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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Besides being apparatus themselves, trays can serve another important function in the sensory table.  For me, they also form the base on which to place or build other apparatus.  The trays are used especially when I want a vertical incline to the apparatus.  Here two cardboard chutes are attached to the wooden tray ( see previous post from 8/23/10)).  

In the apparatus below,  I have used the planter tray (previous post from 9/12/10) to attach a crate.  Through the crate, I have attached a plastic chute.

The great thing about the plastic planter tray is that if it is turned upside down, it sits on the lip of the sensory table and apparatus can be attached to it in that configuration.  Look!
I have even combined to the two types of trays to form the base of an apparatus.  I did that to get a greater incline on a cardboard chute apparatus.

As you might have guessed by now,  I like trays.

Friday, September 17, 2010


So if one tray is good, then two must be better.

There are now two trays, but how many spaces?  Two trays multiplies the spaces in which the children work. Besides the over, under, and in of each of the trays, there is now an inbetween.  Now, too, there is another container from which---or into which---to transport.

So if two trays are better, then three trays must be even better, still.
Besides the planter tray in the middle, I found some old dark room trays.  I was able to arrange one of the darkroom trays so the bottom on one side rested on the lip of the planter and the bottom on the other side rested on the lip of the sensory table.  With this arrangement, there are more levels and more spaces to explore.  There are now three levels inside the table and spaces on either side of the trays, over the trays and under the trays.  

If three trays are better still, then five trays...well, you get the idea.  Once you start, there are any number of combinations and orientations.

There are now four levels inside the table and plenty of novel spaces.  And the children will use all the levels and spaces in their play and exploration.

These children said they were filling the top trays with all the seeds.  Could they do it?  The answer is not as important as the process.  First they gave themselves a task and pursued it with the utmost importance.  Why this task?  I think it has something to do with their innate drive to transport.  They worked very hard even though gathering all the seeds from all the spaces involved more complex operations, like scooping the corn from the bottom trays.  This involved first scooping with spoons under the top trays, pulling the scoops back and then lifting and pouring into the top tray.  The spoons lost their usefulness because the bottom of the bottom trays are not flat and the children were getting fewer and fewer seeds.  Next, they started to use their hands to grasp the seeds.  When I look at the picture, I think of the feeling of space, particularly depth, they are experiencing as they reach all the way under the tray to get the seeds.  That is not only the vertical depth of reaching into the tray, but it is also a horizontal depth of reaching way under the tray.

As they scoop and scrape, they are constantly gauging their progress.  How much is left in the bottom of the trays and the bottom of the table?  How much more do is needed to fill the top?  In this episode of play, they worked very hard.  The top tray was full, so they went on to the next level to fill those trays.
They could not get every seed out of the bottom trays and out of the bottom of the table, but their work was impressive.  By filling the top trays, they were able to see the effect of full trays and the weight on the base trays.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010


One of my favorite activities in the hardware store is to look through all the ailses to see the pipes, gutters and tubes, etc.  I am always looking for materials to use in the sensory table.  A few years ago in the fall, I was walking through the garden section.  There was a plastic planter on clearance that caught my eye.  I bought it with hopes of using it in the sensory table.  To my surprise it fit perfectly.

I had a ready-made tray that fit right into the table.  It provided many of the same features as the wooden tray(previous post).  This tray, though, actually goes into the table and sits 4 or 5 inches off the bottom of the table.  It is also narrower. 

Because it fits into the table, it is easier to attach.

Notice how the lip of the tray rests on the lip of the table.   I take two pieces of duct tape and tape it from inside the lip of the tray over and under the lip of the table (picture above left).   I then take another piece of duct tape and lay it across the two pieces (picture above right).

If you can find the right size planter to fit inside your table, this apparatus is as simple as the pail from an earlier post.

Planters always have holes because it is important for plants to drain.  I could use those, but they tend to be too big so the tray won't hold any water.  For that reason, I keep the holes plugged that are part of the planter and I drill two to four smaller holes on the edge of the bottom.  That lets the water out more  slowly and provides another avenue of exploration.  The child below is filling his plastic syrup jug from the hole at the bottom of the planter.  Notice the bottom of the little jug is in the water.  That means that at first, the jug is buoyant and the child has to push down.  As the jug fills, the child has to reverse the action because the water filling the jug gets heavier, so he has to hold it up.

There is a different space and volume  experience when the water is filling containers on different levels.  In the picture below, the table itself is a container; the tray itself also holds water;  and the pots that sit inside the trays provide additional levels for which the children experience space and volume.  


Monday, September 6, 2010

The Swamp

The is an activity that uses the wooden tray mentioned in the previous post. With the tray crossing the middle of the table, I have put fall leaves and water in the table. I call it a swamp because the mixture of dead leaves and water make a swampy brew. I add sticks, pine cones and such, too.  For the children to handle the brew, I put tongs, little pails, spoons and various containers including such things as an old plastic water bottle and an old pan.

Though I plan the general parameters of the activity, I never really know in which direction the children will take the activity.  I am continually surprised and amazed.  Let me show you an example of what children can do with this simple, open-ended set-up.  Look and listen to the following clip:

The boys found the holes in the side of the tray. Gavin (#1) and Micah are pouring water into the tray. They have placed a pot and a plastic water bottle to catch the water underneath the holes that are leaking. They talk about how they are filling the containers which, by the way, is one step removed from simply filling the tray with water. They have figured out that by filling the tray, they will fill the containers for what Gavin (#1) calls a "big, big overflow." Micah was checking the recovery process and says with confidence "we're catching it all."  Finn has taken particular interest in the leaky hole and the pot catching the leak. Off camera he tells me: "This is how apple juice is made of."  At first I thought he was saying that this is "what" juice is made of.  After listening and watching several times, I think he really meant "how" juice is made.  And in fact, the color of the water is quite similar to apple juice. And the water trickling from the hole looks a lot like the process of juice squeezed from a press. So he is not simply observing, but making associations from previous experiences and attempting to cognitively map this new one with those previous experiences.  There is a fourth child, Gavin (#2). He is the consumate observer.  I do not know what he is thinking, but I still feel he is an important part of the activity. Why?  I think of it as a scene in a play and it would not be complete without his part.