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, February 16, 2020

Transcendence

Children's play can seem so ordinary.  However, in that ordinary is the extraordinary.  Maybe there is no extraordinary without the ordinary.

By way of illustration let's look at one child's play at an apparatus I call  Pipes embedded in planter trays.  This apparatus has two PVC pipes embedded horizontally through two planter trays.  The pipes extend beyond the ends of each tray so water empties into tubs next to the table.
A unique feature of this apparatus is that multiple holes are drilled in the top of the pipes.  Since the top of the pipes are a couple inches off the bottom of the trays, children have to fill the trays to a certain depth for the water to begin flowing through the pipes.

In the photo below, the child is pouring water into one of the pipes and catching it with a red bowl as it exits the pipe at the end. 
Pouring water can certainly be considered an ordinary operation.  However, notice that this child has already modified pouring in a couple of different ways.  First, the child uses a little plastic ladle to scoop and pour water into the pipes.  Second, and more remarkably, the child appropriates a plastic syringe and inserts it into one of the holes in the top of one of the pipes.  In essence, he creates a shortcut---an efficient shortcut---for getting water into the pipes so he can use his bowl to catch the water.

Below is the video clip of this child pouring the water into the syringe so he can catch it with his bowl.  The clip shows that the child creates a narrative to his overall operation.  It is a narrative about yummy and yucky sugar. 


Yucky sugar from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the beginning of the clip, the child pours water from his ladle into the syringe and catches it with his bowl.  When he does that, he declares: "Yummy sugar."  As he moves to the center of the water table to scoop some more water, he further declares: "Not a yucky sugar."  After he scoops water with his ladle and returns to the end of the table, he continues his narrative by saying: "A yucky sugar is too yucky for our oatmeal because it makes the oatmeal yucky."

How does pouring water into a syringe stuck in a pipe that carries the water out of the table into a waiting bowl become a narrative about yummy---not yucky---sugar in a bowl of oatmeal?  I think that is possible because in play, children are able to transcend reality.  They are able to make ordinary materials and objects represent something else.  And often times what those ordinary materials and objects represent are other ordinary materials and objects that fit the narrative they are creating in real time.

Without really understanding the process as an adult, I can appreciate the children's ability to transcend reality to make the ordinary into something else just as ordinary.   Maybe the extraordinary is not those ordinary materials and objects specifically.  Rather, maybe the extraordinary is the ability of children to transcend the ordinary to use those materials and objects to represent something else. In other words, the extraordinary is the creative genius of the children they bring to their play to have ordinary things represent something totally different.   In that case, there is no extraordinary without the ordinary.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Giving voice to curiosity

Children are naturally curious.  I always cringe a little bit when I read something that purports to build children's curiosity.  It does not need to be built because it is fundamental to children's being. Instead, I like the idea of giving voice to children's curiosity.

Curiosity for children usually takes the form of exploring how things work.  That is an active process.  For example, with the apparatus pictured below, the children have to act on it to see how it works.  (More about this apparatus can be found in the following two posts:  Totally different and Channel, tube and homemade plunger.)
How do children make sense of this apparatus.  They act on it, of course, but how might it give voice to children's curiosity? A couple of the features that will give voice to the children's curiosity are the inclines and the holes.  Various strategies emerge as the children figure out how to move the sand through the holes and down the inclines, 

Inclines are simple machines and children quickly learn how they work.  However, as the sand piles up at the bottom, children's curiosity burgeons into a variety of strategies for getting the sand through the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.  How do I use my hand? (See example on the left.) Can I find a tool to help me? (See example on the right.)




The child pictured here is curious what happens to his scoop when he drops it through the hole on the top.  He has an idea, so he crouches down on the stool to confirm his theory.  I suppose I could have asked him where he thought the scoop went, but since curiosity is in his being, I know he is already asking himself that question.


