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, April 28, 2011


What kind of play would you expect to see with a dinosaur mountain?  Dinosaur play, of course.

Dinosaur play can be boisterous.  What's appealing about this clip is that it shows girls want to be and can be boisterous, too.  There is something to be said for a productive outlet for this type of play for both boys and girls.

Not all play is boisterous, though.  Take a look at this clip of Alex at the Dinosaur Mountain.

You saw the first set of actions by Alex.  He scoops up some bedding in his cup.  It is overflowing, so he shakes it gently to level off the cup.  Where did he learn that gentle shake to top of his cup?  He goes around to the other end of the table, steps up on the stool, and dumps the bedding on the corner of the Dinosaur Mountain. Now what do you think he will do next?  Notice he has a dinosaur in his right hand.

Did you guess what he was going to do?  I did not.  That is why I followed him.  He did it several times, which gave me the chance to follow him.  All his actions looked planned and purposeful.  First he would transport the animal bedding with his cup; dump the contents on the corner of the apparatus; and then use the dinosaur to scatter the pile.  Why does he transport the bedding from basically one end of the table to the other?  He could have just got animal bedding from a closer point. Maybe there is something about physically moving in and around objects and obstacles that motivates a child to action.  After piling the bedding, why does the dinosaur knock it down?  Is that what dinosaurs do?  Did you see his face?  It was like he was in dinosaur character.  And then why does he stop, look a bit surprised, and then look around inquisitively?  Maybe he surprised himself when he and the dinosaur knocked some of the bedding on the floor.  Nobody seemed to take care, so the dinosaur finishes the job of obliterating the pile.  Flop, flop, flop, flop goes the dinosaur.  Like I said, he did it several times.  Why this scenario?

I don't know how Alex came up with his scenario with the dinosaur.  Some time before the scenario, though, he was piling and moving the bedding with his hands. Take a look.

It is so fascinating to watch as he reaches through two holes in the Dinosaur Mountain to pile the bedding.  Once he has done that, he tries to knock it down off the ledge.  He reaches through the two holes and starts to flick the bedding with his hand.  To reach the bedding, he puts his shoulder up to the hole so now he cannot see what he is doing.  He has to do some contortions and is now doing it all by feel. He decides to check on his progress, so walks around to see what is left of the pile. He finishes the job.  

Children have a need to transport---everything.  I am always captivated by the scenarios that children come up with for transporting.   Here is another scenario that happened at the Dinosaur Mountain which had nothing to do with dinosaurs.

Addie scoops the bedding from the bridge and puts it in her little container.  That is no easy task because bedding is not easily scooped because it is light and ends up pushed around more than scooped.  

When she fills up her cup to her satisfaction, she walks over to the Dinosaur Mountain and steps up on the stool.

Once up on the stool, she empties the container into the hole.  

And, of course, she has to check her work and anything that did not disappear down the hole, is now pushed down the hole with her hand.  Job done and let's do it again.

Addie's transporting is pretty straight forward compared to Alex's.  If you stretch your thinking, you might even say the first girl in the video is transporting the dinosaur. What is common between all the play highlighted in this post is that children are the agents of their actions.  When children are agents of their own actions, boisterous or not, they feel good about themselves and are free to create their own scenarios.

Note: if you have been following this blog, you know I usually post on Thursday. There will be no post next Thursday because I will be getting ready for my youngest daughter wedding on Friday.  See you in two weeks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Last October I wrote about BOX TOWERS herehere, and here.  I finally got around to making my yearly BOX TOWER a few weeks ago.  I have tried to do a better job of documenting how I built it.  For this tower, I used three different size boxes that I could stack on top of each other.

I first cut a hole in the top of the largest box.

I duct taped the flaps.

I took the second box and made marks for the length of the hole on the bottom of the second box to match the length of the hole on the top of the bottom box.

I took a piece of cardboard to match the width of the hole on the bottom box and made a mark on the two ends of the cardboard piece.  That process gave me marks for the height and the width of the hole from the bottom box on the second box.

