About Me

My photo
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, August 20, 2016

Worm slide and social connections

Every year since I bought a "bucket of worms" on sale at a sporting goods store, I have set up a worm slide.  Each year it looked a little different, but the idea was always the same: the children would put the plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) in pipes and pour water on them so they would go sliding down the pipes.  This was the 2016 version.
The trays and crates formed the base of the apparatus.  A flexible, plastic tube was threaded through the pink crate and emptied back into the blue table.  A white plastic chute ran from the top of the green crate to the brown planter tray on which the pink crate was anchored.  Finally, a narrow, PVC pipe ran through the green crate to empty into a tub next to the table.  This pipe had a slit down the entire length of the pipe.  In the picture, the child in the foreground was putting an orange worm into the slit.  If you want a detailed description of how I put this together, check out the act of building post from last week.

I have written several times over the years about how the children explored the worm slide. The post children's turn at the worm slide talked specifically about the many different operations the children came up with at this apparatus.  This year when I was looking through the pictures and videos I was struck by the breadth of social interactions and the varied moments of connection at the worm slide.

The first example is 8 seconds long.  A child was collecting worms in a bottle.  He reached for another worm from the pile in the white wooden tray.  Before he could grab one, the child next to him offered him a worm.  He accepted and put it in his bottle.

Have a worm from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was struck by this simple gesture.  The child who offered the worm realized the other child was collecting worms.  He did not need to offer the worm he had in his hand, but he did.  Why?  The child who was collecting the worms in his bottle looked at the proffered worm and accepted it.  Why?  He could have simply turned down the offer.  The reciprocating gestures all unfolded without a word said.  These questions arose because these two children usually did not interact with each other.  It could be said that they tended to do their own thing.   What made this moment of connection possible?

Here is a second simple, but magnanimous gesture.  The child in the video had been collecting worms when she asked: "Do you want some of these, Teacher Tom?"  I asked for one and then asked which one could I have.  She tried to take one out, but her hand did not fit in far enough to get a worm.  When that didn't work, she said: "I'm thinking."  She tried one more time to reach in to retrieve a worm for me.  Her hand was still too small.  She took her hand out and said: "Maybe I should dump them out."  And she started to dump them out.

Would you like a worm? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did she offer me worms in the first place?  Was she simply trying to draw me into her play?  Did she think I was more likely to accept her offer?  Was it simply because I was the closest person to her?  I do not know.  I do know that she was being generous and engaged in some sophisticated problem solving to make good on her offer.  Again, what made this ingratiating connection possible?

Some social interactions are clearly planned and executed.  In the video below, two boys were working to complete an intentional operation.  One child placed a worm in the tube, filled his bottle with water and then poured the bottle of water into the tube to flush down the worm.  The child at the end of the tube was holding a pot to catch the worm as it shot out the tube.

Did you catch it? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What was so interesting in this social exchange was the different ways the two boys communicated with each other.  One child was quite verbal.  He said things like: "Did you catch it?" "Where did it go?"  The other child did not say a word.  That does not mean he did not communicate.  As the child approached saying "did you catch it," the child with the pot clearly looked at the child coming towards him.  He then looked at his pot as if to say look in here.  He even raised the pot slightly to show him that he caught it.  The child who poured looked in the pot and then gave the child a quick smile as if to say he understood.  The video ended with the child about to dump the water and the worm into the tub next to the table.  Was he communicating that he wanted to do it again?  Especially with differing communication styles, what made such a intentional connection possible?

Here is a final example of social interaction at the worm slide.  This play falls more on the side of dramatic or fantasy play.  The children in the video were sorting the the worms into "bad" ones and "good" ones.  The child in the striped shirt held up a worm and told the other child: "Oh, these aren't good.  You know why?"  He pointed to a feature on the worm and said: "Well, that can sting you."  Without saying a word, the girls seemed to agree judging from the face she made. 

