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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Combining apparatus allows one to exponentially vary the configuration of any given apparatus.  That is especially true if you keep in mind all the dimensions mentioned in the right column of this blog.  Here you see a cardboard tube embedded in a cardboard divider.

Note that this is another version of the cardboard dividers(see previous post) in which the panels are low.

A hole is cut in two of the panels on one side. The cardboard tube is threaded through the holes and taped.  A section of the tube in the middle has been cut away.   Now besides the open spaces created by the vertical walls of the divider, the tube creates both horizontal and closed dimensions to the apparatus.

In another version of this combined apparatus, an additional plastic florescent light cover is embedded in the divider.  This configuration is a little different because the table is used to support one end of the tube and channel and both the tube and channel extend over the end of the table so children can push the sand out of the tube and channel into the tub below.

Little construction vehicles are added because they fit nicely into the tube and channel and create a different type of play with moving the sand with front loaders and bulldozers.  

If you look at dimensions to the right again, the cardboard divider is an open apparatus with vertical walls.  The tube in the apparatus introduces a horizontal and closed dimension and the plastic channel adds an horizontal and open dimension.

What does that mean for play?

It offers opportunities for focused play in an individual space on a different level with a different dimension.  The child below is playing with the truck and bulldozer on a level six inches above the bottom of the table.  Now he can play on two levels in the same space.  In addition, he is operating on a  horizontal open plane.  That naturally restricts his motor movements on that plane.
The child below is scooping sand with her hand from the tube.  This is a horizontal plane that adds a closed dimension to the apparatus.  How far can she move her hand when she scoops the sand?  And how far into the tube can she reach to scoop the sand?  She, too, can operate on two different physical levels. Actually, there is a third level with the tube when you see the tube as two separate levels: in the tube and on the tube. Both the channel and the tube offer motor experiences on a horizontal plane.  The tube also offers motor experiences that are altered by the open/closed nature of the tube.

If also offers new challenges for transporting the sand both through the window and through the tube.

It also offers new opportunities for social interaction.

And it offers new opportunities for role play.

Children will explore all the spaces you give them.  Their exploration lays the groundwork for knowledge of spatial relations.  It almost sounds like math!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The cardboard divider facilitates some types of play that other apparatus in the sensory table do not.  For instance, transporting takes on a whole new dimension with the divider.  Look at the picture below.

A child is transporting through the window into the opposite space.  To do that, he has do several operations.  First he has to scoop.  Without trying to spill, he has to lift the spoon and open the window.  He then has to stick the spoon through the window and then turn his wrist to dump.  The divider has added more layers of complexity to transporting.  What is interesting about this operation is that the child does not see where the material is going.  It is blind transporting where something just disappears.  That in itself is inviting for the child.  This is a good illustration of AXIOM 5 of sensorimotor play seen on the right column.

Here is another example with a little twist.

Note that this divider is a little different than the others pictured so far. When I built this one, I did not have a box with large enough panels to completely divide the areas.  In this picture, one panel is lower. That is not an issue for children.  They will still come up with their own challenges.  The boy in the green is pouring through the hole, but in this case, he is actually reaching over into the middle space on the opposite side where you see the girl in the scarf.  He has skipped a space in his work.  That is probably his attempt at making the work a little more challenging by seeing how far he can stretch(a good example of trunk extension).

This transporting takes on yet another dimension when a child watches where the material goes.

Here the child is actually watching himself pour the sand through the hole.  He has given himself a target (the pail) into which to pour the sand. Now think about the hand-to-eye coordination task this child has set up for himself.  He is pouring the sand through the hole watching from around the divider.  The divider cuts off the visual connection between his arm and his hand.  He is forced to complete his task by filling in or constructing the pouring motion without a complete visual connection between what he is doing and the result.

Here is another example.

The child in this picture does not have a target, but what is striking is that his action is connected even through the divider. He is pouring from one side and on the other side he is using his other hand to help finish the action. He can only watch on one side and he chooses the side where the action is being completed. Though there is a divider, his body action is all connected.  Children often do operations like these at a divider between spaces.  Very interesting, no?

Take a look at this video for yet another variation of the transporting that takes place with this apparatus.

