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.

Monday, August 23, 2010


One of the first things I built for the sensory table was a tray.  I cut and nailed scraps of 1X8 pieces of wood I had around the house.  I made it slightly wider than the width of the table so it would lay across the table.

I wanted to provide a space on which to put things that were in the table.  I have seen so many children hold a container against their body when they try to fill the container.  What happens?  It spills and they get wet.  With a tray, a space is provided on which to place things. That way they do not have to hold the container against their body to fill it.

By having the tray, it also frees up the hands to experiment and perform other operations like using  a funnel while pouring.

With the tray, the child can pour with less spilling and less getting wet.  Even with a tray, though, there will always be spilling and getting wet.  Be prepared.

In terms of exploration and learning, the tray provides another level on which to work.  If you are keeping count, there are now three levels at the table.  1) There is the bottom of the table itself.  2) The pail (see previous posts) which is on the floor.   3) The tray which is above the table.  The three levels have increased the spaces to explore because now there is an over, under and around.  When the child moves or is transporting over, under and around the tray, a different set of large and small muscle motor operations are required.  For example, you cannot just scoop something up from under the tray and lift it straight up.  The child has to scoop and then lift slightly and reverse the original scooping motion.  All this lays the ground work for cognitive mapping of spaces and how to operate in and around them.

The explorations take many forms.  Here are just a couple:

The child below is using the tray to hold her creations.  The child is making forms from moon sand.  The trays provides a nice platform for her work.  In fact, the forms are highlighted so much better than if they were just made on top of the sand in the table itself.

This group is filling the tray to the top with moon sand.  They are compacting the sand so it will fit the sides of the tray.  It was as if they are forming a solid block inside the tray.  They are using hammers and other clay cutting tools.

One of the boys works very hard to tamp down the sand.  Another  child has figured out that he could slice off a piece with a clay cutting tool.  I would say that is nice large motor and fine motor work on their parts.

Here the children have completely filled the tray with animal bedding.  The bedding is light and airy so it is easy to fill the tray to overflowing.  In addition, it smells good.  

I always attach the tray to the table with duct tape.  I criss-cross the tape on both sides.  For each side, one piece of tape goes from over the lip of the tray under the lip of the table, the other one is taped under the tray to the inside of the table.  To make it a stronger hold, I then take a long piece of tape and wrap it around both sets of tape under the tray.  The wrapping around pulls the two sets of tape tight so there is virtually no movement.

Two quick notes about this apparatus.  If you are using it for water, caulk the seams with a bathroom caulk otherwise it will leak at the joints.  Also, if you are using it with water, drill holes in the side so water will leak out into the table otherwise the children will fill it to overflowing.  That is bad if your tray hangs over the side like the one pictured.  I have had to adjust the size and number of holes depending on the creativity and enthusiasm of the group.  If there are too many holes, I easily correct it with duct tape.

Friday, August 20, 2010


One of the books I read this summer was a book by play scholar Stuart Brown. His book is called: PLAY; How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.  Yesterday, I went to hear him talk at the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis as a keynote speaker for the Neighborhood Bridges National Conference.  As I listened to him speak, I was struck by a couple of things he said that relate specifically to this blog.  I am going to quote from his book.

p.84   "Movement is primal...  If you don't understand and appreciate human movement, you really won't understand yourself or play.  Learning about self-movement creates a structure for an individual's knowledge of the world---it is a way of knowing.  Through movement play, we think in motion.  Movement structures our knowledge of the world, space, time and our relationship with others."

p.185  "The hand and the brain need each other---the hand provides the means for interacting with the world and the brain provides the method...the hand and the brain are important not only for each other's function, but that the use of the hands manipulate three-dimensional objects is an essential part of brain development...  Normal play, the play that I have shown is constantly fertilizing neural growth and complexity, is packed with examples of hand use."

Clearly movement and manipulation with the hands happen in all areas of an early childhood classroom.   Besides movement and using the hands, Dr. Brown also mentioned in his talk the need for play experiences that include all the senses.  For me, this sums up play in and around the sensory table: movement, hand exploration/manipulation, sight, sound, smell---and all in 3-D.

I highly recommend his book for any one interested in why play is so important for development of the child and its importance even for adults.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pails and tubs

Pails and tubs come in all sizes and shapes.  Here is a simple five gallon pail set next to the table.  Note that here it is not attached.

