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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, August 10, 2013


"That's my shovel, give it back."

"Don't take my pail."

"Teacher, she took all the sand and won't let me have any."

Does that sound like something you might hear at the sand table?  It is those types of pleadings that got me thinking: Is there a way to divide the sand table to eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of squabbles?  At the time, I had a very small sand table that was three feet by three feet and only stood a foot off the ground. How does one partition a table that small?  With cardboard.

Using a big enough box, cut out two sides so you have two sheets of cardboard.  Trim the sheets so they match the length and width of the table.

Cut slits halfway up each piece in the middle, one slit cut from the bottom and one from the top (picture on the left). Now slide the two pieces together to make four areas (picture on the right).

The whole thing is then secured into the table with duct tape.  The seams are also taped to give the dividers more stability.
If you notice there are holes cut in the cardboard.  I did that on purpose. Although I wanted to cut down on the squabbles, I did not want to eliminate social interaction.

What was the result of installing dividers in the table?  It really did eliminate some of the conflict. In fact, the spaces created by the cardboard dividers seemed to enhance the children's focus when they are operating in their own little cubicles.  (Working in cubicles, is that a life skill?)

It did not prevent the hoarding.

Whenever I observe children interacting with an apparatus, I am always surprised with the operations they dream up.  For instance, in the picture below the child is playing in two different spaces partitioned by the cardboard.  In fact, he is using the divider as a part of  his operation.
The child is transferring sand from one space to the next using the cut out window.  What motivated him to do that?  An OT person might say this is a good example of crossing the midline.  The child is also working on body awareness because he is not following his right arm with his eyes, but is using proprioception to know what his right arm is doing.  But what is it about this apparatus that encouraged this type of operation?

Sometimes it is easy to see that the child is the agent for the interplay between materials and the apparatus.  That agency is sometimes quite imaginative and quite practical.  For example, the photo below shows that a child has figured out he can hang the measuring cups by their handles on the divider so he can fill them hand-free.
But how exactly did this child come up with this idea?  Would you have thought of this?  I sure didn't.  Now that a child has taught me, though, I can pass it on as a provocation for others.

Do the dividers foster more solo play or more social play?  Look closely at the picture below. There are four children working in for four spaces with one child, cup in hand, waiting in the wings. How much of the play is individual and how much is in concert with others?  I am not exactly sure. I do know the boy in purple and yellow on the right end is filling the container through the window for the boy in orange who is contentedly watching his friend's actions.   Interestingly, the boy doing the pouring cannot see where the container is and how much more is needed to fill the container. He is essentially relying on the boy in orange for direction. Now that is a sophisticated endeavor.
When I look at the other two children in the middle spaces, their play seems more individual, although I can't imagine they do not know someone is on the other side of their actions.  They are just not as synchronized in their actions.

One the biggest surprises for me with this apparatus was that it prompted the age-old game of peek-a-boo.  What an excellent surprise to see who was on the other side.
Often times that game can get quite animated and even physical and can involve more than two children.

I started out to make a simple apparatus to partition the sensory table to cut down on the squabbles.    Once the children got ahold of it, though, it became dynamic.  Part of that was because of the spaces it created, but the biggest part was what the children did in, around, and through those spaces. The apparatus was not so dynamic as the children who played with its potential to spawn unique types of play.  And for some reason, the squabbles were pretty much a thing of the past.  Not bad for a couple of pieces of cardboard.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Pauline. I agree: the kids are amazing!

    2. I like the idea, but not for the reason you tried it in the first place. I believe that children need to face confrontation in order to build problem solving skills. I think I will use a variation of this project. I like the idea of being able to pass otems through little passages. Thanks for the idea!

  2. I love the idea of creating little passages for children. I also like how it can set the stage for peek a boo games. I will definitely be using this idea, but maybe make the walls a little lower. However, I do believe that children need to face confrontation in order to gain problem solving skills. And the sensory table is a perfect place for a teacher to be a coach.

    1. Thanks Jeanine. I could not agree more. I think confrontation is healthy and important for learning how to accommodate, negotiate, and problem solve. For some reason, though, with an intriguing set up at the sand table, the children are all engaged and there is really very little conflict. By the way, in the picture taken from above, there is no passage between the partition on the left. That does not stop the transferring of corn; it just takes a different form. You can check out an earlier blogpost of mine that shows a divider with a lower profile for one of the dividers: http://tomsensori.blogspot.com/2010/12/cardboard-divider-and-unique-types-of.html

  3. Oh wow!! That is so cool. I have never thought of this and I can't wait to try it out in a few weeks!! Thanks for another great idea.

    1. Thanks Lee, If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through the blog or email. I would like to know how it turns out and would gladly see some pictures.

  4. Your idea of using the cardboard offers some great ideas for encouraging communication and sharing in a unique way. I can imagine children peeking through the holes, passing items through to share or playing quietly alone.

    1. Hi Laure. I was totally blown away by how much social interaction this apparatus fostered. Also, Your comment reminded me of an earlier post that I wrote about the flow of play around this apparatus. You might appreciate it: http://tomsensori.blogspot.com/2011/01/revisit-to-dividers-flow-of-play.html If you do visit, you will see videos of the children in action around this apparatus.