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.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Back in July of 2010, my second post on this blog was called: 5 GALLON PAIL.  The gist of the post was that there is always a bucket next to the sensory table to give children a constructive choice into which they can transport the medium from the sensory table.  Why?  Because they will.  I would go so far as to say they need to.  (See Axiom #1 in the right-hand column of this blog.)

There is no apparatus to build.  This is just a 5 gallon pail that I retrieved from the cafeteria in the school. I set it next to the table; I do not attach it.  Children are free to move it---or dare I say, transport it---around the table.

But it doesn't have to be a 5 gallon bucket.  It could be a waste basket.

It could be a wash bucket.

Or it could be a big storage tub.

The tub above is actually part of a cardboard chute apparatus, but it works in accordance with Axiom #1.   When they are not using the cardboard chute, they will still transport the medium directly into the tub---or try to transport it out of the tub.

And even if you have a tub, you will still want to provide an unattached pail or bucket.

In the picture above, water has already been transported into the tub from the table through a tube apparatus.  The child is now transporting the water from the tub to the bucket.  Transporting once removed!

Sometimes the pail will sit next to the table and not be part of the play.

But sometimes it becomes a very integral part of the play. 

And sometimes that play is quite unique.


And don't overlook the possibility that the child will use the bucket to transport the medium back into the table.

I have always wanted to have a video of how I guide children in using the bucket.  This year, I was finally able to get it.

In the first video, the child scoops some pellets from the sensory table and dumps them on the floor.  I am nearby, so I push the bucket so it is right next to him and tell him to "put it in the bucket."  Watch what happens.

With the bucket handy, I simply request that he puts it in the bucket. Remember, he has an innate drive to transport the pellets.   I have just given him a constructive alternative which he willingly takes advantage off.  That's a win-win.

So what happens once he has found the bucket?  Watch.

As he starts scooping from the bucket, he now has more choices to transport.  He scoops from the bucket and drops it back in the bucket; he scoops from the bucket and puts it back into the table.  He can also scoop from the table and drop it somewhere else in the table; he can scoop from the table and drop it in the bucket.  So many choices and all constructive.

Here is one more video illustrating how I redirect a child to "put it in the bucket."  The little girl takes some sand from the sensory table.  She puts some of it in the bucket because she knows she can transport it into the bucket.  However, she does not dump all the sand in the bucket and starts to walk away with some still in her hand.  Watch what happens.

As she was walking away, I ask her to put it in the bucket.  She stops, turns around, and puts some more in the bucket.  She looks up at me as if to ask if it is enough.  I ask her to put it all in the bucket.  And she does.

I know children need to transport.  Instead of expending a lot of negative energy in an effort to keep the medium in the table and off the floor, I set up constructive avenues for them to transport any medium out of the table and back into the table.  As a consequence, all my communication is simple, direct, and positive.

I also know that when they transport, they will spill (Corollary to Axiom #1) .  I do try to minimize the spilling, but I won't get bent out of shape if it happens.  Life is too short and there is too much living to do when you are surrounded by the boundless energy and imagination of young children.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


One of my favorite sensory apparatus is the Horizontal Channels.

This apparatus is a large box that is long, flat, and narrow and has one of its large sides cut away. Cardboard dividers are inserted to make channels.  The whole apparatus rests on top of the lid of the sensory table.  This post tells you how it is made.  This post illustrates types of play that occur around this apparatus.  And this post highlights some infectious play that emerged at this particular apparatus over the past couple of years.

There are several reasons why I like this apparatus so much.  The first reason is because of the number of children who can play at this apparatus at any one time.  If you count the number of young children around the table in the video below, you will see ten.  Yes, ten!  Ten two-year-olds around the sensory table is amazing in itself, but watch their calm and focused play.

I am a little embarrassed with the sound on the video.  Did you hear the humming?  That was me. I was enjoying video taping the children so much that I must of lost all self-consciousness. Maybe I thought the play was too quiet so I had to add some background music :-)  In any case, you saw ten totally engaged two-year-olds.  If another child had arrived to play, she would have found room for herself at the table.

The second video is a mixed-age group of three- to five-year-olds.  You will notice right away a difference in tenor.  These children have bigger motions and are louder because they narrate what they are doing.  (You will not hear me humming.)   Watch.

There are only six children in this video, but again, if another child or two---or more---had come to join the play, there would have been room.  There would have been room because the children would have accommodated more players.

That is a nice lead-in to another reason I like this apparatus: when you have many children around the table at the same time, you are creating lots of opportunity for the children to negotiate space. Look at the picture below.  The two children are almost in the same space.  The boy is actually reaching across the girl's body to move his truck.

