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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Amalgamated big box incline

I have made several big box inclines and I have written about them here, here, and here.  Back in 2009, I made an amalgamated big box incline.  I took two large boxes and combined them to make one big box incline apparatus.
One box was an empty electric piano box and the other had held a computer desk.  They were both the same length, but different heights and different widths.

I cut a hole between the two so there would be a window of sorts connecting the two boxes.  This also allowed me to tape the boxes together on the inside which made the connection between the two boxes stronger.
The apparatus was set on an incline using an upside down planter tray the spanned the width of the table and was taped to the lip of the table.  To give the apparatus stability, I taped the box to the tray and to the lip of the table.  When the children poured fuel pellets down either section of the apparatus, the pellets exited into a tub at the end of the table.

With this apparatus, the children naturally engaged in some common operations at the sensory table such scooping, filling, pouring and spilling.  Some operations, however were contingent on the the provisions for play and what the children made of those provisions.
For this apparatus, the children were able to choose a variety of scoops, pails and other containers.  In addition, though, I set out a container of small plastic cars and trucks.  My thinking was that they would roll the cars and trucks down the incline in each section of the apparatus.

Indeed, the children used the cars and trucks for launching them down the incline.  However, depending on the child, that launching took on a very different vitality.  Below are three examples.

In the first video, the child used the high, narrow section of the apparatus to send his cars down the incline.  As he watched his first car speed down the incline, he set up a second car at the top.  He held it there for just a second and then started counting: "One, two, three---go."  On "go," he sent the car racing down the incline.


Big box incline: car play 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The adults who were watching all this transpire, gave him a big wahoo.  His reaction was one of proud embarrassment. 

In the second video, the child used the incline on top of the piano box.  She first slid her two little trucks halfway up the incline.  At this point, the two cars were situated sideways on the incline.  She took her hands off the two trucks and they started to slide sideways down the top of the box.  The two trucks dropped off and down into the tub next to the table to her great amusement.


Big box incline: car play 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the third video, another child also used the incline on the top of the piano box.  However, for this child, the incline offered an opportunity to engage in a sophisticated experiment on trajectory in which he actually changed variables on three different trials.   To begin with, he figured out that when he launched a truck down the incline it overshot the tub at the end of the table.  With that knowledge, he found a red crate and placed it next to the far edge of the tub.   When he tried to get it in the red crate, the truck hit the far edge of the crate and sailed out onto the floor.  On his second try, he put the truck in the back of a small dump truck.  When he let go of combined trucks, they both landed in the target.  He quickly repeated the experiment, this time with a little green car.  Like the first time, the car overshot the crate.


Big box incline: car play 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Operating with the cars and trucks on different sections of the apparatus, the children created their own play possibilities.  The first episode with the child rolling his car down the incline of the narrow computer desk box, I might have expected.  However, the child's counting and emotional reaction to the episode was not something I would have predicted.   The children totally originated their play experience in the second and third episodes. 

In each episode, there was something about the existence that day of an intersection between the structure(apparatus), the provisions(cars and trucks) and the children that actualized these play possibilities.  What that something was, I do not know. (I wish I did.)  What I know is that on any given day, there would have been a myriad of other play possibilities that could have been realized with the same apparatus, with the same provisions and with the same children.  

Maybe that something has to do with young children's innately rich imagination and creativity. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Big incline box: inhabiting the space

In 2011 I wrote a post on big box inclines.  I revisited that post recently with an eye on how the children inhabited the space created by the apparatus.  The apparatus is pictured below.  I took a long, narrow box and set it on an incline.  I cut multiple holes in the box: one on the top end, one on top, and two on each side of the box.  The corn poured into any of the holes in the box exited through a slit on the bottom.

To set the box on an incline, I taped a planter tray across the width of the table.  I taped the red crate to the planter tray and the box to the crate.  To make sure it was stable, I taped the box just behind the slit to the lip of the table (see picture above).

One of the ways the children inhabited this space was to make full use of the apparatus itself.  In the clip below, an adult held a white pot to catch the corn the children sent down the big box incline through the various holes.  The children used different holes and used different containers to pour the corn into the box.  Once the adult had filled his white pot, he moved to the top of the box incline to slowly pour the corn down the box through the top hole.  This in turn caught the attention of one of the children who stopped scooping corn to watch the corn drop out of the end of the box into the tub next to the sensory table.


I'm full from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The children were certainly into filling their containers and pouring the corn down the box.  Was it simply to fill the adult's container?  Was it because of the sound the corn made traveling down through the box?  Was it a combination of the two?  Why did the steady flow of corn down the box capture the one child's attention essentially stopping him from pouring so he could observe the flow of corn?

Another way the children inhabited the space was to explore the spaces created by the apparatus.  On the left, the child used the end of the table not covered by the apparatus for her operation.   On the right, the child explored the space underneath the apparatus.



