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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, October 18, 2014


I have built two types of dividers.  One type, a Cubicle Divider, divides the sensory table into cubicle-like spaces.

The most recent type, a Triangular Divider, partitions the table into triangular spaces.

I am left with the question: How does changing the configuration of the divider change the children's play and exploration?

Some of the operations, of course, stay the same.  In both configurations, there is a lot of transporting through the holes in the cardboard walls.
Another similarity is the degree of enhanced focus for the play within a divided space whether it is rectangular or triangular.  Is that the result of each space being enclosed by walls of cardboard, thus keeping out distractions?
The biggest difference in play, though, does not seem to come from the shape of the spaces. Rather, it comes from one feature particular to the Triangle Divider.  In dividing up the table into triangular spaces, a kind of reservoir, or totally enclosed space, is created.  You can see it in the square space labeled 4 in the picture below.
That square is accessed through spaces 2, 3, 5 and 6.  In all practicality, it is a common space. Children can pour the pellets into the space or scoop the pellets out of the space, but because it is enclosed on four sides, children cannot occupy it like they can the triangular spaces.

So how does that change the play?  It changes the play by creating more physical challenges. That is not so true for pouring into the reservoir, but it is true for scooping out of the reservoir.  I ended up with a lot of pictures of arms reaching through the windows to get at the pellets.  
You can see that it is a physical challenge by this boy's body position.   He has to bend down; reach through the hole; look through the hole to gauge his operation; and keep his balance by holding the divider with his left hand.  

In the picture above, the children have already spent a fair amount of time filling the reservoir. When the reservoir is low, this whole operation becomes that much more challenging.
Oh my, that is a good stretch.

There is an additional physical challenged fostered by the feature.  A child does not necessary have to go through one of the holes to get at the pellets.
As you can see, this child goes over the top.  That is possible for two reasons: 1) the apparatus is made from two-ply cardboard which is more rigid and 2) the triangular configuration makes the structure stronger.  Whether you think that this child's attempts to reach the pellets is good or not, he would have never had the chance for this physical challenge without this reservoir feature.

There is one more difference of note in the children's play between the two types of dividers.  With the original Cubicle Divider, there is more cross-barrier social interaction.  There is much more peeking through the windows and openings to see who is on the other side; there are more attempts to engage the other with games like peek-a-boo.

There is definitely social interaction with the Triangle Divider, too, but it seems to be different.  It tends to be more utilitarian in nature.  For instance, a group of children will enthusiastically fill the reservoir in a joint effort.

Why is there so little social interaction between the cardboard walls in the Triangle Divider?  Is the space too cramped to foster a boisterous game of peek-a-boo?  Does the greater number of windows and openings in the cardboard walls of the Cubicle Divider give license for children to engage each other more through the holes?  I do not know, but it is clear that the configurations promote some operations that are similar for each and some other operations that are unique to each.  Are the possibilities limitless?  Probably not, but the children in their interactions with the spaces will test the boundaries---or in this case, the cardboard walls---and create a multitude of responses that give multiple meaning to the spaces.  Wait, are we talking spatial literacy here?

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