David opens the window, puts the cup through the window and hangs a measuring cup by its handle on the window.  (This hanging of the measuring cup was first introduced to me by a child several years ago and now I use it as a prompt for play.) He takes a scoop of pellets, reaches through the window and pours it into the cup. He opens the window, lifts the cup and pulls it back through the window. He brings the cup around the divider and dumps it in the opposite space.  He finishes by showing me his empty cup---maybe proof of all the work he has done?  So why would a child go through all the operations to move the pellets into the opposite space when he could have just opened the window and dumped the pellets into that space? It's all about transporting and the need to transport and find as many ways to do it as possible.  And in the meantime, he is working on eye-to-hand coordination and other small and large motor developmental tasks.

There is another type of unique play that occurs with the dividers that needs to be highlighted.  That is peek-a-boo.
It happens every time the cardboard divider comes out and is a source for lovely social interchanges.  That is especially true when the child on the other side is not a usual playmate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


One day several years ago, I was watching children play in the sensory table.  On this particular day, I couldn't help but notice how one child's play impinged on another's.  My question became: Is it possible to make smaller, divided areas in the table?  The answer: cardboard dividers.

This was the first cardboard divider I made.  It is in an old sand table I inherited when I took over a new classroom.  It is a metal square and less than a foot off the ground.  (I actually liked it because it was simple and allowed me to build and add my contraptions to the table.  There was only one problem: it would not hold water.  If I wanted water in a table, I had to have a second table.  My room was small, so I ended up getting one table that would hold both sand and water.

The cardboard divider is very easy to make.  Take two flat pieces of cardboard.  Cut the pieces so they fit into the table.  Next,  make slits in the middle of each piece approximately equal in length.  One piece is slit from what will be the top and the other is slit from the bottom.  They are then slipped together at the slits.  Tape the joint that is made by the intersection of the two pieces of cardboard and then tape it in the table.

Since my current sensory table is larger, I added an extra panel of cardboard to create six smaller spaces.

These spaces can facilitate some focused individual play.

Or provide another space into which a child can transport or collect objects.

Though I wanted to create individual spaces, I also wanted to allow for social interaction.  The solution for that was to cut various holes in the walls.  Some are outright holes and some act like windows that can be open and shut.  Here are four children, each in their own space.  The child in the top right is pouring pellets through the window into the cup of the child in the bottom right. He is observing the action and waiting for the cup to be filled by the hand coming through the window.  The boy in the top center is pouring his pellets into the space directly opposite, while the girl in that space is pouring pellets into the lower right space.

The running joke in the room is that this apparatus is preparing the children for the world of work with each of them toiling away in their own little cubicles.  You be the judge.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Experimenting with the cardboard chutes is experimentation with gravity.  Children see, hear, feel, and smell what slides down the chute.   Of course, the seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling is all initiated by their actions of pouring material down the chute.  They use cups and scoops; they use their hands and their bodies.

Depending on the material used in the sensory table, the experience is different. Sand has its own sound and feel as it flows down the chutes.   Sand also has weight.  Look at this series of three pictures as Elliot and Sonja discover how a pot of sand poured down the chute feels.

The experiment begins with Elliot pouring sand down the chute from a pot.  His pot is not full and he pours the sand evenly down the chute. Sonja is catching it.  At this point she is only using one hand.

Next, Elliot gets a full pot of sand and now with gusto dumps the sand all at once down the chute.  Sonja has switched to using two hands to hold the bowl.

What happens is that the sand races down the chute with such force that it knocks the bowl out of Sonja's hands. The result of the experiment was the pure joy of creating and feeling a force that produced an unexpected outcome.

In this set of photos, two things other than experimenting with gravity took place. One, the chute provided a physical connection between the actions of Elliot and Sonja.  That naturally involved some communication---verbal and non-verbal---and some coordination of actions.  In addition, there was plenty of large muscle exertion and coordination.

Look at the clip below with the same apparatus, but with a different material. Instead of sand, the table has fuel pellets.

Henry is pouring the pellets down the chute.  Pellets down the chute sound different and fall at a different rate than sand.   Kaisa is catching the pellets in her container. Again, there is some communication and coordination going on between them. Kaisa changes the play when she says: "Now, let me try."  Pouring pellets is not as exerting as pouring sand because the weight is different.  Nevertheless, Kaisa has given herself a new large muscle challenge: stretching to both pour and catch.

Besides pouring and catching there is also stopping.

Three children are stopping the pellets with cardboard dams.   Children will use just about anything including their arms and hands to stop flows down the chute.  Here, though, they have been provided with cardboard pieces cut in the shape of a V.

