About Me

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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.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


Whenever I do workshops on constructing apparatus for the sensory table, I tell participants that one of the defining characteristics of play at the sensory table is pure joy. In conjunction with that statement, I show the following picture.

I always thought I knew what joy was and this picture was the essence of that joy.  I am currently reading a book of essays entitled The Philosophy of Play as Life edited by Wendy Russell, Emily Ryall and Malcolm MacLean.  One of the essays, "'Life as Play' from East to West" by Damla Donmez, has got me wondering if I really understand what joy is.  I jotted down some thoughts as I read the article and then looked for more instances of joy at the sensory table at just one apparatus, two cardboard chutes taped together and set on an incline.  
The reason I chose just one apparatus is because my reading made me think that joy is context specific.  And by controlling for the physical context, I should see joy manifested differently in different children because it is momentary and no two moments are the same.  And by seeing the different manifestations of joy, I would have a better understanding or joy and what it entails.

One way joy is manifested is through exuberance.  The video below is a good example of that.  The child in the blue pours pellets down the cardboard chute.  As he does that, he cannot contain himself; he squeals with delight and does a little happy dance.

Joyful pouring from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not sure why he is so thrilled with his actions.  Is it the sound of the pellets as they tumble down the chute?  Is he mimicking the energy of the pellets as they tumble down?  In any case, this is joy, right?.

Another way joy is manifested is through creating precise moments of understanding how the world works.  The child in the video below explores how different objects roll down the cardboard chutes.  With each new object he tries, he shrieks with laughter. 

Down the Chute from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Does he laugh because of the way the objects roll down?  Does he laugh because he is thrilled with the results of his experiment?  In any case, this is joy again, right?.

Another way joy is manifested is through an element of surprise.  The two children pictured below are engaged in a serious endeavor.  One child pours sand down the cardboard chute and the other catches the sand.  The child pouring keeps putting more and more sand in his pot and pours it faster and faster each time.
What eventually happens is that the child with the pot pours so fast and so hard that he knocks the bowl right out of the hands of the child catching the sand.  The result of that unexpected outcome is quite a good laugh.
This joint endeavor proceeds along with each child doing their part.  The surprise of the bowl getting knocked out of the girl's hand transforms that exact moment into joy, right?

What is common about all three of these episodes is that the feeling of joy bubbles up from their inner being in response to their own actions.  I contrast that with a quote from the above mentioned essay: "Every forcible act abolishes the inherent joy of play and makes it only a dull imitation." p. 47.

I am still left with many questions.  Joy is a state of being, but so is happiness.  What is the difference?  Is it the exuberance or the laughter that defines joy? Is there such a thing as a quiet, private joy? Does joy really have a purpose other than the affirmation of one's being?

In tossing around the idea of joy with a friend from Canada, she wrote the following: "Without genuine joy and joyful moments, a classroom doesn’t have the heartbeat it should."  That doesn't help define the essence of play, but it does help me understand the importance of joy.  (Thanks Gill.)

I don't know if I am really any closer to understanding what joy is.  I am left with the idea that sometimes words get in the way of understanding something as ephemeral as joy.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The thing about sharing

Sharing is a good thing, right?  Don't we want a world in which children and adults share, especially when we are talking about finite resources?  However, the thing about sharing is that IT is not so simple.  That became abundantly clear to me in a recent discussion I had with three other teachers while recording an episode of the early childhood podcast Teaching with the Body in Mind.  (The sharing episode should come out on or about December 3rd.)

In an early childhood classroom, the problem with sharing begins with how we generally use the word.  When we ask a child to share something with another child, we are not really asking them to share.  In truth, we are asking the child to give the thing in question to the other child.  Children learn the code early.  They understand that you are asking them to give the toy they are playing with to the other child who wants it.  Is it any wonder children do not want to "share?"  That is especially true if a child who has the toy is totally engaged with the toy in question.

A child who wants a toy from another child, has also learned the code.  That child will say something like: "You should share."  If the child doesn't get the toy they want, they have learned to go to an adult to mediate the "sharing."  The child might say something like: "Johnny is not sharing with me."  To which the adult intervenes with a statement to the affect that we "share" with our friends.  And more often than not, the adult will manage the "sharing" by setting the stage for taking turns.

Taking turns may indeed be a form of sharing.  However, I would venture to guess that our idea of taking turns as a form of sharing would include the child voluntarily taking turns instead of simply acquiescing to the adult managing the turn-taking.  In fact, we probably think the ideal is for children to turns on their own. 

