About Me

My photo
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 25, 2013


The first Worm Slide I built was in 2004.  Someone recently asked me where do I get my ideas for the apparatuses I build.  I do not always know, but this one started out in a sporting goods store. I happened to pass by a clearance bin and saw a "bucket of bait" on sale.  I do not fish, but I thought that the  plastic worms and such---sans hooks---were something the children would dearly like to physically and mentally cultivate.  I could have simply dropped them into the water table for the children to poke, pull, scoop, and dump.  Since I had recently been working with narrow PVC pipes, though, I thought the pipes would make good conduits for the children to slide the worms down and out of the table

Here is the one I build in 2004.  It was a simple structure that had two narrow PVC pipes taped to an upside down planter tray and the lip of the table so the pipes are on an incline.   A tub is positioned at the end of the table to catch the worms dropping out of the pipes.

Here is the second one I built in 2007.  The pipes were threaded through a crate that is taped to two planter trays set inside the table.  This set up was very simple, too, but more stable.

In 2011, I used a crate again; there were two modifications, though.   I replaced one of the narrow pipes with a wider plastic chute and I threaded a V-shaped piece of plastic through the crate so it directed the worms back into the table itself instead out of table into the tub next to the table.
If you are interested, you can read more about this version from July 2011 here.

This year I created three versions over two days before I was satisfied.  The first one used a crate, the narrow PVC pipe, and the wide chute.  Two clear tubes were also added.

I had a clear plastic flexible tubing that I wanted to wind around the crate, but the diameter was too big to fit in the holes of the red crate.  There was also a problem with securing the clear plastic tubes.  I used a plastic container so the incline would not be so steep, but the plastic container proved to be unstable even with lots of tape.  In addition, I could not thread the narrow pipe through the crate to give  added stability to the structure.

For the second version, I used a green crate that had round holes big enough to accommodate the flexible plastic tubing I wanted to add.  Before I even inserted this clear plastic tubing, though, I ran into problems securing the tubes to the crate.  I really wanted to thread the narrow PVC pipe through the crate for stability, but could not.
I actually abandoned this design even before the children had at it.

For the third and final version, I flipped the crate over.  That allowed me to thread the narrow PVC pipe through the handle of the crate.  I was then able to tape the larger plastic tube more securely using the handle hole, too.   This also allowed me to thread the clear flexible tubing through a hole in the crate.  To keep that secure, I taped it to the handle hole and the larger plastic tube.   

I wound the flexible tubing around the crate so it would empty into a 5-gallon bucket on the other side of the water table.

My worm slide now had all the features I wanted and it was secure.

This post gives you a little idea of the process I go through when building an apparatus.  I find I have to try things and experiment with different orientations and combinations of elements.  In the process of building, some things work and some things do not.  For me, an idea only takes shape in the actual building process.  In fact, if I tried to plan out every detail, I probably would never start.  One of the most important lessons I have learned from the children is that knowing is in trying and the doing.  

Is it worth it?  Watch this video of this three-year-old pouring water into the tubing where he as placed a worm and you decide.

Did you see him travel the path of the tubing with his body, eyes, and hand?  You can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he figures out: "Where did it go?"

The next step in the evolution of the worm slide will be a worm water park---next year.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Almost two years ago I built an apparatus I call Table Covering with Holes.  It is a sheet of plywood with holes that rests on legs inside the table and forms a surface 7 inches above the bottom of the table.

This is what it looks like from the bottom.

You can find two other posts using this apparatus here and here.

I brought the apparatus out again this year.  Instead of corn, pellets, or water, I set it up with Jurassic Sand.  Jurassic Sand is a red-orange sand that is super fine and dustless.  The bag says it is 200 million years old; it is an antique sand with an antique price, but well worth it.

Besides the usual assortment of pots, pans, and scoops, I added clear plastic tubes, funnels, and sieves.
By the way, how many engrossed children do you see around this 3' x 5' table?  Too many? Hardly.  I think there is room for a couple more.

The intersection of apparatus, medium, and loose elements makes for some unique explorations by the children that further their knowledge of how the physical world works all the while fueling their imagination.

