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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

HORIZONTAL TUBES IN BOXES

There are three main orientations I think about when I am about to build.  You can see them on the right-hand column of the blog.  For the current apparatus, I decided to set cardboard tubes horizontally through two boxes.
This was harder to do than it looks.  The biggest challenge for me was lining up the holes to make the tubes as level as possible.  I did an initial hole on one side of one box and then measured where the hole was and then used those measurements to make a hole on the other side of the box.  The second box was a different size, so I had to do it all over again.  Since there were four tubes that meant I had to repeat the process a total of four times.  By the fourth tube I was tired and was not as concerned about how level the tube was.  The fact is I may have made it harder than it looks,  My colleague, who sews, told me I should have made a pattern.  I will tuck that tidbit away for the next time.

The tubes extend beyond both ends of the blue sensory table.  To catch the pellets coming out of the tubes, I set up a smaller, clear sensory table on one end and a big blue tub on the other.  That way, I was able to add more levels to the apparatus.  All but one end of one tube is notched to give the children easy pouring access into the tubes.
The two larger tubes on the bottom also have cut-aways and holes to increase access and viewing for the children.

Below is a picture of the shelves with the provisions for this apparatus.  Note that there are extra tubes and homemade plungers of various sizes and lengths.
The plungers are jar lids screwed onto dowels.  Many of the dowels I use are old broom or shovel handles.

This apparatus creates a lot of spaces for children to explore. There are spaces the children can look into and there are spaces they can reach into.





There are spaces between and under and there are spaces that are between and over.




Not only do the children explore any and all the the spaces, they also author operations that are particular to this apparatus and the provisions.  Let's look at just a couple having to do with the plungers.

The first operation is one that you might expect: a child pushes the pellets through the tube with a plunger.

Pushing the pellets through the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did you notice the reaction of the child on the other end?  At first, it looks like he moves to catch the pellets but, in the end, he helps the first child unstick the plunger head that was caught on the end of the tube.

After working with the plunger in and out of the cardboard tube, this child noticed that he could see his actions in the mirror.  He showed the greatest interest in motion of the plunger on the other end of the tube.
In other words, he was referencing his actions remotely.

Children not only author a given operation, but often times they fabricate the reverse operation. Instead of pushing the pellets through the tubes, a child will scrape them out.

Pulling the pellets out with the plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was impressed with how purposeful and fluid she was in her actions.

I will leave you with one final video.  To understand the video you need to know that I am part of the action.  Besides filming, I am on the opposite end of the tube from the child.  I also have a plunger and I am pushing it through the same tube as this child.  Watch his reactions to this little game we have created.

plunger game from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I have said many times that after I build an apparatus, I give it over to the children to make it their own. I guess that is not entirely true because, as you can see, I sometimes play, too.  Why should the children have all the fun?


Saturday, February 21, 2015

SUDS PAINTING

What is one of the messiest invitations you set up at the sensory table?  For me, Suds Painting has to be one of the messiest.  Just take a look at this picture from December of 2007.
You can see suds paint up to this child's elbows and covering every cup, pot and jello mold in the table.

I used to set this provocation up every year.  For some unknown reason, I had not set it up since 2011, so I decided to set it up this year.  When I set it up, though, there were a few changes.  In the table, I set up the new Channel Board I built earlier this year.
As you can see, I used a wooden tray that spans the width of the table to prop the channel board on an incline.  The incline is purposeful so suds flow down the channel.  Watch as this child pumps suds onto the incline.  When he has to reposition the dispenser so he can continue to pump suds, he stops briefly to focus on the suds flowing down the channel.  It is a nice little a-ha moment.


From this same video, you can see another change to the provocation this year: I supplied foaming soap dispensers so the children could create their own suds more easily.  When the children first arrived at the setup, paint and suds were already mixed together in separate paint pots so they could start mixing in other containers right away.

Before long, though, they were adding their own suds to the pots.

In years past, the children have spent a lot of time painting loose objects like pots and pans.  This year, the channel board setup became an important object to paint.  That included the top, the sides, the bottom and even the tray.
Since I grew up in the 60s, I can't help but think the best word to describe this painting creation is psychedelic.

When the children painted the channel board, there was not so much mixing because, as you can see, the colors remained fairly true to the original colors in the pots.  That was the exception, though, because there was an awful lot of mixing.  This year, there were even a couple of self-declared "professional mixers." The video below begins with the child declaring that she and her friend are professional mixers. She goes on to say: "We love to mix something.  We always get our hands dirty, so we can mix."  

On this particular day, mixing was serious for this child.  You can see it in the vigor with which she stirs and you can hear it in the excitement in her voice.  She stayed with suds painting for almost an hour. When her mom came back after class, the child told her that, for the first time ever, she did not even stop to eat snack.  Did I say she was serious?

