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, November 25, 2017


In the last two months, I have given four presentations to different groups of early childhood educators.  Whenever I give those talks, people often ask me: How did I start building things for the sensory table?  Sometimes people get right back to me to proudly show me what they built and how the children used it.  Sometimes, though, I hear from someone who has tried to build but for some reason their construction failed.

I started simply so my first bit of advice for anyone who wants to build is to start with simple constructions.  Here are two: a wooden tray and a box tower.

The first construction I ever made was a wooden tray cobbled together with scrap wood from my basement. 
This wooden tray spanned the width of the table and offered the children another level on which to work (see axiom # 3 on the right hand column of this blog).  In this setup, the extra level created a platform/counter above the table for children to put their Moon Sand creations.

Another apparatus that was simple and that I built early on was a box tower.  I simply embedded a vertical box into a wider, base box. 
Not only did this structure offer the children different levels to work on, it provided them with lots of holes for their operations (See axiom #5).  In addition, this construction promoted spacial literacy by creating spaces over, under, around and through (See axiom # 2).

The second bit of advice I would give anyone who wants to build is to embrace failure.  When I give talks, people only see what works.  There were plenty of times a construction did not work as planned.  Sometimes that was OK and sometimes that was not OK.  Usually when something was not OK, there was a design flaw.  Here is a cool looking one---at least from my perspective---that did not work very well.  I called it vertical tubes between boxes.
I connected two boxes using cardboard tubes.  I embedded the tubes in both the boxes.  The bottom box was the base that I taped securely to the bottom of the table.  I wanted to invite the children to pour feed corn down the tubes.  I cut notches in the tubes so the corn would exit the tube on top of the base box, which also give the apparatus an aural component.  So where was the failure?

The failure was in the design.  Because the top box was almost as wide as the width of the table, a lot of the feed corn ended up on the floor.  That was not the children's fault; they were just learning to pour so, of course, they spilled.  They spilled moving the corn from the table up and around the top box and then they spilled when they tried to pour corn down a tube.  As they missed the holes on top, a lot of corn ended up on top creating an invitation for the children to bush the corn off the top---right onto the floor.  Mind you, it was not a failure from the children's perspective, only from my perspective because of the amount of mess.

Interestingly, I usually was able to modify an apparatus soon after I saw what I consider a flaw in the design.  With this particular apparatus, I could not figure out how to modify it so there would not be so-o-o-o-o much spilling.  After a week, I took it down and never made it again.

I still think this was a cool apparatus.  To me it was a small sculpture or model for a piece of architecture.

Here's a question for you.  If you were me, how could you have modified this apparatus to eliminate the design flaw?



  1. Tom, i would cut off the lid or top of the box keeping the sides, then add a couple of holes in the base of the top box. This gives kids another opportunity to move the corn to the bottom of the table as well as keeping the corn in the top box when spilled.

    1. Nice. I really like those suggestions. I may even try a version of what you outlined.

  2. First off, I love this! I would maybe get rid of the top box all together and have the tubes free standing and firmly attached to the bottom box. It would be fun to hang a funnel or two slightly above the tube(s) and see it run out and into the tube then down to the bottom part.
    PS I love your blog! It inspired me to create a "rice factory" as one of my kids calls it for my playschool!
    PPS In some of your posts, I see these little pellets and I LOVE them! What are they and where can I get them?

    1. Yes, I could have taken the top box off and just left the tubes standing upright in the bottom box. That would have solved the problem I had with all the corn on the floor and would have still been a great invitation for the children to play and pour. I would love to see a picture of your "rice factory." If you feel free sharing, just send it to my email: tpbedard06@gmail.com
      The pellets I use are fuel pellets. In Minnesota we have pellet stoves for heating in the winter. Those pellets get burned in the stoves. What is nice is that they are only made of sawdust and are cheap in the big box hardware stores. Thanks for the kind words, too.