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.

Friday, September 18, 2020

New presentation

I have not written a blogpost in awhile because I have been working on a new keynote presentation for the 9th anuual conference of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota. One of the aspects I appreciate about the work of Reggio Emilia is their persistent interest in how children think. In my presentation, I would like us to consider how children think using their whole bodies as they explore homemade constructions at the sensory table. I will use fewer apparatus so I can illustrate how complex and varied children's iquiries are as they research and experiment with each apparatus. Below is the flyer for the event. Early bird registration ends tomorrow, Saturday, September 19th. If this piques your interest, here is the link to register:https://www.mnreggio.org/event-3863889
In the process of developing this presentation---and it is still being developed---I have ended up with more questions than certainties. Here are just of couple of my questions: What is the role of spontaneity in children's explorations? What makes an environment rich as opposed to busy? How are practice and theory related to children's and their actions. How do chidren make meaning as they interact with others and the materials? The questions inspired me and I hope they will inspire you.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Cardboard dividers: a study in proprioception

Proprioception is an inherent sense that tells us our bodies' position and motion in space.  For instance, when you drive a car, you use your proprioceptive sense to know where the brake and accelerator pedals are without having to look at them as you move your foot from one to the other.    

Enclosures with holes offer children the opportunity to nourish and sharpen their developing sense of proprioception.  To that end, I offer an apparatus from a few years back that I call: cardboard divider. The apparatus partitions the sensory table into seven alcoves.  Alcoves 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 are triangles.  Alcove 4 is a square. The children physically occupy the triangle alcoves.  However, the only way children access alcove 4 is through windows.

Just the simple acts of scooping and pouring require that the child know how to grip the handle; how to tilt the hand so the scoop can dig into the pellets; and how to twist the wrist to empty the scoop.   A child relies on his proprioceptive sense to complete these actions without having to think about where her hand is or what it is doing.
 

When a child scoops and pours through a barrier, there is an added layer of complexity to how his proprioceptive sense needs to adjust.  Below, the child uses his right hand to hold the window flap open so he can reach through the window to dump the pellets from his scoop. 
The child can see he holds the window open but he also feels that he is holding it open.  The child also sees that he is reaching through the window but he also feels that his arm is extending with the right trajectory allowing his hand to reach through the window.

In the picture below, the child with the big measuring cup is pouring pellets through the same window with a flap.  However, he is not reaching through the window with his hand.  Instead, he balances the measuring cup on the bottom of the window to tip the measuring cup so the pellets drop into the adjoining alcove. 
In the picture, he is focusing on the pellets flowing from the measuring cup.  He does not have to look at his fingers, hand, wrist, arm, elbow and shoulder even though he needs to know internally what each of those body parts are doing to complete his operation,

In the picture below, the child is scooping pellets into his small plastic measuring cup from the inner/square alcove.  Even though he seems to be looking at what his hand is doing, the proprioceptive feedback he gets from his hand and arm acting in that space enable his to complete his operation.
His left hand also plays a part in the completion of his operation.  Somehow he knows that by grabbing the top of the partition, he remains balanced as he digs into the pellets.

In the picture below, the child retrieves a pink plastic cup from the square alcove.  Since she cannot see where she is reaching, she has to rely on her proprioceptive sense in the joints and tendons in her fingers to find, grasp and lift the cup up and out of the alcove.
This operation demonstrates how proprioception is needed for very fine motor operations, too.

In fact, proprioception is needed in all motor operations.  The child pictured below is clearly engaged in a large motor operation to access the pellets in the square alcove.  (Silly me, I thought the only way to access that space was through the windows!) 
The child surely getting lots of internal sensory feedback so he knows where his body is in that space as he hangs on one of the panels of the cardboard divider.

In an article in TheScientist: Exploring Life, Inspiring Innovation entitled Proprioception: The Sense Within,  the authors write that proprioception "... not only enables us to control the movements we make, but provides us with our sense of self, the awareness of our body and its movements as we navigate through our surroundings."