The tub next to the sensory table was also a space that was integral to apparatus because it was the catchment for all the corn exiting the box.  As one child inhabited this space, he found a small hole in the handle of the tub.  That became a salient feature for the child as he forced kernels of corn through the small hole.

Besides the sensory table with the big box incline setup, there was also an auxiliary space, a table that was a place for the extra containers.  In the video below, one child has taken over that space for his operations.  He has arranged all the containers he wants to fill on that table.  He methodically began to fill each container with corn from the sensory table.



The multiplicity of ways the children inhabited the space was incredible.  Does that multiplicity nurture different internal modes of representation that are foundational for children's thinking and creativity?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What are we going to do today?

I am a grandfather.  Over a span of 38 years in early childhood education, I worked with thousands of children of various backgrounds and abilities.   During that time, I came to know and expect that every child was different.  In addition, each child had something new to teach me.  As it turns out, the same holds true for my grandchildren.  Each is different and each has something to teach me individually and collectively.  One salient tangent of that learning has to do with how adults interact with my grandchildren and, by extension, how adults interact with all children.  What I have learned is that adults---for the most part---are always telling children what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  And if they are not telling them directly, they employ all forms of manipulation to get the children to do what the adult wants.  "If you want a treat,  you will have to..."

What happens if we do not feel like we always have to tell a child what to do?  Let me tell you a little story about just such a case with my grandson.  My grandson was three when the following happened.  I went over to his house to watch him for the day because his mother had to work and there was no daycare that day.  I thought we might go to the zoo or a park.  When I arrived at the house, my grandson was just in a t-shirt and nothing else.  His mother had to leave so we said goodbye.  The time was 9:00 AM

I asked my grandson: "What do you want to do today?"  I suggested the zoo or a playground thinking he would likely choose one or the other.  Once he had made a choice, then we could get on with the business of dressing up and going out.   He did not bite on one of my choices.  Instead, he took a balloon from a fabric tunnel that was on the couch.  He proceeded to bounce it in the air.  At this point, I decided that instead of trying to get him dressed and out the door, I would just watch to see what he was going to do.

After bouncing the balloon in the air, he climbed onto a chair and jumped and rolled onto the floor.  He repeated the climb, jump and roll routine, but this time he also kicked the balloon.  Then he stopped briefly and just lay on the floor.  He got up and repeated the climb, jump and roll routine.  This time he stood up and kicked the balloon in the air.  He took another balloon from the tunnel and tried to keep the two balloons in the air at the same time.

At this point, he put a mesh laundry basket over his head.  He then put the basket on the floor and crawled in.
Once in the basket, he rolled around the floor.  He got up and out of the basket only to crawl back in and roll around some more on the rug.   He repeated his actions four times.

On the fifth iteration of putting the mesh basket over his head and laying on the floor, he was content to just lay in the basket on the floor.  As it happened, his left hand was outside the basket.  He spent a minute or two examining his hand through the mesh.

At 9:16, he climbed out of the basket and onto the couch.  There was a little Fischer-Price house on the couch and he started to play with that quietly.  He played with that house quietly for the next 15 minutes.

At 9:32, he looked up at me.  Without skipping a beat, he asked me: "What are we going to do today?" I was literally dumbstruck, but I took that as my cue that he was ready to dress up and be on our way.

I do not remember where we went or what we did that day.  I do remember that by giving my grandson some time and agency around our morning schedule, I did not need to cajole or coerce him into dressing up so we could get out the door.   In fact, if I had resorted to cajoling and coercion, the whole process of dressing and getting out the door would have taken just as long.  The difference, and it was a huge difference, was how we both felt about getting dressed and out the door that morning. 



Saturday, October 6, 2018

Dryer vent hoses embedded in a box

I dove back into my archives of pictures I took before I started using a digital camera.  I found a couple of pictures of an apparatus I built using venting hoses for dryers.  The venting hoses were made of aluminum and very flexible.  I bought them at the hardware store.  Below is a picture of one.

I embedded the venting hoses into a box that I set up vertically in the sand table.  This is a view from one side of the apparatus.

 Here is the view from the other side of the apparatus.

I embedded four different hoses in the box.  Because the aluminum tubing was flexible, I was able to weave the tubes through the box so the children had to figure out where the sand exited when they poured it into one of the tubes.

On one side, A, B and C are the holes the children poured the sand into and E and H was where the sand exited.  In the picture below A and E were connected so when a child poured sand in A the sand exited from E.

As seen from the other side, A and B were the same.  D was the fourth hole into which the children poured the sand.  B and F were connected so when a child poured sand in B it exited from F.  C from the other side was connected to G on this side.  And D from this side was connected to H on the other side.

