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, May 16, 2015


This year more than most I have returned to what I call keeping it simple at the sensory table. The latest setup is as simple as it gets.  It is my blue sensory table filled with Jurassic Sand. Next to the table is a smaller clear sensory table.  There is also a five gallon pail on the floor next to the sensory table.

Here is a view from the other end.  As you can see, the tables look warn with use, a lot of use. That is the setup.  Could it be any simpler?
It does not get much simpler than this.

This may be a common setup in many early childhood classrooms.  It is usually not in mine, so why did I revert to it this time?  I have to admit that time constraints were part of the initial reason. Building a new apparatus every week takes time.  In the spring, I seem to have less of it as we begin planning for end of the school year events. Once I decided on a simple setup, though, another reason came to the fore: Directly on the heels of a complex setup, what types of play would emerge with such a simple setup?  Would the children even choose to play here without an apparatus?

To understand the type of play that emerged from this setup, you need to see the utensils and the loose parts that accompanied this setup.  Besides the usual spoons, scoops, cups and bowls, there were natural elements such as sticks, rocks and pinecones.

They did indeed play and play in some very engaging ways.  Let's start with the sticks.  For one child, the stick became a real tree that he planted in a cup and "watered" with the flowing sand.
The child who has planted to the tree is on the right.  If you look at the other two children, you see that they are mimicking the pouring of the child with the stick.  How does that happen?

Children love rocks.  They will collect them, pile them and bury them.  What one child discovered was marvelous in an ordinary sort of way.  The child in the video below realized he could make marks on a rock with another rock.

What made this marvelous and so ordinary were the words he used before he showed me that he could make marks on the rock.  He simply said: "Look what I can do."  Who needs paper?

The pine cones provided an invitation for the children to create little trees.  But when the "sand rain" came, one child noticed that the flow of the sand through the scales of the pine cone was a cascade of sorts.

A second child was also pouring sand on the same pine cone, but he was doing it fast.  The sudden downpour just accentuated the cascade of sand down and through the scales of the cone.

Later in the week, I added another implement: little minnow nets.  Children appreciated how the Jurassic Sand flows.  The minnow net slowed the process so the children could appreciate it even more.
Not only did it slow the process of sand flowing, but it also spread it out so the flow was more dispersed.

One thing I did not expect was to be transported back to the very first apparatus I used at the table: the Five Gallon Pail.  I forgot how important it is to be able to transport the sand out of the table into a simple bucket.  Not only is it important, but it can also be pretty exciting.  These boys are filling the bucket and squealing with joy.  Watch.

And it was not enough to just fill the bucket.  Each child had to take his turn to test his strength to see if he could lift the pail. None of them could, but then one child blurted out: "Teamwork. Everybody grab here."
Even with teamwork, though, they could barely move it.  That was not important.  What was important was the joint effort that created a bond that will carry over to other joint actions when they decide to work together as a group again.

I will continue to build, but I have a renewed appreciation for the simple.  

Can the simple inform the complex?  Can the complex inform the simple?  


  1. I think you hit on a very important point. That is, when the construction is of a simpler nature, but with a lot of possibility for child input, children are drawn in. The less that is already there, the more they become part of the building itself. I love the way they discover the cascade on the pine cones. And the group excitement in filling the bucket and attempting to lift it.
    Also, just practically, this set-up is within the capability of any teacher and classroom. Thanks, as always for sharing your brilliant ideas.

    1. Thanks Eileen. I totally agree with you about the "possibility of the child input." However, did simplifying of my sensory table make it novel for the children in such a way as to foster sustainable play? Maybe the simple sensory table was just a canvas and the loose parts contributed more to the children's sustained play. I am not sure, but it makes me think that a cycle of simple to complex and vice versa is worth considering. Tom

  2. Thank you! You've inspired me yet again! I love the questions you ask in order to be intentional in your set up simple or complex. Simple demonstrates the resourcefulness of children I think. I will do this with my outside water play....a large table, small table and a bucket + utensils. I wonder what they will do?

    1. Thanks Ray-Ann. There is an interplay between the simple and the complex. It may be that the children make the simple more complex and the complex more simple. That is just a thought after having read your comment. Not sure it is true, but it will focus my lens anew.