and took the time to ferry me around and show me some of the sights.  I need a to give an extra special thanks to Juliet who has taken an inordinate amount of time out of her busy schedule to talk for hours and exchange thoughts, ideas and experiences both on a professional and personal level.


  1. Wow, lucky UK! I have no doubt the other presentations will be just as satisfying and enjoyable for you because of the joy and sense of discovery that you have and bring to your receivers. What a true sharing is all about. Hope you are enjoying all the new sights, sounds, smells and flavors of the UK. Safe travels.

    1. Thanks Eileen. Sometimes I am OK with uncertainty, but sometimes it scares me something awful. So far it has been OK

  2. Hello Tom

    Thank you so much for coming to visit. Everyone here in NE Scotland who attended you presentation and/or workshop went away THOROUGHLY INSPIRED!

    I'm still chewing the fat and thinking more about the potential and possibility of your work when your dimensions, elements and axioms are put to work in an outdoor context.

    All the best for the rest of your UK tour! Exciting times ahead.

    1. Hi Juliet, I just finished making a couple of new apparatus in the hotel here in Edinburgh for the presentations tomorrow. They have a couple of new features I have not used before. The inspiration is mutual and comes from the authentic exchange and questioning of ideas. Thank you. My little journey could not have started out any better. Tom

  3. how wonderful... travelling is such an amazing gift as a learner... when I went to Canada I realised how my senses were heightened and my need to see and experience and learn were so intense... then this week I watched a TED talk by Alision Gopnik that likened young children's learning to being in love, in a new city after 3 espressos... so the whole new city new country thing became so clear to me...

    Right now I am hosting teachers/learners from the UK... and I watched as they arrived fresh from the plane... absorbing everything... while i could focus, as there was nothing new... and we talked about how children must experience learning like this... so much new, and not knowing where to put their focus...

    SO enjoy.. enjoy sharing... and enjoy absorbing...

    and next time you plan a big trip like this... it would be wonderful if Sweden (Stockholm in particular) could make your agenda... would love to meet you and to become a little wiser in the magic of sand and water table learning...

    1. Hi Suzanne. I will not have much down time or time for sightseeing. That is OK because meeting other practitioners and exchanging ideas and questioning practice is the best part of this kind of travel.

      Now you talk about heightened senses. I am on overload when it comes to navigating the big old cities in the UK. Not only am I trying to remember which side of the street I am suppose to be on and when to go through the traffic circles, but the streets are narrow and awfully not straight. If I do something like this again, I taking the train.

      I have seen Allison's talk and read some of her stuff. She is good at proving children think and know things even before they can talk.


  4. Tom and Juliet, thank you both for a wonderful afternoon yesterday! I am going to take the ideas to my garden for my kids, to the woods where I work and to our local science centre. Good luck Tom with the rest of your tour! Mud Pies Mandy.

    1. Thank you Mandy. Like anything else, building is a process and some things work and some things do not. When we observe how the children interact with the structures, then we know how good---or how bad---the structures are. If you ever have any questions or have something to share, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks for a great afternoon. Tom