This one's a bad one from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

A third child easily inserted himself into the play when he held up and worm and said: "This one is a bad one."  The boy in the striped shirt began to reach for the worm but quickly realized that the other child was collecting his own set of bad ones.  To keep the play on track, he quickly agreed: "Yeh.  OK."

What a wonderful little dance this was to keep the fantasy going.  Two children were sorting worms and there was still plenty of room for a third to easily slip into the play.  What made such a fluid connection possible? 

What made all these varied moments of connection possible?  In all four examples, the setup and the materials were all the same.  Even one of the operations across the four examples was similar, namely, collecting worms.  Why did those moments of connection looks so different?  Was it simply because there were different children in each example?  My guess is that it was even more complicated than that because the way these moments unfolded were also particular to all the factors coming together in the moment.  By implication, these moments will never be duplicated.

It is an intriguing puzzle to attempt to figure out what makes these moments of connection possible.  However, their real value lies in savoring the unfolding of the intricacies in each.  In other words, relish the gestalt of the moment because it is in the ever changing moments that the children are making sense of the world.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The act of building

I have never documented the entire building process for an apparatus.  Part of the reason may be that the building process for me is an organic process.  Rarely is it completely planned out.  I start with a global idea and a collection of loose parts and then I begin to put it together. 

Let's start with one global idea: a worm slide.  The idea was for the children to place plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) into pipes so when they poured water down the pipes the worms would be flushed down into another tub.

Here was the first version I built over 12 years ago.  It was extremely simple.  Two plastic PVC pipes were set on an incline using an upside down planter tray as a base.

Pictured below are some of the loose parts I started out with for this year's version of the worm slide.  There was a white wooden tray, a narrow PVC pipe, a couple of crates and clear plastic tubing.
I decided to use both my water tables.  I taped them together using black duct tape.  I did not need to tape them together, but the taping job also served as an apron that closed a gap between the two tables which cut down on the water spillage.

I started building the worm slide by placing a planter tray across the width of the small table.  The tray was wider than the table, so it was important to make sure there was a drainage hole.
I have learned over the years that the children see the planter tray as another container to fill.  Without the drainage hole, the water could spill over the sides of the planter tray all over the floor.

I taped the planter tray to the small table and then taped the pink crate on top of the planter tray. 

I then set the white wooden tray across the width of the blue table.  To tape it to the table, I crossed taped at each point where the tray rested on the lip of the table.  One piece of tape went from the tray to inside the table and the other piece of tape went from the tray to the outside of the table and under the lip.
In addition, I took a longer piece of tape to wrap around the two points of cross taping on the same side at the lip of the table.  This is called thrashing and tightens up the tape holding the tray down to make it more secure. 

On top of the wooden tray, I anchored a green crate using duct tape.  I used the same method of cross taping and thrashing.
This setup comprised the base of the apparatus.  I now had multiple levels and holes to which I could start attaching different elements.

The first element I added was a plastic chute that went from the brown planter tray to the wooden tray.  The idea was to have the children put worms on the chute, pour water onto the chute and watch the worms drop out into the table through a hole in the green crate.

The second element I added was a long, narrow PVC pipe with a slit cut down the length of the pipe.  The pipe was embedded through the green crate and emptied into the smaller table.  I taped the pipe on the front and the back end of the crate  That was stable enough so I did not need to tape it to the lip of the table at the bottom of the pipe.
The idea here was to have the children use their fine motor skills to put the floppy worms into the pipe and then use more muscle coordination to pour water down the narrow pipe to send the worm shooting down and out into the small water table.

The third element I added was a long, flexible plastic tube.  I ran it through the pink crate and taped it onto the green crate on the outside.  The end of the tube emptied into the blue table.
Why did I tape it to the outside of the crate instead of through it?  I don't honestly know.  It was one of those organic decisions that was made at the moment.

The fourth and final element was a long, clear plastic tube.   The tube was woven through the green crate...
and it emptied into the black tub on the end the table.

There you have the 2016 version of the worm slide.  All that was left to do was to turn it over to the children for testing.  Actually, that was not all that was left to do because when the children tested the apparatus, some things did not work as planned.  