If you understood that explanation of how the four tubes are woven inside the box, your spatial acuity is off the charts.  If you were to imagine looking through the bottom of the box, you would see a tangle of hoses filling the inside of the box.

The children, of course, had other ways to figure out the apparatus as they creatively problem solved in their own quest for spatial literacy.


P. S.  If you are attending the NAEYC annual conference and would like to join a discussion about the need for children to move to learn in the classroom and outdoors, three of my colleagues and I will be holding a three-hour session on Wednesday morning at the conference.  It is entitled Teaching with the Body in Mind.  If you come, please come up and introduce yourself. 

And that same weekend, November 17th, I will be talking about children's play at sand and water tables at the Play squared conference in southwest UK in the county of Devon.  Since I cannot be in two places at once, the play conference presentation is a recorded talk.  Check out the program to see the other conference offerings and join us if you can.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Mini trampolines - part two

Trampolines are made for jumping, right?  But even as children jump on the trampolines, their play naturally flows into other developmental domains.  In the video below, the children count as they jump.  In essence, they are playing with numbers as they jump.  Sometimes the counting matches the jumps and sometimes not.  Sometimes the counting is sequential and sometimes not.  In addition, they are managing their own turn-taking.  Two times, the first jumper starts to step onto the trampoline as another child who has not had a turn steps onto the trampoline at the same time.  And both times, without any hint of conflict, the first jumper steps back to give the new jumper a turn at jumping and counting.


Trampoline: jumping, counting, taking turns from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This play is totally child-directed.  It is their idea to count.  Are they using the counting as a way to measure the length of their turn?   Think about this in contrast to a teacher counting to measure the length of a turn.  A teacher would count so each child would have the same amount of time on the trampoline.  For the children, it is the gestalt of counting and jumping with no concern about who jumps more.

The turn-taking is also child-directed.  Again, think about this in contrast to a teacher directing the turn-taking.  A teacher would line the children up in row so each child knows who comes next.  And there will be no butting in.  However, when children organically take turns with no adult interference or enforcement, the children get a real chance to self-regulate. 

In the children's eyes, the mini trampolines have an unlimited potential for play in other developmental domains.  For dramatic play, the children below use the trampoline along with a baby blanket from the housekeeping area to serve as a bed to advance their play scenario.

How about literacy?  Two children use the trampolines as platforms for writing.  I suppose they could sit, but why not get real comfortable while they write?

And here is a type of literacy which usually flies under the radar.  The child below is "reading" the picture taken the week before of some children trampoline running.   His understanding of the action in the picture offers an invitation for him to do the same.
I use this type of documentation in most areas of my classroom because I like to show what the children actually do in any given area.  Often, I do not use words, but let the pictures talk to the children.

And sometimes, something extraordinary happens.  The child below has notices the little pictures inside the bigger picture.  She is reading pictures inside a picture!

Are trampolines made for jumping?  Yes, but for children they are so much more.  Children read space and materials differently than adults.  So often, adults read the space and materials with their head: I know that a trampoline is for jumping.  However, children read space and materials with their body and their head.  By using their body and head together to explore the space and materials, the children create a richness, that if appreciated, is mind-opening for adults.  More importantly, though, it is fulfilling the need for a body/mind connection as children inhabit and make sense of the world.


P.S. My last four posts have highlighted large muscle play in the classroom.  I have not forgotten about sand and water tables.  In fact, many of the dispositions informing play in both areas are the same.  If you are attending the NAEYC annual conference and would like to join a discussion about the need for children to move to learn in the classroom and outdoors, three of my colleagues and I will be holding a three-hour session on Wednesday morning at the conference.  It is entitled Teaching with the Body in Mind.  If you come, please come up and introduce yourself.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mini trampolines - part one

In my most recent post, the ledge-part 2,  I had a picture of a child jumping from a ledge onto a mini trampoline.
One person commented that she hated those mini trampolines.  That got me thinking that I could probably do an entire post about how many different ways the children use them to create their own physical challenges.

It helps to know that I had a large muscle area in my classroom that was always open during free play.  One piece of equipment that was rotated into this area several times a year was a mini trampoline.  And most times, there were two trampolines out at the same time.

Adults pretty much see the mini tramps as something that the children use for bouncing.


In addition, adults usually view these small trampolines as a large muscle apparatus to be used by one child at a time.  They often see it in terms of children lining up to take turns.  Children can have very different ideas than adults.  Two and even four children can fit on the mini trampoline at one time.
That is just the beginning of how children see the mini trampolines.  For them it is a challenge: How high can I jump? 
Pretty high.  The bar on the trampoline makes it possible for the child to jump so his feet are higher than the bar.


Children know intuitively that a handle is not just for holding onto.  It is also useful for giving the vestibular system a good work out. 








