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, April 26, 2014


It has been more than two years since I wrote about a Giant Sponge in the sensory table.  A Giant Sponge is simply a big piece of foam cut to the dimensions of the water table.
Dish soap is squirted over the top of the sponge and water is added to the table.  I want enough soap and water to make good suds when the children squeeze the sponge but I do not want so much water that the sponge begins to float.

This year I added a wooden tray to the apparatus.  The tray connects the blue water table with another small water table.

The children used the addition of the tray for two main purposes.   The first was to hold containers on a different level and to pour and mix into and out of those containers.

The second purpose was to hold the suds the children created.  One group got really close to filling the tray with suds.

That amount of suds encouraged some in the group to experience the suds using their sense of smell.

One facet of the sponge is that it fosters physical exploration by the children.  Watch the video below to see how the children physically examine the sponges.

As you just saw, the physical exploration including squeezing a small sponge hard, smacking a small  sponge on the bottom of the pail, pressing down hard on the big sponge and hand pummeling the big sponge with force.

Here is another instance of physical exploration by the children.  In the video below the two children have filled a five gallon pail full of suds.  One of the boys decides it is time to dump it. The other boy is all in and even helps to get suds out with his spoon.  If you watch to the end you will see the excitement of the venture is palpable.

Imagine what the boys are experiencing.  The volume of the five gallon pail of suds is great but the weight is not.  How would this have played out if the pail was full of water instead of suds?  

Of course there is more than the physical exploration.  Some of the exploration verges on the ethereal.  Watch this final video to see a child slowly insert a plastic bottle into a full container of suds.  The result: a suds fountain.

I almost think the whole operation skirts the threshold of meditation.  If you listen to the conversation at the table, you might agree.  One of the boys at the table is collecting small sponges.  The fountain creator asks the him in the most serene voice: "To make cookies?"  He answers:  "Chocolate chip cookies."

I usually like my ethereal experiences with a side of chocolate cookies, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Back in September 2012, several girls brought a whole bunch of blocks to the sensory table. They asked me if they could and I said: "Why not?"  Part of the reason I said that was because I wanted to see what kind of building they would do with the blocks in the sensory table.  As it turned out, there was not much building and a whole lot of piling.
That was OK because when they asked if they could bring the blocks, I stipulated that they had to return them to the block area when they were done.  When they were done and without a complaint, they returned everything to the block area.

In November of that year, I went to a session at the annual NAEYC national conference on block building done by staff at the Bing Institute of Stanford University in California.  It was a very good session that got me thinking about blocks and block building.  Remembering the September block episode at my sand table, one of my thoughts was that I should try to set up blocks at the sensory table as a provision.  It took me more than a year to do it, but I finally did it.
As you can see, the first set up did not include a lot of blocks.  In addition, there are other loose parts like the packing corners and cut up cardboard tubes.

I must admit that there was not a lot of building with the blocks.  When the children used the blocks, it looked a lot like the September 2012 episode: pile everything into the table.

Although when it was time to put things away on the shelf, some building or stacking did materialize.

The biggest surprise with this setup was how much the children used the cardboard rings.  They were used for making impressions in the sand.

They were used for filling

They were used to accessorize.

They were used for building.

And in one boy's hand, it became a tool for scooping sand.  

How does a child know he can use the tube as a shovel?  I asked him and his answer was quite straight forward.  "Well, I actually did it."  That is what he said.  For the child, the mind and body are one so if you want to know what a child is thinking, just observe his actions.

Besides the fact that the one child has just created a tool, there are a couple interesting things of note in this video.  First, the child using the cardboard ring as a shovel is able to scoop a significant amount of sand without loosing too much sand out of either end of the tube.  Second, there is nonverbal negotiation of space in the table by the two children.  The child in the foreground needs more room so he can scoop sand so he pushes things in the table out of his way into the other child's container.  Without missing a beat, the child who created the tube shovel, moves his container to accommodate the other child's need for more space.

As far as blocks in the sand table are concerned, I am left with the questions: Why didn't the children build with the blocks in the sand table?  Were there too few blocks?  Could the provocation be set up differently to encourage more building?  Should I even try providing blocks at the sensory table again?  Why were the other provisions more attractive or more suited for play and exploration in the sand table?  What was it about the tube rings that was so appealing?   TBD

Saturday, April 12, 2014


This past week I have been working on a new presentation on how children explore water using different apparatus and different provisions for the Reggio Inspired Network of Minnesota.  For those of you who attended the presentation today, thank you for all the discussion and input and here is an apparatus that did not make it into the PowerPoint, but I think you will appreciate.   For those of you who follow this blog, this a reworking of a post from nearly three years ago that is a form of water play and color mixing.   

