About Me

My photo
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, 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.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The ledge-part one

I write almost exclusively about play and exploration at the sand and water table.  However, for this post, I will change things up a bit.  I would like to write about how children appropriated a rather unique space in the classroom.

My classroom was an old elementary classroom with a bank of windows for one wall.  Underneath the widows was a 12-14" ledge.  The ledge was designed to accommodate a blower unit and extra classroom shelves.

I purposely decided not to put anything on the ledge because I wanted the children to be able to see out.  Before long, though, the children appropriated the ledge for their play.  

The empty ledge became an invitation for the children to line up the animals or to drive the little cars.  This ledge was an intriguing space because it formed a long horizontal plane on which to play.  In addition, the space was at shoulder level so they could play standing up.


I still wanted the children, especially the toddlers, to be able to look out the window so I added a set of homemade green steps in front of the blower unit.

It was not long before the children appropriated the steps for their play.  It made a great platform to test their jumping skills or to make a home for a family.  Again, the steps offered an intriguing space with multiple levels. 

By providing the steps to look out the window, I also provided easy access to the ledge itself.
I must admit that I was not fully cognizant of this invitation.  However, once I realized what I had done, I had to make a decision: Was it OK for the children to climb on the ledge?  I decided, yes, it was OK.  

As a consequence, the ledge morphed into a place to build with the colored blocks in the window sill or to have a tea party with a friend.

The ledge became a place to hangout and read or to sit during our group story and song time.

One of the big surprises for the children and myself was blower that was part of the ledge.  Though it was the heating unit in the winter and would blow hot at times, most of the time it circulated the air in the room.  The children did learn to be careful when it was hot, but otherwise they found the blower offered plenty of opportunity for impromptu scientific experiments.  In the video below, the child took a scarf from the house area and placed it over the blower to see what would happen.

Here was another experiment some children tried.  They stood over the blower in their dress up clothes to feel and watch their dresses flutter in the air.

Once I made that decision that it was OK for the children to work, stand and play on the ledge, it became one of the most important play spaces in my classroom.   They experimented and explored the space; they conquered the space.  This became their space that they appropriated in ways that I could never have imagined. 

What decision would you have made?  In any case, this is just the beginning of how they appropriated the ledge for play.  Wait until you see part two.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


I have been thinking a lot about traces lately.  I started out by thinking about the types of traces children leave in the classroom.  Of course since this is a blog about sand and water tables, I went looking for traces there.  I specifically looked at traces at the sand table that was filled with Jurassic Sand because I had a vivid memory of at least two examples of traces children had left.

In the first example, a child sprinkled sand onto the table covering with holes apparatus and used her fingers to make make lines and squiggles.   

In the second example, a child traced the outline of her hand in the sand that had spilled on the floor.

Both of these examples are static traces that the children left in the classroom as they played.  That got me wondering what were the invisible traces the children conjured up that led to these fleeting impressions?  And then how did these old traces combine with these just-produced traces?  Is this what constitutes learning?

What about experiences that do not leave any physical trace?  Are there still traces of their experiences that are stored in the body?  

I started looking for pictures that captured the flow of children's experiences, again with the Jurassic Sand.  I found a wide variety of images of children attending to how the sand flowed through their hands and various implements.  These were moments in time that they created.

A child slowly released sand in a stream from her right hand onto the back of her left hand.

A child used the scoop with a small hole in the bottom to create a fine stream she distributed back into the table.  (If you look at the stream coming from the bottom of the scoop, you can see the stream is bent because she was moving the scoop over the table.  The picture itself captured a slightly more complex trace of movement.

A child used a cup to create a stream of sand into a funnel which was then transformed by a funnel into another stream of sand.

A child scooped sand into a minnow net which dispersed the sand into a much broader stream. 

I am sure the children do not carry the full memory of these experiences with the sand.  But what are the traces of their experiences that became physical, mental and emotional memories from which to draw upon as they continue to encounter and make sense of the world around them? 

Some of the trace memories necessarily revolve around a growing familiarity of physical properties of the materials they employed in their operations.  Could there also have been trace memories of agency?  Will the children remember they were given license to feed their curiosity, to ask questions, to experiment?  What role do emotional trace memories such as mastery and joy play in helping children inhabit and navigate the world?

