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, May 26, 2012


To better grasp the ideas behind the building of the apparatus Boxes in Boxes, please read #4 under Dimensions and Elements in the right-hand column of this blog.  Next, please read #2 under Axioms of Sensorimotor Play.  The points made in both of those statements have to do with spaces in and around the sensory table.  The Boxes in Boxes apparatus highlights those points supremely.  In fact there are so many spaces created by this apparatus that it takes three views to fully appreciate.

The first view is from one end of the larger, blue sensory table.
Note that there is one large box in the foreground with a big, wide opening.  

From the other side of the blue table, you can see an additional five boxes embedded in or attached to that large box.

The red cylinder in box #3 is an embedded coffee can.  The coffee can is the same depth as the box, so it rests firmly on the bottom of the table.  The coffee can is taped securely into the box.

Duct tape is spread over the edges. Three cuts are made in the tape to be able to fold the tape over the lip of the coffee can.

The third view shows a set of Boxes in Boxes in a second, smaller sensory table right next to the blue table.  This set is made from five boxes.  The set includes an interesting component: a cantilevered box extending out from the middle of the other boxes.

#4 under Dimensions and Elements highlights creating spaces over, under, around, and through the table for exploration.  Axiom #2 states that children will explore any and all spaces created by the apparatus.  Let's see what that means for the Boxes in Boxes apparatus.

There are spaces "over."  Children operate in all the spaces formed by the tops of boxes.  By their very nature, tops of boxes are "over" spaces---sometimes over multiple spaces.

There is another kind of "over," too.  This is illustrated by child exploring the corn in a cantilevered box that juts out and over in the middle of the apparatus.  Though some corn is under the corner of the box, there is still plenty over the apparatus and the table itself.

There is definitely "under."

There is a lot of "in."


There is even some "through."

"Around" cannot be illustrated with one picture.  It is best to think of "around" as the children moving around the apparatus appraising the spaces in terms of suitability for their operations. Watch.
At the very beginning of the video, did you see the child's head bob up and down as he was checking out the spaces?  After pouring some corn into the cantilevered box, he begins to move and takes a quick check of other spaces.  At the same time, there is another child on the opposite side checking out the spaces.  And as you see, they are both moving.   What you don't see is that they actually move around the table.  And around and around….

If you are interested in a similar apparatus, check out this post and this post.  The apparatus featured in those posts are larger and much more closed.

The corollary to Axiom #2 asserts: the more spaces, the more exploration.  I will leave it to your imagination how much exploration eleven boxes with multiple holes and openings on multiple levels provokes.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


There are some apparatus I bring out every year because the play and exploration around them is so compelling.  One of those is the Large PVC Pipe with Funnels.

This post reveals where the idea came from and how to make it.  And this post details several types of play and exploration associated with the apparatus from last year.

This year I added an additional element: a clear plastic tube.  The tube was set up on a slant to go from the smaller sensory table and to empty into the tray holding the large pvc tube.  The motive for the addition is captured in the short video below.

There were actually many different experiments with this new addition.  One of the objects that got inserted into the tube was a turkey baster.  It was just a little smaller than the tube itself and the rubber bulb created more friction.  One group figured out that if they poured a lot of water all at once using the 5 gallon pail, the baster was carried out of the tube in one pour.  Two other groups used a slower more persistent method.  They used the smaller containers and slowly watched the baster creep down the tube after each small pour.

Let me share with you a two minute video from one set of fascinating actions that happened this year.  I have actually broken the video into three sections.  The first portion of the video highlights trying to get the baster out of the clear tube.  The second portion highlights serious teamwork to move a bucket full of water.  The third portion highlights the curiosity of a child with another child's operation.  Remember that it is one video cut into three sections so there will be some overlap.

For the first section, concentrate on the actions of the girl pouring water on the clear plastic tube. She keeps pouring the water on the tube right over where the baster sits in the tube.  Listen to what she says at the end to understand what she is doing.
As she pours the water, she says: "That will help it get out."  She says it twice for emphasis.  She is talking about helping the baster out of the tube. As you will see, she is pretty persistent.

