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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 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 10, 2011

TABLE COVERING WITH HOLES

The following apparatus takes advantage of axiom #5 on the right: Children are compelled by nature to put things in holes.  This apparatus is basically a piece of plywood with holes that creates a cover over the sensory table with space underneath.


I took a piece of 3/8 inch plywood and cut it so it would fit two inches deep into the top of the table leaving seven inches of space between the piece of plywood and the bottom of the sensory table. In my sensory table, the sides slant in slightly so the apparatus fits snuggly into the table.  For extra support, I used strips of wood as braces so it would not bow in the middle and added legs for extra stability.


As you can see, ten holes are cut in the plywood.  With holes in the plywood, children have to reach down into the holes to gather the pellets.  The idea is to create a second level of play at the table and to present a spacial challenge for the children and their operations.  Their normal scooping motion doesn't work so well because they have to reach down into the holes to get the pellets and then navigate their way out without spilling.


Another nice feature of this apparatus is that the cover and holes serve an additional function. The cover is also a place on which to set containers so the children can fill them without having to hold them.


And the holes are also places to hold containers.  Some of the pots and pans fit nicely into the holes and others are propped by their handles.


Here is a video of a child using the apparatus.  There are lots of good things happening in the video, but watch near the end how he changes the tempo of his actions so he more carefully pulls the pellets out of the hole so he is able to keep the pellets on his spoon before depositing them in a bowl.


What determines from which hole a child takes pellets or into which hole he pours?  Watch.


Is there a rhyme or reason why a child chooses one hole over another?  This video shows that some of it is trial and error.  The measuring cup did not fit into the smallest hole so the child had to scoop from a hole into which the measuring cup fit.  Other than that, does a child just use the holes that are close?  No, because many times children will stretch across the table to scoop from another hole. 

Even though I ask the question, it is less important to me than observing and recording the myriad of operations the children concoct.  When you watch the next video, see how many different operations you can see from this one child in less than a minute.


He begins by pulling his pot of pellets out of a hole.  He does a swirling motion and watches and listens as the pellets tumble in his pot.  With a little shake and then a bigger shake he empties his pot.  Did you catch his little smile at the end of this first set of operations?  He then reaches in a hole to get pellets with his scoop.  As he does that, the hand with the pot swings in behind him and down for balance.  As he carefully pulls out the pellets, he swings his scooping hand over to the pot hand in a fluid motion and pours the pellets into the pot.  He got them all in the pot and the pot wasn't even over the table in case some missed.  As soon as he completes the transfer of pellets, he immediately empties the pot over the table.  Did you catch his little smile again?  Now he takes his pot and puts it in a hole to collect some pellets with the pot.  As soon as he pulls out the pot, he dumps them right back into the same hole.  He then leans in and gathers pellets with his scoop again.  As he does that, he lays the pot on the cover apparatus and holds his left hand up for balance.  Even his fingers in his left hand seem to be helping him balance.  He very carefully pulls out the pellets making sure not to drop any. He pours them all in the pot.  He grabs the pot by the handle again and uses a back-handed flip motion to empty the pot in the table yet again.  All that in 40 seconds, a very fluid 40 seconds.

One just has to marvel at a child's ability to effortlessly experiment with fine and large motor operations in space and time with any given material and apparatus. 

17 comments:

  1. Oh My!!! I have to say I love all your different apparatus, but this one just made me smile. The simplicity of it, yet creating opportunity to work on so many skills, I love it!!

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  2. oh, boy, i'm glad you commented on scott's blog because that's how i found your blog. and i LOVE this post. something satisfying about seeing kids reach through the holes AND have a surface to set their containers on. i want to play in that table!!! thanks for the awesome idea : )

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  3. Michelle and Stephanie, thanks. I really appreciate it when others find value in the apparatus. If it inspires you to make something that fits your settings, I would really like to know. Thanks again. Tom

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  4. Tom, you have done it again.
    Another awesome way to discover and explore - love it.