Is Suds Painting a sensory activity?  As you will see, it becomes highly sensory in nature.  Is it an art activity?  It is definitely a color mixing activity, but there is no product.  Even the mixing of colors is momentary.

The set up for Suds Painting is simple.  A plastic gutter splash guard is taped on an incline to a planter tray inside the table.  Children paint both the tray and the splash guard.  If enough suds paint is applied to the splash guard, the sudsy paint begins to flow down the splash guard and colors begin to mingle.

To make suds paint, I use a foaming soap dispenser.  Pamper Chef has one that has the amount of dish soap to water ratio right on the side of the bottle.  The ratio is 1 part dish soap to 7 parts water.  Some hand soaps now come in foaming soap dispensers and I use those, too, using the same approximate ratio.  I put tempera paint on the bottom of a paint cup and then add the sudsy foam.  A long handled brush is used to mix the paint and the suds.

I put caps on the paint cups so it is not a pouring activity.  Each cup has a brush. Besides the tray and splash guard, other objects are provided for the children to paint.  I make sure there are always bowls or plastic margarine tubs so the children have containers for mixing the different colored suds.

It is definitely a color-mixing activity.  My son-in-law is a Peruvian-trained artist. When I told him about the activity, he said it was not a good activity because when you mix all the colors all you get is an ugly brown.  It is true that by the end of class each day, the color is not very appealing. However, the colors the children come up with along the way are amazing.  Take a look.

This last one was the children's lava flow.  Some children know a lot about volcanoes and are spontaneously able to build a narrative that invites others to join.

The color in the bowl below is not so impressive, but look at the child's hand.  

As the activity progresses, I keep adding suds.  You can see that in the picture above.  Often times the children will ask for more suds in their container and then mix in the colors.  The suds pumps have been used a lot so they are hard to work for the children.  As a consequence, I or another adult spend more time at the sensory table than usual.

The children mix and paint with the brushes.

And they mix it with their hands.
I never noticed it before, but this child looks like she is in an mixing trance.

And sometimes a child will use both brushes and hands.

Brush, hands, color and painting all become one for this child.

There is something about the characteristics of suds and paint that invite a kind of sensory bliss. Watch the six-second video below of a child rubbing the paint, the suds and the bristles of the brush around in her hands.  Pay special attention at the end as the child exhales.  Is it bliss?

Bliss or not, at this point the Suds Painting is totally sensory.  The color now is a grayish purple and it is not getting used to paint.  Who needs color when suds dousing is an option?  Does it get any better than this?

Saturday, April 5, 2014


In the right-hand column of this blog, you will see under ORIENTATION the word vertical.  In addition, Axiom #3 states that children will find all the different levels of play for any given apparatus.  That includes the lowest---the floor--- and the highest level---the top of the apparatus.   If the apparatus takes a vertical orientation, then the children can be found at all levels from bottom to top.

Take for instance the latest box tower creation: The Step Box Tower.

Let's start with the floor
The floor---in this case, the bottom of the green pail---is the lowest level and a place to play.

Next is the bottom of the table.
This child is watching himself scoop pellets from the bottom of the table through one of the holes in the apparatus.  You might say he has gained a unique perspective of that level.

Next is the level of the first step formed by the three bottom boxes.
Notice how this child is using the hole to stabilize his cup while he fills it on this level.

Next is the level of the second step formed by the two boxes set on top to of the bottom boxes.
This child is taking pellets from the funnel and throwing them in the window.

And finally, there is the top most level created by the top box.

What is important to note in this process of operating on all the different levels is that to continually work on higher levels, the children have to reach higher and higher.  They often start by appropriating the stools that are always around the sensory table.

If they really want to see the top level, they will, in short order, climb up on the lip of the table to get a better view or better leverage.
  Would you let a child climb on the lip of the table?

And sometimes the child actually climbs up onto the apparatus.  As you can see in the picture below, the child is standing on one of the boxes that forms the base of the structure.

I think most teachers would have little trouble with the children who keep their feet on the floor or on those stools.  How about those children, though, who want to go higher?  Is it OK to climb on the lip of the table or the apparatus itself?  Is it even safe?

I do not always know the answer.  Some of it depends on the child and how comfortable and stable he is with climbing.  What I do know is that if the apparatus has a vertical orientation, the children will want to challenge themselves every time with vertical endeavors. 

Here's are a couple of questions for you.  In what ways do you see children in the classroom show a need to reach and climb?  What sorts of outlets are there in the classroom for them to do so?   

There is one final note: If you have loose parts, the highest level the children reach can be higher than the top of the apparatus.