Here is a short clip showing a child using a small stainless steel bowl to scoop and pour the sand into a sieve that is placed over one of the holes in the apparatus.  Watch the exploration with this combination.

It's as if the sand simply melts away.

What kind of exploration do you get when you combine a funnel over the sieve over a hole?
What these children discovered was that the sand flows out of the funnel in a steady stream. When the stream hits the sieve, it disperses and looks more like rain.  That is a great physics or engineering investigation.

What kind of exploration do you get when you combine a funnel and a clear tube on top of the apparatus?

It was amazing to watch this child change his focus from one pour to the next.  At first, he saw the sand as "going down" as it exited the funnel.  On his second pour, his focus shifted and he saw the sand as "going up" as it was filling the tube.  The same exact operation from two perspectives in the span of seconds.

What kind of exploration do you get when you combine a funnel, a clear tube, and a bottle on top of the apparatus?
If she gets the flow from the funnel just right, the stream of sand goes directly into the bottle. Nice trick!

But there is more because once the bottle is full, then the tube fills up, too.  Watch the excitement as these two children watch and anticipate the tube getting completely full.

As the tube filled to the top, their squeals made their anticipation palpable.  Play and exploration does not get any better than this.

There are so many more examples of the children using the apparatus, the sand, and the loose elements to breathe life into this setup.  Their explorations show focus and a surprising degree of self-regulation.  It's as if their investigations of apparatus, medium, and loose elements are boundless.  

And sometimes in the explorations, a serenity surfaces that reflects a singular beauty flowing from the process itself.  What in the world am I talking about?  Take a look at this last video and see if my words make any more sense.

That is simply sublime at the intersection of apparatus, medium, the child's actions, and the child's imagination.

(Did you see the alien?)

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Back in April, I wrote about a Big Box Incline with a wardrobe box.  I took a wardrobe box I acquired from an recent move and set it on an incline over the sensory table.

This was such a good box that I decided to use it again for a second week.  Since I am not content to leave the apparatus the same from week to week, I decided to give it a different orientation.  I changed the orientation in two ways.  I set the box over the table with a horizontal orientation.  In addition, I set the box crossways over the table so both ends extend over the table on the sides.

There are a couple of important features to point out.  Two planter trays serve as extra crosswise support for the box.  In addition, the trays also create other spaces to move the corn into and out of. Another feature is the large hole cut in the bottom of the box over the table between the trays.

In the picture below, a three-year-old uses a dump truck to dump the corn into what he called the "quarry."  He knew that word from his construction books and with this apparatus he could physically represent what he had only seen in books.  I think you can notch that up to a higher order thinking skill.

Another feature is a hole cut in one of the ends of the box that hangs over the side of the table.  A tub is placed underneath the hole to catch the corn falling through the hole.
It is interesting to note that these two inside holes empty onto two different levels.  The hole inside table empties into the bottom of the table.  The hole outside the table empties into the tub which is the same level as the floor.  What do you think that means for how the children explore the spaces created by this box?

The other end of the box that extends beyond the table serves as a small platform inside the box for the children to carry out their various operations.  A child can end up both inside and outside the box at the same time.  What do you think that means for how the children explore the spaces created by this box?
One of the things that happens is that the enclosed space boosts his focus on his operations.

There is one more feature of note.  I took a long, narrow box and set it on top of the wardrobe box.

I then embedded it into the top of the wardrobe box to form a channel in the top of the box.  A hole was cut in one end of the channel to allow the corn to drop into the wardrobe box.

So how do the children explore the spaces created by this box and its new orientation?  There just happens to be a video to give you an idea just how children explore the spaces.  It is short, but shows four different children all exploring in their own unique way.  The most novel of which is at the end of the video.  A child has fitted a clear plastic tube on his arm and is using it to scoop corn from the table and then pour it into the box.  Watch.

Here is a second video which shows how the children explore the channel embedded in the top of the box.  I did not realize when I was taking the video that I was taping two children working together: one is sweeping the corn out of the channel on the top of the box and the other is catching the corn with his pot from inside the box.  Coordination and cooperation; I like that. Watch.