P.S. As I edited the draft of my post, I realized that I chose the first two images because I had two specific memories of children creating trace images.  I doubt that they remembered the traces they created, but why did I?  Interestingly, I used those traces to feed my curiosity about how children make sense of the world.  As I fed that curiosity, my inquiry on traces morphed into a different question about traces.  It is easy to grasp a static trace image, but is it possible to find more dynamic trace images of children's operations?  That eventually got me wondering about trace memories that are not just physical and mental, but also emotional.   I will leave you with that to make sense of it as you will.  Hopefully I have left enough traces.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Horizontal tubes bridging two sensory tables

I have a proposition that I want to see if it makes sense.  The proposition is: Children's actions are never random and neither are they planned.  Though this is not a direct quote from Movement and Experimentation in Young Children's Learning by Liselott Mariett Olsson, it comes from discussions I have had with others about the book.

To see if the proposition makes sense, I have chosen three video clips taken with a child who worked with the apparatus pictured below.  More precisely, he explored moving things through the two cardboard tubes that connected two sensory tables filled with wood fuel pellets. 

In the first video clip, he used a homemade plunger---a jar lid attached to the end of a short wooden dowel---to move sticks through one of the tubes.  It is an operation that seemed methodical as he moved the sticks through each section of the tube before pushing them completely out of the tube.

Plunger and sticks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the second video, the child switched the tubes on which he was working.  Instead of moving sticks through the tube, he moved pellets through the tube.  And instead of using only one plunger, he used two.  In addition, he added an extra challenge by working in such a way as to lean over to the other side of the apparatus.

Two plungers and pellets from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

To get through each section of the tube, he had to push with some force because the diameter of the jar lid matched the diameter of the tube itself.  Because he had to use force, the lead plunger popped out of each section.

In the third video, the child again moved pellets through the tube featured above.  Two aspects of his operation, however, were different.  First, he moved to the side closest the tube for easier access.  Second, he reversed the plunging process by pulling the plunger back through the tube.

Reverse plunging pellets from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because he reversed the operation, he both pushed the lid part of the plunger and pulled its handle through each of the sections.  That evened out the forces so he had more control over how the plunger traveled through each section.

If I look back at the proposition, his actions were not random.  The orientation of the apparatus invited him to move the sticks and pellets horizontally through the cardboard tubes.   The plungers were another invitation especially since their diameters matched so closely to the diameters of the cardboard tubes.  There were necessarily other factors that are not so visible that contributed to the non-randomness of this child's actions.  One factor could have been this child's penchant to experiment and explore this type of apparatus.  Yet another factor could have been that this child saw another child use the plungers to move things through the tubes.

Someone might think that if something is not random, it is most likely planned.  However, I do not think this child's actions were planned.  Planning has the connotation of being linear along with the idea of causation.  In the three videos, I would be hard pressed to say why he moved sticks one time and pellets the other two times.  And did using one plunger naturally lead to using two plungers?  At what point did he decide to reverse plunge?

I am left with the question: If children's actions are not random, nor are they planned, then what is left?


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Moon Sand operations

Just because an apparatus is simple does not mean that the operations that emerge in the children's play and exploration are simple.  A couple of years back, I set up a large wooden tray with low sides on the end of the sensory table.  For that particular apparatus, I used Moon Sand.
The tray was placed on a small, flat table in such a way that the tray hung over one end of the blue sensory table.  Basically children had two large open surfaces on which to work on two different levels.  The lower level required the children to bend over and into the table while the higher level allowed them to stand and work on a counter-type level.

One way children spawned complexity around this fairly simple apparatus was to do one thing in a variety of ways.  Using their hands and assortment of implements, the children found different ways to flatten out the Moon Sand.

In the video below, the child used only his hands to make the Moon Sand flat in the jello mold. 

Moon sand in a jello mold from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
In the second video, a child pounded the sand with a large white scoop to make it flat in the tray. 

Pounding the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the third video, a child found a clear plastic tube that she used to roll the sand so it was flat.  And she did it in such a way as to make a smooth transition from the edge of the tray to the bottom of the tray.

Rolling the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the fourth video, a child used the bottom of a stainless steel bowl to flatten the sand.  For his operation, the sand was so smooth that it took on a sheen.

Burnishing the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the last video, a child appropriated the dust pan for flattening the sand.  He even pushed down on the pan part with his right hand to make sure it was good and flat.