After one session with the children, the first thing I changed was the plastic chute.   As it turned out,  the incline was too slight to have much effect.  In other words, the worms would just pile up on the chute.  I reversed the incline of the chute and made it steeper so it emptied into the brown planter tray. The second thing I did was to remove the clear plastic tubing because the worms kept getting stuck in it.  When I removed the tubing, nothing emptied into the black tub so I reversed the inclination of the thin PVC pipe so it emptied into the black tub.  The only element I did not change was the flexible tubing running through the pink crate.  By the second session, this is what the worm slide looked like.
Did you understand all that?  If you did, your spacial literacy is off the charts.  

The purpose of showing you the building process from start to finish---and revamping---was not to have you copy what I did.  You can certainly do that if you want.  No, the purpose was to give you an idea of the building process.  The act of building is a creative process that begins with you.  Use what you find in this blog, combine it with the loose parts you have on hand and use your imagination to put it all together.  


Sunday, August 7, 2016

The art of scientific inquiry

Last week I wrote about new additions to the channel board apparatus.  I added a gutter sponge, a piece of tree bark and a tube connected to a funnel that emptied into the channel with the DriCore squares.
I was disappointed with how the sponge and bark channels worked out.  Basically, the water would flow under those two elements with little effect.  The tube, on the other hand, was the most salient element for the children.  There seemed to be no end to the how the children experimented with the water coming out of the tube.  Let me give you some examples.

In the first example, the children found a bottle with a narrow neck that they pushed up the tube to block the flow of water out of the tube.  They then tried to figure out if they could pour enough water into the tube to make the bottle fall out.  The bottle filled up and water did squirt out the sides, but it did not fall the first time.  You can't see it in the video, but two children then poured water into the tube almost simultaneously.  The water squirted out the sides of the bottle with more force and then pushed the bottle out of the tube to their great delight.

Tube hydraulics from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, one of the children summed up the experiment when he said: "See, it flushes out."

In the next video, the children changed their research slightly.   They found a different bottle with a wider mouth so it fit over the tube instead of inside the tube.  Two children poured water into the tube and then came around to watch to see if the bottle fell.  They watched intently, but it didn't fall.  The bottle filled up and water spilled out the top of the bottle, but it still didn't fall.  They kept trying and finally coordinated their efforts to pour enough water fast enough so the bottle was launched down the channel.

Tube hydraulics 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This video was spliced because it took a long time for the children to get this bottle to move.  Constantly adjusting the variables of how and when to pour the water and their persistence paid off to their great satisfaction.

Besides experimenting with plugging the tube, they also experimented with how to change the flow of water coming out of the tube.  To that end, they inserted a blue funnel into the tube.  At the start of the video, one child handed another child a pot of water to pour down the tube.  After he did that, he positioned himself at the mouth of the funnel to get the best view of the flow of water out of the tube into the funnel.  Another child joined him and, head-against-head, they watched as the water poured out of the tube into the funnel.

Changing the flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

To tell you the truth, I am not sure what was more exciting, seeing the water flow out of the tube into the funnel or watching that flow head-against-head?  There can certainly be a palpable joy to joint scientific endeavors.

These same children took that same funnel and turned it around to see how that would change the flow of water coming out of the tube.   With the mouth of the funnel over the tube, the child with the pot went to the end of the table to pour water down the tube.  Two of the children got up close and personal to the end of the funnel to get a good view of how the water flows coming out of the funnel.  The water gushed out and the two jumped back.

Flow experimenting 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the narrow end of the funnel constricts the water flow, it gushed out with more force.   That startled them enough to jump back in joy and delight and for one of them to exclaim: "That surprised us!" 

