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, June 30, 2011


Before I write about the types of experimentation associated with this apparatus, I want to reiterate the first axiom of sensorimtor play in the right hand column of this blog.  CHILDREN NEED TO TRANSPORT WHATEVER IS IN THE TABLE OUT OF THE TABLE.  What does that mean?  That means even if you have a great apparatus in the table, the children will eventually want to transport the water or sand out of the table.  Consequently, you should always have a pail or a bucket or something into which the children can transport.  See a more complete explanation of this here and here

How do the children approach the large tube and funnel apparatus?  They, of course, pour water into the funnels and catch it coming out of the tube with abandon.

Children start to learn that rate of flow helps determine which container works best for catching the water.  When the flow is greater,  a bigger container will catch more water.

A smaller container, on the other hand, works very nicely when the flow is minimal.

And don't forget, in both pictures of the children catching water, the children are working on eye-to-hand coordination.  Shhh, don't tell them.

One year, I had two very young three-year-olds who discovered what happens when you put a bottle in the pipe and then pour water in the funnel.  Watch.

These two had be working at this little experiment for awhile before I started recording.  If you look at the video a couple of times, you begin to see and feel their anticipation of the bottle popping out of the tube when the water is poured into the funnel.  You can even hear one of them let out a scream of delight.  On an elemental level, this operation by these two young children is phenomenal.  They have figured out that by pouring water into the funnel the water goes into the tube which then carries the plastic bottle out of the tube.  In other words, they are gaining elemental knowledge of hydraulics.  Also, did you make note of the negotiation and cooperation these two engaged in to carry off this operation?

How about stopping the flow?

Here you can see some boys have plugged up the tube with a measuring cup.  The cup does not form a tight seal so some leaks out.  The stronger the leak, the more water behind the measuring cup.  Sometimes they will fill up the tube enough so water no longer goes down the funnels.  When they eventually pull out the measuring cup, they get a real gusher.  That all sounds like hydraulics again.

This year, one child figured out you can see the level of water in the tube because the cup is translucent.  The child discovered that if you looked straight into the cup, the water level can be seen against the inside of the cup.  Watch how the child tells another child about his discovery.

This year that same child also figured out that if the tube is full enough, it leaks out the other end, too.

Children have been plugging the tube for several years.  It started when one group of children discovered that the plastic measuring cup fit nicely into the end of the tube. Every year since, I have introduced it as a provocation for children who are new to the apparatus.  A group of children this year modified that provocation.  They decided to impede the flow with a funnel.

For the water to come out of the funnel, the water has to reach a certain level in the tube.  The higher the level, the further the water squirts out.  That is experimenting with hydraulics again.  Someone in the picture below thinks that is pretty fascinating.

The preceding post ended with a picture of nine children around the table with this apparatus.  Here is a 17 second video of the "9 in blue".   See if you can keep up with all the action.

It would take hours to unpack what is going on in this video.  Instead of unpacking, just enjoy the wonderful, productive flow of many children at work as a group and individually in a small space around this apparatus.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Many years ago, I found a scrap piece of five-inch diameter PVC pipe with holes. Even though I had no idea what I could use it for, I picked it up because I am not one to pass up a valuable piece of junk.  I decided to make what I call: Large Plastic Tube with Funnels.  How is that for catchy and original?

Since the tube already had holes, I decided I would duct tape funnels into some of the holes.  I then set the tube on an slight incline with the lower end extending over the lip of the table.  That way when the children poured water into the funnels, it would empty out the end of the tube extending over the table.

There is, of course, a big tub to catch the water that the children do not catch. Notice a new level a play is created by having the water flow over the edge of the table.  It is actually a continuum of levels because as the water flows, a child can catch it anywhere along the flow---or scoop it from the tub itself.  

This apparatus takes a couple of tools to make.  First, unless you can find a scrap PVC pipe the right length for your table, you will need a hacksaw to cut the PVC.

If your PVC does not have holes, you will need a drill to make holes in the PVC. We used a 3/4 inch drill bit to make our holes.

Watch out for the kick when the drill pierces through the PVC!

Finally, tape the funnels in the holes.