A teacher may ask: "Then how do I get children to share?"  Is the way to get children to share making them share?  Do we think that by practicing adult-mediated sharing, children will form a sharing habit?

I contend that children in an early childhood classroom are already sharing.  The problem is that we do not see it because we are too busy implementing our own idea of what sharing is.  In fact, because we are so focused on the above idea of sharing, we are blinded by all the real sharing that goes on in the classroom---or in life.  I further contend that if we start looking for true instances of sharing, we start a virtuous circle in which we recognize and encourage such sharing, which in turn leads to even more sharing.

If you are looking for concrete examples of what I am talking about, take a look at the following three posts.  The first post goes all the way back to December 11, 2011 where I write about acts of kindness, which include acts of sharing.   The second and third examples deal with conflict: conflict 1,  conflict 2.  Conflict is important in the classroom because resolving conflicts in a respectful manner lays the groundwork for real sharing.  How?  Conflict---and its resolution---is one way children begin to understand their own wants and needs in relation to that of others.  Is that not one of the prerequisites for true sharing?

In a way, this blog post is a way of sharing an idea.  Hopefully it is also a invitation for you to share your thoughts on the idea. 


Saturday, August 31, 2019

The science of sloshing and the moon landing

I am always looking for real-life analogues for children's scientific inquiry at the sensory table.  In looking over my documentation lately, I found a video of a child walking with a pretty full tub of water around the sensory table.  As he walked around the table, the water sloshed from side-to-side in his tub so he was forced to change his gate to minimize the spillage

Water sloshing from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

So what does sloshing have to do with the moon landing?  As it turns out, quite a bit.  In 1969, Neil Armstrong set the lunar lander on the moon.  In the course of landing on the moon, he was forced to maneuver the lunar lander with the propellant sloshing around.  Because the propellant was dwindling, the sloshing was more pronounced and that made it more difficult to keep the lunar module steady.  We all know he landed on the moon.  However, because of all the sloshing, the space agency installed extra anti-sloshing baffles on subsequent missions.  Anti-sloshing baffles; I never knew such things existed.

The amount of sloshing was unexpected.   I would venture to guess that Neil Armstrong was able to handle the sloshing because as a child, he carried or transported water in containers that allowed for plenty of sloshing.  In other words, he had an embodied knowledge of the physics of sloshing.

I contend that the child carrying the sloshing water was building that very same knowledge.  I do not begin to presume to know how the child will use that knowledge.  However, can you imagine how the parent would feel about what the child is learning when I make the analogy of his operations to those of Neil Armstrong.  Instead of just seeing the child spilling water on the floor, the parent would appreciate how the child is learning about the physics of sloshing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The extraordinary in the ordinary

There are some things that happen in an early childhood classroom that are quite extraordinary but at the same quite ordinary.    Does the one preclude the other?

In the videos below, a child used loose parts from around the sensory table to build his own construction.  It was not an expansive structure, nor was it an aesthetic marvel.  It was ordinary in every sense of the word. In fact, he only used a few ordinary elements.  Not only were the structure and elements ordinary, but so were the operations he employed in building the structure.

Next to the sensory table, there was an assortment of what I call Hodgepodge and Doohickies. Children chose from this variety loose parts for their play at the sensory table.

On this particular day, many of the implements had already been transported to the sensory table. However, one child found four things he could use to create a little building project on the floor next to the table. For more insight into this child's actions, I solicited the parent's reaction to the videos. Her reactions are in bold italics after each clip.

In the first video, the child took a clear plastic tube and dropped it inside a larger cardboard tube. With great facility, he put the tube combination into a measuring cup.  He seemed to have an ultimate plan: standing the tubes upright in the measuring cup.  His actions were extremely measured (no pun intended) because he seemed to realize the structure was not stable. With a leap of faith, he placed another measuring cup onto the structure and let go.  To his consternation, the structured toppled over.

engineering 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Mom's reaction: In the first video I noticed his uncertainty (which was really obvious when compared to video 2). I could tell the wheels were turning the whole time and I must say was impressed that he knew he had to hold the tubes at the bottom in order to keep the clear one in the cardboard one without trial and error.

Even though he did not succeed, he carried out his actions and intentions with great care and a budding aptitude for building/engineering.  He found out that balancing different objects in each other or on top of each other was not as easy as he had hoped.