There were countless other experiments with the water coming out of the the tube.  With all that exploration, did the children know they were doing research into physics with such things as the force of fluids under pressure or how changing the aperture of the hole affects water flow?  Certainly not, but on an unconscious level, they are building a body logic that lays the foundation for later inquiry into and understanding of hydraulics.  Not only that, these experiments create a social and emotional bound for art of scientific inquiry. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Channel board plus

I rarely bring out the same apparatus twice in one year.  However, I did this year.  In June, I wrote about a new addition to the channel board apparatus.  It was a metal, ladder-like piece that fit perfectly into one of the channels.
Don't ask me what it is because I do not know what it is.  I got it from a dumpster and it looked too intriguing to pass up. 

Fast forward one month and I brought back the channel apparatus with two new additions to the channels.
The channel on the left has a gutter sponge.  It is used in gutters to let the water through, but nothing else.  The gutter sponge I found one day just looking through the hardware store.  When I saw it, I immediately thought of the channel board.  In the middle is a beautiful piece of tree bark I found on a walk with my grandson down by the Mississippi River.  Again, when I saw it, I immediately thought of the channel board.  The channel on the left contains DRICORE squares which are screwed and glued in place so they did not change.

In the channel with the DRICORE squares there is a ribbed tube taped to the side of the channel.  That tube is attached to a large funnel that is taped to the top of a crate.
The crate is set on a brown planter tray that is taped over a second water table.  The planter tray has a whole in the bottom so if water is poured or spills into it, the water empties right back into the small table.
This picture also shows the frame onto which the channel board is taped to give it the requisite incline.  The frame is made from PVC pipe and is open enough for the children to access the water in the blue water table.

How high is the funnel off the ground?  It is high enough so the children need a stool to reach it and, even then, need good tippy-toe trunk extension to pour the water into the funnel.

Here is the whole setup from a different perspective.  This perspective also shows the black tub into which the water falls off the channel board.

I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed in the two new additions to the channel board.  For the gutter sponge, the water went quickly through with a slight delay appearing from underneath the sponge at the end.  The slight delay did allow the children to make observations about the water flow, but rarely held their interest for long.  The same was true for the bark.  I actually thought that the water would flow through those beautiful striations of the bark like a babbling stream.  Instead, the water, for the most part, flowed right under the bark into the black tub.

One feature of the installation more than made up for my disappointment.  The funnel and tube became a focal point for multiple investigations into water flow.  Here is one example.  The child in the video below first experiments with what happens to the water when he pours it onto the gutter sponge.  Satisfied with what he has observed, he moves to the channel with the tube and wonders aloud what happens to water in that channel.  He goes to the other end of the table to pour water into the funnel.  He trots quickly around to see what he hopes is water coming out of the tube down the channel.  When he doesn't see any water, he starts to trace the tube back to the funnel.  He notices that water has pooled in a bend in the tube.  He first shakes the tube a little and says that the water stopped.   Then he lifts the tube up and watches as the water starts moving in the tube.  He follows the water and sees it exit the tube into the channel.  He feels pretty good about his discovery and expresses it with an understated "whoa."

Investigating water flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end, he redoubles his efforts and lifts the tube as high as he can so he empties the tube completely.  Then he starts all over again to reaffirm the results of his experiment.

Adults take note.  Don't ever sell the children short.  Leave it to the them to find the most compelling feature of an apparatus for their own investigations.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

More water

This year, the water pump was set up so the children could send water across and over the blue table into the clear table through pipes connected horizontally that were supported by a pink crate.
Once water reached the clear water table, children scooped the water and put it in the red funnel.  A translucent hose that was connected to the bottom of the funnel carried the water back to the metal tub to be pumped out again creating a built-in water cycle.

Watch what this looks like in real time.  The video starts at the water pump and follows the pipe into the crate.

Water pump operation from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The video delineated well at least one important aspect of the setup: children could enter play anywhere along the length of the pipe.  In the video, two children were at the pump; one child poured water directly into an opening in the pipe; a little further down the pipe, another child spooned water into funnel she had placed in one of the pipe connectors; and finally at the end of the piping, one child caught the water in a metal bowl. 