The picture below shows the apparatus with an added feature: a cardboard chute taped to the incline.  One hole is cut in the top and one at the bottom.  Yet another hole is cut at the bottom of the chute so it directs the sand into the original hole at the bottom of the apparatus.
The child has just poured sand in the top hole of the chute.  Her eyes reveal the focus of her curiosity.  This may not be as simple as it seems, because once the child pours the sand in the top of the chute, it disappears.  When it re-appears, she observes that flow of the sand changes as it exits the bottom hole of the apparatus.

The picture below shows the apparatus with yet another added feature: a cardboard chute taped horizontally to the top of tower box. 
The child pictured above is pouring sand through a clear plastic tube that she has appropriated and inserted into one of the holes of the horizontal chute.  The hole has a corresponding hole on the bottom of the horizontal chute so the sand drops into the top hole of the incline chute.  If that sounds complex, it is.  She is not just pouring sand but creating a new route for the sand through the holes and down the inclines.  Her operation takes more coordination, both fine motor and large motor.  The voice of children's curiosity can grow in relation to children's competencies.   



Collaboration can also give voice to children's curiosity.  These two children are using clear plastic tubes to refine a new path for the sand to flow from the apparatus into the tub next to the table.  On the left, they have put one tube inside the other, but the tube in the chute is at such an angle that the sand slides underneath their tube construction.






After some deliberation, the children decide to separate the tubes.  Next, they prop the bottom tube against the side of the tub next to the table.  That bottom tube is then put through the hole in the bottom of the apparatus and then through the hole in the bottom of the incline chute.  They then place the second tube inside the incline chute so it is propped up against the bottom tube.  Not only is that second tube propped up against the bottom tube, but it lies flat inside the incline chute and can be lined up better with the bottom tube.   Their collaboration fuels their curiosity and creates a new path for the sand to travel down and out the apparatus.





There is one final element that gives voice to children's curiosity.  That is my own curiosity about how children make meaning of the their world.  David Hawkins writes about this in his book The Informed Vision.  On page 142, he says to be a teacher, one has "...to be easy and attentive with children, to find them fascinating bundles of capability and potential, to love the world around, and to wish to induct children into exploration of its marvels and its mysteries, to know enough of the discipline to be able to learn more, sometimes with children rather than ahead of them."

In other words, giving voice to my own curiosity is one of the necessary components for giving voice to children's curiosity.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Freedom to try things

When I read these days, I look for phrases or sentences that have potential meaning for play at the sensory table. In the book The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children published by Reggio Children, I found a sentence that I would like to see if it has such a meaning. The sentence is in the section on The enchantment of writing on page 107.

                  Freedom to try things makes our thinking less timid, and freer; and
                  supports not only "doing" but also "creating."

In this section of the book, they document how the children experiment with mark-making, letters and words to provoke children's thinking about multiple ways to express their ideas.

Children's exploration of mark-making, letters and words is their context.  My context for looking at their stated hypothesis is the following sensory table apparatus: the Fun house mirror.  (You can follow the link to see how I made the mirror.)
The fun house mirrors consists of a wavy, plexiglass mirror mounted on a Channel board apparatus.  (Again, you can follow the link to see how I made the channel board.)

One of the fundamental precepts of the sensory table area in my classroom is that the children have a broad license to explore the apparatus, the materials and the medium.  In other words, they have the freedom to try things.  Does that make them less timid?  Does that support "doing" and "creating?"

In the picture below, the child moves his head closer and from side-to-side and even sticks out his tongue.   
In essence, he is playing with his image by looking in the wavy mirror.  It is transient and ephemeral, but he has the power to change how he can see himself.

Since this is an incline and there is water in the sensory table, children pour water down the mirror.  And children find many ways to pour the water.  Sometimes they only pour a little at a time.
The child above pours the water in a steady stream from her measuring cup.  That allows her to see how the water flowing over the mirror changes her image.  And the person on the other side of the apparatus has a different perspective that includes seeing the other child's face through the rippling water as it hits the mirror.

In the picture below, the child pours a lot of water from a five gallon bucket as fast as he can. 
This child is not so interested in playing with his image.  He seems to be looking at the water splashing up against the side of the incline.  Is he testing the capacity of the incline to handle the amount and speed of the water gushing from his bucket?  Is he testing his own physical ability---strength, coordination and balance---to pour water from such a big bucket?

