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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.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Piggyback Inclines are two large chute-like boxes taped together and set over the sensory table on a pitch.  I could have aligned the boxes so they were directly on top of each other, but I decided to stagger them so the top box (1) extended beyond the bottom box (2) at the top of the apparatus. I built it so all the corn drained into the bottom box and exited the apparatus into the tub on the left end of the table. That is not exactly accurate because children also poured corn in the top hole on the right into the white cardboard tube.

I knew there would be a problem with this configuration: children attempting to pour corn into the top holes would spill a whole lot of corn.  One reason was the size of the holes; the holes were not tiny, but neither were they big.  They were about the size of the containers the children used for pouring.  Another reason was that children would be pouring into holes that were oriented on a slant. It takes a different level of eye-to-hand coordination to get all the corn in a hole on an angle.

To keep the mess somewhat contained, I took small boxes and set them over the holes.  I cut a hole in the bottom of each of the small boxes to align with the hole in the incline box.

Once the boxes were fitted over the holes in the top incline box, I used duct tape to tape them to the top box.  I also taped inside around the holes so there was no gap and the box would be held in place even more securely.

As the children poured corn into the holes in this top incline box, these small boxes around the holes served as a catchment for any of the corn that missed the hole.
Imagine, where would all that corn go that missed the hole and ended up in the catchment box?

Let's see what this looks like in real time.  Watch what happens when this child attempts to pour the corn from her little pail into one of the holes in the top incline. 

She actually seemed to miss the hole with almost all the corn.  Again, imagine where all that corn would go without the catchment box.

There was an unintended consequence to the catchment box: How do you get the corn out of the catchment box?  A question raised is a question answered.

Without any suggestion or encouragement, the children gladly scooped the corn from the catchment box to drop it down the hole.  It was like another job in a series of jobs to get the corn down the hole. 

I said this was a new feature to help keep down the mess around the sensory table.  How did it work?  It worked well.   
Were there still messes?  Of course there were still messes.  But in this case, most of the messes came from corn bouncing out of the holes in the sides of the boxes or from children transporting full containers of corn around the table.

I firmly believe you cannot have a sensory table without some kind of mess.  If the mess is too great, then it is usually not the children's fault; it is usually a design flaw.  Especially with cardboard, it is easy to make modifications.  Sometimes the process of modifying a structure happens quickly and sometimes it takes a long time to figure out how to minimize the mess. Heck, it only took me a couple of decades to figure out the catchment box.   One thing I have not done, but have resolved to do, is to bring the children into the process of minimizing the mess.

Messes are a part of life.  What happens when you spill?  Besides using a few choice words, you will clean it up.  Is it OK for a child to spill?  If it is part of life, why not?  Look at it this way: it is an opportunity to learn to tidy up.  The picture above shows a case in point: the child squatting in the bottom right is sweeping up some of the corn.   Does she get all the corn up?  No, but the effort is what counts.  A habit formed early may even cut down on some of those choice words when she spills as an adult because she will see it as an unavoidable part of life.

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