What was missing from that video was someone pouring water into the funnel.  This next video captures that and more.  In the video, one child catches water coming from the pipe.  He is the same child who was catching water in the first video.  At the same time, the second child pours water into one of the holes on top of the crate inches away from the child catching the water.  The child pouring does so very carefully and just misses getting the other boy wet.  The child catching the water goes off camera to dump his bowl into a green bucket next to the table.  While he does that, the child with the metal cup scoops up some water and dumps it into the funnel.  This is where it gets interesting for that child because he notices that air bubbles and water move in the translucent tube after he poured the water into the funnel.  He decides to test his new-found theory that if he pours water into the funnel, both air bubbles and water will move in the translucent tube.  To do that, he scoops some more water and pours it into the funnel.  He does not watch where he is pouring, but blindly pours into the funnel so he can watch what happens in the tube when he pours.  He does a further experiment at the end of the video by pouring water directly onto the translucent tube to see the effect.

Where to pour? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When the child blindly poured the water into the funnel, some splashed out on the other child who had re-positioned himself right next to the funnel to catch some more water.   Why didn't the child get upset? 

The complexity of this short video is astounding for the child doing the experiments.  The complexity becomes even more astounding as a narrative further unfolds for the child catching the water in the metal bowl.

The child who was catching the water and then pouring it into the green bucket from metal bowl positions himself above the green bucket.  Another child is along side him over the bucket.  At first, they seem to be working at cross purposes.  The smaller child pours water into the bucket while the other child with the metal bowl pulls objects out of the bucket.  Then both children reach into the bucket and together they pull out a spoon.  The one child takes the spoon and the other takes the bowl he has been holding in his right hand the whole time and fills it up completely by immersing it in the bucket of water. With his full bowl, he proceeds to walk to the other side of the table to pour water into the metal tub from which the children are pumping water. In the background there is a chorus: "More water. More water." In fact this is what the child is responding to because knows the pump tub was running low on water.

More water from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Lifting the bowl from the bucket and carrying it over to the other side of the table is no small feat.  With the bowl being so full, he has to transport the water carefully so he doesn't loose too much water in the process.  That said, he did spill a fair amount.

I contend that the narrative of the child with the metal bowl was astounding.  It was astounding because it looks liked he was on a mission from beginning to end.  In the first video,  he caught the water in his bowl coming out of the pipe.    In the second video, he gathered the water in his bowl and emptied it in the green bucket.  In the third video, he switched positions to gather water back in his bowl to return it to the pumping tub.  The mission was to get more water back into the pumping tub.  How much did he plan this whole operation?  Did it develop because of the chorus of voices asking for more water? What allowed him to keep to his mission even though there were hiccups along the way like getting splashed or working at cross purposes with another child?

I wonder if I have just contrived this narrative to try to make sense of the complexity of the children's play.  Maybe by shaping the children's play into a narrative, I did not do justice to the complexity of the their play.  I am sure I did not do justice to the children's emerging skills and competences.  How many more narratives would I have created to give children their due?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hand pump II

For many years,  I wanted to set up a water pump inside.  Last year for the first time I finally set up a hand pump in the sensory table.  The pump was purchased from Kodo Kids.  This is how I installed it last year.

I could have set up the apparatus the same way this year, but I usually don't work that way.  For me, I have to construct it anew.  What effect does my playing have on the children's play?

I made a few minor changes this year.   A couple of the changes were made in the initial setup and a couple of them were made after I saw how the children played with the apparatus.

The first change was that I connected the pipes on a straight, horizontal line traversing the blue table.  To make that work and to support the pipe, I had to set the crate on the end that gave this section of the apparatus the most height.  
I also changed the orientation of the second table: instead of it being perpendicular to the blue table, I placed it next to the table on one of its longer sides.  As a consequence, that changed the orientation of the crate.

These small changes created a significant change in the space in and around the crate.  The new height of the pipe and the crate orientation created a bigger space for the children's operations.
The space was now more open.  Not only was it more open within the crate, but spaces were created on either side of the crate.  Though the new spaces next to the crate were small, they were still big enough enough to accommodate four children at the same time in their operations. Speaking of accommodation, the children's accommodation in the space is not too shabby, either.