From the marks, I filled in lines to make the rectangle I would cut out for the bottom of the second box.  I roughly centered it and then cut out the rectangle.

I then matched the two holes for taping.

I taped the boxes together.  Notice that I kept the flaps open on the second box.  That made it much easier for me to reach inside to tape the holes together for a strong bond between the boxes.

I repeated the same process to attach the top box to the second box.

Once the holes are taped on the inside the boxes with the duct tape, I taped the flaps shut and I cut holes in the sides of the towers on the different levels.  As I cut the holes, I pulled the flaps out.

I trimmed the flaps with a box cutter.

I taped the flap I trimmed to the adjoining box.  This, too, contributed to a secure bond.

I also taped all the joints were the boxes meet to make an even more secure bond. My experience tells me the children will test the strength of any given apparatus.

This year's installment of the BOX TOWER was called DINOSAUR MOUNTAIN.

I used animal bedding with this activity.  The dinosaurs are animals, after all.

I also built a bridge with a wooden tray.

The bridge connected the sensory table with a smaller table that holds many of the utensils we use in the sensory table.  It also extended the sensory table and provided an additional dimension for play and an interesting area for transporting to and from.

Just a quick note: animal bedding gets all over the room because it is light and sticks to clothes.  Just ask Addie.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Horizontal Channels and the Infectiousness of Play

Play throughout the classroom can be infectious at times.  Sometimes you can see clearly where it starts and how it quickly progresses.  Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and can be so subtle.  Here are two examples of the infectiousness of play at the channel apparatus.  Both examples are child-initiated.  The first one takes ten seconds and is like toppling dominoes.  The second one happens over the course of 15-20 minutes and is much more nuanced.

Here is the first.

The boy in the green starts the action.  It has as much to do with the vigorous action as it has to do with the making of loud sounds.  Next comes the boy in the stripes with his energetic back-and-forth in the channel.  The taller girl in pink follows with more circular motions that are no less spirited.  The two remaining children start almost simultaneously.  The boy in the blue shirt first makes a little space for himself with the dump truck in his right hand and then tumbles his other truck with his left hand.  Though he has made space to move his truck, the other girl moves right back into the space with her truck.  As the video ends, they crash.  The smaller girl in the foreground drives her little bulldozer in the sand.  Her channel is full of sand, so her vehicle doesn't make the sound of wheels on the cardboard.  For her, it is about the robust motion and her face tells it all.

You can see how quickly the activity spreads.  Did you notice there is very little eye contact?  The children see and hear the motion of the truck and then decide for themselves how they will replicate it.  Though there may be a little eye contact, like when there is the crash, they are all concentrating on joining the chorus of noise and motion.  You can't get much more infectious than that.

Now let's look at a more nuanced example of infectious play that takes longer and that seemingly has nothing to do with the apparatus itself.

I noticed Miriam was putting sand on her forearm.  I asked her what she was doing. She told me she was feeding the birds.  I then asked her how that works?   The video starts with her explaining how she feeds the birds. (Remember, the suggested YouTube videos have no connection with this blog.)

She says: "I dump it on there, and the birds come on, and they tweet at it, and they bring it home."  She knows exactly how it happens.  I ask her if the birds have eaten it yet and she proceeds to slowly tilt her arm so the sand flows into the spoon.  She even produces a faint tweeting sound.  I tell her I can hear the birds tweet and then ask if she is going to feed them again.  She does and this time the birds tweet more loudly.

Where in the world did her scenario of feeding the birds come from?  It certainly has no direct connection with the apparatus.  Nor was there anything in the classroom to suggest birds, let alone feeding the birds.

(By the way, did you notice she was shoulder-to-shoulder with two other children who are totally engaged in their own play.  In fact the girl on the right is actually crossing over into her space, but in the second channel.  That means they are playing in the same vector(a straight line to the camera) but on different points along the vector.  Without even knowing it, they are experiencing math in space and time.)

