About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Noteworthy play spaces

A little over four years ago, I went a little crazy with setting up Big boxes around the sensory table.  I started with four big boxes, one on each end and one on each side of the table.
The idea was to create spaces from which the children could access the table almost like little houses with windows.  In the picture below, two children were kneeling inside the boxes to carry out their operations inside the table.  In other words, they were working outside the box from inside the box.
This picture also shows another space that was created by the big boxes around the table.  The child in the red was doing his operation from between the boxes.  So besides the four spaces of the boxes, there were four more spaces between the boxes at the four corners of the table.

I subsequently added two more big boxes.  Box 5 connected boxes 1 and 6 and box 6 connected boxes 2 and 3.  Box 4 was still a stand alone box.  I wrote blog posts on this configuration here and here.
Though I basically used two more big boxes to encase the sensory table, I did not think about the resulting ramifications of that modification for children's play.  There were several ramifications but let me point out two that were noteworthy in terms of play spaces.

The first noteworthy play space was on top of the apparatus.  Since the space underneath the boxes was highly constricted, the top of the big boxes became stable platforms for the children to do their operations.  That was especially true if they wanted to transport the pellets between large containers and between different levels.
However, for the children to appropriate that space for play, they did have to climb on the lip of the table.  It was certainly a physical challenge to climb up and down, especially if the child carried one of the larger containers while stepping up or climbing down.  That may even have been one of the draws of that play space.

The second noteworthy play space was the floor.  In the video below, the child used the floor as a platform for her operation.  Again, since the space underneath the boxes was highly constricted, she placed three metal containers on the floor so she could fill them.

Floor play from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

However, getting the pellets in her measuring cup to pour into the containers was not such an easy task.  The child had to keep her balance as she twisted her torso to reach over the lip of the table and under the box to scoop pellets in her measuring cup.    

Another feature of the floor that made it noteworthy as a play space was that, as a platform, it was expandable.  Below, the children have taken over the floor space between the apparatus and the cabinets for their play.  There was no way they were going to be able to do their "cooking" in the highly constricted space underneath the big boxes over the table. 
There is a subtle similarity between their cooking and my cooking.  Although I do not spill onto the floor to do my cooking, I do tend to expand onto all the available counter space.

Play spaces are important to children.  The more intriguing the better.  Though some play spaces seem to be highly circumscribed, the children find spaces on and outside the margins of the defined play spaces.  Those spaces outside the margins are noteworthy because the children create new meaning as they embrace and inhabit them.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Wizard of Oz

Once again, I am venturing beyond the sand and water table for the inspiration for a new blog post.  In the process of tagging my pictures, I found a group of pictures and videos of children engaged in dramatic play in the house area.  Their play was a re-enactment of the story of The Wizard of Oz.

Children engaged in dramatic play all the time and in every part of the room.  Often times, it was an event that kept changing and moving throughout the room.  As it changed and moved, the children appropriated props to feed their dramatic play.  What caught my interest in their re-enactment of their Wizard of Oz play was one of the props they used to re-create an iconic scene from the original movie. 

First, let me show you the prop the children commandeered to help elevate their play to a new level.  The prop was a big box that I had set up in the space between the book corner and the house corner.  You can read about how it ended up in that part of the classroom from a previous post of mine entitled  The life of a big box in my classroom
I would say this big box was kind of an odd duck standing in what might be considered a liminal or boundary space.  However, the box in that space offered the children a rich array of possibilities for their play.  In the picture above, the child was playing a little game peek-a-boo.  Or maybe he was observing what was happening in the classroom from his secret blind.

Since it was so close to the book corner, for another child it turned out a place to read in solitude.

And since the big box was so close to the house area, some children used the dress up clothes to become superheroes.  And the superheroes needed a hideout, so they tipped the big box on its side to make their superhero cave.

Before the children could recreate the iconic scene I alluded to near the beginning of this post, they first had to decide who was going to be Dorothy.  The child with the green sleeve took on the role of director.
She indicated that the child in the stripes was the logical choice for Dorothy because she had a basket.  Since they all knew that Dorothy had a basket in the movie, they all agreed immediately.  