Proprioception is extremely important.  Can you imagine what a nightmare it would be if we had to take our eyes off the road to look for the brake pedal every time we needed to slow down or stop the car!  Children unconsciously work on their sense of proprioception as they interact with their environment.  I contend that we can help children develop and sharpen their sense of proprioception by offering children interesting and intriguing spaces in which they can challenge what their body can do.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The art of filling

Back in March, I wrote a couple of blog posts on the  art of pouring: post 1 and post 2. Well if there is an art to pouring, there must be an art to filling, too.  If so, what would that look like?  How do children display the art of filling?

To examine that proposition, I went back to two setups from 2016.  For both of the setups, I removed the sensory table from the room.  For the first setup, I set out tubs and pails and shelves with all kinds of containers for pouring and filling.    

For the second setup, which came a week later, I removed some of the tubs but added more containers, scoops, chutes and tubes.
                   
In the video below, a child carried out one of the most common operations for filling: pouring pellets into a  a bottle.  He placed the bottle on the floor and poured pellets from a scoop.  However, the scoop was wider than the mouth of the bottle so most of pellets missed the bottle and fell on the floor.


Pouring pellets 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At first glance, that did not look too artful.  I still think there was a bit of panache in his operation.  As he tipped the scoop to pour the pellets, he used his left hand to hold back the pellets until he had positioned the scoop at just the right angle so he was ready to pour.  He could have slowly removed his left hand to better direct the pellets, but instead he quickly removed his hand and the pellets spilled out as if the damn broke holding them back.  Did he think that by letting the pellets fall all at once the bottle would fill faster or more would go in the bottle?

Another child filled that same bottle differently. First, he used a smaller measuring cup so he could direct his pour more accurately.  Second, he placed the bottle in a pan(on the left) to catch pellets that did not go in the bottle. He also took it one step further by placing the pan in a wash tub(on the right). In the process, his filling operation encompassed multiple containers at the same time.


In the video below, the children filled a white trash bin.  That took time and persistence. The child kneeling next to the trash bin used her scoop to gently even out the top layer of pellets. As she did that, another child added even more pellets to the trash can.  The child kneeling immediately used her hand and scoop to again even out the top layer.


Evening out to the top from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Was leveling out the pellets an integral operation for filling a container?  How else would the children have known what constituted full in their operation.?

Somehow filling containers seemed natural.  However, the children also found ways to fill objects that were open on both ends.  In the video below, two children filled two different tubes, both of which were open on both ends.  To do that, they stuck one end of each of their tubes in the tub of pellets which basically created two narrow vertical containers.


Filling two different kinds of tubes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the tubes were so different, so were the operations needed to fill each tube.  The child on the left used his hands to slowly and methodically direct pellets into a narrow white tube.  The children on the right, by contrast, were able to fill the clear plastic tube faster because they could use scoops to fill their tube.  Interestingly, once the clear plastic tube was full, one child lifted it out of the tub emptying it immediately. No problem because the child holding the tube jammed it back into the tub of pellets and declared that they would repeat the operation one more time.

One child even found a way to fill a tube horizontally that was open on both ends.  To do that, the child used his left hand to push the tube into the tub.  Once it was basically buried horizontally in the tub, he dug his right hand into the pellets to find the other end of the tube.  Once his hands encased both ends of the tube, he lifted it out of the tub to take stock of his accomplishment.


Filling the tube horizontally from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, he turned to me to ask if I wanted to see it come out.  Without waiting for an answer, he pulled his left hand off the end of the tube and all the pellets flooded out.  Judging from his chuckle, he seemed to take great enjoyment out of filling and emptying the tube. 

In the video below, two children went about filling yet another kind of object, one that was open on both ends and on the top.  They placed a half PVC pipe on the floor and commenced to fill it. 


Filling a PVC half pipe from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I think this pushed the boundary of filling.  How did the children come to see this as a object to be filled? At what point could the half pipe be considered full?

Taking into the consideration the examples in the post, the children pushed the envelope of what could be filled and how it could be filled.  I could say they created a dynamic collage of filling operations.  Since art encompasses the possible, the children use the art of filling as one way to make meaning of their world.  One meaning for sure has to do with understanding volume using a variety of materials. But like the essence of art, their meaning making through the art of filling had elements that were also imponderable.




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.