It can also be a small pail.  This actually works out better for toddlers because the sides are not so deep.  That is important because with this arrangement they have less trouble scooping out what they put in.  And believe me, they will not only want to transport into the container, but they will also want to do the opposite operation, namely, scoop out of the container.

Here is a planter on the floor at the sensory table in the toddler room. It has low sides and the children can easily get things in and out.

Here is another adaptation in the toddler room.  I have taped a plastic wash basin on top of a five gallon container so it is at the same level as the small toddler sensory table.

Even if a 5 gallon pail is there, children are going to get creative and find other size containers to transport sand, etc., from the table.  Below a child has found a smaller plastic container into which to spoon the sand.  It is placed next to the big pail, but for the child it is more of an internal and motoric challenge to put it in the smaller container.  Spilling?  Of course.

Bigger containers offer an opportunity to explore different spaces around the table. The sand at the bottom of the waste basket is at a different level---floor level---than the sand in the table.  Getting it out of the basket or into to it is a different spacial experience than simply moving it around in the table.

Bigger containers also offer an opportunity for a whole body spacial experience.  

These whole body spacial experiences also include large muscle operations such as balance.

Of course, it could just be a head experience, too!

One final point to be made about pails and tubs: They not only add an additional physical level of play, but they also add to the overall area of play. 

That is important to me because I have such a small area to begin with.  If I had a bigger area, I could easily add more pails and tubs.  And, guaranteed, the children will use every one of them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pail #2

Here is a clip of the pail in action.  This clip was taken in the fall of 2008 early in the school year.  The two boys, Declan and Yusef, have just turned three and, before this espisode, have never played together.   I started taking the video because I was impressed with their play on many levels.

At the simpliest level, you see two boys moving sand from the table into a pail.  Yusef is using a scoop and Declan a spoon.  Yusef pours the sand high over the bucket and Declan pours it from the level of the lip of the pail.  Both are working on their fine and large motor skills by transporting the sand.  In addition, they are learning to coordinate their movements to execute their desired actions.  To me this is standard stuff for the play in and around the sensorimotor table.

The real beauty of the play becomes clearer with the audio.  The audio is a little hard to understand because it is in a small classroom where many other things are going on.  The following is a transcript of the audio:

    Declan asks:  "What is your name?"
    Yusef answers:  "Ah, Yusef."
    D. looks up at Y---probably because the name is new to him---and asks: "What?"
    Y. says: "Yusef."
    D. does not respond
    Y. repeats: "Yusef."
    D. ???
    Y. with a little emphasis: "No, Yusef."
    Y. repeats: "Yusef."
    D., as he pours sand into the bucket, announces: "My name is Declan."
    Y. declares one last time: "Yusef."

As seen in the video, the sensory table---with the pail---has just provided the space and opportunity for two young boys to introduce themselves in a way no lesson plan can duplicate.  The social action of getting to know each other has meaning to each of them because it is initiated by them and flows normally in the course of doing what comes naturally: transporting the sand.

At that point, I stopped videotaping.  Shorly afterword, though, I came back to find these three-year-olds had progressed in their play with the sand and pail.  I should say pails, because they incorporate a second pail into their scheme.  Take a look.
Because the audio is so garbled, I could not hear any of their dialogue except I can clearly hear Yusef say: "You ready?"  What I can see is two boys working at what it means to carry out a joint venture.  Especially notice how Yusef is reading the cues from Declan so he knows to move, and then near the end, he helps Declan with the pouring.  Together, they have taken the job of transporting a step further both in terms of a physical challenge(lifting and coordinating the pouring from one bucket to the other) and in terms of a social challenge(doing it together).   When I showed the mothers of these two boys the videos, they were duely impressed at how well they cooperated.  One mom even suggested it had the elements of a dance.  I could not agree more.

There is a footnote to this episode.  Look at the video one more time and pay special attention to the very end.  As the two boys execute "the pour" together, the lip of the top pail slips and causes all the sand to go on the floor---not in the pail.  This brings up an important point when there is a sensory table in the classroom. There is a corollary to axiom 1 on the top right of the blog: In the act of transporting whatever is in the table out of the table, the children will spill.  It is an integral part of the process, so we deal with it and, at times, are even able to laugh.