I started this post by saying this is one of the messiest invitations I set up at the sensory table. Just to prove it, here is a short video of two children asking each other if they want a "wash-off." The first child uses a soapy brush on the other's forearm.  The second child reciprocates by putting clean suds on the first child's forearm. 


In the process of "cleaning" themselves, they are also making up their own word: "wash-off".  A "wash-off" with a paint brush full of painty suds is only possible in a child's world.  Many adults just see a mess.  This particular adult, however, sees a glorious mess created with the time, space and agency to bask in the productive joy of their own making. 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS

I never really know what to expect when I run a session that is billed as a building workshop. There are always plenty of raw materials like cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and duct tape; there are simple tools like utility knives and saws.  And I introduce the building framework that I use when I build (see the righthand column of this blog). Since it is an open-ended process, though, there is no way to know what the participants will build.  All the materials, the tools and the ideas I present have no meaning until participants turn the inert into inertia by going through the building process themselves.

In a recent conference building session, I came away with the following reflections.

BABY STEPS
Start with a simple construction.  If you are relatively knew to the building process, do not begin with your masterpiece.  Some of the most dynamic apparatus I have built are also the simplest.  How about a tube through a box?
This is very simple, but still poses some decisions and challenges.  The decisions begin with the orientation of the tube: will it be on an incline, vertical or horizontal?  Challenges include how to make the holes so the tube actually goes through and how do you tape around the circular tube to make it stay put inside the box.

BE WILLING TO MAKE CHANGES AS YOU GO ALONG
In this particular workshop, one group wanted to cut the cardboard tube lengthwise to create two half tubes.  
This is doable, but hard given allotted time and the tools that were on hand.  This group was not afraid to change the plan midway through the process.  They cut the tube, but only four inches in and created a notch in the tube.  (The notch is valuable because it allows better pouring access for the children.)

THERE IS EXCITEMENT IN BUILDING IN A ROOM OF BUILDERS
The hum and the buzz is electrifying.  To be sure, it is not a competition, but a place and a time to experiment and to share insights.

NEGOTIATE AND ACCOMMODATE
I overheard one person tell another building partner: "Oh, is that what you meant?  I thought you meant…"
Sounds to me like they were practicing a skill that we ask children to engage in all the time.  

WHAT WILL THE CHILDREN DO WITH IT?
When asked about how the children will use the apparatus, some flat out said they did not know. Eureka!  We may have some idea how the children might use the apparatus, but ceding control to the children once the apparatus is done is what it is all about. 
The next step is to observe how the children use the apparatus.  When I observe, I learn about how the children make meaning out of the contraption and, in the process, get other ideas for extending learning invitations for the children.

CREATIVITY
We all want it.  We all got it.  Creativity is an interesting phenomenon.  It is not inert and can only be realized in action.  So why don't we see it in ourselves?  Everything that participants built in this session was created, thus creative.

So what stops us from creating?  Are we afraid that we are not creative enough?  Jeanne, from Museum Notes, alludes to one quality that is needed when she talks about an 'experimental mindset.'  One of the features includes not knowing the outcome, but willing to engage in the process.  Another feature of the mindset is to be open in that process so you can be "... alert to fortuitous accidents and unintended consequences–and make good use of both."  

As adults, our experimental mindset is not as fluid nor as flexible as that of a child so we need to work at it a little harder.   The effort to enter into that mindset is well worth it, though, because it is the portal into the child's mind.




Saturday, January 31, 2015

WHY BUILD PART 4

This month I have been revisiting posts from two years ago after another early childhood professional asked me the question: Why do I build?  I have revisited them because they will also help me prepare for the 15th Annual Launching into Literacy and Math Conference in Madison, Wisconsin at Madison College(MATC Truax) this next weekend.  This fourth and final repost proposes that children need space and time to play on their own.  By building the apparatus for the table, I am providing those two conditions for the children in my classroom. 



Saturday, September 29, 2012

SENSORY APPARATUS PART IV

I was asked last spring by another early childhood professional why do I build apparatus for the sensory table. That question was a lot more thought-provoking than I had anticipated.  I have been mulling over my answer here and here and here.  

In the first post, I stated that children demonstrated early on for me their need to transport sand out of the sensory table.  I began to build apparatus so children could continue to find ways to constructively transport.  An added benefit was that the children, given the chance to work constructively, demonstrated their ability to regulate their own behavior.  In the second post, I said that children recreated operations such as digging and pouring that harken back to a time when our very survival depended on such operations. I build apparatus so children can recreate those fundamental operations.  In the third post, I stated that children create a dialogue with spaces.   It follows that if I offer the children intriguing spaces by way of building an apparatus, they will create intriguing dialogues with those spaces.

