About Me

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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.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sensory table setup

Over the years, I have found a certain setup at the sensory table works the best for me.  The total area does not have to be big.  In fact when I first started building for the sensory table, the area measured 4 feet by 4 feet.  My table was even smaller.  It was 2 feet by 2 feet and less than a foot off the ground.  Hey, maybe I started to build in the first place so I could expand the space.
There were two things I did right from the start that were important for the setup.  I put mats underneath the table and I enclosed the area on three sides.  

After 11 years at one site, I moved to another site that had a bigger classroom.  With the new classroom, I inherited a bigger sensory table.  Here is what that setup looked like.
Though the classroom was bigger, the size of the sensory table area was still only 6 feet wide and 8 feet long.  The table itself was only about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long.  The strong metal legs were adjustable, but I set them them as low as possible.  That meant the lip of the table was 19 inches off the ground.  The reason I liked the table low was because then I could build up.  I also liked the simplicity of the table which was basically a tub on legs because it served as a blank canvas for my building.   
 
Like the original setup, I put mats under the table to protect the floor.  They were two runners that I bought at a big box hardware store in the carpeting section.  Here is one caution about any floor protector you use: check underneath the mats everyday because water and sand gets under them and can ruin your floor.  And here is a tip.  I worked in a public school system for 28 years.  I always made sure the custodians were my friends.  I would make sure I talked with them often and not just about maintenance issues.  I got to know them and who they were.  I also liked to show them the things I built and asked their opinion.  As a consequence, they never gave me grief about the possible messes.  In fact, they all started setting aside stuff they thought I might be able to use in building something new.
 
Also like the original setup, I enclosed my sand and water table area on three sides.  The reason was to help contain the messes.  I placed high cabinets on one side, the wall became a second side and the third side was the counter with the sink.  I did not put the sensory table against the wall because I wanted the children to have access from all sides of the table; in essence, that increased the number of children who could play at the table at one time.  I hung the smocks on the end of a cabinet so the children could access them easily.  Underneath the counter behind curtains, I kept the supplies for the sensory table in tubs.  That way, I had easy access to the supplies.  I read a study once that found that teachers are more likely to change things up at the sensory table if they have easy access to the supplies.  If they had to go hunting in a back storage closet, they were less likely to make changes.  The sink was close by in case of messes.  And again, if a teacher has to lug water from across the room, she is not as willing to setup water play.  There is an important caution with sinks, too.  Not anything and everything can go down sinks.  Be careful what you put down them.

Shelves were not a part of the original setup.  Everything for the children to use was already in the table.  One year, though, I wanted a separate surface to hold babies, soap and towels for baby washing.  I solved the problem by putting a piece of board over a pair of steps to form a baby changing/drying table next to the table.  I covered the board with towels to make it seem more like a table.  It is behind the table and clothesline in the picture below.
That worked out so well, that I formalized that table as a place to keep all the containers and implements that the children could choose to use for their operations.  To do that, I used contact paper to cover the white paper I used to cover the board.  I then taped that to a second small water table that was not being used.

I eventually got a third classroom which was bigger than the other two.  I subsequently set up a space that was 6 feet wide and 12 feet long.  
By this time,  I started to use real shelves for the containers and utensils and other loose parts.  The shelves pictured turned out not to be ideal because they blocked the cabinet where I kept the extra supplies.

I eventually settled on lower metal shelving that I set against the wall in such a way that I could access the cabinet.  The picture below shows the shelves against the wall.

One of the unexpected consequences was that it made clean up easier.  Children seemed to willingly put the things on the shelf from the table at clean up time.  I am not sure if it was because it was a well-defined task or that I was not particular about what went where on which shelf.  

This post is a direct result of preparing for a workshop in Kitchener, Ontario Canada for the ECE staff who work for the Waterloo School Board.  In preparing for the workshop, I realized that I rarely talk about my setup when I do a building workshop.  I wanted to include it in this workshop because I realized that it is an important part of making the sand and water table successful in the classroom.  That is not to say that my setup is the only way.  If there are other ideas out there for setup, I would love to hear about them.   

I need to thank Sarah, Anne, Joanna and Cori for hosting me in Kitchener.  And thank you Vicki and Wendy for hosting me in Cambridge.  You were all gracious and kind hosts.

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