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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


When you think of real tools, what do you think of?  I bet you think of things like hammers and drills and other tools both power and non-power.  How about putty knives?  Recently I added various putty knives that were big, small, plastic and metal to the Hodgepodge and Doohickies that reside on the shelf next to the sensory table.

How did putty knives end up on the shelf of loose parts?  Serendipity.  They were handy because the previous week I had used the larger ones for cleaning wet finger paint off our art table.  Since I had Moon Sand in the sensory table, I knew cutting the packed Moon Sand would be intriguing for the children.  Even though the Moon Sand packs hard, it cuts easily and cleanly with a knife.

I was astonished at how well the children wielded the putty knives.  Take for instance the three-year-old in the video below.  At first she tries to scrape the sand with both hands high on the handle. When that doesn't work, she repositions both her hands with her right hand above the blade and her left hand lower on the handle to get more force so she can scrape the Moon Sand from the bottom of the table.  How did she know to do that?

Did you see that she then uses the blade of the putty knife to shovel some sand into a measuring cup?  That is not so simple because she first pulls the blade toward the edge of the table, turns the putty knife 90 degrees and shovels again using her other hand to make sure the sand stays on the blade of the knife.  With a full blade, she uses two hands to lift the heavy sand over the measuring cup to deposit a good portion of it into the measuring cup. Her reaction: "I got it!" 

The whole sequence reminded me of when I used the same knife to do some drywall work in the house.  The scraping, the piling on of Moon Sand and the transporting of it with the blade look all too familiar to me.  Again, how does a three-year-old figure this stuff out?

Here is another sequence by a child using the large plastic putty knife.  The child first cuts away the pile of sand from the edge of the table using a chopping and then a cutting motion.  She transfers the putty knife into her other hand and then grabs a small measuring cup to scoop up some sand.  The measuring cup is overflowing, but in one easy motion, she uses the knife to smooth and flatten the sand in the cup.

Did you see that she put her hand through the handle of the knife so she could flatten the sand in the cup with the hand that had been holding the knife?  And it was all done so effortlessly.  You would have guessed that this four-year-old works with putty knives all the time.

Here is a third sequence of a child using a small metal putty knife.  She has packed her plastic coffee can with sand.  As the video starts, she plunges the knife up to the handle into the sand. She then makes another plunging cut perpendicular to the first cut.  This second cut is positioned next to the first cut halfway between the two ends.  She makes a third cut perpendicular to the second cut at the opposite end of the second cut from the first cut.  (It's all perfectly clear, right?)

If you guessed she was making an "H" you would be correct.  She had been experimenting making letters in the sand on the top of the coffee.  Who knew a five-year-old could use a putty knife for a literacy activity.

I took almost 200 pictures and videos of children playing around this simple structure.  I often saw seven children around it, but it was not unusual to see nine children fully engaged.

To be fully engaged, they have to be able to author their own operations like the three girls you just saw in the videos.  The loose parts go a long way in helping them in this process.  The children's own experiences and skills also contribute to this process.  Still there has to be something inherent in the provocation for the children create meaningful scenarios.  It does not matter whether the apparatus is simple or complex.  My guess is that it may have more to do with the open-ended nature of the apparatus.  


  1. This focus on tools is an exciting development...it's what's makes us particularly human, extends our reach, I guess with our eyes our sense of the world is extend and with our hands and tools our actual grasp is extended. This is the kind of thing that makes me excited to get back to our Kindergarten woodshop next week! Thanks Tom

    1. I agree Aaron. In the case of the putty knives, not only is the grasp extended, but so are the number and variety of operations we can do with our hands. And how do children seem to know how to wield the knives in the first place? Happy New Year in your Kindergarten woodshop.