There is nothing to hold the funnels in but the tape.  Taping the funnels down securely involves first taping strips that connect the funnel and the tube and then wrapping tape around the strips.

There is a story I tell about the potential of this apparatus.  One year I had a child in my classroom who had been reading since age three.  When he came into the room at age four, he headed right for the book area and spent most of his time reading. His mother was concerned because he was not playing with other children.  The day this apparatus was set up, he wandered over.  He began pouring water into the funnels. He would watch the water come out the end of the tube into the tub at the side of the table and then scoop water from the tub and pour it back into the funnels. It is important to understand his actions in a sequence between levels from one end of the tube to the other.  He starts high by pouring into the funnels; he watches the water come out of the tube into the tub; he actually bends down to scoop water from the tub; finally he completes the sequence by lifting the cup of water back over the funnels and pouring again.  He kept repeating that for several minutes.  All of a sudden he turns to me and says: "Tom, this kind of reminds me of the carbon cycle."  Being a bit flummoxed, I said: "Henry, I am a little rusty on my carbon cycle.  Why does that remind you of the carbon cycle?"  He explained it in terms of the loop the water was making as he poured and scooped.  That sounds like the carbon cycle, right?  (For the rest of the term, Henry usually spent some time at the sensory table playing with other children, often times raising the level of imaginative play.  His mother was very pleased.)

You know it is a good apparatus when children can enter play at their own developmental level both physically and cognitively, whether that means simply pouring water into the funnels or mentally representing the carbon cycle.

You also know it is a good apparatus when it accommodates over half the children in the room---a cadre in blue---totally engaged in both individual and group play.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


One of the blogs I follow had a posting about the "power of yes" in the classroom. Scott at Brick by Brick thinks that "No" is too often the default answer to requests made by children in the classroom.  I think that is because we as adults have pre-conceived notions about where and how things should be used.  Or we plan an activity with an idea about of how it should unfold.  Scott thinks that by stopping and considering children's requests, we create more opportunities for children to experiment and be creative across all areas of development.  In the process, we challenge our own thoughts and actions.  Isn't that what education is all about?  One of the nice things that happens if you do not automatically dismiss children's requests that do not fit your modus operandi is that they will continue to ask.  The more asking, the more learning.  In addition, when a "No" is necessary, it means something other than the standard teacher response to a child's request that does not fit with the adult's expectations.  (Sorry, Scott, I am not ready to give up my camera.)

"Yes" is also a powerful tool when setting positive expectations in the room.  For instance, a child asks to play in the sensory table but she has not picked up the blocks she was playing with.  I will usually say something like this: "Yes, of course, you can play in the sensory table.  Let's pick up the blocks first."  Surprisely, that works---most of the time.  Why?  Because it sounds so much different from: "No, you can't play at the sensory table until you pick up the blocks."  Beginning your repsonse immediately with a "No" tends to set up a power struggle.  A "Yes" does not.  And children do like to cooperate.

I like to try to take it a step further by having the children use the word yes with each other.  There is a kind of script I use with the children in my classroom.  It goes something like this.  There is something new in the sensory table, say minnow nets.  Since there are not enough nets for everyone who wants one, a child who doesn't have one may try to grab it away from a child who does have one.  I say to the child who wants the net to ask for it.  The child asks for it.  Now, the child who has the net has to answer.  Usually the child will say "No." So often, though, a child has been told to share by adults in her life so she is torn between still wanting to play with the net and having to "share."  I make sure that child knows it is ok to say "No" if she is not done with it.  As soon as the child who asks for the net gets the "No," I tell him to ask if he can have it when she is done.  He does and almost always gets a "Yes."  When the answer is "Yes," the potential conflict simply vanishes.  I then have the child ask the child with the net "When will you be done?" The answer varies greatly, but the child who has the net often gives it willingly in short order to the other child.  When children learn how to negotiate a "Yes" answer, life in the classroom runs harmoniously.

I do believe in the "power of yes."

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Last week I posted about suds painting as an art activity in the sensory table.  It is mixing colors and painting objects with the newly discovered colors.

It is also a sensory activity that seems to give children great pleasure.  Watch the short video below.  Notice how Jamison holds the small container against his body with his suds-painted hand.   Then, with a very subtle motion, he slowly---almost imperceptibly---pulls his hand away from the container to look at his hand.  Watch.

