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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 13, 2016

SOCIAL SKILLS

Once or twice a year, I put out Moon Sand.   When I put out Moon Sand, I like to set up a large wooden tray on which the children can work.  I start with two tables, the everyday blue table and the clear toddler table.
I place a large wooden tray on top of the toddler table.  To keep down the mess, I tape packing corners from an appliance box onto two sides and one end. 
The side that reaches over the blue table is left open.  That allows the children to easily move sand from the wooden tray into the blue table.

Besides the large wooden tray, I also set up a smaller wooden tray that spans the width of the blue table.
This picture highlights one of the salient features of Moon Sand.  It holds it shape so it can be molded.  That is also the reason I set up the trays with this type of sand because the sand forms take on more import when they sit above the table.  

In addition, the trays allow the children to work on a more comfortable level, much like the counter and workbench we use in the kitchen and workshop.  This more comfortable level, in turn, brings out the budding social skills of children.   For instance, in the picture above the children were making birthday cakes.  Once they were made, they decorated them.
And once they were decorated, the children had to decide which birthday cake was theirs.  And whose birthday was it anyway?  Watch.


Birthday cakes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Each child chose a birthday cake that was right in front of them  One child did change her mind because her friend pointed out that the figure on the other cake in front of her had longer hair.  Life would be so good if it were everybody's birthday and everybody was happy with the birthday cake they got.  (Did you notice no one picked the Ronald McDonald cake?)

Here is another example of those social skills in action.  Two boys were putting Moon Sand in a jello mold.  According to one of the boys, they cannot fill it to the top because they are making a little garage.  He qualified it a bit when he said they were making a little, big garage.  The other child keeps agreeing with him and adds: "...and then let's build a house."  


Building a garage from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I have no idea how putting Moon Sand in a jello mold leads to making a garage.  But that is not important.  What is important is the natural way in which ideas flow back and forth in this give-and-take exchange between friends.

I write a lot about science and inquiry in relation to the apparatuses at the sensory table.  Just as important, though, are the opportunities they offer children to master the social skills such as negotiation and accommodation.  

On a lighter side, I want to leave you with a video with a touch of mirth that happened at the table this particular week.  In the video, the child in the orange tries to remove the Moon Sand that he has packed into a small plastic measuring cup.  He hits it on the tray.  But on the upswing of the second hit, it flies out.  It flies out right into the cup of the child on the opposite side of the table. (If you look closely at the setup picture for the video, you can see the Moon Sand in mid-flight over the other child's hand.)  When the child with the red cup looks for the Moon Sand, he can't find it and wonders where it went.  It happens so quickly that neither of the children notice what happened.  The child's face for whom the Moon Sand vanished is simply beguiling.  Enjoy.


Where did it go? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

CHILDREN TRANSFORMING AN APPARATUS

The past two weeks I have been writing about a concrete tube apparatus.  The apparatus is basically a big box with tubes embedded horizontally that is set over the sensory table.
The two big tubes on the bottom are tubes used as forms for pouring concrete posts.  The smaller tube is a piece of a carpet tube.

I kept this apparatus up for two weeks.  However, the second week I added a vertical element to the apparatus.  I embedded a rain gutter extender tube that went from the top of the box, through the inside of the box and out one side of the box.  The tube emptied into a five gallon pail next to the table.
I created a catchment around the top of the tube to capture the corn that missed the target as the children tried to pour the corn into the tube.  The catchment is a small box taped to the top of the big box with a hole cut in it to accommodate the gutter tube.
The purpose of the catchment was to keep down the mess.  This fellow was very accurate with his pouring, but as you can see, not everyone was.  By the way, the catchment also offered a lesson in volume as it filled up.

With this vertical addition, the children immediately started to go vertical on concrete tube apparatus.
The girl in the foreground balanced with one leg on the lip of the table while she held onto the box and kicked the gutter to to extract any pieces of corn stuck in the folds of the tube.  The child in the green plaid balanced on the edge of the window with his torso over the top of the box.  But why stop there?
What was it that drove this child to climb on top of the box?  How did he get down from the box? And what kind of teacher allowed this child to climb on top of the box in the first place?

