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.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I do not always plan out what I am going to build before I actually start building.  I often have a general idea, but only when I start the process of building, does it take shape.  Right after I constructed the Multiple Trays apparatus, I decided to use the trays again, but this time to embed them in a box.  I got a big box and started to physically play with different arrangements of trays to embed in the box.  Only after I had decided on the arrangement did I start to cut and duct tape. The result was the apparatus below: Trays in a Box.

For this apparatus, one tray is completely embedded in the box and two of the trays are only halfway embedded.  The whole box structure rests on two planter trays that hold it above the table.   They also serve as a good anchor on which to duct tape the box.  I cut holes in the bottom of the box over the planters so if corn fell in the bottom of the box, it would end up in the planter---not stuck in the bottom of the box.

On the opposite side, I added a clear plastic tube.  It fit nicely between the trays to give it a lot of stability.  The tube emptied into a tub at the end of the table.

I cut holes on the top of the box over each tray so when the children poured the corn through one of the top holes, it would land in a tray.

Some of the children figured out that they could pour corn into the top and have it end up in the planter trays three levels down.  To do that, they would have to aim, but those that figured it out could aim and aim well.

The children found all the levels of the apparatus.  And each level created its own challenges.

There is the top level which took stretching or standing and balancing on a stool.

Next, there is the level of the half-embedded trays.  To get corn from one of those trays, there is a certain amount of stretching and contorting required.  

Next, there is the level of the tray that runs all the way through the box.  This space is more closed so when the children scoop, they do not see all their actions.  Instead, they have to use their sense of hearing, motion, and resistance to hear and feel if they are scooping the corn.  

And there is the bottom of the table.  To get corn from the bottom of the table, there is a certain amount of bending and contorting.

Children are even able to create their own levels.  In the picture below, a child is using the lips of the planter trays to prop his scoop to form a bridge of sorts that serves as a new level into which to transport the corn.

His solution for balancing the scoop also allowed him to work more freely on yet another level, the level created by the bottom of the planter boxes.  Imagine him trying to scoop the corn with one hand all the while balancing another scoop in his other hand.  He makes it easier for himself by resting the second scoop on the lip of the trays so he can concentrate on reaching under the box to scoop corn from the tray.  That is pretty inventive.

By far the most popular feature of this apparatus was the clear plastic tube.   Children found no end to putting the corn down the tube.  Some of that was individual and some of that involved taking turns.  I say take turns loosely because it often looked like bees buzzing around honey.  

Some of the play, though, was more complex and involved coordination of two or more children executing different roles.  Inevitably, one child would plug the tube at the end and others would pour corn into the tube to fill it up.  The video below shows just such an operation.  As you watch it, look at the persistence and patience of all involved to fill up the tube with corn.

Besides the cooperative nature of this play and besides the persistence and patience to see it through to the end, this is really an operation in which the children are experiencing volume on an elemental level.  Because the tube was clear, all the children kept the process of filling the tube front and center.  That is very evident when the girl blocking the corn makes one last check to see if the tube is indeed full.

Two very interesting things happened with this apparatus with my youngest group.  The first was that the tub at the end of the table became a space into which to climb and be one with the corn.

The second thing that happened with the younger group was that the apparatus seemed to encourage climbing.

Silly me, I thought I built a sensory apparatus.  The children showed me that it is also a large muscle apparatus.  That wasn't the first time this has happened and it won't be the last.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Last week I wrote a post on Multiple Trays.

In that post I enumerated all the different physical levels on which the children could and did operate; I counted seven.   Those levels created many more spaces which I did not enumerate.   Now when you have intriguing and complex spaces for children to explore, they will formulate their own play that is both unique and varied.

The simple act of transferring corn from one level to another level takes on a whole new dimension.  Watch as the child in the video below spoons the corn from the bottom of the tub to a shoulder-level tray.