For the second section, concentrate on the two boys and the white 5 gallon bucket.  The girl and the boy in the green shirt filled the bucket with water a little earlier.  The boy, Kiki, calls to his buddy Owen for help.  Owen comes over to help.  He knows what to do because he had warned them earlier that if they filled the bucket too full, it would be too heavy.  He nudges Kiki aside and says that they have to let a little water out.  They have to do it three times.  By the second time, they are engaged in some serious cooperation to get the bucket light enough to move.  If you notice, they are very careful not to spill water out of the table as they tip the bucket to make it lighter. Watch.
So they did get it light enough for Owen to move it---with plenty of effort and a little sloshing.  Kiki is impressed at Owen's strength.  With the pail resting securely on the lip of the table on the tray, Owen is ready to pour water into one of the funnels and Kiki is positioned to catch it as it pours out the tube.

The third section is impossible to understand without knowing what is going on in the first section of the video.  As Owen is pouring water into a funnel, something catches his eye to his left.  As he goes to refill his bottle, he takes a more focused look at what caught his attention.  We can't see it, so what is it?  The thing that has caught Owen's attention is Mairi's actions; she is still pouring water on the tube to get the baster to move.  This is two minutes into the original video and I told you she was persistent.   Owen watches Mairi's actions for more than 10 seconds.  You can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he tries to figure out what is going on.  Watch.

You may ask why didn't I redirect Mairi's pouring in the first place.  Why didn't I direct her attention to the pouring water at the end of the tube so the water would flow through the tube and really help the baster get out?  Good question.  My answer is this:  The longer I teach the less I feel the need to intervene in children's play, especially if they are absorbed in their play.  But still, don't I want her to be successful in her actions?  Another good question.  I do want her to be successful, but my answer is still the same.  I do not want to be the person with all the answers.  Sometimes their experiments fail, but sometimes, like with the pail, the children create solutions to their chosen task.  I value their experimentation and exploration so much that I become intrigued like Owen and wonder what is going on.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Last July I wrote about a Big Box Incline.  That post included a couple different versions of the apparatus.  It also emphasized the various focal points for play that were created by the apparatus.

This year, I added a new element: a cardboard tube.   The cardboard tube empties into a smaller sensory table, whereas the big box empties into a container at the end of the larger sensory table.

I originally thought I would anchor the tube to the side of the big box, but I could not figure out a good way to do that.  I began to wonder what would happen if the tube was actually embedded in the big box.  I decided to try it, to actually embed the tube in the Big Box Incline.

The addition of the embedded tube significantly changed the operation of pouring the pellets down the Big Box Incline.  How so?  When a child pours the pellets into the box from the top, pellets tumble down the box until they encounter the lip of the tube, at which point, the flow of pellets switches directions a 180 degrees.  Of course, not all pellets fall in the tube.  Some travel the length of the box and tumble out the bottom.

Watch how this works in real time.  

The child on the left pours pellets down the box incline.  He looks directly into the box and seems to be aiming the pellets so most of them hit the lip of the embedded cardboard tube.  He has figured out that if they are captured by the tube, the direction of the pellet flow is altered drastically.  The boy on the right is also pouring pellets down the box incline.  He has not, however, noticed that the flow of pellets is diverted when they fall into the tube.  Each time he pours, he looks for the pellets to come flying out the bottom of the box.   In the video, there are two boys basically doing the same operation (pouring pellets down the box) with very different results. 

In one of the classes, two boys brought over the little cars from the block area.  Watch how they roll them down the box in a purposeful way to see if they can get them to fall into the tube and change direction.

The video starts with the first boy hastily dropping a car down.  It misses the tube and falls out a side window.  The second boy comes in with an ambulance.  He seems to know without looking that the ambulance needs to be placed in the middle to fall into the tube.  Even before he lets go of the ambulance, he moves to the window on the side to watch the ambulance tumble into the tube.  As soon as the ambulance is on its way down the tube, he quickly turns to the small sensory table to retrieve his ambulance.  The first boy comes back and fills in the space almost immediately.  He first tries to position the car by taking a measure through the side window much like the second boy.  He is not satisfied with that, so he positions himself so he is looking down the box and aiming his car at the tube.  That works.  The second boy is right there again to drop his car down the box. He tries to take a measure through the side window like he did the first time. This time it misses. They seem to be in a fluid dance to perfect their hand, eye, and mind coordination.