Some children like to experiment to see how common objects travel down the wavy incline, sometimes with some surprising results.  In the video below, one child observes how a pink plastic cup travels down the wavy incline and another child watches how a long-neck bottle goes down the incline.


What rolls down the fun house mirror from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child with the pink cup first sees that the cup slide and then, as it gets turned around, roll off the incline.  The child with the long-neck bottle first sees the bottle roll and then, as it gets turned around, slide off the end of the incline.

Here is another video of a child rolling an object down the wavy incline.  However, she is using a clear plastic tube as a tool to both push and catch the object, a yellow vehicle.


A tube and a car on an incline from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

With her first attempt to catch the vehicle, the tube actually stops the vehicle because of the speed of the vehicle and the angle at which she holds the tube.  She successfully catches the vehicle on the second try because the car is traveling faster and she raises the angle of the tube.

The freedom to explore this apparatus definitely fostered a lot of "doing" and "creating."  However, I  do think that freedom to explore is not enough to make children's thinking less timid.   I think that the provocation that is offered to the children has to be one that is both inviting and intriguing.  Not only that, but the child's prior experience and current skill set will also play a role in how timid their thinking may be.  Not every child is going to try to pour the water from a five-gallon pail and not every child is going to try to catch a car with a plastic tube.  Maybe freedom to try things also means freedom not to try things and timid is a more cautious way to "do" and "create."
 








Saturday, January 25, 2020

Does space have agency?

I am reading the book The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram.  One of his important premises is that there is a fundamental reciprocity between the human world and the non-human and inanimate world. We affect the non-human world and the non-humane and inanimate world affects us.  I thought I could play around with this idea to see if I could understand this reciprocity as it relates to the sensory table in an early childhood classroom,

Children are always situated in a space.  According to Abram, then, the space plays an important part as the children create their own story.    


For this post, the space in which the children are situated is a Horizontal channel apparatus.  It is a cardboard box set on top of the sensory table.  It has channels and a ramp connect to a tub next to the table.



Abram would not only say that the space is important, but so is the time.  So to include the idea a time, I chose a specific episode. 

The episode is a 14 second video of six children playing around the horizontal channel apparatus.
I will break down each child's actions in the episode to see what role space plays in their exploration of the medium and the materials.   I will start with the child in yellow on the right and work my way around to the child in blue who has lined up his vehicles.

The child in yellow fills his pickup truck that he placed in the second channel.  In a way, that channel holds the truck in on the sides.  And since it is in the channel, it plays a part in focusing where he drops the sand.

The next child with the spoon, scoops the sand in the same channel as the first child.  However, for him to scoop the sand, he must run the spoon horizontally down the channel.  In essence the walls of that channel direct his actions.

The child with the small red dump truck works in the same space as the child with the spoon and the child with the pickup truck.   She, too, is directed in her actions to scoop sand in the truck by the walls of the channel she is working in.

The child in blue with the yellow dump truck is not working in one of the channels.  Instead, he tosses his truck into the blue tub next to the table.  Why?  Maybe the drop off that is the ramp suggests to him that the truck should fall.  Of course, once the truck falls into the tub, he has to drive it out with great effort out of the tub, over the ramp and back onto the channels' platform

The child in grey below is opposite the child with the yellow dump truck.  He is not playing in the channels, either.  Rather, he is retrieving other construction vehicles that have fallen into the tub.  Why does he retrieve them?  At this point I can only venture a guess.  Maybe he reads the space such that the cars and trucks do their work on the channel apparatus and not in the tub.

The last child has a small bulldozer.  At first he drives the bulldozer in two different channels.  Again the walls direct his actions.  However, when he drives out of the channels, he uses his front plow to push sand off the platform, down the ramp and into the tub.  Since there are no walls to direct his actions and the open platform is less restrictive, he pushes the sand faster and with more force.

