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, November 28, 2015


I used to set up a swamp every fall in my sensory table with leaves, water, and plastic bugs.  In 2011, I added big sticks and a log.  That became Swamp II.   Since that time, I have not written about creating a swamp.  I felt it was time to bring back the swamp to infuse some new elements from nature into the classroom.  For Swamp III, I brought in stumps, logs, big sticks, rocks, and leaves.
To the natural elements, I added realistic plastic bugs, beetles, frogs, and snakes.  The swamp was not complete, though, until I added the water.

Children approached the swamp in many different ways.  Some children dug right in and others used the tools and implements to explore what was in the table. 

The child below used tongs to handle a plastic brown snake she plucked out of the swamp.

The children lifted and held the logs and sticks much like they would have if they were to find them in the woods or on the beach. They got to feel their weight and texture.   

One child experimented with balancing the logs and sticks on each other using the small table as a base.

Another child went so far as to take all the logs and sticks he could lift out of the table and pile them on the floor.
These logs and sticks were all different; they were not uniform in shape, size, or weight.  Handling each one was a different exercise in strength and balance.  There was also an aural component as the child dropped the stump onto the pile and hit the other pieces of wood on the pile. 

Another child even tried to lift the second heaviest piece out of the table.  It was a maple log that was quite heavy.  Watch.

I was terribly conflicted when I made this video.  I knew the log was heavy, too heavy for him to lift it safely out of the table.   I was afraid he would loose control of it and it would drop on his leg or foot. On the other hand, I wanted to see if he could measure his own strength accurately.  About midway through the video, the camera frame rose so I lost part of the action.  That was because I needed to move in closer in case I would have to help.  In the end, he decided for himself that the log was too heavy to lift.  Instead, he rolled it over the stump to the other side of the table.  In doing so, he took care that he never lost control of the log as it rolled.  Not only did he demonstrate that he could measure his own strength, but he demonstrated that he could control this heavy log to the end of his operation.   

Just think of all the things that could have happened in this episode.  I ask you now: Was it too dangerous for the classroom? Was the risk worth the benefit?

From the dangerous to the prosaic. Children scooped the water and leaves to make their own concoction.  One group took to calling the swamp water "toilet water."  You can imagine the silliness that ensued around this potty talk.

The plastic animals provided some children with an avenue for role playing.  The child pictured below animated the family of frogs she collected on the stump.

In essence, this is a science table.  Not the kind of science table that is a display for the children to look at.  No, this is a science table for the children to actively engage in exploration.  It is true that it is a contrived space that is a poor imitation of nature, but the children are still able to conduct personal investigations in the spirit of science in which content and process are inseparable. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015


In the March 1994 issue of the Child Care Information Exchange, Loris Malaguzzi wrote:
"We need to produce situations in which children learn by themselves,
in which children can take advantage of their own
knowledge and resources autonomously... (p. 54)"

In a recent piece from the Bing Nursery School at Stanford, Colin Johnson wrote:
"...through the lens of inquiry—of valuing internal, cognitive interactions 
with materials—playing with water is the perfect foundation for scientific thinking 
because it increases children’s tendency to spend more time 
noticing, wondering and exploring."

I want to share a video with you that illustrates both of these points.  I took the video as I watched a child explore one section of a recent apparatus: Trash Bin II.  
The section the child explores in the video is the bin on the left with the funnels and black hoses.

The hoses drop into the bin from the funnels; exit about midway down the bin; and are strapped around the outside of the bin.  
Because the paths of the hoses are partially hidden within the apparatus, a child has to do some research to understand how the apparatus works.

The video shows one child at the sensory table.  There were many more earlier, but this child has been at the table for at least 30 minutes trying to figure out where the water comes out when he pours it into each and every tube and funnel.  

As the video starts, he is looking at the water trickling out the black hose near the bottom of the right side of the left bin.

He scoops some water in his plastic measuring cup from the table to pour into the beige funnel.  In the process of pouring he says: "Watch this one come out."

He is already anticipating where it will come out, so when he pours, he immediately looks to his right to the bottom of the bin on that side.

He steps off his stool and crouches down to watch the water come out of the hose.

At this point, something amazing happens, he starts to trace the paths of the two hoses with his eyes and his hands.   He first traces the hose that has the water coming out.  He realizes that there is a second hose.  He points up at the black funnel and says that it goes around here... 