Children also intuit that the handle can also be useful for working on balance, whether that is upside down or right side up.






The children know that sometimes two trampolines are better than one.  In the video below, the children are "trampoline running."  Notice how they determine their own order and their own pace in this activity.  Their flow gets temporarily interrupted when the child in the yellow shirt bumps his knee or shin and takes himself out of line because it hurts. 
 

Trampoline running from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The interruption is no more that four seconds before the trampoline running continues unabated.  And then three seconds after that, the child in the yellow shirt rejoins the fun.

Because the children can move the mini trampolines, they can calibrate their own risk.  The child in the video below has moved the two trampolines close enough together so she can confidently jump from one trampoline to the other.


Dual trampoline jumping from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the previous post, some people took issue with allowing children to play on the ledge.  They did not necessarily disagree that children need physical challenges and some of those challenges include climbing.  A solution that was suggested was that I could purchase equipment that was specifically made for climbing.

I don't necessarily take issue with that point of view, but I do think it is rather limiting.  Children---and adults, for that matter---are always finding uses for things for which they were not intended.  In fact, that might be one definition of creativity.   Case in point: the trampolines.  They are made to jump on.  Indeed, children jump on them.  But for the children, that is just the beginning of what is possible on the trampolines.


In this post, I gave examples of children using the trampolines to foster their own physical development.  In my next post, I will show examples of children exploring using the trampolines in other developmental domains.  

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The ledge-part two

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post called the ledge-part one.  In that post, I said that the children had appropriated a space for their play that was unforeseen and probably out of bounds for most adults.


The space was a ledge that was 14" wide under a bank of windows.  I originally had steps so the children could look out the window.  However, the steps were an invitation for the children to climb and play on the ledge.




Once I decided it was OK for the children to be on the ledge, it became one of the most important place spaces in the classroom. This was a horizontal space above the floor that they discovered on their own. The exploration of this space with their bodies expanded their play exponentially. The examples I highlighted in the ledge-part one were pretty tame.  In this post, I would like show examples of more adventurous play that emerged from the children on the ledge.

They used the ledge for building with the hollow blocks.  On the left, they used the blocks in such a way that they created a narrow path between the blocks and the window.  On the right, a child used the ledge so she could build her block tower higher.



What made this block play so adventurous was all the balancing that went on.  With a narrower ledge, it was harder to pass on the ledge without bumping the blocks.  And it took a tremendous amount of balance for the child to stay stable on the ledge while reaching out horizontally to place another block on top of her tower.

Believe it or not, the ledge became a place the children used to measure their jumping skills.  Some children would sit down on the ledge to hop down.  Other children freely launched themselves into the air.  
I did not put the mat there for their jumping.  The mat was always there because it defined the large muscle area in my classroom.  How serendipitous.

I showed the child pictured above the stop-action photo I took of her jumping.  I then asked her if she would like to draw herself jumping.  She did, so I set her up at the the writing table with the screen of the camera showing her jumping.  This was what she drew.
Note the specificity.  She included the window blocks, the bucket of balls, the mat and the pictures on the wall.

The children found multiple ways to jump.  One child was so creative as to build herself a rod that she used as an aide so she could jump with confidence.


Measured jump from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Not all the kids felt the need to jump from the ledge.  However, those that did often challenged themselves by jumping over, around or onto what was on the large muscle mat at any given time.

One year, a couple of my groups discovered the ledge met the narrow ledge of an old chalk/bulletin board.  That created on opportunity for the children to further challenge themselves with even more adventurous play.

And since climbing back and forth on the little ledge was not adventurous enough, some children challenged themselves to jump from the small ledge---onto trampolines.


Climbing the wall from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I did show the parents these photos and videos and joked that the children in my classroom were literally climbing the walls.

My role as the adult in the room became much more complicated once I let the children play on the ledges.  I continually had to gauge the play in terms of safety; I was constantly forced to make decisions about the ability and the confidence of each child on the ledge.  That process included reading, on a moment-by-moment basis, the gestalt of the physical and social environment.  Let's take for example the earlier picture of the child building with the hollow blocks while standing on the ledge.  I had to make the decision as to whether she was stable enough reaching out from the ledge to stack yet another block on her tower in such a way that it was not going to fall on the child on the floor below.  That was a moment-by-moment decision of trying to understand all the moving variables as the children operated in this multidimensional space.

I said earlier that allowing the children to play on the ledge---both ledges---expanded their play exponentially to the point that it became one of the most important areas for their play.  One of the main reasons it became so important was because they defined what was possible in this space with their explorations and actions.

I have included only a small sample of some of the play that emerged as they explored and conquered that space.  To be clear, I do not expect other adults to let children physically challenge themselves in the classroom to the degree that I did.  However, I do think children must be given license to define some spaces in the classroom in their quest to create their own physical challenges.