After being unsuccessful and little frustrated at trying to get the tube to stand up in the measuring cup, he decided to insert the cardboard tube into an empty red coffee can.  Almost immediately, he uttered a positive and confident "Huh" that indicated he had realized his plan.  After dropping a couple of sticks inside the tube, he placed another measuring cup on top of the tube with a lot more confidence that the structure would not fall over.  He turned to the camera and gave another "Huh" and proudly declared: "It stays."

engineering 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Mom's reaction: In the second video, I noticed how much more sure of himself and his method he was. He said "Huh" right away in the beginning because he anticipated success with the smaller coffee can. He had no apprehension on his face the whole video and used "huh" again at the end (when he was actually successfully) as a kind of completion and "I've bested you" to the now standing tube. His smile at the end was priceless and showed how pleased he was with himself and his accomplishment.

Like all good builders/engineers, the time came to test his structure.  He exuded a high degree of confidence with his body language as he tested putting a couple of other loose elements on top of his structure.  It was not hard to see that he was smiling with his whole body.

engineering 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Mom's reaction: In the third video, I thought it was so cute how he could barely contain his excitement and couldn't sit still (It almost looked like he had to go to the bathroom!). He was willing to tempt fate by placing another container on top but wasn't too sure it wouldn't wreck his masterpiece so he ended up taking it off. He seemed a lot more relaxed after he took it off to know the tube would remain standing.

The videos really show his mechanical aptitude, which runs in the family. My husband is a 3rd generation elevator mechanic.

The parent watched the videos with her son.  This was what she said about his reaction to the videos:

He had a big smile on his face the whole time we were watching the videos and was so proud that a video of just him was commanding all of our attention. At one point he asked me, "Why did I go "ha, ha"?", I said I didn't know and asked him why he did it and he said "Because I liked it" which I interpreted as him being proud of himself.

The following week, the child was back in the sensory table area for more building.  He kept experimenting making several new balancing structures with the various ordinary loose parts..

The videos and the photo showed a child who, given the time, space and materials, used his agency to understand a little piece of his world.  And he did it while working with the most mundane elements: a plastic tube, a cardboard tube, two measuring cups, an empty coffee can, and a metal pail.  That was the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Australia bound

Next week I, will travel to Australia through Real World Learning, a group that specializes in STEM professional development.  I will be doing a number of sessions around Australia emphasizing STEM at the sensory table.  For me, the sand and water table has always been a science table in which the children created their own experiments as they played and explored the various apparatus and materials.  They were masters of scientific inquiry and often taught me something new about the apparatus and/or the materials.

There will be a couple of sessions in Australia, however, that will be relatively new for me.  I will be holding a few sessions on children's STEM explorations around invitations that allow for loud/boisterous/adventurous play in other parts of an early childhood classroom.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

For the Science in STEM, two children pursued a spontaneous line of scientific inquiry of their own choosing.  They appropriated scarves from the housekeeping area to see what would happen when they put them over the room's blower.  To reach the blower, they climbed a set of steps and balanced on the top step as they directed their scarves over the blower.

Blower fun 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In fact, they each did their own experiment.  The child with the yellow/green scarf pressed his scarf over the blower while the child with the orange scarf launched his over the blower.  In one way the results were the same: squeals of delight.

For the Technology in STEM, a child draped a large scarf over the slide.  The scarf reduced the friction while sliding down, so she could go barreling down the slide to crash into the mat at the bottom.

Superslide from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The scarf could be considered a form of technology because it was basically an instrument used to increase the child's speed down the slide.

For the Engineering in STEM, a group of children attempted to build a fort with a bunch of loose mats that were in the room.  
Were they able to build their fort?  Not quite, but they had a great time developing their nascent engineering skills.

For the Math in STEM, two children used loose mats to cover the top holes of the cubes.  They invented their own game of sinking into the cube.  To sink, they slowly shifted their weight into the middle until they and the mats dropped into the hole.

Sinking from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There was certainly a lot of physics in this episode, but there was also a lot of math.  Math is not just numbers, but also all the positions that define the space---in/out, up/down, over/under and around/through---that both of the children experienced concretely.

STEM may sound intimidating, but when one steps back to observe, it is everywhere in the early childhood classroom.  Children do not "do" science.  Children "live" science.