After that role was decided, the children re-created the iconic scene when the house fell on the Wicked Witch of the West.   In the video below, one child laid on the floor and pulled a corner of the box over his feet. When he was done, he pretended he was dead by laying face down on the floor with one foot and ankle under the box.  The box was thus transformed into Dorothy's house that landed on the wicked witch.  The child who was directing encouraged Dorothy to crawl into her house.  To complete the scene, she encouraged the other players to join Dorothy in the house.

The Wizard of Oz from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The excitement of re-creating this scene was palpable.  Their dramatic play was a moving target both physically and metaphorically.  At the very moment when the child pulled the big box over his feet, their play came together in such a way as to transcend space and time.  Though the details of how this scene came together deviated a bit from the original, the children captured to their great satisfaction and excitement the gestalt of that iconic scene from the movie.

With great pleasure, I can safely say that they were off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Children's investigative flair with spools

Though I usually write about play in the sensory table, sometimes I do venture beyond the sensory table into play in other areas of the classroom.  That is the case with this post.   In the course of going back and tagging my pictures and videos, I found several images of children playing with medium size spools in many different ways.  As I looked over the images, I could not help but think that children have a flair for exploring the possibilities of any given material/object.

I am not quite clear how I acquired the medium spools that I offered to the children for their play.  Did I dumpster dive at a construction site or did a parent bring them in?  I do not know.  I do know they are the kind of spools that hold the wire that electricians use.

I put the spools on shelves in the block area.  One of the most common ways the children explored the spools was to stack them, balancing one on top of the other. 
As the child explored the spools, he discovered that they were unique elements for building vertically.
The children pictured below also stacked the spools one on top of the other.  However, they added a surprising wrinkle to the simple operation of stacking the spools.  Between each set of spools they inserted blocks.
That novel combination of spools and blocks allowed the children to stack the spools higher.  And that may have been their intended purpose because they measured themselves in relation to their structure.
The children below also stacked the spools.  Instead of putting anything in between the spools, they put a basket on top of the stacked spools.
I always had a basket of balls in my classroom.  They just appropriated the basket to challenge themselves with their new game of "basketball."   That was a formidable challenge because the spools formed a narrow column based on a soft mat.  Balancing and stability of the structure were front and center for this investigation.

Stacking was only one type of exploration to emerge with the spools.  The child pictured below placed one of the spools on the rocking chair.  What this child made is the definition of creativity.  She took two unrelated objects and combined them to make something new: a rocker with a booster seat. 
As she tested her modified rocking chair, she also discovered how adding the spool changed her center of gravity as she rocked.

In the picture below, two children found another use for the spools.  They placed their cars on the core of the spools to create monster trucks with giant wheels rolling down the slide.
The real trick for these children with this operation was to keep the cars rolling on the core of the spools.  They found out if they let go of the car or the spool or both, their cars just dropped off the spool.  To keep the cars rolling on the core of the spool---and the integrity of the monster trucks---they had to handle both the car and spool in tandem.

The child pictured below found yet another way to use the spools, namely to test her balance. Was she making roller skates?
By the way, she was also testing the strength of the spools to see if they could support the weight of her body.

The thing about the spools was that they were small enough to be moved around the classroom to serve other purposes.  I found a picture of one of the spools in the housekeeping area.  In the children's hands, it turned out to be a birthday cake.  They used small sticks placed in the middle of the spool as candles.
Interestingly, they also used a different kind of spool to decorate the cake.  They found a basket of empty tape spools and arranged them on top of the "cake."  

The medium spools were set out in the classroom without any instructions.  I never even asked the children what they thought they could make with the spools.  Looking back on these images now, I suppose I could say that I set the spools out to challenge the children's investigative curiosity.  

