About Me

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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, March 4, 2017


I started introducing sticks into the classroom at the sensory table at least 25 years ago.  At first, the sticks were small.
Many of the sticks I used in the classroom I had collected on my walks down by the Mississippi River with my own children.  

In the classroom, the children had no trouble figuring out what to do with the sticks.  For instance, in the sand, they would "plant" them to make miniature landscapes.

Or make sculptures by piling and balancing them on top of one another.  This child told me this was his house and wanted to make sure I saw it.

One child even took a stick, stuck it in the sand and added a tree knot over the end to make his own microphone.

Gradually I started to introduce larger sticks.  Actually, it might be more accurate to call them branches.  
Since I was not sure how the children would handle these bigger branches, I taped them down to the table so they could not be moved.  In the picture above, the two longer branches were taped to the lip of the table with black duct tape.  There was a smaller branch with three arms that I did not tape down.  It was an experiment to see how the children would handle a bigger, loose piece.

I went so far as to bring a log into the classroom.  This, too, I decided to tape down; I did not want it dropping on someone's foot.

About the same time I set up the log in the sensory table, I was walking down by the river and found some long narrow sticks.  What caught my eye was that some animal---a muskrat?---had chewed them down and ate much of the bark.  I gathered a bunch of the sticks and set them in a bin next to the sensory table.

In a way, this was a leap of faith on my part.  I was introducing long narrow sticks knowing that they would increase the children's personal space beyond what they were used to in the classroom.  These sticks were as tall, if not taller, than they were and when they handled them, what would happen?  Would they swing them around and hit someone?  Would they poke themselves?  Would they use them as swords?  What kind of mayhem would ensue?

So what happened?  There was no swinging or poking or even sword fighting.  Instead, the children found ways to manipulate the sticks and build with them.  Below is an example of one such episode.  One child is using the sticks to build bridges across the sensory table.

The child was being quite mindful of how he was handling the sticks.  He was even aware of the child on the other side of the table and asked him to move so he could put down more bridges.

I eventually cut up all those sticks into smaller pieces and ended up with a basket full of sticks measuring 3 to 6 inches.   When people saw these little sticks, they were impressed and thought I had worked very hard to make the marks with a knife.  No, those were marks made by an animal feeding on the bark. 

These sticks became a permanent fixture in my classroom.  They continued to be used in the sensory table with various apparatus.  However, their permanent residence was in the housekeeping area.  This was the time I got rid of the plastic food and started using more open-ended and natural materials in that area of the classroom.

Believe it or not, I am not done with the classroom experiments with sticks, but it will have to wait until next week.    Will the dreaded mayhem finally ensue?


  1. Tom, I love what your children have been inspired to do with sticks. I have been placing small red sticks from my dogwood bushes in with my play dough items and in with my loose parts area. I haven't gone as big as yours but need to try that too. Just recently discovered your blog and have enjoyed seeing all the magnificent experiences that you give young children.

    1. Thank you Sue. I am glad to hear you are using sticks. My biggest surprise was how well the children handled the sticks. I still have the sticks I collected 25 years ago and, now and then, I still pick up a good one to add to the collection

  2. I love these articles and always share them with my facebook followers. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you Bianca. Let me know if you or your followers ever have any questions. Tom