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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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Aksel's Tray is a large flat tray made from wood that sits on top of a table.  The tray is closed on three sides but open on one end.  The tray is slightly propped opposite the open end so when there is some spillage, the water empties into the blue water table.

Here is the setup before the tray is added.  The table connects the two sensory tables.  Notice the white wooden tray that spans the blue table.  That was the first tray I used with the sensory table over twenty years ago.  You might say that Aksel's Tray is a version of that tray.

The purpose of this new tray is to provide a larger, flat surface for the children to work on.  (The old tray can serve the same purpose, but is more constricting.)  With a wider surface, a child can comfortably work with several pots and pans at the same time.

So why is it called Aksel's tray?  First you need to know that the table on which the tray sits is usually in the sensory area and is usually used to hold implements and utensils.  With the last apparatus, the table was clear of things, so Aksel commandeered it for his own purposes.

For Aksel, that meant mixing.  As Aksel mixed, he appropriated more pots and and bowls.

The more pots and bowls he used, the more water he used.  The more water he used, the more he spilled.  The more he spilled, the wetter the table got.  The wetter the table got, the more water went on the floor.  Aksel was so focused on his mixing, that I did not want to interrupt his enterprise.  As a consequence, the water actually began to puddle on the floor like never before.  I always have towels when there is water play at the table, but I could not keep up with this guy's industriousness.  It was then the light came on: Aksel was telling me that he---and the others---needed a wide surface to work on almost like a counter in a kitchen.   I thought if I could make a tray with a slight incline with three sides closed and one side open it would empty into the sensory table and the children could mix to their heart's content.  Thus was born Aksel's Tray.

Watch how the tray works in the video below.  This video shows three children mixing on the tray. The first child says she she is making soup.  The second says she is making chocolate.  In one container are M&M's and in the other two are chocolate chips.  The first child changes her mind and says she is making a lot of chocolate.  The third child takes a few seconds before declaring she is making noodles.   

Did you notice how wet the tray was?  And did you watch to the end when the third child poured water into her full container at the end of the video?

Did the tray work?  You are the judge.  

Axiom #7 on the right-hand column of this blog states that children will always create their own play that is tangental to the apparatus.  Aksel's Tray is a good example of how rich that play is if we pay attention and take it as a cue for further activities or apparatus.  Thanks Aksel.


  1. Hi Tom, I'm wondering if you use regular food coloring or if there is some type of non-staining option. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kristin. I use liquid water color. I have ordered it both from Kaplan and Discount School Supply. It stains the hands but seems to come out of clothes and out of hands by the end of the day. I don't use food coloring.