How do you explain how Jamison is holding the container?  It is almost like he is cradling it against his body with great care.  What do you think he is doing when he slowly pulls his hand away and looks at his green hand?  There is something tactile about the sudsy paint that is pleasing enough for him to continue to hold the container in this manner for many minutes.  There was no mixing for him at this point, only feeling.

Because there is no script for this activity, it becomes many things.  One of the things it becomes is dramatic play.  When Charlie mixes all the colors and gets brown, he is making hot chocolate.


It also becomes cooperative play.  A lot of children paint their own hands.  Below, Logan paints Walter's hand.

I did not see who initiated this play. They both look like willing participants, though.

What is often overlooked in any activity at the sensory table is the science the children are experiencing.  They are natural experimenters.  Watch the following two videos to see as Audrey figures out how to get the suds out of the bottle.  Suds have substance, but very little weight.  Suds also tend to stick to surfaces. First she uses the brush.

That is not working, so she decides to try another approach.  Watch and listen.

It works and she tells us what she is doing.  She was so proud she figured out how to get the suds out of the bottle.  Science can be so satisfying when you can figure something out.  Often times it is messy, too.

Watch Derek experiment with the suds and the funnel.

His finger fits perfectly in the hole of the funnel.  First he puts his finger in from the outside.  Then he puts his finger through the hole from the inside.  As he does, he notices that his finger tip pops out covered in suds.  He seems to be fascinated by the discovery and begins touching and wiping the suds with the index finger of his other hand.  Science can be so fascinating when the unexpected happens. Often times it is messy, too.

(This was the first time I used funnels with the suds painting.  Many children explored the hole of the funnels and the suds with their fingers and brushes.  Maybe it has something to do with sensorimotor play axiom  #5 in the right column of this blog.)

Science is always a part of any activity in the sensory table.  Children are always experimenting.  In addition, they are always observing like any good scientist worth his/her weight in gold.  Just ask Gabriel.

That is a young scientist observing a new and fascinating substance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Most teachers might consider suds painting an art activity.  Well, I do, too, but the way I set it up in the sensory table there is no product, only process.  It is a color-mixing, totally sensory activity.

The set up for this activity is very simple.  I use a plastic gutter splash guard supported by a  tray.  Children will paint both the tray and the splash guard.  If enough suds paint is applied to the splash guard, the sudsy paint begins to flow down the splash guard.

To make suds paint, I use a foaming soap dispenser.  Pamper Chef has one that has the amount of dish soap to water ratio right on the side of the bottle.  It looks like the ratio is 1 part dish soap to 7 parts water.  Some hand soaps now come in foaming soap dispensers and I use those, too, using the approximate ratio on the Pamper Chef dispenser.  I put tempera paint on the bottom of a paint cup and then add the sudsy foam.  A long handled brush is used to mix the paint and the suds.

I put caps on the paint cups so it is not a pouring activity.  Each cup has a brush. Besides the tray and splash guard, other objects are provided for the children to paint.  I make sure there are always little bowls or plastic margarine tubs so the children have little mixing containers.

It is definitely a color-mixing activity.  My son-in-law is a Peruvian-trained artist. When I told him about the activity, he said it was not a good activity because when you mix all the colors all you get is an ugly brown.  It is true that by the end of class each day, the color is not very appealing, but the colors the children come up with along the way are amazing.  Take a look.

This last one was the children's lava flow.  Some children know a lot about volcanoes and are spontaneously able to build a narrative that invites others to join.

The color in the bowl below is not so impressive, but look at the child's hand.

As the activity progresses, I keep adding suds(see picture above).  Often times the children will ask for suds in their container and then mix in the colors.  The suds pumps have been used a lot so they are hard to work for the children.  As a consequence, I or another adult spend more time at the sensory table than usual.

The children mix and paint with the brushes.

And they mix it with their hands.

And sometimes a child will use both brushes and hands.

There is something about the characteristics of suds and paint that invite a kind of sensory bliss.  Watch the six-second video below and pay special attention at the end as the child exhales.

I would say that sounded like a pretty blissful exhalation.