Pump it up!

pitcher pump water table

Did I write about the pump table yet?  Our center has been working on an outdoor classroom – making the environment much more natural.  We have trees and plants now and other wonderful things.  I wanted to have a water table with a working pump, and initially it worked wonderfully!  We had some great large-motor development from the toddlers up to the school-age children.


*sigh*  I’ve been on vacation for a while, and during that time the pump stopped working.  Today I took it apart to see that the inside was CLOGGED with sand. It’s cleaned out now and moved to a spot further from the sandbox, but don’t forget that children treat things a bit rougher than you expect.  (I thought this would be pretty indesructable.  Shows what I know.)

Science – what to have

When I first began preschool, I received the comforting words from my director – “I wasn’t very good at setting up a science area when I first began.  I would put out a plant and call it good.”  That let me know that it was alright to start out slow.

As the years have gone by, I’ve realized that everything you will do connects to science.  Exploring, comparing, cooking, experimenting (we experiment a lot) – it’s all science!  I was blessed to receive some grant money to purchase science supplies, but here is a bare-bones list of what to have when you begin, followed by the cool ‘extras’.


  • A set of children’s encyclopedias. 
  • 4 – 6 magnifying glasses
  • 4 -6 clipboards
  • some sort of scale – your choice
  • some jars – glass or plastic, depending on your comfort level
  • Some good magnets

That ought to get you through your first year.  Now, bear in mind that I believe in dual-purpose items.  When studying insects, our ‘bug catchers’ are our paper juice cups and a piece of paper.   Many of the items already in your room will be pulled into your study of science.

Things to think of adding:

  • Several kinds of color-mixing items.  Translucent items to be looked through or used with your light table/projector.
  • A small, unbreakable microscope
  • Flashlights
  • A creature that is easily taken care of.  (See the Stories category for some animal ‘don’t’s.
  • a classroom set of clipboards
  • a good globe
  • plastic sets of x-rays – human and animal  (these are awesome!)


science area


science baskets

I recommend browsing through teacher supply catalogs.  Dream big!  However, you don’t have to buy every kit they have.  Look at them closely.  Are there some items you can get that would do double-duty with another center? 

Light table or no light table?

Cheaper than a light table

I’ve gone through a few light tables in my day, let me tell you. The first one was a commercially-made one – a big plastic thing that had one of the legs break off and was irrepairable. Next came a little side table that I badly retrofitted with a glass top and a florescent light fixture. Next came the awesome lighted drafting table my husband purchased at an auction, which served us well until the glass cracked. (It morphed into our I-Spy table.) I have to say, though, that none of these options were any better than an old-fashioned overhead projector. The only con is that it is small, but that’s really not such a bad thing. One or two children can play with it, and the other children get the benefit of seeing their work projected. (We move it to the floor and project it onto the wall.) They can be found very inexpensively at auctions, or just put out the word that you are looking for a used one.

Housekeeping – what to have


Again, I can’t stress enough the idea that you DON’T need a ton of stuff! My analogy is: When you go shopping, do you prefer digging through racks of mis-matched items in the wrong spot, with the racks jammed so close together you can’t move around or find anything – or do you love looking at things nicely displayed, that invite you to look around and choose what you like? (Ok, if you’re a bargain hunter, this might not be the best analogy, but you see what I’m saying, right?)

I think it’s the imagination and conversation that should be the focus of housekeeping, not having every kind of toy imaginable. Keep it simple, and as always – label where things should go.

In housekeeping, start with:

  • A decent kitchen set.
  • A table and chairs
  • 4 – 5 dress-up clothes, and a few accessories (hats, a purse) DON’T go overboard here!
  • place settings for 4 – cups, bowls, plates

Really, you could just stop there and they would be happy as clams. There are nice things to add in as the year goes by, but don’t forget to edit what is in there – when you bring in something new, take something out. Some ideas:

  • A couple of old phones
  • A basket of pretend food
  • baking/cooking items (This photo was taken when we were studying baking.)
  • computer keyboards for typing
  • change out your dress-up clothes
  • a small Christmas tree and a basket of plastic ornaments to decorate and re-decorate the tree
  • A lamp (yes, a real lamp that you have talked about using safely and have taped down underneath) can add more magic than you ever imagined!

You may be wondering about the green on the walls. Two words: Liquid starch! If you’ve never tried this, you have to. Soak a piece of fabric in liquid starch and squeeze out the excess. Smooth it onto the wall and it dries – looking like wallpaper – but it comes off like a dream! I nailed a piece of chair railing along the top so the children wouldn’t pick at it, and it makes the space very cozy.

Blocks – what to have

So you have to set up for blocks.  What are the bare-bones supplies that you need?  Here’s a list to think about:

Should have available at all times:

  • Large blocks (preferably on a shelf labeled with shapes)
  • Small & large cars/trucks/tractors – not too many, but enough to have some to drive around
  • Collection of people (plastic dolls)
  • Large legos

Items to switch out:

  • Small blocks
  • Plastic animals
  • Buildings
  • Sensory blocks

Remember, you don’t have to have everything out all at once.  My block area really doesn’t change much during the year.  We add books and clipboards occasionally, but the children do a wonderful job creating structures.

Big blocks

 This is the corner in blocks that holds the bigger blocks.  The white shelves have outlines of each kind of block (drawn with permanent marker) so they are easily put back.  The box holds our ‘castle blocks’.

 Blocks 2

This is the opposite corner.  Each shelf has a digital photo of the item – attached with a sheet of clear contact paper. 

Less is more!