This summer I read---and reread---a monograph entitled: Children's right to play.  It was written by Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell for the Bernard van Leer Foundation in December 2010.  Their starting point is Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child.  In that article, they specifically cite the right of the child to engage in play. For them it is a necessity of life for children.  It is not a vehicle adults use to teach children about the world, nor is it a way to make academics palatable to children.  It is an activity undertaken for its own sake that is wholly owned by the children.

From their literature review of the research, they go so far as to say children need to engage in play for their very survival and well-being.  They say: "Children's play can be seen as a self-protecting process that offers the possibilities to enhance adaptive capabilities and resilience. ... Play acts across several adaptive systems to contribute to health, well-being and resilience. These include: pleasure and enjoyment; emotion regulation; stress response systems; attachments; and learning and creativity."

At one point in the paper, they reference a comment by Brian Sutton-Smith.  The comment states: "Play prepares you for more play, and more play offers a greater satisfaction in being alive."

Take a look at the following pictures from the sensory table to see if the children exude that "greater satisfaction in being alive."






According to the authors, the role of an adult is to provide the space and time for children to play---not to directly manage it.  

Watch the video below.  The quality of the video is poor, but the message it communicates is rich.   


Do you know what they were doing?  They are burying jewels, their treasure.  That is not important, though.  The important thing is that seven children ages 2 to 5 are creating an activity of their own choosing that has an immediate meaning for them. There are no adults directing or managing this activity. Notice, even though there are no adults around, they are still working feverishly to complete a task that takes a whole lot of agreement and a whole lot of accommodation and a whole lot of negotiation and a whole lot of cooperation.  The adult role in the activity---and why I build---is to set up the space and then to provide the time for the children to create their own, wholly-owned activity.

There is one final reason why I build: building apparatus is my play.

Thank you for indulging me with these reposts.  I will be taking a week off from blogging because of travel but will be back in two weeks to play some more.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

WHY BUILD PART 3

In the next month, I will be doing two conference presentations.   Because it takes me a long time to finish an original post, I will repost a few posts over the next few weeks that I wrote more than two years ago after another early childhood professional asked me the question: Why do I build?  I revisit them because they will also help me prepare for the second conference, which is a keynote presentation for the 15th Annual Launching into Literacy and Math Conference in Madison, Wisconsin at Madison College(MATC Truax) on February 7th.  This third repost emerges from discussions from a Reggio-inspired book study that examined how children create dialogue with and meaning from spaces they explore and inhabit.


Friday, September 21, 2012

I was asked last spring by another early childhood professional why do I build apparatus for the sensory table.  That question was a lot more thought provoking than I had anticipated.  I have been mulling over the answer here and here.  In the the first post, I stated that early in my career children demonstrated their need to transport what was in the sensory table out of the table.  I began to build apparatus so children could continually find ways to constructively transport.  An added benefit was that the children, given the chance to transport constructively, demonstrated an ability to regulate their own behavior.  In the second post, I said that children created and recreated operations such as digging and pouring that harken back to a time when our survival as a species depended on such operations. I postulated that those fundamental/primal operations are in our DNA and need to be expressed.

This summer, I started to participate in a book study through the  Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota.  The book study used the Reggio publication entitled: dialogues with places.  The book examines how the children use all their senses and their whole bodies to investigate space and reflects on how children subsequently make meaning of a place through those investigations. Because their investigations were always new and fresh, it was not unusual for them to pick up on features such as holes in the ceiling or cracks in the floor that adults simply ignore. For the children, though, those were important features to animate.  Those were important features that were "invitations" for the children to enter into a dialogue with the place and to ultimately create meaning.

For me, the sensory table is such a place.  It is a place in which children enter into a dialogue with the apparatus.  It is a place in which children find those "cracks" and "holes" from which they ultimately create meaning.  It is a place in which they use all their senses and their whole body to investigate.

They investigate spaces with their eyes.
  
 With their hands

With their arms

Even if the child cannot see the space he is exploring

And even through barriers

They investigate spaces with their heads

With their heads and torsos

With their whole body by climbing on

Or into

Or even lying next to

And they will always find that feature an adult would rarely notice

In the Reggio book, places have "form, energy, and rhythm."  At the sensory table, each apparatus has the same.  The form, energy, and rhythm that emerge will look different as each child---alone and with others---creates a dialogue with the apparatus.  That is exciting and creates multiple opportunities to make meaning out of space. Since children are master explorers, there is no end to the process.  So I continue to build apparatus for the children to investigate and make meaning out of new and intriguing spaces.
.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

WHY BUILD PART 2

In the next month, I will be doing two conference presentations.   Because it takes me a long time to finish an original post, I will repost a few posts over the next few weeks that I wrote more than two years ago after another early childhood professional asked me the question: Why do I build?  I revisit them because they will also help me prepare for the second conference, which is a keynote presentation for the 15th Annual Launching into Literacy and Math Conference in Madison, Wisconsin at Madison College(MATC Truax) on February 7th.  This second repost makes the case for children's operations that emerge at the sensory table that must be actualized by the children.  