Here is another two-year-old from another class who felt the need to climb on the apparatus.
This child spent a long time climbing.  This was surely full-body exploration.  He even used the concrete tubes for climbing.

And watch how he balanced on the lip of the table as he made his way around the apparatus to pour corn into the tube on the far side from where he started.


Climbing at the sensory table from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

You have just watched a significant transformation of the concrete tube apparatus brought to you by the children.  They transformed this sensory apparatus into a large muscle apparatus.  It was no longer just a place to scoop, pour and transport.  It also became a place to climb, balance, test muscle strength and take risks.  Those types of transformations happen all the time when children are agents of their own learning.

p.s.  When I give talks about building apparatus to change the sensory table, I have to caution participants that if you build vertically, the children will go as high as you build.  If you are not comfortable with children going high, only build to a height that matches your comfort level.  Don't be afraid to stretch a little, though. You might be surprised at what the children can do.










Saturday, January 30, 2016

MORE CONCRETE TUBE APPARATUS

In my last post, I hinted at a slight design flaw in the second concrete tube apparatus.  When the children poured corn into the slit cut at the top of the apparatus, it would fall and bounce off the concrete tubes through the big window onto the floor.

I never quite know what will happen when I turn over an apparatus to the children.  The children's explorations and investigations give an apparatus life.  It is only through watching them and seeing the consequences of their actions that I begin to understand how it works---and how they work.  I tolerate a lot of mess in the sensory area, but I am always looking for ways to minimize the spillage.  For that reason, I felt I needed to modify the apparatus so more corn would stay in the box instead of shooting out onto the floor.

The modification was fairly simple.  I embedded a third, smaller tube through the big box.  I taped the flaps of the big box to the tube so the corn would be directed into the tube and not the box.

Here is a view from the top.  I taped the flaps so the slot cut in the tube would catch the corn.  The corn that did not drop in the slot, stayed in the creases where the tape met the tube.  Eventually, someone would sweep the corn in the creases into the slot.

The new addition provided for another entry into play at the apparatus.  Adding more invitations, expands the explorations.  Adding more invitations also adds to more types of play, whether that is in the tubes, on top of the box, or in the box.

When I looked over my documentation of play at this apparatus, I was intrigued by how even a bulky apparatus like this fostered connections between children.  The apparatus created large spaces between and separating children so how could it possibly foster connections?



One of the ways the children connected was with a game of peek-a-boo through the tubes.

There was a more active way to connect through the tubes, also.  In the video below, one child scooped corn into the cement tube while the other one pushed it right back out with a long-handled plunger.


Tube connection from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In a way, this felt like a dance.  They both used the actions of the other to create a scoop and push the corn one-step-two-step.  Interestingly, they were not using facial cues but physical and material cues.

Here is another example of this kind of connection.  Two children used their homemade plungers to joust in that space under the box.


Jousting from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I would say this was more like play fighting.  The play fighting, though, is limited by the space under the box.  We usually think children make connections through facial and body cues.  Here, though, was another example of reading physical or material cues.

After looking at the documentation showing children connecting with each other at the Concrete Tube Apparatus, I wondered if the barriers created by an apparatus offer children safety to try out different ways of connecting. 

Of course, children do not need barriers to connect.  Sometime a loose part is all they need.  Here is a lovely video of one child helping another child fill the clear tube into which he has inserted his hand.  Watch the subtle looks and smiles as one helps the other.


Connection from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

To be sure, these were fleeting connections that may never happen again in the room.  That does not make then inconsequential.  Maybe by paying more attention to these moments of connections---even those across constructed barriers---we will see more.

What do you think?  Do barriers foster connections?  If so, why and how?  How do those connections differ from the ones create by reading facial and body cues?



Saturday, January 23, 2016

APPARATUS II WITH THE CONCRETE TUBES

Back at the beginning of December, I wrote a post about an apparatus I made using concrete forming tubes.  I created a gradient with these wide tubes by cutting them to three different lengths.  
On the gradient, I placed a long cardboard tube with various holes for the children to use in their operations.