To get the corn on in his spoon, the child had to reach deep into the tub and scoop horizontally with the spoon.  He then had to move his spoon through vertical space all the while keeping the head of the spoon flat and steady so he would not loose any of the corn.  When he reaches the right height, he then has to move his arm laterally to get the spoon over the target tray.  Finally, over the target, he twists his wrists to drop the corn in the tray.  Simple motor play?  Hardly.

That whole process is that much more intricate and complicated when the children are working on and between multiple levels and spaces.

That is one type of play, motor play.

Here is another type of play which can be considered truly sensory.  The girl in the video below is up to her elbows in the corn.  It is safe to say she wants to feel the corn.  Notice how the height of the tray she is working in makes it easy---or even fosters---this particular type of play and exploration.   That is also reinforced by the horizontal nature of the tray, itself. 

Did you also notice the cause-and-effect play?  Halfway through the video,  she wiggles her tray. When she does that, she notices that the whole apparatus wiggles.  (Or maybe she was just testing the the integrity of the apparatus.  After all, children are masters at testing the integrity of things.)

Here is yet another type of play, one that can be considered science play.  The girl has scooped up some corn and is dropping it on an overturned pot in the bottom of the table.  She seems to be fascinated by the sound the corn makes hitting the metal pot.  (It reminds me of a recent post by Alec Duncan, a blogger in Australia, who wrote about easy ways to make music with children using natural materials.)

Did you notice that by resting the scoop on the lip of the tray she was regulating the flow of corn being dropped onto the pot?  The lip actually becomes a fulcrum on which she is able to control the tipping of her scoop---which is the lever.  In physics, that is a simple machine.  

And finally, here is a type of play that can be categorized as social play.  It began with me trying to sprinkle a little corn on the little baby the girl was holding.  I said it was raining.  She hid the baby under a tray so rain would not fall on the baby.  The boy across from the little girl quickly picked up on the "game."  Watch.

This turned into a light-hearted game of hide-and-seek with the boy trying to "rain" on the baby and the girl hiding the baby up, around, and under the trays.

From this one apparatus, that was five types of play: motor, sensory, cause-and-effect, science, and social.   Does it stop there?  No.  As long as the apparatus is open-ended, there is no end to the variety of play children will create in such intriguing and complex spaces. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Back in September of 2010, I wrote about a set of apparatus called Multiple Trays.  In that post, I included the following apparatus.   (If you are wondering what the yellow medium is in the table, it is whole feed corn for animals.)

The apparatus featured four levels: 1)the bottom of the table itself, 2)the first level of trays, 3)the second level of trays, and 4)the top tray.  If you include the bottom of the pail, there are five levels. If you look on the right-hand column of this blog, levels are highlighted under both Dimensions (#2) and Axioms (#3).

This year I added yet another level to the apparatus.  This is what it looked like this year.  The bottom white trays and the tan trays are all planter boxes from the hardware store.  The yellow-ish trays on the top are old carrying trays that were found in a back storage area several years ago.

As stated in Axiom #3, children will operate on all the levels provided by an apparatus.  

That begins with the floor.

Next, the tub---which is almost the same level as the floor.

Next, the bottom of the table itself.  That's a little more interesting to use, though, because of the tray structure above it.  To work on that level is both an under and through spacial experience.

Next, the first level of the trays.  Again, this is an under and through spacial experience.

Next, the second level of trays

Next, the third level of trays

And finally, the top tray.  If you have been counting, that is seven different levels.  By the way, this last level is a good reach for some.  A physical therapist would point out that this level is great for encouraging good trunk extension.

Because of the multiple levels provided by this apparatus, children can play and explore in the same vertical plane on different horizontal levels.  The picture below exemplifies this point well.

Do you notice the corn on the back of the boy's sweatshirt?   Well, that is part and parcel of playing in the same vertical space.

Of course, children can also play in the same horizontal plane.  And when they do, chance encounters with the person across the way makes for surprising connections.  The two girls below were putting their whole arms in the tray and ended up touching hands, which caused one of the girls to peek around the tray to see who was on the other side.  

