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, December 30, 2017

Classroom picture of the year.

For the past four years, I have posted "my classroom picture of the year."  Since I am no longer in the classroom, I technically do not have a classroom in which to take photos of children playing and exploring.  However,  whenever I am out and about, I focus on young children and their play and sometimes I take pictures of moments that peek my curiosity.  In that way, I consider the world my classroom, so I feel fine in keeping the title for this blogpost. 

I was lucky enough to take a trip to Vietnam in late October.  I was there to visit a friend I have known for over 60 years.  It was a very good visit and my friend and his wife were extremely gracious hosts.  We spent a lot of time walking around the city of Hanoi.  This year, my picture of the year was taken on a busy sidewalk in the downtown district of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Walking with my friends, we came upon a small child in a cardboard box.  (Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I appreciate a good cardboard box.)   She had taken off her sandals and climbed inside the box making herself quite at home. 

Older children use boxes to create imaginary worlds.  I think this child was too young to imagine the box as anything other than a container for her body.  I say that because she wiggled around in the box playing with the flaps.  It was as if she was measuring the inside of the box with her body.  And the measurements varied as she manipulated the flaps.

(Is it any wonder that the cardboard box was inducted into Toy Hall of Fame in 2005?  "The strength, light weight, and easy availability that make cardboard boxes successful with industry have made them endlessly adaptable by children for creative play.")

In a way, the box served as a refuge for the child because all the people passing by had to walk around the child without disturbing her play.  However, this young child appropriated the box in a way that became more than a refuge.  It was an apparatus that she explored and manipulated to her heart's content.  It was a toy in the true sense of the word.  I would even go so far as to say it was more than a toy.  For this child, it became an entire playground on a busy sidewalk.

With that, I give you my classroom picture of the year for 2017: a beautiful child in a cardboard box on a busy sidewalk in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oldie but goodie

Early in my building career, I constructed an apparatus using a small toddler water table, two five-gallon pails, two crates and two PVC pipes.  My sensory area was small---4' x 4'---and I wanted to expand it a bit with easy-to-find materials.  I cut one of the PVC pipes in half.  I taped it to the table and to the handle of the five-gallon bucket on the floor so the water would flow down into the bucket.  I set up the second PVC going the opposite way, from a five-gallon bucket back into the table.  This second pipe had a cutaway at the bottom.  To be able to pour water back into the table, I stacked two crates on top of each other for height and placed the second five-gallon bucket inside the top crate. 

I could have reversed the ends of this second pipe so the cutaway was on the high end making it easier for the children to pour water into the pipe.  Instead, I left it at the bottom and I inserted an empty plastic paint bottle that was cut to catch the water and direct it down the pipe.

 Empty quart tempera paint bottle

I cut the top of the bottle completely off.  Next, I cut away half the bottom of the bottle.  That allowed me to insert the uncut portion of the bottle into the pipe and tape it inside the pipe.
This little contraption allowed the children to pour water down the pipe more easily with less spillage.  Once the bottle was taped into the pipe, it was was strong enough to hold its shape.

I put little toy bath boats in the table and it was not long before the children figured out how to make them slide down the pipe. 
Essentially they figured out that pouring water behind the boat carried it down the pipe out into the pail.  They were experiencing first hand the power of hydraulic flow.  

These pictures were taken 28 years ago with film that had to be developed.  As a consequence, I have very few pictures to work from.  Here is my favorite.
What I appreciate about this picture is that it shows one of the children immersing his arm in the bucket of water.  He had a ball in his left hand and was probably fishing for another one.   So often adults regulate the depth of water that children can experience and it is usually quite shallow.  By allowing for different depths at this simple setup, children used their hands and arms to experience appreciable depth---at least up to the elbow. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Horse play

Not every apparatus I install in the sensory table is complex.  Sometimes they are downright simple.  One of the earliest installations I created was also one of the simplest.  I bought two planter trays to see if they would fit in the table.  The body of the trays fit perfectly inside the table, while the lips of the trays rested on the sides of the table in such a way as to hold the trays above the bottom of the table.  Not only did that create another level for the children's operations, but it also created space between the bottom of the table and the bottom of the trays that was an "underneath" space for their explorations.

The trays fit snugly inside the table, but I still wanted to secure them to the table.  I used strips of duct tape to hold the trays down.  I reinforced those strips with more strips across on the lip of the table itself.