Someone commented on the post and thanked me for giving her an idea for how to use the large concrete tubes that were left over from the recent renovation of her playground.  The comment got me thinking that there must be other ways to use the wide tubes.  I began to play with the orientation of the tubes in my mind (See the right hand column of the blog under orientations.).  For the original apparatus, the tubes stood vertically in the table.   What would happen if I decided to use the tubes horizontally?

I cut the longest tube to match the middle tube so I had two tubes that were 2.5 feet long.  I embedded both tubes horizontally in a large wardrobe box.   I embedded the tubes through the sides of the box so a portion of each tube would extend beyond the box.  These sides I considered the width.  With the tubes embedded on the width, I laid the wardrobe box on its length so it completely spanned the table with some extra hanging over the edge of the table.  That allowed me to securely tape the big box to the lip of the table on both sides.
I cut two big windows in the sides of the box that extended over the width of the table.  Since I knew children would work on the top of the box, I cut a slit and made flaps so children could pour corn through the top of the box. 

The windows on the ends of the box gave children a chance to experience working in a novel space that was both enclosed and open depending on what kind of operation they wanted to carry out.





The tubes had a couple of holes on the side, but were---for the most part---large tunnels to transport the corn back and forth from one end of the table to the other.

When you put it all together, this is what it looked like in action.  The child in the foreground is using a homemade plunger to pull corn out of a tube.  The child on his left---you can only see the top of his head---is working in one of the windows.  The two on the opposite side take turns putting corn in the hole in the top.


Big tubes in a box from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There are two things to note from the video.  The first is that when the girl pours corn into the top hole, you can see corn fly out of the box onto the floor because it bounces off the concrete tube at the right angle to shoot out of the box.  You might call that a slight design flaw.  The second is the agency of the boy pouring corn into the top.  After pouring once into the top of the box, he picks up his stool and moves to the other side to pour corn in from there.  I am curious what prompted him to change perspectives.

Although I am always amazed and curious at what children do with any given apparatus, I was most puzzled at my thinking in regards to this apparatus.  For the original apparatus pictured at the beginning of this post, I thought I had a totally finished idea for the concrete tubes.  The idea was fully formed to the extent that I did not even entertain other ideas.  Case closed.  That was so up until someone commented on my blog that now she knew what to do with her concrete tubes.  All of a sudden I was jolted into thinking that there must be other ways to use the concrete tubes.  Why had I completely stopped thinking about ways to use the concrete tubes when I built the first apparatus?  Why did the comment on the post start the wheels turning again?

In any case, I need to thank anonymous for the comment that got me thinking again.   Feel free to comment anytime.




Saturday, January 16, 2016

MAKING MEANING

Last week I wrote about transporting as an overarching process at the sensory table.  To that end, I set up many tubs and pails around the table to support children's innate need to move the sand in and out of the table.  (See axiom #1 on the right hand column of this blog.)
The only thing that can be considered an apparatus in this setup is the wooden tray spanning the width of the table.
That leaves the children free to move the sand from one container to another.

The question then becomes: How do the children make meaning in the process of transporting?  One way is through role play.  The boys pictured below set out their cookies(rocks) to dry on a drying rack(a piece of tree bark spanning a space above the table).  The children even sprinkled sugar on the cookies.
The picture makes very clear there were a lot of rich, spontaneous and authentic conversations as they made their cookies.

Here is another example of role play.  The child put some sand in a triangular container (this is an old oil pan I had in the basement).  As he rolled the pan around to distribute the sand evenly across the bottom of the pan, he declared: "It's a pancake."

Pancake from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


I am intrigued by a couple of things with this video.  First, how did he know that rolling around the pan distributes the sand evenly?  Second, what prior experiences did he have that helped him imagine that he was making a pancake?  Did he see his mom or dad make pancakes this way?  Did he help make pancakes like this before?