Below is the what the 14 second episode looks like all put together


What is so interesting is that each child reads the space differently.  That allows each child to create their own story.  It is as if the children are forming a direct and intimate relation to the space.  And maybe that is possible because the space is not passive.  Maybe space has agency and speaks to each child differently?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Getting to know the properties of corn - part 2

Last week, I wrote about Getting to know the properties of corn.  In that post, most of the children's explorations centered around how they used their hands (and feet) to come to know the properties of corn.  Even though I introduced an apparatus, I really did not mention how that helped shape the children's explorations.  However, the apparatus did play a role in helping them understand the properties of corn.





Here is an example:  The Cardboard divider apparatus on the right divided the sensory table into cubicle-like spaces.   












The cardboard walls of those cubicle-like spaces actually allowed the children to reach a higher degree of focus to better know the properties of corn. 


I kept the divider apparatus up for a second week, but I added some new features.  I added a PVC pipe and a clear plastic tube both on angles through the cross vertical panels on either side of the apparatus.  I also added a cardboard tube embedded horizontally through the cross vertical panels.  
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If the apparatus played a role in how the children understood the properties of corn, how did the addition of these features shape to their explorations? To give this examination a manageable focus, I will highlight some of the operations the children carried out using only the clear plastic tube. 

Just like the walls focused children's attention, the tube also focused one child's attention on how the corn flowed down the tube.  Below, the child scooped up corn in a plastic measuring cup and slowly and deliberately poured the corn down the tube.  Sometimes only one kernel dropped from his cup and sometimes several.


Corn down the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In either case, he observed how the corn went down the tube.  Once or twice, he even made sure he saw how the corn exited before he poured any more corn down the tube.

I was very impressed at his laser-like focus as he observed how the corn went down the tube.  I was not only impressed, I was curious.  I decided video tape the corn going down the tube.  


Corn sliding down the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was surprised at how the corn behaved in the tube.  First, the flow was really quite smooth.  From my experience with corn going down an incline chute,  I thought the kernels would have bounced or tumbled down the tube.  The other surprise was that kernels ended up flowing single file as they exited the tube.   

The corn flowing down the tube connected children in their play.  Below, one child poured corn down the tube and the other caught it in a stainless steel bowl.


Connecting in play from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The tube was not enough to connect these two in play.  The corn and how it flowed through the tube completed the play circuit.  In fact at one point in the operation, the flow of corn physically connected the child pouring, the tube and the child catching.  It is almost as if the corn drew a continuous line connecting the two children through the tube.

Here is much different example of how the corn sliding down the tube connected children in play.  A child poured corn down the tube after another child had placed her eye over the bottom of the tube.   This operation, in essence, added a somatic component to this child's understanding of corn as the corn piled up against her eye.


Eye on the corn from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As she moved her eye back from the bottom of the tube, the kernels gently fell on her cheek, again adding a somatic component to her exploration.

The child who did the pouring, of course, wanted to know how the corn felt against his eye, so they switched places. 

In my last post I asked: How many ways are there to know the properties of corn?  Maybe it is enough to know that there are innumerable ways for children to know and understand corn.  And that it is possible to expand on their ways of knowing by offering them richly provisioned environments---physical and social---in which they can recruit their competencies and imagination to come to know the properties of corn.







Sunday, January 12, 2020

Getting to know the properties of corn

Every space or setup in an early childhood classroom has an energy and rhythm.  How is it possible to examine that energy and rhythm?  One way is to look for ways in which children examine the properties of the materials in a chosen area with a particular setup. 

To do that, I choose the sensory table with a cardboard divider setup pictured below.  The setup is basically a long cardboard sheet that spans two sensory tables down the middle with smaller panels inserted horizontally to create multiple spaces in which the children can choose to work.
There are also multiple windows cut in the apparatus to facilitate cross-barrier play.  Below is another picture of the apparatus from a different angle that highlights how the apparatus divides the sensory table and creates multiple work spaces.


To focus my observations even more, I choose to look at how children in this space examine the properties of one very specific material in this space, namely, feed corn. 