The trays were a simple way to add another level to the children's play and exploration (See axiom #3 on the right hand column of this blog).  However, it was not simply another level, but another level with depth.  What did that mean?  It meant that the children worked on different levels AND with different depths: the depth of the table and the depth of the trays.  That almost sounds like math.

Any simple apparatus can offer opportunities for very complex play.  With this particular setup, besides the usual scoops and containers, I added animal bedding and farm animals.  Children used the scoops to fill the containers so they could feed the animals.  In the picture below---even though it is hard to see---the children have filled containers to feed the horses.

Something special happened with this setup that made play especially profound for one class.  It started with one child whose eyes lit up when she walked in the room and saw the animals and the animal bedding.  I noticed her reaction, but had no idea why she was so taken by the setup.  I soon found out.  This child loved horses and knew a lot about horses.  She knew how to take care of them.  She knew what they ate. See even knew about Barbaro, a coveted race horse that broke its leg and how they tried to fix it.  In other words, she knew more about horses than anyone else in the room including me.  She is the child in the light blue below holding court with the others on the subject of horses and the care they need.

Something magical happened in that class on that particular day.  The child who knew about horses raised the level of play for those who joined her in horse play.  This child connected with the others in a way that was authentic and from the heart.  And the others responded in kind.

More importantly, the status of that child was forever changed in the group after that class.  She was the resident expert on horses.  That status carried over to other parts of the room with other children in other types of play.  Like I said, it was magical.

Watching this child act with confidence and enthusiasm, someone could have concluded that I had created this setup just for her.  That was not the case.  However, by offering this setup as a provocation for all the children, I found that this setup had special meaning for this child.  The setup offered her an opportunity to share her knowledge with others.  No amount of planning on my part could have duplicated the experience both for our resident expert and for those who joined her in play.  Not only was it magical, it was transformative.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Playing with ideas

Last week, I wrote about an apparatus that, from my point of view, was a failure.  It was a failure because the top box was so large over the table that when the children tried to pour feed corn into the tubes more corn got on the floor than down the tubes. 
I am not adverse to messes.  In fact, I think they are a part of life that we all need to deal with.  At some point, though, the amount of mess can get in the way of play.  That is what I felt about this apparatus and that is why I called it a failure.

In the post from last week and on Facebook, I asked readers how they might change the apparatus to cut down on the mess.  A couple people took up the challenge with some good ideas of their own.  I actually decided to riff on a couple of ideas from Teacher Sam.  One of his ideas was to open up the bottom box and have corn from the tubes drop into the base box.
So the children could access the corn in the base box, I cut holes on each end of a new base box.  I cut the openings but left the flaps because I wanted to use those flaps to tape the box securely to the bottom of the table.

So the children could pour the corn into the base box, Teacher Sam suggested I cut a couple of holes in the top of the base box.  Instead of cutting the holes, I cut the notches in the tubes to different lengths.
The tube with the shorter notch would empty into the base box and the tube with the longer notch would empty onto the top of the base box.
I used four cardboard tubes, two had the shorter notches and two had longer notches.  This configuration encouraged the children to figure out where the corn exited because the exit point was not the same for all the tubes.

To cut down on the mess, Teacher Sam suggested I remove the top of the top box so if the children missed the holes of the tubes, the corn would just fall in the top box.  I liked that idea, but I wasn't quite sure how to make it sturdy.  Instead, I attached another box on top of the box with the embedded tubes to serve as a catchment for the corn that did not go down the tubes.  I cut off the top of the box and cut holes to match the cardboard tubes that were embedded in the box underneath.   The box was a sturdy black box that was made sturdier by taping it to the box underneath.
I also added an additional element to the original setup: a white PVC chute.  The purpose was to add an additional constructive way for the children to transport the corn out of the table.

Was there still spilling?  Of course, you cannot invite children to transport and expect them not to  spill (see axiom #1 and it's corollary in the right hand column of this blog).

By the way, the other ideas that people offered were not lost.  Either they will use them for their own purposes or I can see myself riffing off of their ideas to make a completely different apparatus.  For me, this is adult play that is analogous to children's play.   It is not quite the same, because adults have more experience with the materials and can do more manipulations in their heads.  For children, the play process is all through their hands as they build their knowledge of the materials and what they can and cannot do with the materials.

In any case, thanks for playing.