Another way the children make meaning is to set up their own apparatus with the loose parts.  In the video below, two children propped a sieve between the wooden tray and an upside down trash bin.  One child poured sand into the sieve and the other caught it as it fell through the holes.

Sand through a sieve from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


I think this rivals any apparatus I have built.  In a way it is superior because the children have authored it themselves.

Another way the children make meaning is to experiment with volume by filling containers.  One child took four different size bowls and filled them individually.
Not only did this child fill containers one on top of the other, but he did it in sequence from the biggest bowl to the smallest bowl.  In addition, he did it through a sieve.  That would seem to make his operation even more intentional because it took more coordination and time to fill his bowls this way.

Here is another example of a child experimenting with volume.  The interesting twist here was that he verbalized his query.  As he poured sand in a clear plastic tube he asked: "Why does the sand go up when I put the sand in?"  I reflected his question back to him and he answered: "Because it...there is sand in there."  Watch.



Here is one last example of a child experimenting with volume.  The interesting twist here was that the child inserted his hand and arm in a clear plastic tube and a friend poured sand in the tube.


I am curious what questions this child asked to create this episode.   To begin with, did he just want to see if his hand would fit in the tube?  Did he then want to see how far in his arm could go?  What prompted him to ask his friend to put sand in the tube?  What was he thinking and feeling as he looked at his hand enveloped in sand?  What new understandings did he gain of the physical world and of his body in the physical world?

Children are always asking questions.  Some of the questions are explicit and some are not.  Some are profound and some are simple.  If we can recognize their questions, which in turn lead to other questions, we can begin to see how children make meaning of their experiences.










Saturday, January 9, 2016

TRANSPORTING

This past November, I did a presentation on sand and water tables at the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Orlando.  Whenever I do a big presentation like this, I update my material.  Although I am doing the presenting, the children are the ones who tell the story of discovery, learning and joy at the sensory table through the pictures and videos in the PowerPoint presentation.  

When I revisit my presentation, I also think about what will be the main points.  This year, I came away thinking a lot about Axiom #1 in the right hand column of this blog: Children need to transport whatever is in the table out of the table.  I contend that this is an overarching process that determines the nature of everything the children do at the sensory table---maybe even throughout the classroom.  I wondered if there could be a setup at the table for which the sole purpose was transporting.  What would happen if, instead of a fancy apparatus, I set out lots of different containers with loose parts at the sensory table?

When I got back to my classroom in December, that is what I did.
On one end of the blue table, I hung a red trough that I bought at a feed store several years ago.  Across the middle of the table, I taped a homemade wooden tray that spanned the width of the table.  The second, smaller sensory table occupied the other end of the blue table.  It is hard to see, but I placed a big round washtub in the smaller sensory table.  Next to  the table, I set out a five gallon pail and a big plastic tub.  Here is another view in which you can see the white washtub in the small sensory table.

I put many the loose parts for the transporting operations of the children on the shelves next to the wall in the sensory area.  I call it my collection of hodgepodge and doohickies.  By the way, the provisions do change depending on what is in the table.


On either side of the shelves, I set out more containers.  On the left there was a blue tray and a kitchen compost bin.  On the right there was a red triangular oil pan, white waste baskets with cardboard tubes and a five gallon pail with sticks.  

Next to the cabinets was another black waste basket and the orange five gallon pail with rocks.

This was a transporter's paradise, right?  Yes it was, but the first children who approached the sensory table only used the containers right next to the table and the implements and containers off the shelf.  Why didn't they incorporate all the other things like the sticks, rocks and various containers that were against the wall and the cabinet?  I was stunned.  I at least expected them to dump the rocks or the sticks into the table.  Since they did not seem to bother with those extra elements, I incorporated them in the setup the following class.
I moved the pails with the rocks and the sticks next to the table.  I put one of white waste baskets in the small table, a cardboard tube in the blue table and the triangular pan on top of the wooden tray.

That new setup definitely encouraged the children to use more of the containers and the natural elements.   For example, a couple of children filled a cardboard tube with rocks and then sand creating a fleeting sculpture.

Another child created a "waterfall" with sand when she poured sand over a porous piece of bark.  Was this another piece of fleeting art?