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  5. Cathy@pre-schoolplayDecember 11, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    You're video clips of your apparatus in use are brilliant. They make you more aware of those little things that are so easily missed during a busy day (the boy that slows the speed of his actions) It's fasinating to watch how a seemingly simple piece of equipment really gets the children thinking.

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  6. Just found your blog through a friend and *love* this! Question: has the issue of playing with food products come up/been discussed here previously? As a staff, we have decided not to present food items as play items, out of respect for the many families in our community who have joined us as refugees from war and famine. We have lots of other things we present in our sensory table, but sometimes we do miss the days of rice or flour...

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  7. I want to tell you, I just adore your blog. At any moment in time, I go through your posts for provocations, inspiration and a huge smile. You are a fantastic blog presence. The fact that you are able to illustrate the unlimited depth in sensory exploration is astounding. Don't ever stop!

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  8. Thank you all for the kind words. I have been building apparatus for the sensory table for over 25 years, but it is only in the last couple of years that I have been taking a closer look at my documentation of play and exploration around the table. That would not have happened without the the prompting of a colleague who studies the Reggio approach and has been to Italy to study in Reggio Emilia first-hand multiple times.

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  9. Andrea, I do not use food items like rice or flour. My reasons are not as principled as yours. The closest I have come to food is using whole kernel feed corn. Of course when I worked with a woman from Kenya, she asked me where I got the corn because that is what they used in Kenya for cooking and had been looking all over for it in Minnesota. Is it food or isn't it? I much rather use natural elements in my table. (The pellets in this post are fuel pellets for heating up here in the cold.) Here's a provocative question for you: Do make your own playdough, and if so, is that not food? You don't have to answer. I am just playing the devil's advocate. Tom

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  10. Ah, yes - we have wrangled with the play dough question! We do, of course, make our own, and yes, it is made of food products. We came to the decision that we preferred our own homemade version to the chemicalized, commercial version available. And still better to play with clay more often, although it really is a different experience...

    Fuel pellets? For pellet stoves? Oh - we have lots of those here in Vermont too. Thanks for another good tip! Andrea

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  11. Hi Tom,

    I really enjoyed this post - and that axiom is so true. You really create these apparatuses with the children in mind, and an understanding of what engages young children. Every time I see one of your ideas in action, I can picture children in my own classroom peeking in and out of boxes as they fill and scoop and pour and hide and watch. Thanks - I don't come by here nearly enough!

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  12. Thanks, Allie. I almost always have some idea how children will use the apparatus, but they also surprise me all the time with what they come up with. Drop by anytime and feel free to email me if you have any direct questions about an apparatus. Tom

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  13. What a super idea....very clever..good way to change it up for the children...I work for Migrant Head Start and we can not use food eithe in our sensory table..I do use the pellets and another medium that I make called pretend sand...so what do you use in stead of food items???? Looking for any ideas...Thanks. Diana B. in Danville, Il

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  14. Diana, thanks. I use mostly natural elements. I use 4 kinds of sand (regular play sand, premium white sand- silicate free, Jurassic sand and Moon Sand), water, rocks, sticks, leaves, pellets, whole kernel feed corn, oobleck, water beads. I don't know if that covers them all, but they are the main ones. By changing the apparatus so often as I do, I don't need so many different medium

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  15. I was so inspired by your sensory table cover that I had a go at creating something similar. You can check it out here if you are interested http://pre-schoolplay.blogspot.com/2012/01/sensory-table-cover.html. Thanks again for for providing the inspiration!

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  16. Cathy, thanks for the feedback. I did check it out and was duly impressed. I have colleagues who will not show me their apparatus because they think it not as good enough. The point is not to make exact replicas of my apparatus, but to adapt them so they work for you and the kids; to make unique and intriguing spaces for the kids to explore. The point is to try something new. Tom

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