One way the children examine the properties is to actually feel it with their hands.  And that can take on a different energy and rhythm.  The child below is using his hands in a back-and-forth motion to feel the corn both under and over his hands.
Besides feeling the corn, the child is also hearing the sounds the corn makes as it get pushed from side-to-side.  Feeling and hearing the corn in this way is never uniform.  Another child may come along and sweep the the corn more vigorously or more slowly.  Through the individual energy and rhythm of feeling the corn, the children will come to understand the corn differently.

A case in point: the video below shows two children basically doing the same operation with different energy and rhythm.  They are both transferring corn with their hands from their spot at the table into their respective five-gallon buckets.


Corn in the bucket from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child in the blue transfers the corn into his bucket faster than the child in red.  And, whereas the child in blue throws the corn with force into his bucket, the child in red simply drops his corn into the bucket.  Again, this is a way to for children to make sense of the properties of the corn.  It can be dropped; it can be thrown; it makes a different sound when thrown than when it is dropped; and when the the corn is thrown it bounces, sometime even out of the bucket.

In the photo below, the child uses a tool to examine the properties of the corn.  First, the scoop allows her to gather certain amounts of corn.  Second, when she pours the corn from the scoop, she creates a corn flow, so to speak.  It also has a different sound and visual as it hits the side of the bucket.  
That flow will necessarily have a different energy and rhythm than the previous examples of the children throwing and dropping corn into the bucket.

The child below gets right up close and personal with the corn.  She uses the handle of a small red measuring cup to dislodge individual kernels of corn from a corn cob.

Dislodging the corn kernels from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The energy and rhythm in this episode is markedly different.  There is a focus here in which the child discovers the relation between a kernel and the cob.  To do that, the child draws on her capacity to invent, concentrate and persist to dislodge each kernel with the handle of the measuring cup.  

The child below also gets up close and personal with the corn---with her feet!  Not only does she step into the bucket, but she maneuvers her feet so her boots begin to sink further into the bucket of corn.   There is certainly a different feel to the corn when a child uses her feet.  For instance, individual kernels drop down into her boot.  When she comes out, she feels those individual kernels pressing against the soles of her feet.  And what is her visual interpretation of seeing her boots/feet disappear down into the corn?
The energy and rhythm of this episode encompasses contagion, too, because after she steps out of the bucket another child steps into the bucket to experience the properties of the corn similarly.

How many ways are there to examine the properties of the corn?  I could not even hazard a guess.  Since the energy and rhythm are dependent on those examinations, they, too, will be many and varied.  

Why is that important?  That is important because there is no script.  No one needs to tell the children how to examine the properties of the corn.   That is also important, because depending on the energy the children bring to the exploration on any given day, they will create their own rhythm of play.  Through that energy and rhythm of the play, the children come to know the corn and its properties in so many different ways.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Picture of the year: adults thinking inside the box.

Every year I designate a photo as my "picture of the year."  Usually that picture focuses on children and their play.   I want to change that this year to focus on the adults and their play/work. 

I was in Australia this past September to do a number of workshops on building apparatus for the sensory table.  In looking over the pictures I took of teachers building things, I came across what might be considered a theme: Adults thinking inside the box.

I have several pictures of adults who have crawled inside a box in the process of building their construction.
Did this adult really need to crawl inside the box?  Maybe not, but by crawling inside the box, this adult experienced space physically, emotionally and cognitively.  Not only that, this adult got up close and personal with the materials and---with the help of others in his group---got a taste of what could be done with them in the given space.  I would guess spatial literacy is as important for adults as it is for children.

One group went so far as to purposely cut a door in a large television box as an invitation for the children to go inside.  
They actually had a dual purpose for cutting the door.  Since they were embedding a plank and tube through the box, they also needed to crawl inside to align the holes on each side to get the angle of incline that they wanted.  Sounds a lot like spatial literacy for adults again.

With that introduction, I give you my picture of the year.  It is a picture taken from the other side of the box.  This group cut a window in the television box opposite the door but in an unexpected place.
I suppose I could call it: Thumbs up for adults thinking inside the box.  And some of the best thinking inside the box comes with a dose of fun and humor.