Last week I started to answer the following question another early childhood professional posed to me: Why do I build apparatus for the sand and water table?  I gave two reasons in that post.  One was, when a bucket was serendipitously placed next to the table, children demonstrated their need to transport and to do it constructively by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes. The second reason was, by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes, they demonstrated their ability to manage their own behavior with minimal guidance or participation on my part.

The picture below illustrates both points well.  First, the children are transporting the water into the bucket.  Second, they are filling the bucket as full as they can without spilling.
  Flood or no flood?

Another reason to build surfaced from reflections on a book I read this summer: a child's work; the IMPORTANCE of FANTASY PLAY by Vivian Gussin Paley.   In the book, Paley talks about fantasy play as the children's agenda that spontaneously emerges between all the teacher-planned activities and projects.  She goes so far as to say fantasy play must come out.  Her first teacher told the undergraduates that children in the nursery school where they were observing were the only age group that was constantly busy making their own work assignments.  Because Paley provides the time and space and respect for children's fantasy play, she sees the children creating and recreating dramatic themes that span human history and that are reflected in the great works of literature and drama.  She says: "Words, words, words, where do they all come from?  It sounds like the poetry of a child's soul, nothing less, but the children are imagining vivid drama that must be acted out." (p. 32)

After reading the book, I began to construct a parallel between fantasy play and sand and water play. All the operations the children recreate in and around the sensory table span human history. I have often wondered why children dig, pour, fill and transport as soon as they they get to the sand and water table. Maybe the children are recreating those operations from a time when they were important to our very survival as a species.   Not only are they recreating those primary operations, but they are using contemporary implements to create new and novel operations. Those elemental operations must come out.  (Additionally, those operations around the sensory table often lead to a good deal of fantasy play, especially with the older children.)

Below is just a sampling of those operations.  Some operations involve just the hands and arms, and others use various implements.  Some are straight forward and simple, and some are more complex.








After reading Paley's book, I theorize that I build apparatus at the sensory table to create time and space and respect for the children to actualize those fundamental operations that must come out.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

WHY BUILD?

In the next month, I will be doing two conference presentations.   Because it takes me a long time to finish an original post, I will repost a few posts over the next few weeks that I wrote more than two years ago after another early childhood professional asked me the question: Why do I build?  I revisit them because they will also help me prepare for the second conference, which is a keynote presentation for the 15th Annual Launching into Literacy and Math Conference in Madison, Wisconsin at Madison College(MATC Truax) on February 7th.  This first repost recounts a transformation in my practice all because of a recycled five-gallon bucket.  


Saturday, September 8, 2012


WHY APPARATUS FOR THE SENSORY TABLE?

This past June, another early childhood professional asked me: "Why do you build apparatus for the sensory table?"  Even though I have been doing it for over 23 years, I did not have good answer. I have been thinking a lot about that question ever since.

At this point, my answer harkens back to the second post of this blog from July, 2010.  The post was about the lowly 5-gallon pail that you see below.
A mother, who worked at a fast food restaurant, brought in this dill pickle pail and asked me if I could use it.  Maybe she thought since I had such a small room I could use it for storage. Instead---and because I had no place to store it---I put it near the sand table.  What happened next was transformative for my practice as an early childhood teacher.

You can read the first transformation in the post about the 5-gallon pail referenced above.  The gist of the post is that the children use the pail to transport in a constructive way (Axiom #1 in the right hand column).  As a consequence, my communication with the children becomes much more positive about their operations of transporting the medium out of the sand and water table.  In other words, instead of always saying: "No,! No dumping on the floor", I can now say: "Put it in the bucket."  That positive communication completely changes the tenor of my communication with the children at the table.

Something else happened in relation to the pail that transformed my practice.  I no longer felt like I had to micromanage the children around the table.  Rather, I began to see the children as capable of managing their own actions at the table.  Instead of managing, I was able to observe.  By taking the time to observe, I started to notice how the children were able to manage even more of their own actions.  This whole process is now a virtuous circle that carries the day throughout the classroom.  

That may seem like a lowly bucket, but it started it all.  The bucket afforded a chance for the children to figure out a constructive way to do what they needed to do: transport.  Since then, almost every apparatus incorporates opportunities for children to discover new and constructive ways to transport.  

Though I have not answered the question to my full satisfaction, it will do for now.  And I will keep building.