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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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I change the setup at the sensory table every week.  You may ask: How do I do that?  Often times, it is a matter of extending or modifying the existing apparatus.  A case in point is the Big Boxes around the Table.
In the picture above, there are three big boxes arranged around the table.  In a way, the table is an enclosed space on three sides.  Children can be inside the boxes or outside the boxes transporting the pellets both inside and outside the sensory table.

As you can see, even though the sensory table is "fenced" in by big boxes on three sides, the table itself is open.

Let's add three new components into the structure: a reservoir box that spans the width of the table; a box embedded on an incline into the reservoir box; and a cardboard tube embedded in the reservoir box on one end and taped to the lip of the table on the other end.  

I call it a reservoir box, because this box basically collects pellets that are transported into it via one of the three windows---two on the end and one on the side---or via the embedded box on an incline or through the cardboard tube.  It holds the pellets because the window openings have edges.

The additions to the apparatus now divide the table itself, which used to be completely open, into three distinct areas.  
The first area (1) is defined by the big box on left and the reservoir box.  The second area (2) is the enclosed space of the reservoir box that children can access from multiple entry and exit points.  The third area (3) is defined by the reservoir box and the big box on the right.  Taken as a whole, this is now a very complex space that has separate work areas that are all connected.  

How would you expect the children to carry on in a space like this?  Let me highlight just two examples of how the children went about exploring this new configuration.

The smaller, more defined spaces seem to invite the children get into the table itself.
You count correctly if you see three children in the table and one in the box.  What about this new configuration prompted the children to crawl into the table?  Was it the small spaces that invited the children to use their whole bodies for exploring the spaces?

The second curious exploration to emerge from this setup has to do with the proximity of a window in the top of the box close to the window of the box that is embedded on an incline. Children took it upon themselves to gather pellets into containers from the table and then stand up through the hole in the top of the box to pour the container of pellets down the incline box.

Because the hole on the top of the box is relatively small this is not as easy as it seems.  A child cannot simply stand up and lift a container through the hole.  Often times the child will push the container through the hole with his head already through making that a very tight operation.  

You must see how this works in real time.  Below is a video of a child with his head through the top of the box pouring pellets from containers into the window right next to his head.  You will see that his whole operation takes careful execution and balance in a very tight space.   There is a little bonus with this video because there is a child behind him on the outside of the box who is scooping pellets from her measuring cup and dumping them down the window right next to his head.  They reference each other and still carry out their own operations almost as if their operations are finely choreographed.  

There were many children who tried to pop their heads through the top of the box and empty containers or scoops into the that adjoining window.  Before the three additional elements were added, the holes on the top of the box were rarely used.  What about this configuration prompted the children to use the holes and use them in this way?  Does it have something to do with the size of the holes that helps create a unique challenge?  Does it have something to do with the positioning of the holes relative to each other that also helps create a unique challenge?  

My take away is this: Extending and  modifying an apparatus at the sensory table necessarily prompts the children to extend and modify their play to fit the new conditions.  (Sounds like a life skill to me.)

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