The table covering has legs so from the underside it looks like a table. You can think of it as a table within a table. Because of the expanse of the sensory table, I screwed in cross pieces on the bottom of the plywood to give it more load-bearing strength. I also used those cross pieces to help anchor the legs to the bottom of the plywood sheet.
When children pour and fill at the water table, they usually hold their container with one hand and then pour with the other. Children do this all the time. Often times when they do that they are holding the container next to their body. As they pour, especially into a bottle with a narrow neck, they often spill and water goes down their smock into their shoes. With the table covering with holes, the children can pour hands-free so if they overfill, the water stays in the table.
I consciously cut the holes different sizes. Part of the reason was for aesthetics and part of the reason speaks to one of the elements for building in the right-hand column of this blog, namely, make holes of various sizes. Holes of various sizes add an additional challenge for some of the children's operations. The video below is a good example. The child tries to pull a yellow pan through one of the holes. It doesn't fit and he gives up. I suggest he try the next hole over. He does and he is able to pull it through the larger hole. Watch.
Sizing the hole from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
Compared to how hard he pulled when he was trying to get the pan out of the smaller hole, I was intrigued by how deftly he floated the pan to the next hole and adroitly lifted it through the larger hole. When he lifted the pan out of the larger hole, he was careful not to have it hit the sides of the hole.
What I noticed late in the school year was that there was a lot more role playing everywhere in the room. That was true for sensory table, too. Here is a video of three children making "poison water." The clip opens with a child saying that he has drunk all the poison water. The play continues with pouring and mixing. Watch.
Poison water from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
Where does a scenario like this come from? Isn't poison water a subject that should be frowned upon? Are they recreating something from stories they have been reading? Did one child start it and the others negotiate their parts on the fly? Does the color of the water have anything to do with it? Who understands what in the scenario? The child pouring into the funnels is an integral part of the play, but what part do the funnels play in the narrative?
When I watch children play, I often wonder where they come up with their actions because so many of them just seem to flow. The actions may be singular---pouring water into a bottle---but so often they are contagious---poison water. In any case, their actions are like ideas that come one right after the other until they are played out. Children think by doing; their ideas are realized in their actions. I am baffled sometimes when I hear adults tell children to stop doing something they are trying out or totally engaged in. You would never tell an adult to stop thinking. Why would you tell a child to stop doing?
Here are four more post talking about the Table Covering with holes. In each, the medium and the setup is a little different. They are table covering with gems, Jurassic Sand, water beads and wood fuel pellets. If you want to see how a couple of other early childhood educators adapted this apparatus using cardboard and a dry medium, check out this post from Cathy at Preschool Play or this post from Kristin at Exploring the Outdoor Classroom. Who knows, you might be inspired to build something, too