And that brings me to a quote from David Hawkin's book, "The Roots of Literacy." On page 116 he states: What motivates exploratory behavior, in a deep psychological sense, one cannot well say. ... It is a mode of behavior in which the distinction between ends and means collapses; it is its own end and it is its own reinforcement.  Or rather the reinforcement comes to it because of what is found along the pathways of exploration...

I have only given a few examples of what the children found along the pathways of exploration of the spools.  However, taken together it is easy to glimpse the children's uncompromising flair to investigate those spools.  Since that uncompromising flair for investigation is part of children's disposition to make meaning of materials and objects, almost anything in their world becomes a subject of that investigative flair.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The art of pouring II

Last week I wrote about the art of pouring.  I was surprised at the amount of traction that post got and it got me thinking even more about the act of pouring at the sensory table.  Would the act of pouring be demonstrably different with a different medium in the table?  And would the act of pouring be demonstrably different with a different apparatus?

To look at these questions, I reviewed the types of pouring at the following apparatus: Concrete tube forming apparatus.  I built this apparatus using concrete forming tubes and a long cardboard tube.  Though it is narrow, it is stable because the whole thing is taped together with three supporting cross pieces taped to the table itself.
I cut plenty of holes in the long cardboard tube of different sizes and on different levels.  Those holes were an invitation for children to do their pouring.
The child pictured above used a plastic measuring cup to pour pellets into one of the rectangular holes.  To do that, she held the measuring cup with her right hand and rotated her wrist and forearm.   Because the apparatus was not restricting her hand action, it was a fairly straight forward operation.

However, that was not the case for the child pictured below.  For this child, he first had to reach into the small round hole with his small scoop before he could turn his wrist and arm.  Since he could not adjust the height of his pour like the child above, he had to raise his arm to shoulder height to complete his pouring action.

Below, the child found one of the big holes offered by the lowest concrete forming tubes.  She, too, was restricted in her action by the apparatus because she had to fit her pour underneath the long cardboard tube. 
Because her arm was straight, it was not inconceivable that she tried to pour backwards so her wrist turned to the right with the palm up.  

The child below found the clear plastic tube embedded between two of the concrete forms.  It is hard to see what both his hands were doing, but he did seem to be using a fine touch to control the speed of his pour with greater precision and accuracy.

The child pictured below found the highest level to pour into.  She was on her tip toes and reaching as high as she could.  And unlike the child pictured above, she could not see where she was pouring.
This was truly quite a fete because this pour encompassed her whole body.  Maybe one of the reasons she could not see where she was pouring was because she had to keep her head down to keep her balance.  Besides balancing her body, she had to balance her two-handed grip on the bowl.  She had to hold it loose enough to tilt the bowl, but tight enough so it did not drop out of her hands.

The act of pouring took on decidedly different turn for the child below.  The child created a tool to augment his pouring.  

Creating a tool for pouring from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

By inserting a loose plastic tube into the mouth of a clear plastic bottle and then filling his new pouring tool to the top, he was able to pour more pellets than if he had used each separately.  

In his book Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity, Colin McGinn posits that humans have "... an innate prehension program---a universal 'grammar' of grips and manipulations." p. 24.  If true, that means for young children to become fluent in that "grammar," they need plenty of practice with grips and manipulations.   For me, plenty of practice would include experiencing pouring with both wet and dry mediums; it would include pouring into different size holes on multiple levels; it would include pouring with things that were made for pouring and things that were not; and most of all it would include the time and materials for children to created their own self-directed pouring operations.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The art of pouring

I have been thinking about children in the act of pouring at the sensory table.  On the face of it, pouring would seem to be a simple operation.  But is it?  To look at that question, I reviewed the types of pouring that children did at an apparatus I called Pool noodles and water fall. I taped pool noodles to a crate and inserted funnels on the top end of each noodle.
On the opposite side, I taped a toner deposit container to a curved ramp made from an old rocking chair to create the water fall.

