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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, April 11, 2015


The Giant Sponge is a sponge that is as big as the sensory table. Maybe calling it a sponge is not technically correct.  It is foam mattress bedding that I cut to fit in the table.  (This "sponge" was given to me by a colleague who could not stand the condition of my original giant sponge that I had been using for over a decade.)
As far as apparatuses go, this is one of the simplest.  I put it in the table, add dish soap and just enough water so the sponge does not float.  I have written about this apparatus four different times:  hereherehere and here.  Of all the apparatuses I have written about, this one has gotten the most hits.  It just seems to soak them up :-)

Because I rarely do the exact same setup from year-to-year, there are always changes.  It is hard to change the actual sponge, but what I can do is change the loose parts that are available for the children to use.  Here is a picture of the loose parts next to the table from this year.
There is the usual assortment of hodgepodge and doohickies plus some small sponges and some boomwhackers.  The boomwhackers are musical instruments, but I have set them out as sturdy tubes to be used with this apparatus.

I added one more set of loose parts to this years setup: glass gems.  These are smooth glass pieces that are available in craft stores.
As you can see, I put the gems in a second, smaller table next to the bigger, blue table.  Why didn't I put them on the shelves next to the table?  I am not sure how conscious my decision was, but they are highlighted better this way.  What would you think is the first thing many children do with the gems?
I am sure you guessed it.  A child naturally wants to dump them all out.  But what happens next?
What happens next is some splendid fine motor work that involves transporting and dropping the gems into small containers on the floor.  This child could have just dropped handful of gems into the red container, but he chose to drop them in one-by-one using a pincher grip.

In fact, if you provide glass gems, collecting the gems seems to be the most conventional of operations for the children.

But, by combining loose parts,  leave it to the children to find an unconventional way to collect them.
Give the children credit, too, because this was more than a "collecting gems" activity.  By combining loose parts, they created a new container to increase volume or holding capacity.  And imagine their experience when they pour water into the top to see what happens.   Can they fill the water up to the top of the yellow tube?

One operation that was truly unique with the glass gems was pouring them with a scoop into a clear plastic bottle.  It was unique because of the aural aspect of the operation.  Watch---and listen.

There seems to be a zen-like quality to this child's actions.  He carefully and purposefully scoops and pours to an inner rhythm.  The distinct sound of the gems steadily sliding from the scoop into the clear plastic bottle only adds the impression.

With the Giant Sponge, the children still did plenty of other operations with the sponge itself such as making and collecting copious amounts suds.  Here is one example:

One of the features of suds is that it has volume but hardly any weight.  Also, as you could see in the video, the suds stick to spoons, hands and containers so they make life interesting for a child who wants to pour or deposit the suds to a container.  

Whether the children are working with the loose parts or the apparatus itself, the children are always posing their own questions and probing for answers.  You also see that they are good at passing their own tests---in best sense of that word.  


  1. Hi Tom, any clean - up tips for the giant sponge? I will be borrowing the gem idea and the giant sponge idea.....looks like a lot of fun. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ray-Ann, I talk a little bit about daily care for the giant sponge near the beginning of this post. http://tomsensori.blogspot.com/2012/02/giant-sponge-new-axiom.html I like to make sure the sponge drains every night. By the way, adding some dish soap each day goes a long way to keeping it clean.