If you look at the column on the right-hand side of this blog, orientation is the first of the dimensions and elements listed.  By thinking in terms of orientation, the same box becomes a completely different apparatus offering the children a whole new set of invitations to explore the corresponding spaces.  

I only arranged the wardrobe box on two orientations; I did not orient it vertically.  What would that have looked like?  Maybe next year.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

If you had to give it a gender - guest post

Alistair over at abc does from the UK recently asked me if I would do a guest post.  I agreed and you can find it here.

I wanted to return the favor and I knew which post I wanted to use as a guest post from Alistair. The title of his post is: "If you had to give it a gender..."  With his post, he challenges us to think about how we "dress up" our classrooms in terms of gender stereotyping.  And in so doing, what are the unspoken messages we give to the children in our care.  His question sets up a useful exercise for us all.

Make sure you check out his other posts, too.


I have been lucky enough over Easter to do some work with two schools in Cornwall.
Both schools are in quite different areas but have joined together to pool their thinking, resources and knowledge about Early Years.

Sally, Hilary and their respective team fed me copious amounts of home made cake while I
shared their good practice and asked them lots of questions about what they did and why they did it. I got fat, they got a headache! Seems like a good trade off to me.

One of the 'games' that I played with both teams is a game
that I like to play wherever I go. It is called

'If you had togive it a gender, what gender would it be?'

It is an interesting game for many reasons, but not least because of the HUGE impact how we 'dress' our environment can have on the engagement and attainment of the children in it.
Gender is NOT the same as sex. The World Health Organisation says that:

Gender is the characteristics , roles and responsibilities of women and men, boys and girls, which are socially constructed. Gender is related to how we are perceived and expected to think and act as women and men because of the way society is organised, not because of our biological differences.

So, it is possible to give the spaces that we create a gender whilst not necessarily intending them to be for 'boys' or 'girls'.

One of the issues that often arises in Early Years spaces is that because they are predominantly created by humans with a strong female gender imprint they can then appear very feminine to children who have a more culturally stereotypically masculine gender.

what gender would you give this writing area?

Gender stereotyping is a complex and subtle thing and most children have got a very strong gender imprint by the time that they are two. The socially accepted view of the gender that has been attached to their biological state will have been thrust upon them from the moment
they were born, from the colour of baby grow we put them in to the type of language and cultural references that we use about and to them. 

Drapes and curtains make great space dividers,
but what do they say aboutthe gender of the space?

When we are thinking about the environments that we create and how they appear to all children. Then all of that gender stereotyping and conformity comes into play. Not all of the time with every child, but most of the time with most children.

Say that you want to create a lovely bright and airy painting space, so you buy some of those lovely voile tents from IKEA with the ribbon and the bunting around the top. You match in your pots and accessories and...there you go...

Beautiful! But if you had to stand back and ask yourself: 'If it had a gender, what gender would it be?'  The answer is going to be female. So for lots of male brains that have a
background of male gender re-enforcement, may have a little voice in the back of their head saying : 'the painting area is not for me!'

That little voice is enough to send them off in the opposite direction to the construction or the bikes (the areas that tend to have a far more 'male' gender orientation).

This is a great display, but what gender is it?

Danger! Lots of boys doing boy stuff!

The scariest thing is that this is often not a conscious thought on the children's part. It is subconscious process that helps them to make initial decisions about their preferences, likes and dislikes based on what they already think they know.

There are times when getting your hands on a particular resource like a saw, means that you are prepared to over ride your gender programming for the end gain. But these are usually exceptions not the 'norm'. 

The only area where it seems to make little or no difference to the children that I have observed is the snack area. The need to feed seems to override all and every gender stereotype!

So, I am not saying that I think you shouldn't dress your spaces - on the contrary. What I would urge you to do is play the gender game in your setting.

If you have specifically dressed an area around the interests of a 'key' group of children then you are likely to end up with some areas that conform to the gender stereotype. If this is done for interest and there is equality of opportunity for skill development across your setting
(regardless of gender) then this is no bad thing.

 Area created to reflect a key groups of children's interest in Ben 10

If on the other hand you haven't specifically dressed for interest and your environment or resourcing is coming across with a very definite gender then you need to rethink. 