...as he continues tracing the second hose with his hands and his eyes.
Here is the video clip.

The child is not talking to me.  He is verbalizing his thoughts as he is executing them.  This child is constructing knowledge right before our very eyes.  He is learning by himself through internal, cognitive interactions with the materials.  Or, does his external, physical interactions with the materials usher in the internal, cognitive interactions with the materials?  Or, is there an interplay between the two that can't---or shouldn't---be separated?  Or, does one augment the other in an intricate dance.  In any case, his thinking is clearly visible in the movie clip .

I showed the video to the child's parents.  They realized very quickly what their child was doing and were duly impressed.  That is all the more true because whenever they would ask him what he did in school, he would basically say nothing.  The parents now have a different picture of their child at school.  They now have a picture of him as a competent scientist.

I will be taking a week off from my blog.  I will be at the NAEYC national conference in Orlando this next week.  If you are interested in hearing about building apparatus in and around the sensory table, I am on the docket for 8:00 Thursday morning.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Why am I never satisfied with keeping an apparatus the same?  Part of the reason is because when I observe how children use an apparatus, their explorations yield new questions.  The Trash Bin apparatus is a good example.  Below is the first iteration.
Two trash bins are placed upside down in the sensory table.  One trash bin has a large hole in the middle and the other has black hoses woven through it.  Funnels are connected to the hoses at the top of the bin.  A clear plastic tube on a slant connects the two bins.

Two different observations of the children's play spawned two different questions .  The first observation actually came from play with a previous multiple tray apparatus, 
What I noticed from this apparatus is that children were attracted to water dropping from a height, in this case, the water falling out of the tube into the tray below.

The second observation was the seemingly lack of interest in the big hole in the middle of the one trash bin.  To me it looked so inviting, but the children were more interested in the funnels, hoses and tubes.

From those observations these two questions emerged.  1)What would happen to the children's play if I increased the height of the drop?  2)Would the hole be more inviting if I raised the elevation of the hole so it would be at eye level for the children?   To answer my questions, I disconnected the two trash bins by removing the clear plastic tube.  I turned the trash bin with the hole around and placed it on a planter tray that spanned the width of the table. 
I cut the clear tube in half and reinserted one half into the trash bin so it would empty---at height---into a tub next to the table.

There were changes made in the second trash bin, too.  The other half of the clear tube was inserted back into the bin so that the end emptied into a tub at the end of the table.  After the hoses exited the bin, they were wrapped around the trash bin itself.  They were held in place with zip ties looped around the hoses and tightened to the bin from the inside.
Here is a view from inside the bin.  You can see the clear plastic tube; the black hoses entering and exiting the bin; and three ends of the zip ties wrapped around the hoses on the outside of the bin holding them tightly in place.

 The result of the modification became Trash Bin Apparatus II

Did the modifications change the children's play?  Yes they did.  Play in the big hole increased, but not by much.  The big change in play and exploration happened with the clear tubes that extended beyond the table.  

One of the big attractions was to plug the tubes to see what happens.   In the video below, the child pours water into the tube that is plugged with a bottle.  The video starts with him pouring and then stepping back to see what he has done.  His smile is telling.  At first he has to concentrate to make sure he gets the water in the tube.  Before long, though, he can pour into the tube without looking so he can watch the water accumulate in the bottle and tube in real time.  Watch.

This is a good illustration of Axiom #6 in the right hand column of this blog, namely: Children will try to stop or redirect the flow of any medium in the table for any given apparatus.

That, of course, was stopping the flow of water.  Below is a very inventive---and wet---example of redirecting the flow.  This operation involves two children.  One child pours while the other redirects the flow of water using a long, narrow funnel.  As the one child pours and the water races down the tube, the other child gets doused because the water splashes against the funnel spraying the child holding the funnel.  As the child who is doing the pouring points out, though, some water does end up in a second tube via the funnel.  Watch. 

What did I learn from modifying the Trash Bin apparatus?  I learned that what I thought was the most salient feature of the apparatus---the big hole in the middle---was not the most salient for the children.   Rather, the children seemed to gravitate toward the features that allowed them to explore in such a way as to set things in motion and see the consequences of their actions.