There were two changes I made after I saw how the children messed around with the apparatus.  Both of the changes can be surmised from the picture above.  If you look closely, you can see a small gap between the two water tables.  As a consequence, there was a lot of spillage.  The second change was with the blue funnel.  For the children's operations, it proved to be too small, so again there was a lot of spillage.

In the picture below, you can see the changes I made after watching the children explore the setup.  By the way, the red funnel is connected to a hose that brings the water back to the pumping tub so the water keeps circulating between the two tables.

Here is closer look at the apron I made to close the gap between the two tables.  It is made entirely out of duct tape.  It may not be pretty, but it worked as intended.

One of the reasons the blue funnel was not big enough was because the size of the pans that were set out for the children to use.  One pan in particular seemed to grab the children's attention.
This is a water pan for a dog.  It is light, made of metal and has a wide mouth.  And thus the need for a bigger funnel.

There is one final note about this set up.  When the children really start pumping, the duct tape by itself was not enough to keep the connections secure.  As a consequence, I also taped a wood rod underneath to make the line of pipes more rigid and less prone to disconnecting.
That is especially true when the children pull the pump from the side which they will do especially if they are smaller.

That was the technical.  Next week will be the operational brought to you in a way only the children know how.   

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Natural elements, natural exploration

Besides the hodgepodge and doohickies on the shelves next to the sensory table, I like to set out natural elements of various sizes and shapes.  That was just as true with the apparatus I wrote about last week, namely,  table covering with holes.
A child has placed a tree cookie under the yellow pan.  It looks like a burner or a hot plate for the pot.  If you look closely, you can see that two pieces of bark have also been placed on top of the apparatus.

I will often include big pieces among the natural elements.  The big pieces give children a chance to work together or to test their strength.  Why?  Because children are are always looking for physical challenges (Axiom #9 in the right-hand column of this blog).  

In the video below, the child decided to test her strength and balance while carrying a heavy object.  She found a wooden log and lifted it off the shelf.  She said: "I found a really huge cookie".   She used her whole body to carry this log around the table to her ultimate destination, the tub of water next to the table.  When she got to the tub, she dropped it in the water and made a huge splash.  

Really big cookie from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child was quite astonished at the size of her splash.  (I even had to move the camera to keep it from getting wet.)  I asked the child to wipe up the water on the floor from the splash.  She did it willingly without a moment's hesitation.  At the end, she declared: "That cookie took a long time to cook."

That was pretty dramatic, but there are many other undertakings that are not so dramatic but still wondrous in an ordinary kind of way.  One child found out that she could spin the tree cookies as they floated in the tub. 

Spinning tree cookie from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

You can tell she was pleased with her discovery because as she spun the cookie faster and faster on top of the water, she looked up at me with a big smile as if to say: "Look what I can do."

One child found that stirring the water in a bottle with a small stick could be an investigation of buoyancy.  In the video below, he started to stir the water in the bottle with his stick.  As he pushed the stick further into the bottle, the sticks pushed back and bobbed up between his two fingers.

Stir stick from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

He was able to get the stick to stay in the bottle, but then he knelt down and started to stir the water again.  This time it did not go between his fingers, but he stilled played with the buoyancy of the stick.

How many times have I set up the float/sink science experiment in my classroom?  You know the one where you have a tub of water with objects set next to the tub.  The children try out each item to see if it floats or sinks.  There is usually two trays provided with the words "float" and "sink" so the children can sort the items.  I have done it many times over the years.

Well, along come these three children and they create their own version of this experiment.   Their pursuits, though, are much richer.  They are richer because they are authentic using natural elements. The pursuits are richer also because they are part of a richer context such as making cookies or stirring the water.  And finally, they are richer because, instead of me posing the questions, they are posing their own questions.  Isn't that where true knowledge begins?