As I watched and listened to the children, I was struck by how much this setup encouraged role play around cooking.


Cooking from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In a way, the play the children authored reminded me of pictures I have seen of children cooking at mud kitchens.  

I am now wondering what would happen if I eliminate the table completely.  The shelves would stay, but what if I just put a plethora of buckets and tubs directly on the mats?  Stay tuned.


For all of you who attended my presentation in Orlando, I owe you a belated thank you.  There are so many presentations to go to in any given time slot, that I am honored you chose mine.  Since I did not know how many people would attend, I grossly underestimated the number of handouts.  For those of you who wrote down your email address and have not gotten the handout from me, I could not decipher your email.  If you did not get the handout and still want it, email me at tpbedard@msn.com or you can find it on the conference website.  Thank you again.  Tom




Saturday, January 2, 2016

PERSONAL POST

I am retiring.

People have been asking me: "What is your plan?"  I have to tell them honestly that I have no concrete plan.  I do have a friend in Vietnam I want to visit, but I am sure that is not the type of plan they are talking about.  The truth is there is no grand plan.

I really had no grand plan when I started in early childhood over 40 years ago.  I lived it day-to-day and it evolved.  For the longest time, I thought I would only be in my own little classroom happily building sensory apparatus and doing the daily activities with the children.   Back in July 2010, I began to write this blog.  I never fancied myself as a writer and to this day, it is a struggle to sit down to write.  If the truth be told, the blog has given me an outlet to process what I experience in the classroom.  I am just glad other people are willing to read my musings and reflections.  I do intend to continue the blog and I hope to go back to some of my earliest documentation to see how my practice has evolved.  That is a plan.

About the same time I started writing the blog, I started to do presentations and workshops for others on sand and water tables.  Since I had a full time job, I would only do a smattering a year.   Over the course of five years, I have done numerous local, regional and national presentations and workshops.  Two summers ago, I even arranged an UK/Netherlands speaking tour for myself with the help of Juliet Robertson of Creative STAR Learning in which I gave 13 talks and workshops in three weeks.  Will I continue to do those?  TBD.  That is a loose plan at best.  

Also, about the time I started to write and do presentations, I also started to reach out to connect with others in the field locally, nationally and internationally.  If I have one regret, it is that I did not start that endeavor earlier in my career.  Its is hard to keep improving your craft in isolation.  I would like to continue to entertain and expand those connections.  That might be a plan.

Like many things in life it was an easy decision and a hard decision.

It was easy because I am getting older and the daily grind of showing up for work everyday, of getting up and down from the floor innumerable times a day, of lifting children up and holding babies is physically taxing.  When I have a night class, and I have two, and do not get home until 8:30 or 9:00 at night and then get up at 5:15 the next morning for class, I am not as energetic and new aches and pains appear out of nowhere. Believe it or not, being an early childhood teacher is a physical job.

It was also easy because I am one of the few early childhood teachers that has a decent salary with benefits that includes a pension and extra medical benefits after retirement.  All that is because I work for a public school on a teacher's salary.   Some might argue that a teacher's salary is nothing to brag about, but compared to the wages in most early childhood settings, it is significant, especially when you add in the benefits.

Oddly enough, it was a hard decision because of that same daily grind that has become physically taxing.  I have been telling people lately that there is a certain beauty in coming to work everyday.  The routine gives the work shape: the daily chat with the custodian---we are often the only ones in at 6:45---the setting up, the arrival of the children and parents, the immediate plunge into play,  the daily goodbyes, the closing of the room.  That routine keeps me sharp and forces me to keep growing.  Though physically taxing, the daily grind is never drudgery.

Mostly---and I bet you could see this coming a mile away---it is hard because the children are my lifeblood.  They have guided me over many bridges in play and in life.
When I am in the classroom with the children, nothing else matters.  Time, space and materials all flow together as the children inhabit each and every moment.  And I am able to forget everything and be in the moment with them.  And for that, I will always be grateful.

My last day of work will be June 14, 2016.