In the picture below, the child poured water from a small metal measuring cup into a clear plastic bottle.  To complete the actual pouring operation, she wrapped her hand around the handle of the measuring cup and twisted her wrist to pour the water into the bottle.
This was the type of elementary pouring that happens at the water table when there is no apparatus.

In the picture below, the child also transferred water from one container to another.  However, first she wedged one watering can through a hole in the bottom of the planter tray.  Using a second watering can, she tried to pour water from spout to spout.
Besides being quite inventive, the child transformed the operation into one that was more exacting.  The child used two hands, one to steady the watering can and one to lift and pour.  It was also exacting because it required more precise eye-to-hand coordination.

In the video below, the child added a different challenge to his pouring.  He stepped up onto a stool and reached as high as he could to pour water into the highest funnel of the apparatus.

High pour from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

For this child, the act of pouring became more physical.  Not only did he have to reach with his full extension to pour, but he also had to balance his whole body as he leaned up and over to reach the black funnel.

In the video below, the child added another different challenge to pouring.  She poured water from two different containers at the same time.  To do that, she had to pour water from the metal measuring cup in her left hand using an overhand action.  To pour water from the green plastic cup in her right hand, however, she had to use an underhand motion.

Double pour from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The other interesting challenge for this child was that she was pouring water into holes on a vertical axis.  To get most of the water in the holes required a different type of dexterity and coordination than pouring water down into a container or funnel.

In the picture below, the child added yet another different challenge to pouring.   For her, the act of pouring became one of power.  She lifted a five gallon pail to pour the water into the planter tray.
It took strength to lift the bucket up and rest it on the lip of tray so she could control the rate of water flowing from the bucket.

Is pouring so simple?  I do not think so.  In the book The Hand,  Frank R. Wilson states the following: "To a large extent, we remain ignorant of the fine details of muscular control of rapid hand and finger movement.  There are thirty-nine muscles located in the forearm and hand..." p. 358Wilson was not referencing pouring per se, but muscular control is at the heart of pouring, too. Not only that, but when we start to compile the number of muscles, tendons and ligaments in the upper arm, the shoulder and the rest of the body, I would think our ignorance grows exponentially.

Taken from the examples above, some of  the physical skills needed to pour are flexion, eye-to hand coordination, arm and body extension, balance, dexterity, power, and coordination.  Could pouring be a foundational skill for writing considering that pouring facilitates practice in gripping objects and completing complex hand movements?  If so, we would do well to offer children more and varied opportunities to pour, including precision pouring and power pouring on multiple levels to promote extension and balance so they master the art of pouring.  

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Under the table

I have built many apparatus using big boxes.  A few years back, I built an apparatus by partially embedding the sensory table into a large box.  The idea was to create a place in which the children could discover multiple and unique spaces for their explorations.

I cut quite a few large holes in the box so children would have access to the table and the material in the table.

Since there were so many holes, the children could work inside the box while being outside the box (the child below in the light blue top in the foreground).
There was even room to crawl into the box next to the table.  On the far side in the picture above, two children actually climbed into the box.  In other words, they played in the embedded table from inside the box in which the table was embedded.  And there is no better way to explore space than to inhabit it with your whole body.

I thought I knew the spaces I created for this apparatus.  As it turned out, the children showed me a space that was completely oblivious to me.  Namely, the space under the table that was embedded in box.

They showed me this was a place to explore in two ways.  The first was that it was a container just like the table for holding the materials.  The second way was that it was a place to physically occupy.
In the picture above, the child has extended her leg under the table so her pink stocking foot is visible under the table.

One child went so far as to crawl underneath table.   I am not sure why, but his body was getting to know the "under" space.

When I saw the children exploring this "under-the-table space," I remembered thinking that I should build more apparatus that utilized the space under the table.  Even though I made a mental note to use that space in another apparatus, I never did.

Last September, I was reminded again of that the space under the table held possibilities for exploration and play.  In one of the sessions I did in Australia last year, one group attempted to make use of that space under the table.
It all started spontaneously with a touch of serendipity.  As the group was working on an apparatus to fit in the table, they nonchalantly placed a narrow yellow pipe under the table.  They thought they were going to incorporate it into their apparatus they were building inside the table.  