Because of the parallel channels, this occupying of similar space is possible and inevitable.

Here you see five children in pretty much the same space.

One of the boys is emptying the five gallon pail back into the apparatus.  As he does this, notice how the two girls right next to him have to physically adjust their bodies to accommodate his actions.   Once he is done, they all go right back to their original positions, shoulder-to-shoulder.

That closeness doesn't just happen in the channels.  On the other end of the apparatus---the chute---children negotiate close spaces, too.

The three children on the left side of the picture are so close that as they operate their cars, their bodies keep bumping into each other.  Bumping is too strong of a word, though.  Touching, on the other hand, is too weak of a word.  They are making constant physical contact and constantly making adjustments and accommodations so there is minimal conflict.

This apparatus demonstrates that given the opportunity, children can and will negotiate space with minimal conflict.

Yet another reason I like this apparatus so much is because it is a melding of form and function. The horizontal nature of apparatus plus the addition of the parallel channels elicit lateral and linear motions from the children.  The first video shows a child following the channels with his hand.

The boy is enjoying the texture of the soft, white sand.  As you watch his hand move in the channels, you see the apparatus directs his motions.  In other words, the linear and lateral motions are a function of how the apparatus is configured.

The second video shows a child with a car.  In this video, the sand has been replaced with pellets. Though the operation is louder and more energetic, you will see the same linear and lateral motion created by the structure of the apparatus as in the previous video.

How do children learn about space?  They learn about space with their bodies and moving their bodies through space.  The horizontal structure of this apparatus with its accompanying channels offers a spacial experience that is distinctive.  Put another way, this apparatus fosters a unique form of spacial literacy.

Accommodating multiple children, allowing the opportunity to negotiate space, and promoting a unique kind of spacial literacy: those are three good reasons to like this apparatus.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I specifically built the Table Covering with Holes out of wood because I also wanted to use it for water play.  Since I still wanted to connect the two sensory tables fitted with the table top covering, I had to replace the cardboard tubes from the previous post with PVC pipes cut in half.  I set the half-pipes at a slight slant: one slant favored the larger table and the other favored the smaller table.

Besides the medium of water, I also introduced water beads.  (You could find water beads across the blogosphere late last year.)  They are soft, slippery, and translucent.

A word of caution about water beads.  If you read the label it says to keep out of the reach of young children.  It also says things like it will plug up plumbing.  You will have to think what that means for you.  For me it meant knowing the children in my classroom and knowing when to supervise more closely.  The week I had them out, I did not have any children try to put them in their mouths.  I did have to ask them not squish them; that was the great temptation.  Oh, and it also meant I could not pour any down the drain.

I added a new tool with the change of medium.  Two sizes of minnow nets were provided to scoop and collect water beads.

Scooping with the nets is easy.  The children were almost always surprised at how many water beads they could catch with the net.  Emptying the nets is a little trickier.  The normal operation for emptying a net does not work.  A child cannot just tip it to pour the beads out because of the gauzy, limp structure of the net.  When pouring and shaking motions don't work, it is easier just to reach into the net to take the beads out.

After experimenting a bit, some children figure out how to invert the net to empty the beads

So what kind of operations emerge with this new medium?   Watch.

The girl is using the spoon to gather water beads.   Did you notice the quiet focus?  The water is quiet as the spoon moves through it---especially in relation to the pellets in previous posts.  The beads are also quiet and have to be transported carefully so they do not slip off the spoon.  In this clip, the quiet focus to transport the beads looks meditative.

Here is a second operation that uses the half-pipe to transport the beads.

The boy is dropping water beads into the half-pipe. He does it twice, each time watching carefully the motion of the beads rolling and bouncing down the half-pipe and not starting again until he sees where the bead ends up.  The third time he goes to set the bead in the half-pipe, he notices a broken bead in the tube.  This time he does not watch where the bead goes that he places in the half-pipe.  Instead, he tries to help the broken bead down the half-pipe. It doesn't roll.  Why does one bead roll down and the other doesn't?  His actions show how he is trying to figure it out.

This post is third is a series using an apparatus I call Table Covering with Holes.  The previous two posts are this one and this one. Taken together, they demonstrate how an apparatus can be expanded and the medium changed with minimal effort using common materials. The expansion and change in medium, however, expand the possibilities for play and exploration into novel directions.  Some of those new directions are planned, but many emerge from the open-ended nature of the apparatus and the children's ingenious interface with the apparatus and the medium. What a joy to watch that whole process unfold.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Combining apparatus creates more complex and intriguing spaces for the children to explore.  One of the reasons it is more complex and intriguing is that you are multiplying the number of dimensions and elements (in the right column of this blog) embodied in the new combination. 