Three children are essentially doing the same action.  That means a new set of communication and coordination actions.  Who gets to be the one on the top, or in the middle, or on the bottom?  When does the first one let the pellets pass and so on?

Besides the material sliding down the chutes, children soon discover that almost anything can slide or roll down the chutes.




There is really no end to pouring, sliding, and rolling of material and objects down the chutes.

Friday, November 26, 2010


A nice thing happens when someone takes note of the apparatus I build in the sensory table.  A few years ago, a mom brought in pieces of cardboard that were long and v-shaped.  The cardboard pieces were the packing corners for a new refrigerator that was delivered to her house.   She asked me if I could use them.  I did not know immediately what I would use them for, but they looked promising.  Two of the v-shaped pieces eventually became the twin chutes pictured below.   I taped them together with duct tape and set them on an incline.  (This is one of the most expensive apparatus I have ever built because someone first had to buy the refrigerator.)  My point is simple: When people see what you are doing, they will think of you when the opportunity presents itself.  By the way, people also includes children.

The cardboard for these packing corners is so sturdy that this apparatus has lasted eight years.  I have duct taped the entire length of the chute because tearing the duct tape off each time I took the apparatus down ripped off some of the top layer of cardboard of the chute.  It also makes a more slippery surface for material to slide down.

If you look at the right column at the DIMENSIONS to think about when building apparatus for the sensory table, you will note that this apparatus is an incline and that it is open.  Under the AXIOMS for the sensorimotor play, you will note that apparatus adheres to the axiom  that children are naturally drawn to pouring, rolling  and sliding materials and objects down ramps, chutes and tubes.

After using the apparatus for a couple of years, I felt the need to attach it more securely to the tray and the table.  I  made notches with a utility knife in the bottom of the chutes to line up with the tray and the table.  See the crude diagram below.

Here is what it looks like in the room.  This picture also gives you an idea of the amount of tape and crossing patterns of the tape that hold it tight to the table and the tray.  Since it is not store-bought, it is not pretty.  It is, however, quite attractive to children and facilitates many kinds of play and experimentation. 

That play and experimentation takes place at the top.

At the middle.

At the bottom.
And every place in between. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The giant sponge, like almost any other apparatus in the sensory table, is not simply about the senses.  It is about science, too.  Children explore and experiment using their senses to discover how the physical world works.  Depending on the apparatus, the children discover different physical laws pertaining to the apparatus.

In addition, any apparatus has the potential to encompass other areas of development and learning.

For instance, the sponge was used by two children as a springboard for working with two simple geometric concepts: a circle and a square. They started by each making their own impressions on the sponge; one was making a circle and the other was making a square. Spontaneously, they started putting each of their impressions on top of the other's impression.
As the boy put down the circle, the girl would place her square over it.   In doing so, the circle disappeared.  The boy would then put his circle  over the square and the square would disappear. The children did not know they were doing math, but the concepts of a circle and a square were being consolidated for them in their play in a very unique way.

Not only were these children learning math concepts, but they were also displaying social and emotional learning.   These two children had not played together before, but still  they were able to create their own game that had a simple rule (take turns) and that was very playful (making the other's impression disappear).   

Often times, an apparatus in the sensory table is a rich venue for role play.  A good example of this is when the sponge became the birthday cake and the suds became the frosting. There was lots of spreading the suds on the sponge; singing of the happy birthday song; and cutting of the cake---and not just once.

One of thebehaviors that is often overlooked when children are playing together is social grace and accommodation.  Again, an example from the sensory table containing the sponge can be seen in the following clip:

Three children are playing with the sponge.  Nahum is pouring water and suds over the pie tin that contains Duplo train cars.  His sister, Delina, is playing across from him.   Nahum and his sister speak a language other than English.  Clementine is watching them.  Nahum scoops water and suds from the side of of the sponge and pours it over the pie tin again.  Clementine simply says: "I need some more."  Nahum stops what he is doing, cocks he head endearingly, and looks right at Clementine and repeats: "Some more?"  He then scoops up some water and suds from the side of the sponge and pours it into Clementine's pot.  

Social grace is often overlooked because we are expend a lot of energy on the problems of managing classrooms.  This 18-second clip is a perfect example of an act of social grace in which a child is kind and generous to another.  This is an important area of learning because when it self-replicates, the classroom is a good place to be. 

