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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, July 26, 2014


Let's talk a little bit about the capacity for the sensory table.  By capacity, I mean the number of children who can fit around the table and still be fully engaged.  Here is a hint: I don't know the answer.  But to get an idea, let's look at a new apparatus that was recently set up at the sensory table.

Someone in the office at school said: "I have a box for you." It was a computer box, the base of which was wider than the top so from the side it look like a triangle with the top cut off. And it was sturdy.  (If people know you build things, they develop an appreciation for materials such as cardboard boxes that are sturdy and have unusual shapes and, more importantly, they save them for you.  How great is that?)  In addition, the box was just as wide as my table so I could place it on the lip of the table resting above the table itself.
Because the computer box rested above the table, I combined it with the apparatus that was in the table the week before: Table Covering with Holes.  Two cardboard tubes were embedded through the box on opposing inclines. The shorter tube emptied back into the table through one of the holes.  This tube had a notch on the pouring/high end.  The longer tube emptied into the tub next to the table.  Besides having a notch cut out on each end, there were two sections cut out and one hole so the children could watch as the pellets race down this tube.

That is the apparatus.  It has holes, inclines, levels and many avenues for transporting the pellets. For children, it is inviting and fosters a wide range of exploration and play.

For an apparatus to have capacity, there also has to be a provision of loose parts.  Here is a picture of the loose parts that were offered on the shelf next to the table.  I call these Hodgepodge and Doohickies.

Now with the combination of the apparatus and the loose parts, we can get an idea of this setup's capacity.  Look at the picture below and count the number of children around the table.
There are nine children around the table, all totally engaged on multiple levels working on group and individual activities.  There are multiple points from which to gather the pellets and multiple points into which to pour the pellets.

This picture was taken on a day when school-age siblings were off of school, so not only were there more children than usual in the my classroom, but there was a wonderful mix of older and younger.  One of the main areas the older children gravitated to was the sensory table.  This is an instance where capacity was important.

Here is a little video which will give you a real appreciation of capacity.  The main group around the table decided to plug the longer tube and then watch all the pellets rush down the tube and then try to figure out a way to quickly stop the rushing pellets from spilling out.

Plugging the tube - a group effort from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As you can see, it was a little rowdy but devoid of conflict.  By the end of the video, five children were concentrating their actions around the end of the tube where the pellets were exiting.

So how what is the capacity of the the sensory table?  As you saw, it is at least nine children at one time at this particular apparatus.  But I do not think that is the upper limit.  The upper limit will be determined by the children themselves.  The question then becomes, how will the children determine the upper limit?  

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