A little over a year ago, I wrote about combining apparatus here.

For the current combination of apparatus, I connected two sensory tables with cardboard tubes. This was an expansion of the TABLE COVERING WITH HOLES.  Instead of one sensory table with the apparatus, I added another smaller table with the same apparatus.

Since the second table is smaller, I did not need the extra support that I needed for the bigger version of this apparatus.  If you look at the post entitled TABLE COVERING WITH HOLES, you will see that the structure needed reinforcement underneath in the form of braces and legs because of the span it traversed from one end of the table to another.  For this smaller table, all that was needed was a piece of 3/8 inch plywood with four holes.  It was cut so it is wedged 2 inches down into the table with a six-inch space created under the apparatus to the bottom of the table.

With the two coverings in place, the two tables were then connected by cardboard tubes.   It is important to note that in terms of dimensions, the tubes are oriented horizontally.  With that orientation, the pellets do not slide down the tube, but must be moved through the tubes by operations the children devise.

There was an original design flaw which you do not see in this picture.  What you see is the correction of that design flaw.  Underneath the cardboard tubes is a box.  That box is there to catch the pellets as they spill out of the tubes; without the box, the pellets spill onto the floor.  The box did not change the fundamental operation of moving the pellets between the tables through the tubes.  In fact, it offered the children another level and surface for play and exploration.

Before looking at how the children move the pellets in the tube, watch the following video to see again how a child uses the holes of the original apparatus.  This two-year-old is scooping pellets with a large measuring cup.  She has to adjust her scooping motions both to reach into a hole and to pull the cup out of the same hole.  Watch how she monitors each time how many pellets she was able to retrieve.  

That's impressive for a two-year-old.  We should all monitor our work so well!

With the tubes, I added a homemade plunger of sorts.  It is a cap from a jar that is attached with a screw onto a dowel. Since caps come in different sizes, it was not hard to find the size that fit nicely into the tubes.

The purpose of the plunger was to provide a tool the children could use to move the pellets through the tubes.  Of course, children will always find their own uses for the tools provided.  It also makes a great masher.

In the picture above, look at all the levels on which you can see pellets?  This is a good illustration of how an apparatus creates multiple levels of play.

Now watch how one child uses the plunger to move the pellets through one of the tubes.  Pay special attention to how many hindrances there are to moving the pellets through the tube and how many different solutions this child comes up with to surmount those hindrances.

This child uses the homemade plunger to push pellets through the tube.  He starts on one end and reaches in with his hand to move the plunger to the first break in the tube.  He grabs the head of the plunger to pull it through far enough so he can grab the handle.  As he pushes the plunger, it won't go through the next hole.  He slides his hand up the handle to push the head with a little more force.  That doesn't work so he pulls the plunger out of the tube and orients the head so it is at an angle before pushing it into the tube.  The repositioning of the head works so he is able to push the plunger into the hole and move the pellets up the tube.  How did he come up with the solution?  He pushes the plunger as far into the tube as he can.  He then tries to grab the head of the plunger again to pull it through far enough to grab the handle.  Notice, that is the same operation he used on the lower end of the tube.  This time is does not work because the head of the plunger fits too tightly inside the tube. He takes his spoon and pushes the plunger handle so it moves out the the tube.  He has just combined tools to complete his operation.

By combining apparatus, you can create new and interesting spaces for children to explore.  In doing so, you will exponentially increase the amount and the variety of play originating from the children.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Many of the bloggers I follow are posting their top 10.  I am a bit of a rebel, so I naturally resist.  (I have been a man in EC for over 30 years, so there must be something odd about me.)  Instead of a top 10, I would like to send a year-end thank you.

First of all, I would like to thank all who follow me and encourage me with your attention and your comments.  This would be impossible to do in a void.

Second, I would like to thank the bloggers whose mere mention sends scads of people my way.   The list is not complete because I do not really understand how the referring statistics work.  With that said and in no particular order, I would like to thank:

Luisa at:  http://ahortaencantada.blogspot.com/
Maureen at:  http://strongstart.blogspot.com/
Rose at:  http://embracinglife-rose.blogspot.com/
Deborah at:  http://www.teachpreschool.org/
Amy at:   http://www.childcentralstation.com/
Michelle at:  http://kozykidslc.blogspot.com/
Sheryl at:   http://teaching2and3yearolds.blogspot.com/
Jill at:  http://amomwithalessonplan.com/about/
the west coast Teacher Tom at: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

That is only 9, so the last thank you is to those who did not fit in the referring statistics of blogspot.  For the most part, I think you know who you are because I follow your blogs and take encouragement and inspiration from you.

Thank you,