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.

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.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Orientation of an apparatus offers the children foundational experiences with space. A long fan box placed upright produces a very nice vertical tower.  And a box tower is as simple as it gets.  All you have to do is find a long rectangular box, cut some holes, and tape it in the sensory table. You now have a dynamic apparatus with a vertical orientation for children to explore and make their own.

To make this apparatus more stable, I embedded it in another box.  Holes are cut in the bottom sides of the fan box and the base box so when the children put sand in the holes on an upper level it comes out the bottom.  When cutting the holes on the bottom sides of the boxes, I make three cuts, one across and two down.  I leave the bottom uncut so I have a flap that I can fold down and tape to the bottom of the table.  That increases the stability of the box tower, otherwise, the children pulling on the top---and they will---dislodge the apparatus easily.

So why is the box tower so dynamic?  It is dynamic because it is open-ended.   For the youngest children, it is a pouring activity; young children feel compelled to put things in holes.  For them, it is an opportunity to work on fine and large motor developmental tasks.  For the older children---who still feel compelled to put things in holes---it becomes a machine to animate.

On the wall next to the box tower, a piece of paper is stapled for recording what the children say as they use the box tower. 

There are several things to note.  1) Children are imaginative in the realm of what could be real:  "It's a pancake factory.  It makes pancakes softer."  2) Children are imaginative in the realm of what is not real: "milk berries" and "oint, a special kind of sugar."  3) Children take expressions from life and make them their own: In making the chocolate pie, one child decided to have three secret ingredients.  4) Any activity can be a writing activity: Owen gets a sheet of paper and signs it(bottom left in orange) because he wants to lay claim to his recipe in the myriad of recipes.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Newsweek had an article in its July 10, 2010 issue referencing the decline in creativity scores of children in US since 1990.  The article can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html    With emphasis on testing and getting answers right, is there any wonder creativity suffers?

There is an easy antidote to this problem.  Here is a video clip of a child using tongs that illustrates the antidote nicely.  Two-year-old Teddy has a pair a tongs.  He is trying to pick up a rock.  He has not mastered opening and closing the tongs to pick up the rock.  He jabs at it and says: "I'm cutting the cupcake."  Then he picks up the rock with one hand and slips it inbetween the open tongs he is holding in his other hand.  He has not mastered pinching the tongs closed to hold the rock, so in a sweeping motion with his hands, arms and tongs as one, he projects the rock into the water.

Teddy has not mastered the use of the tongs by adult standards.  What he brings to the task of mastering the tongs, though, are abilities, such as large and small motor capabilities, and concrete operational schemes, both of which are the wellspring of his creativity.  By allowing him to experiment with the tongs---instead of teaching them how to use them---he will master them.   By experimenting with them he will have more "tong scenarios" on which to bring to any new task using tongs or similar implements.  Can you use tongs to cut a cupcake?  Of course, especially if the tongs have a spatula type head and you do not have a knife handy.

The antidote to decreasing creativity:  Let them play!  And let them play with real-life, three-dimensional materials on tasks they set for themselves.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I like to include natural elements in my sensory table.   This past week, I put rocks in the table with water.  Ever since my own children were little, I have walked along the Mississippi in the Twin Cities collecting rocks.  They are all shapes, sizes, colors and textures.  Along with the rocks, I set out containers, spoons and tongs.  One child, a four-year-old, arranged the rocks in an old metal jello mold.  He used tongs to meticulously arrange them to make sure he filled the jello mold.  He purposefully used rocks that were very close in size to match the width of the jello mold.  As I look at it, I would call it a work of art.

One child, a two-year-old, really experimented with feeling the rocks.  First he rubbed and rolled a very smooth rock in his hand.  Next, he took a rock almost the same size and shape and rubbed and rolled it in his hand.  The second rock, though, was quite rough.  

Here is a clip that incorporates the wooden tray with the rocks.   The tray allows the children to work above the table at a very comfortable level up and out of the water.  It also allows the children to transport from the table to the pot on the tray.  As the clip begins, the two-year-olds have been putting rocks in the copper pot.  The boy in the middle, Emiliano, puts a rock in the pot.  The other boy, Teddy, also adds a rock.  The girl, Elise, adds a little water using a spoon.

There is a lot to see in this short video.  Two-year-olds are sharing an activity, but at the same time, doing their own thing.  At times they are shoulder to shoulder.  Elise is attempting to transport water with a big spoon.  After she is able to put some in the communal pot, she lifts the spoon and succeeds in spilling the water out of the spoon.  My first thought was: if this was an adult trying to master a new skill, exactly how much frustration and how many expletives would have been recorded.    For Elise, though, it was a discovery process.  She was simply going to keep working at transporting the water with the spoon.  Emiliano after adding to the pot, finds a small rock and works at putting it into one of the small metal bowls in the table.  Both Elise and Emiliano respond by showing me a rock when I ask: "What did you find?"  The question was directed at Teddy, but children listen and respond even though they do not look like they are listening.

When I was filming this short episode, I was actually more focused on Teddy.  The filling of the pot with rocks seemed to be his activity.  There are a some interesting actions to note.  After putting a rock in the pot, he puts in several helpings of water.  Each time, he seems to check the level in the pot.  As he fills the pot with rocks, I encourage him and ask if it is full, yet.  He responds by putting on yet another rock, a big white one.  As he places the rock on top, he slowly pulls his hand away in an effort to make sure the rock is balanced on the other rocks.  It stays and he tries another rock.  Notice how he puts it in the little container and then pours it from the small container on top of the other rocks in the pot.  This last rock does not stay and falls next to the pot.  He might have been able to balance another rock on top of the pile, but he chose instead to transfer the rock to the cup by hand and then pour the rock on top of the pile.   I never presume to guess what the children are thinking.  Their actions are their thoughts which become the mapping in the brain that lays the groundwork for later manipulation of objects inside their head.

I really appreciate the industriousness of the children's play.  Here, they are experiencing natural elements that have shape, texture, weight and color.  They are operating on and with these elements to discover such things as volume in a way that is unique: filling a pot with rocks is different than filling the pot with water.  For instance, you can fill the pot high above the rim by balancing the rocks on top of one another; you can't fill the pot that full with water.