About Me

My photo
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.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Scientific inquiry: measuring space

I have always thought of my sensory table as a science table at which the children conduct their own experiments.  I set up an apparatus to be explored.  The children are given free range to use the apparatus, the medium and the loose parts to come up with their own theories about how the physical world works.  For the latest setup,  big boxes around the table, the children used the installation to measure physical space.  Measuring, after all, is a form of scientific inquiry.  Here is the setup.
There are six large boxes that for all intents and purposes encase the blue sensory table.  Boxes 1, 2 and 4 are wardrobe boxes affixed to three sides of the table.  Boxes 3 and 5 form a connection between the wardrobe boxes.  Box 6 stands alone but is open to the table. The installation creates a myriad of spaces over, under, around and through.  The children find and measure all the spaces.

Here is an example of two children measuring the spaces created by three of the boxes (1, 3 and 4).
How exactly are they measuring those spaces?  They did it with their bodies.  The child in the box had to first figure out how to get in the box.  Taking a measure of the opening, she figured out she had to crawl in.  Once in, she could have stood up.  Instead, she decided to kneel,  probably because the parameters of the box she was sensing made it easier to work from that position.  The child outside the box is also carrying out multiple measuring operations.  She is giving pellets to the child in the box through the window in the connecting box (3).  To do that, she measures the space between the two big boxes, the area under the connecting box, the height of hole in the connecting box, and the size of the hole.  In doing all that, she has brought over a stool so she can reach as far into the connecting box as possible to give her friend pellets. 

Here is another example of children measuring space both inside and outside the boxes from the other side of the apparatus, in this case, the boxes 2, 4 and 6.  One child is in the wardrobe box, one child stands next to the wardrobe box and two children are in the between spaces created by the three wardrobe boxes.
How do these children measure the spaces?  If you notice, each one is leaning up against a box essentially assaying one of the boundaries of each of their spaces.

Speaking of boundaries, here is a photo a child assessing the upper boundaries of this apparatus.
This is an excellent example of a child finding spaces to explore that are on top of an apparatus.  I always tell others to build to their comfort level because the children will go as high as you build. However, as you learn more about your children and what they are capable of, you may want to stretch your comfort zone so the children can more accurately measure their own risk.

There was one space in which a child could actually measure the distance all the way through a box, box 3. One child reaches through the box to see if she can reach her brother on the other side.


Another choice example of a child measuring the space with her body comes from inside box 2.  The child is sitting inside the box.  To get pellets from the table, she has to reach through a narrow opening created by the connecting box 5 that bisects the original opening in box 2.
She measures both the length of her arm reaching into the table and the width of her face wedged between the spaces created by the two boxes.  By the way, she maximizes her reach by wedging her face into that space.

There are many more spaces to measure in the apparatus.  However, it is easy to forget some spaces that are not so perceptible---except to the children.  Those are the spaces that are next to the setup in which children find clear boundaries in which to operate.  Here is one of those spaces.
In this case, the space is created by box 2, the shelves, the wall and the floor.  Using her body, she helps create a space that is enclosed on three sides.  In essence, she has measured the space so now she is part of the boundary. 

Axiom #2 on the right hand column of this blog states that children will explore all spaces in any given apparatus.  When they are exploring those spaces, they are also conducting a form of scientific inquiry by measuring those spaces.  They measure the spaces with the instrument they know best: their bodies.


  1. Your ideas are just incredible. You've elevated the purpose of sensory play for my children. I love how you bring elements of discovery, problem-solving and co-operation together with sensory play. So glad to have stumbled upon your blog.

    1. Thanks Mindy. Let me know if you have any questions or if you just want to share some of your experiences around the sensory table. Tom