One of the participants grabbed a spool and decided to see if she could roll it down the pipe to the other end.
It became a little game between two of the participants to see if they could role the spool on the pipe from end to end under the table.  It was not easy, but their "play" was utilizing a space they had just discovered.
In the end, the pipe and the space underneath the table were not included in the final apparatus.
The yellow pipe was still under the table near the end of their building process, but by now it was just one component that could not be incorporated into the apparatus.

I actually got pretty excited watching this group play in that space under the table.  It reminded me of the children inhabiting that space so many years ago.    It makes not difference that they did not use the space under the table in their final apparatus.  What matters was that these adults were truly playing, playing with possibilities.  What matters was that they followed a serendipitous tangent that helped them discover the space under the table.  What matters was their research odyssey to understand the space and materials with which they worked.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Discovering affordances

I am reading the book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee.  On pages 106 and 107, they talk about the theory of affordances by James Jerome Gibson.  "Affordances make possible and facilitate certain actions. So, handles afford grasping. Stairs afford stepping. Knobs afford turning. Doors afford passage. Hammers afford smashing."(p. 106).  Since children do not have so many preconceived notions about objects, children apprehend affordances differently than adults. 

By way of example, I want to look at one child's play at an apparatus that I call the large wooden tray. It is a wide tray that connects two sensory tables.  It acts as a counter on which the children can carry out their operations.  It is set up at a slight angle so that any water that spills onto the tray is directed into the blue table.   
A quick look at the tray and all the objects on the tray raises lots of possibilities for affordances such as pourability and fillability.

Instead of trying to name all those easily perceived affordances---that would be the adult thing to do---let me show you some astounding affordances that one child discovers as she plays with a funnel. 

In the video below, the child uses a funnel is an unconventional way.  She turns it upside down and proceeds to push it into the bowl of purple water and pull it out of the bowl of purple water like a plunger.  In other words, she discovers that the funnel has plungeability.

funnel plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In addition, she also discovers that force with which she plunges can vary depending on how she holds the plunger.  Grabbing the funnel around the neck instead of the bowl affords more splashability.

The plungeability quickly changes when the child nonchalantly places her index finger over the funnel's hole. 

Creating a vacuum from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

By placing her finger over the hole, she creates a vacuum.  Now when she tries to take the funnel out of the bowl, the pressure differential creates resistance so it is not as easy to pull the funnel out of the bowl.  A careful look shows that the resistance is due to the newly created funnel-vacuum pulling water up out of the bowl.   And when the child tries to push the funnel back into the water, she again experiences resistance.  That resistance is also due to the newly created funnel-vacuum displacing water in the bowl under the funnel.  As she pushes the funnel down into the water, the funnel wants to drift making it harder to push the funnel to the bottom of the bowl.  With her actions, she discovers that the funnel has vacuum-createability and all that entails.

This all happened in the span of 15 seconds.  Below is the original video showing the transformations in affordances in real time.

Creating a vacuum with a funnel from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What is so fascinating about this episode is that it is not planned.  Rather it emerges spontaneously.

It just so happens that this child is not done finding new affordances for the funnel.  In the video below, she has figured out a new affordance for this upside down funnel: she can use it to transport water from her bowl into another container.   

Funnel scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As adults, we already know the affordances of a funnel, right?   It is used right side up as a tool to transfer a liquid from one container to another with a minimal amount of spillage. Oh, but look at the multiple and unlikely affordances this child has discovered for a funnel, an upside down funnel.  In her hands, it has plungeabiltiy, splashability, vacuum-createability, scoopability and ???

For adults, the process of perceiving affordances is often static.  Through our vast experience with living in the world, we already have preconceived notions of the affordances for any given object.  However, for children, perceiving affordances is dynamic.  In children's hands, many unlikely affordances emerge in the process of discovery that is both spontaneous and unpredictable.