Clearly, the sensory table encompasses many areas development.  This is true for the giant sponge and all other apparatus used in the sensory table. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Children like to use sponges.  They especially like to squeeze them.   With that in mind, why not have a giant sponge in the sensory table so they can squeeze to their hearts content?

Where does one find a giant sponge?  The first one I used was a cushion from an old couch.  I simply took off the cover and I had the giant sponge I was looking for.   To make sure it was clean, I put it out on the deck at home and squirted it with dish soap.  I gave my children---who were in their swimsuits---the hose to clean it anyway they saw fit.  They got the cushion clean by spraying it, squeezing it, jumping on it, hugging it and other permutations thereof.  In the end, they were head-to-toe in suds and the cushion wash soooooooo very clean.

To set up the giant sponge, squirt some liquid dish soap on the cushion.  You do not need too much.  The more soap you use, the more suds and bubbles you will get.  Put only a couple of inches of water in the table.  If you put in more water, the cushion will float and there will be more splashing.   Add smaller sponges, containers and spoons.

What can you do with a giant sponge?  You can squeeze it, poke it, rub it, punch it, pinch it, and push it down as hard as you can.  All those actions help make suds.

Of course the more you poke, squeeze and press down, the more suds you get.

I guess it is time to wash the Duplo train in the pie tin.  Or is it a bubble -train pie?

One of the unique aspects of this apparatus is the physical characteristics of the sponge.  When you push down on the sponge, you leave an impression.  Here you see impressions made by different containers the children use to press into the cushion.

When the children press their hands down on the sponge, too, they leave a fading handprint on the sponge.

And, when you pour water on top of the sponge, where does the water go?

Another unique aspect of this apparatus is the physical characteristics of the suds created by the sponge.   For instance, suds stick to things---like your hand.

Also, suds have substance but have very little weight.  You can fill a container to overflowing and it is still not much heavier than the container itself.

And if you expect the suds to pour from a measuring cup the same as water, you find suds do not pour.  Rather, you need a spoon to help get the suds out.

The sensory table is not simply about the senses.  It is clearly a science table, too, in which the children explore, experiment and learn about physical laws governing their world.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Boxes to me are like a slab of marble to a sculptor.  Well, that might be overstating it a tad.  When I see a box, though, I immediately assess its value for use in the sensory table.  When I first saw a long, narrow box that had contained a fan, I thought that it would be a novel apparatus if I could attach it so it would be strong enough on the vertical to withstand the children's pulling and tugging.  Even though I thought it would be novel,  I still had no idea how the children would use it.  In a way, it seemed too simple.  As it turned out, that was the beauty of the box tower.  Its simplicity allowed the children's unfettered imagination to give it functionality beyond the realm of adult reality.  It became a cement mixer and then a smoothie maker; it became a popcorn popper and then a machine that cleans the animals that fall in.  Though it is simple, it is also one of the most dynamic because of how the children make it their own.

A quick example of how a child found a way to make this apparatus his own is seen on the right.  This child noticed the picture of the controlling buttons of the fan on the fan box.  For him, the picture of the buttons became the on and off buttons for the cement mixing machine.

Here are some additional notes about the holes in the box tower.

First, always put a hole on top.  Children explore every level. Consequently, they will always try to reach the highest level.
(I showed this picture of the boy reaching the top hole to a physical therapist and she said that it was a example of "good trunk extension."  Good trunk extension sounds impressive and important for large motor development.)

Put holes on multiple levels with varying orientation and
vary the size of the holes to add large and small motor challenges to pouring into the holes.

Tape the edges of all the holes to prevent paper cuts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I make a box tower every year.  One year when I was ready to make a box tower, I did not have a long,
rectangular box.  Instead, I found three boxes I could stack on top of each other to make a tower.  I started with a base box that fit neatly inside the table.  I taped the flaps shut and then made a hole on top, approximately in the middle.

Next, I took a smaller box and cut a hole in the bottom to match the hole of the base box.

I taped the holes of the two boxes together by first cutting holes in two of the sides of the second box so I could reach in and align the two holes.  I then taped the second box to the top of the base box all around the sides.

Finally, I took a third, smaller box and attached it to the second box in the same way to finish the tower.

One of the pluses of a box tower like this is that now there are more levels on which to operate because the ledges formed by stacking the boxes add additional levels.  In addition, the spaces that are formed inside each of the boxes at each level encourage further exploration of novel spaces.  And children will explore all levels and all spaces from top to bottom.