Shortly after Miriam feeds the birds, Luke feeds the birds.  Luke was the child on Miriam's left.  He has a little different take on feeding the birds.  Watch.

Luke is using a little cup and pouring the sand in his hand.  When he is done, he pauses, and then closes his hand quickly and says he caught them.  A new twist: feed them and catch them.

Ana, who was on Miriam's right, picks up the bird feeding theme next.   Watch how Ana feeds the birds.

She is filling a bird feeder.  Luke has moved over to help her.  Another new twist: filling a bird feeder to feed the birds.

Last to feed the birds is Hannah.  She is on the opposite side of the table from from all the bird feeding.  She is the youngest bird feeder and has clearly picked up on the activity.

I happened to notice Hannah's actions looked a lot like Miriam's original actions.  I asked her if she was feeding the birds.  Though she did not answer, her actions were clearly an imitation of Miriam's actions.  We have come full circle after about twenty minutes of play.

When I made this apparatus and added trucks and construction vehicles, there was no way I could have imagined a bird-feeding scenario.  This goes to show you that when an apparatus is open-ended and the play is not scripted, the scenarios are limited only by the children's imaginations---which are limitless.  Oh, yah, and they can also be quite infectious.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


This horizontal channel apparatus that rests on top of the sensory table lends itself nicely to play with cars and trucks, especially construction vehicles.

The children will fill up the dump trucks, drive them to the edge of the ramp, and then dump. Did you notice there are four sets of hands in this small space?

Spoons, scoops, and containers are always available, too. Sometimes the children will use the spoons and scoops to fill up the dump trucks, but many times they will use them to fill up containers for their own purposes. The picture on the right illustrates this point. It is also a reminder that play happens on another level: the floor.  Children have no compunction about getting down on the floor to play.  In other words, even the floor is an important space to utilize at the sensory table.

Here is a five-second video that shows quite nicely the different types of play children discover around this apparatus.

Did you catch all that?  The boy in the stripes on the far end is driving a vehicle in one of the channels.  The boy in the red shirt is using his hands to scoop sand from the channel closest to him to bury vehicles in the middle channel.  The girl in the white sweater is using a front loader to move sand down the ramp.  The boy kneeling next to the tub is driving a front loader down the ramp.  The girl in the red shirt is filling a measuring cup with a scoop.  The tall girl in gray is driving her dump truck in the channel underneath the pipe.  The last child is using a yoghurt container to transfer sand from one channel into another.  Remember, this is a space is approximately 8' X 6' and still, this many children seem to have very little trouble negotiating their spaces.

Since these are horizontal channels, children are the agents that make the vehicles go.  In the short video below, one child has cleared a channel and is driving his vehicle back and forth with abandon.

One thing to note that is highlighted in this video is that a channel, once it is cleared, is like a track that directs a back-and-forth motion without having to worry about running off the track.  For this child, it allows him to make those big motions, which in turn, frees up his focus so he can also do something else---like sing. Those big motions must be so liberating.

When playing with this apparatus, some children go so far as to empty all the channels into the tub.  When the older children put their mind to it, they can do an amazing job. But how do you get the last little bit out of those pesky cracks?  You use what you have: your fingers.

Once  you have gotten the stragglers free of the cracks, it is time to bring in the heavy equipment!

It takes a lot of work to clear those channels.  Take a look and listen. (Remember, the YouTube suggested videos have nothing to do with this blog.)

Before I started video taping, I heard Sophie comment to Theresa how much work it was to clean all the channels.  As the video starts, Sophie is asking Theresa: "Is your back sore?"  At the same time she makes a lovely gesture as if to rub her back.  Theresa doesn't answer, but keeps right on working. Sophie wants Theresa to know she empathizes with her by adding: "When I do hard things---yeh, my back is really sore."  

The work was hard.  It took a goal, a plan, adjusting the plan, a certain amount of negotiation with others, and persistence to see it through.  The children take great pride in their work and well they should.  And it must feel good get a little recognition in the form the empathy, too.