If you are in Australia and curious about any of the sessions, please check out the events section of Real World Learning.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Horizontal tube with holes

In 2013 I built an apparatus that I called: horizontal tube with holes.  I placed a long cardboard tube lengthwise across two sensory tables.  I supported it above the tables with two brown planter trays.  For stability, I taped the tube to the the two edges of one of the brown trays and to the lip of the clear table.
I cut and drilled multiple holes in the tube.  Those holes provided multiple points of entry for the children's operations.

This may look fairly simple, but it turned out to be a multidimensional space.  It had length: the cardboard tube spanned the two tables.  It had width: the width of the table perfectly holding the planter trays.  And it had vertical depth with three levels of play: the table, the trays and the tube, all on different levels.

There was actually a fourth level of play, namely the floor.  The level of the floor is represented by the bottom of the tub next to the table.  The following video shows how one child incorporated the bottom of the tub---a.k.a. the floor---in her operations.

Covering the bottom of the tub from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She used her pail to methodically distribute the pellets to cover the bottom of the tub.  Was she cooking, gardening, ... ?

In addition to vertical depth, this apparatus provided horizontal depth, too.  The child pictured below explored that horizontal depth as he reached well into the tube to scoop out pellets.

Of course, depth also had another meaning with this apparatus.  Whether the children filled pails, the tube or the trays, the depth they experienced was volume.

The fact that this apparatus was multidimensional encouraged all kinds of operations in and around the tables.  I especially appreciated those operations that involved a certain amount of vigor.  In the video below, the child used both hands to propel the pellets out of the tube into the tub next to the table.

Horizontal blast of pellets from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child basically shot the pellets out of the tube by pushing them to the end of the tube with her right hand and thrusting them out toward the tub with her left hand.  So what if not all the pellets landed in the tub.  She created her own experiment with force and trajectory

Children are masters at exploring all the dimensions of any given apparatus.  They do it spontaneously; they do it methodically.   Sometimes they even do it with zest, and for me, that is always a bonus.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unique loose parts

In my last post, I wrote about children making meaningful choices around an apparatus I called the vertical tube and rope apparatus.
When I looked through my documentation on how children explored this apparatus, I noticed a couple of unique loose parts that played an integral role in their explorations.  Those loose parts were S hooks and carabiners.  In the picture above, the pail floats in midair above the table because the handle of the pail was suspended by a S hook attached to a carabiner attached to the rope strung over the table.

Here is a better view of the carabiner and S hook holding the pail in the air over the table.  That configuration allowed the child to pour hands-free.  
Contrast that operation with the child trying to hold the bucket up with one hand and pour with the other.  Of course, she could have set the pail in the bottom of the table and poured hands-free, but pouring pellets in the bucket hanging in the air was more intriguing for sure.

Not only was it intriguing to fill the bucket floating in midair, but with a little push or two, the pail easily became an experiment in pendular motion.

Pail pendulum from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child in the video above first used his left hand to push the pail four different ways.  He then used the metal bowl in his right hand to push the pail in four more different ways. 

Part of the definition of a loose parts is that they can be rearranged and combined in novel ways.  Below are some of the ways the children arranged, rearranged and combined the carabiners and S hooks.

Besides hanging pails, this child also used the carabiner to hang a metal measuring cup on the rope for easy access.

Below, the child on the left collected the carabiners and clipped them all together into a big clump.  On the right, a different child collected the carabiners and used them as a manipulative by hanging them end-to-end vertically.

Below, the child on the left combined a S hook with carabiners to carry the pail with a chain-like piece of equipment of her own making.  The child on the right took several carabiners to tie together all the ropes on one side of the apparatus.                                                                                                                                                                 

The child in the video below set a challenge for herself to connect two sets of S hooks, one set of hooks hanging from above and another set hanging lower.   To do that she had to make sure the lower hanging set stayed together as she lifted it up to meet the set hanging from above. 

Connecting the S hooks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Her actions were deliberate and cautious because she was not sure the two sets would hang together. As she stepped back to view her completed challenge, I saw a sense of accomplishment both in her face and gestures.

So often I see loose part displays that would be considered art that are aesthetically pleasing using all manner of materials both natural and man-made.  In addition to using loose parts to make art, they are also used to represent things such as flowers or buildings.  The children have helped me expand my idea of what is a loose part.   I now think there needs to be another category of loose parts, namely, functional loose parts that the children use to complete an enterprise of their own making.  Ramps, tubes and tires are common loose parts that fit into this category and are well known in ECE.  After watching the children play and explore with carabiners and S hooks, let me add those to the list of functional loose parts.