Try and use colours, patterns and  fabrics that are 'neutral' thereby still getting the impact and intrigue of dressing a space without unintentionally marginalising any of your children.

Of course the gender game is not just restricted to drapes,cushions and table covers. You can also play it with number lines, playdough, workshop materials... the list is endless.

 reading area rugs

 what gender would you give this alphabet line?

or the resource storage on this 'creative' table?

 How about this curtain 'homage' to Mr Blobby?!

No one is banning pink and blue and the world doesn't have to be beige as long as learning spaces are not gender specific (unless the gender is a reflection of a specific identified interest) and there is equality in your access to skill development and resources. 

It doesn't matter how many flowery shirts and pink jumpers I wear, or how many times I say that boys can wear pink, in every setting I go into there are children, both boys and girls, who laugh so hard at the idea of a boy in pink or flowers, some wee comes out!

A rare glimpse into the ABC Does weekly shirt ironing pile! (what gender would you give that?!)

It is VERY important to teach the message of equality (and that anyone can wear pink!) but it is also crucial that we acknowledge what we know about how an environment can effect learning and use that information to our teaching and learning advantage.

So, go on. Have a play with your team and see what gender your setting comes out as!


Saturday, May 4, 2013


Three weeks ago, I wrote a post about a Big Box Incline - Wardrobe Box.

Here is the very last picture from that post.  Two children are standing on the lip of the table, one of them in plastic high heels from the dress up corner.

I have been thinking about that picture a lot over the intervening weeks.  Why?  Because I wondered why would children climb up on the lip or even think of climbing up on the lip of the table.  Is it just to be able to see the corn tumble down the box incline?  Is it to get a better view of the corn tumbling down?  

Maybe.  But I began to think that perhaps children need physical challenges so they are always creating their own---whether we like it or not.  These two children are definitely working on balance. In addition, think about the muscle groups they used to step up on the lip and the opposing ones they will use to get down.  Seeing their actions through that lens, elevates their actions.  (The pun is intended.)

Through this new lens, I reviewed the pictures I took of the children's actions and operations around the incline.  The more I looked, the more challenges I saw children set up for themselves.

A child reaching as high as he can became a child stretching and balancing and coordinating his pouring actions.

When those actions are multiplied and you have several friends trying to do it at the same time, a child also begins to understand his or her body in space and in relations to others.  (What you see below is six children basically in the same space scooping and pouring corn.  Turn taking?  Nope, they are negotiating with their bodies in real time.  So this physical challenge definitely has a social component.) 

When you want to get corn from way under the incline, you not only have to stretch, but you have to bend and flex your body and keep your balance all the while you are coordinating your muscles to scoop some corn and then reverse the operation without spilling too much.

When you try to catch the corn inside the box, you have to move and adjust your arms and hands with speed as the kernels race on by.

If you are trying to catch corn at the bottom on the outside of the incline, you will need speed, too, because you do not always know where to position your scoop to catch the corn.  In addition, you will have to use your sense of hearing to anticipate when the corn will fall out of the bottom of the incline.  That physical challenge then incorporates an aural component.

If you are trying to sweep the corn from under the table, you are facing many of the physical challenges as the child scooping the corn from way underneath the incline, except now you are doing it lying down.  Sweeping while lying down is definitely a physical challenge.  Have you tried it lately?

Sometimes the physical challenge involves strength.  The two girls pictured below are moving the full tub of corn from one end of the table to the other.  That takes strength and coordinated movements by the two girls.

Sometimes the physical challenge is a fine motor challenge.  The child below is trying to pour corn with a coffee scoop into a small hole he discovered on the side of the Box Incline.

I am beginning to think that children are always creating physical challenges for themselves. Some are generic like reaching as high as you can to pour.  Some will be specific to the space like reaching way under the incline to scoop.   

Of course, there are some physical challenges that are hard to categorize or even venture a guess as to what was the prompt.  Take, for instance, the picture below.
Can anyone help me figure out the physical challenges here?  

Children are driven to challenge themselves physically in oh so many ways---whether we like it or not! So as a teacher, when you are faced with the physical challenges the children actuate, are you going to stop them, restrict them, encourage them, or simply let them go?