Flattening the moon sand with a dust pan from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Each of these children flattened the Moon Sand in their own way.  Big deal, right?  I do think it is a big deal because I appreciate the inherent beauty in the way each child found to do something ordinary: flatten the sand.  For the child who just used his hands, it was almost like a mediation so all the sand was just so.  For the child who pounded, it was a meditation of a different sort with bumpity-bumptiy rhythm.  For the child with the clear plastic tube, it was building a transitional incline with the sand.  For the child with the steel bowl, it was burnishing the sand.  For the child with the dust pan, it was finding a new use for a found tool.  Taken as a whole, their operations of flattening the Moon Sand took on a complexity that could easily be overlooked. 

These were just five examples of one operation the children created around flattening the sand.  There were surely many more.  And for each one, the children fabricated their own purpose.  The children essentially transformed the ordinary into extraordinary.  And for that, I am in awe.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Simple operations?

I have always been curious about the operations children employ as they explore and experiment with a new apparatus at the sensory table.   Below is an apparatus I built over seven years ago.  I called it Boxes in boxes - bridge.
This construction was unique because it was not built inside the table, but next to the table.  It consisted of a iMac box embedded in a furniture box.  The iMac box formed the "bridge" between the table and the furniture box.  Children poured corn into the holes that collected on the bottom of both boxes.  They also used the holes to reach in to collect the corn.  In other words, the holes also offered multiple entry points for their operations.

There were even holes inside the iMac box that connected it to the furniture box.  As seen from the top hole of the iMac box, one hole was bigger for pouring and one was more like a slit to sweep the corn from the bottom of the iMac box into the furniture box.

Many of the operations that the children used in their play and explorations of this apparatus looked simple at first glance.  One child used a simple operation to fill his measuring cup.  He reached inside the iMac box to scrape corn into his measuring cup.  In the video below he repeats the operation three times and the third time, he reaches as far as he can into the box to collect his corn.

Collecting the corn with his hand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did he collect his corn that way?  It would have been easier to scoop it directly from the sensory table.  That is especially true when he had to contort his body to reach as far into the box as possible.  Though the operation looked as if he was simply filling a container, there was a lot more going on than just scraping corn into a measuring cup.  For instance, there was also some good trunk flexion and trunk extension as he bent over to reach the corn.  Is that why he did it that way?

Another child filled a black bowl and then poured the corn into one of the top holes of the apparatus.  He collected corn from the table in his bowl.  He filled it as full as he could.  Since he did not want to spill, his whole operation was done slowly and carefully.  Even when he poured the corn from his bowl into the box, he made an effort to create a measured flow instead of just dumping it in the hole.

Pouring the corn from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Though this was essentially a simple filling and pouring operation, again, there was a lot more going on.  For instance, to complete his task, he had to use a good deal of balance and eye-to-hand coordination.  I would go so far as to say that there was a zen-like quality to his operation, especially as he focused on the corn from his bowl hitting the bottom of the box.   Why did his filling and pouring take such a form?

Compare that pouring operation to the child who filled a big bucket and poured it rapidly down one of the holes on top of the apparatus.
Again, this is a simple pouring operation, but for this child, the operation involved a little more muscle strength and control.  He also had to exhibit more perseverance to fill the bigger container.  Why did he dump when the other poured methodically?

As adults, we sometimes think we know what children are experiencing.  Our experiences have imprinted our thought processes in such a way as to control what factors we see as salient when interpreting children's actions.  At first glance, we only see children filling containers and pouring them out.  We do not see the complexity and nuances of their operations.  Their actions are much richer, maybe even richer than we can know.  Why bend over to reach into a box to fill your container with corn?  Why fill your bowl as full as possible to empty it carefully into a hole at the top of the apparatus?  Why expend so much energy filling a big bucket just to dump it into a hole? 

Without a deep curiosity about what children do and why they do it, we never see past the simple operations of filling and pouring.  Without that deep curiosity, we often forget to ask questions that help us understand where these operations originate and why they take different forms.  I am not saying that we can know, but without an effort to take the children's perspective, we are limited in understanding what the children are truly experiencing. 

Why does this child lie on the floor over the stool to look in the hole of the apparatus?  What does she see?  What does she hear?  What does she smell?  What does she feel physically and emotionally?