When these two boys were done playing at the sensory table, I asked them to pick up the cars and put them back in the block area.  Taking advantage of their just-finished play, I showed them how to place the container at the end of the tube and roll the cars down the tube into the container. They picked up on this right away.  Watch and listen.

Did you hear the comments about this novel way of cleaning up?  One of the boys says: "What a good idea."  Another boy says: "Who would think we could have fun putting cars away."

The addition of the tube to the Big Box Incline literally propelled play in another direction.  The children were able to experiment with the physics of changing the direction of motion of objects on inclines. And not only did it change motion of objects down the box, it also changed the perception of cleanup for at least two of the children.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Two weeks ago I wrote about Vertical Tubes in a Box and the play that emerged when the children used funnels with sand in the apparatus.  This week, the medium in the table is different; the sand has been replaced by fuel pellets.  Plus, there are two more tubes added: a tube on a slant and a tube through the apparatus on the horizontal.

The horizontal tube extends completely through the box between two of the vertical tubes.  The slanted tube rests on one of the protruding sections of the horizontal tube and empties into a smaller sensory table.

Children will still pour down the vertical tubes.

And they will still survey exactly where it went.

With the addition of the horizontal tube, the children can work on a horizontal plane through the tube.  That is a much different physical experience than pouring down the vertical tube.

Of course, that opens up new possibilities for play, even social play.  How about peek-a-boo?

These two were surprised to see each other through the tube because they cannot see over the box.  What a joyous surprise, too!

If you are taller and can see over the box, you can still make a connection through the tube. Watch as one boy passes pellets through the tube to his friend on the other side.

The boy on the right is holding his white pan under the horizontal tube.  The boy on the left grabs some pellets from the table and pushes them through the tube.  The second time the boy on the left passes pellets through the tube, the other boy's hand is also in the tube to help complete the full transfer of pellets.  Not as joyous as the exchange in the first video, but still quite lovely.

What is not apparent in the video is that the boy on the left is referencing his actions through the mirror on the wall behind the boy on the right.  He is actually watching himself pass the pellets through the tube in the mirror.  He discovered the mirror when he was scooping pellets through the horizontal tube earlier.  Watch in the video below how this same boy references his actions using the mirror on the other side of the sensory table.  He slides the scoop in slowly and, when he sees in the mirror that the scoop has exited the other side of the tube, he dumps the pellets with a twist of his wrist.

That's some of what emerged with the horizontal tube.  The tube on a slant also facilitated a different type of play and exploration; pellets poured down on incline plane behave differently than those poured down the vertical tube or those pushed through the horizontal tube.

That,  of course, leads to more connections.  Watch what happens at the other end.

The boy has stuffed his scoop into the slanted tube to catch the pellets sliding down the tube.  As he watches the pellets race down the tube into his scoop, he can't help but let out a "woh" and "woh-oh".  It turns into a screech when he removes the scoop and pellets come flooding out of the bottom of the tube.  Here, it is interesting to note the role of  the observer in this play.  The girl on his right adds to the excitement with her screech, too.  She has been watching the whole time and has picked up on the boy's excitement.  Sometimes we overlook the role of the observer when we analyze children's play.  An activity shared is more exciting and joyous.

Let me end this post with a new exploration of the vertical tubes that uses the scoops.   One group jammed a plastic scoop into the top of one of the vertical tubes.  My guess is that they were trying to plug it because they like to plug holes (Axiom #6 from the right-hand column of this blog.)  The scoop did not fit completely into the tube, leaving a slit at the top, a slit to slide pellets into.

That is inventive enough, but it did not stop there.  They took another scoop and jammed it into the bottom of the same tube.  Now they had a small slit at the bottom for the pellets to exit.  The pellets actually flew out like they were coming out of a hopper.

Because children have this innate drive to learn about the world around them and how it works, an open-ended apparatus like the Vertical Tubes in a Box gives them license to explore and experience the natural world, both physical and the social.