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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, October 29, 2016

Guest post

I recently did a workshop for a nature preschool here in Minnesota.  I usually do get some immediate feedback after a workshop, but usually it is just a photo and a brief note about how the children took to the new apparatus they built for their sensory table.  However, this time, one of the participants sent me a detailed description of the children's exploration of their new sensory table apparatus and her own reflection on their explorations.  I asked her if I could use her observations and ruminations as a guest post.  She willingly agreed.  

By the way, Dani is quite a photographer in her own right.  Check out some of the beautiful images of nature she has captured on her web page:  http://daniporterborn.zenfolio.com

Thank you Dani. 

New Sensory Table Apparatus (inspired by workshop with Tom Bedard)
by Dani Porter Born, Dodge Nature Preschool

Materials: cardboard dividers; windows, doors, and holes cut into cardboard; pvc pipe, cardboard chute, and flexible accordion dryer tubes; scoops, bowls, cups, spoons, and other containers for transport; large bin outside of sensory tub; wood pellets.

During a professional development workshop with Tom Bedard, we learned more about his approach to working with young children at the sensory table and were given the opportunity to build a new apparatus for each of our classrooms. As teachers, some of us approached it with a bit of trepidation, maybe not being comfortable with the building process or materials, or not sure who should do what… perhaps a bit like children when approaching a new task. Once we actually got started, the ideas kept flowing and the excitement built. We were curious to see what the children would do, how they would use it, and what we would learn from them. Here are the observations I documented after watching two classes approach our new apparatus for the first time.

-Children transported pellets in and out of every container and hole, using everything they could find. “Look, I filled this all up!”
-While they explored, they asked questions such as, “What’s this for?” “What do we do with this?” Where will it go?” “What are these things?” I did not answer those questions, but encouraged the children to make their own choices.
-One child looked at the large bin that pellets were falling into outside of the sensory tub. He looked at me and stepped one foot into the bin. “Can I put my toes in?” When he saw that it was ok, he stepped all the way in, with bare feet. “It feels kind of dirty. Kind of bunchy.” Other children wanted to get in as well. We decided that two at a time would be manageable. One child really wanted to get in and was finding it especially hard to wait for his turn. I complimented him on his patience and asked if it was hard to wait. He nodded his head, yes, but continued to wait.
-A child picked up a longer pellet in broke it in two. “Look how easily they come apart, they separate.”
-A child picked up a short accordion tube and talked into it like a microphone, noticing how different his voice sounded.


Engineering and Problem Solving:
-One child noticed that pellets were not sliding down the chute and said, What can we do?” Another child replied, “I have an idea.” She put her hand through a hole in the chute to push the pellets. A third child grabbed a spoon and pushed the pellets through. Yet another child reached up from the bottom of the chute to pull the pellets out.
-A child noticed a vertical tube above her head and wanted to get pellets into the tube but she couldn’t reach. I asked if she wanted something to stand on and gave her a hollow block. She reached as high as possible and stood on her tiptoes, then used a long-handled spoon, absolutely determined to get pellets into the tube.
-“How can we attach this?” (accordion tube onto the end of a chute where pellets fall into a second bin). One child matched the two ends together, then another held it in place while children pushed pellets through.
-A child stuck one end of the accordion tube over the top of a pole that is used as a brace. Another child looked at it and lifted a scoop of pellets up to pour them through, then realized he couldn’t because the top of the tube was over the pole. He turned and looked for another place to pour his pellets.
-A child discovered a funnel was clogged with wet pellets that had expanded and crumbled. “How do I get this out of here?” He went to find a pencil to clear the funnel and then used the funnel to catch pellets at the end of the chute, since the funnel was too small for pellets to move through.


Teamwork and Socialization:
-Two children picked up a flexible accordion tube and wondered what to do with it. One held it while the other spooned pellets into it. The first child looked inside and could see that some pellets were stuck. She shook it until the pellets fell out.
-Children peeked through windows, smiled, laughed, and exclaimed delightedly when they saw each other.
-They passed containers and pellets to each other through windows.
-Play at the sensory table included much conversation and body language about what the children were doing, how to share materials and how to negotiate space.

Watching the children use this new apparatus was fascinating. Because we planned for different levels, many spaces, and open-ended materials, the children were able to explore and use the sensory table in ways that seemed very satisfying to them. There was a lot of movement in and around the table and while many children were drawn to it, there were enough spaces to keep it from feeling too crowded.

The sensory table is a place that is filled with opportunities for problem solving, both for an individual child trying to figure out how to do something and for peers to figure out how to be in the same space. For the most part, the children were able to negotiate play with each other with little to no guidance from me. The play was so important that they wanted to be able to keep doing it and so they figured out ways to make that happen.

I noticed a lot about individual children – the way they approach play, how they interact with peers, how they use language, and other things they might like to do based on their experience with this apparatus. I can use those observations to help provide other opportunities and experiences in the classroom.

It was gratifying to help build something that turned out to be so high-interest. From the children’s use of the apparatus, I learned where I might modify things, which spaces I could add to or take away from, and how I might build it differently next time. The experience was also freeing. I am not much of a builder but now I feel confident that I can do it again, try different configurations and different materials, and learn what the children have to teach me.

P.S.   I will not be blogging next week.  I will be at the NAEYC annual conference in Los Angeles.  I will be presenting on sand and water tables.  If you are attending the conference and would like to stop by, my presentation is on Thursday from 1:00 - 2:30 in Platinum Ballroom C of the Marriott.  If you do come, make sure you stop by and say hello.

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