Of course, what is to stop children from playing in the exact same space?  The three children below are all taking corn from the top tray.

Does that look a little crowded?  Maybe by adult standards, but these three children---who do not usually play together---did an nice accommodation "dance" for each other that allowed each of them to take from the same tray.

I would like to leave you with one child's take on play at this apparatus.  Listen near the end of the clip when he says:  "I've never worked so hard in my life."

Take it from an expert:  If you come into my classroom, you had better be prepared to work hard! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012


This is the time of year I bring out the Giant Sponge.  What is a giant sponge?  It is a piece of foam cut from a foam mattress to fit into the sensory table. 

I first wrote about the Giant Sponge here.  In that post, I wrote about where I first found a giant sponge and how the children played with it.  I followed up that post with a post on more activities that emerged around the Giant Sponge, things like science activities, role playing, and even an unexpected act of kindness.

Before I relate some of the play that emerged this year, let me take care of one housekeeping matter in relation to the sponge.  Every day after class, I prop up the sponge in the table so it drains.

That is important because I do not want water staying on the bottom of the sponge for sanitary reasons. Each day, I start with clean water on an almost dry sponge.  I always make sure the sponge is completely dry when I put it in storage.

In the very first post, I wrote about the physical properties of the sponge that allowed children to leave their hand prints on the sponge.

The handprints on the sponge have a beauty all their own even though they are fleeting.

Because the children can make impressions on the sponge, they can also use the utensils provided to make imprints.  In the video below, the girl is able to make imprints of a circle by using a stainless steel bowl.

This year for the first time the children started to use the surface of the Giant Sponge to draw things with their fingers.

In the video, the boy in the middle is drawing on the sponge.  The girl to his left tells him he is in her space.  He subsequently begins to poke and prod the sponge in the space directly in front of him.  The girl in the meantime is making marks on the sponge with her finger and quickly encroaches on his space.   He seems to pay it no mind and the girl retreats back to her space. The girl on the boy's right starts to draw a face on the sponge with her finger.  The boy quickly follows suit with a smaller version.  I really liked that the children discovered drawing on the sponge with their fingers.  What impresses me even more, though, is the give-and-take; the negotiation and appropriation of space for an activity; and the contagion of an activity---all done in the span of 12 seconds with no real conflict.

I always add smaller sponges to the mix of items I offer with the Giant sponge.  This year I added a couple of foam balls that I appropriated from the large muscle area in my room.  They are sponges after all.   Now watch two children vigorously smash the foam balls into the Giant Sponge. Can you guess where it will lead?  I sure did not.

So how does a child get from flattening the foam ball on the Giant Sponge to making a pizza? After he flattens the ball, he lifts it off the sponge and says something to indicate it is a pizza. He throws it up in the air and it just happens to land in the bowl.  First of all, has he seen a pizza maker toss pizza dough?  And second, how fortuitous that it landed in the bowl.  By landing in the bowl, he is able to continue his role play by swirling it in the bowl.  He then says it is time to cook and puts it in the water and makes a sizzling sound.  He takes it out of the water and says it is all cooked and offers it to me.  Yeah, right, that's exactly how I planned this activity.

Of course it makes perfect sense if you buy into axiom #7 in the right hand column of this blog: Children will always devise new and novel activities and explorations with the materials presented that are tangental to the apparatus.

Speaking of axioms, when I reviewed the documentation on this apparatus this year, I ran across a picture that got me thinking about the possibility of adding an eighth axiom.  Namely: Children will fill any and all containers with the medium or materials provided.  Here is the picture that got me thinking.

The girl is emptying her container of the water.  When I looked at the picture, I saw she had not only filled up the container with water, but she had also filled up the container with the small sponges.  This picture beautifully illustrates that filling is an important operation for children.   Likewise, it also illustrates an important corollary to the axiom: children need to empty any and all containers.