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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I did a presentation on sand and water tables at the Minnesota state early childhood conference a little over a week ago.  One of the questions that arose was: How do I regulate play at the sensory table?  My answer can be found on a post titled SELF-REGULATION AT THE SENSORY TABLE.

That question was followed up by another, related question:  How do I deal with conflicts at the table?  I said---a little too flippantly---that there are no conflicts at the sensory table.  Of course, that is not true, so what do I really do?

The first thing I do is set up the environment.  That means building the apparatus. What that does is create complex and intriguing spaces that invite many types of play and exploration.  That allows the children to be agents in their most important endeavor: transporting.  (See axiom #1 in the right-hand column.)  And since they can do it constructively in a variety of ways, they negotiate and accomodate with others with little or no prompts.  Take a look at the video below showing children interacting in a complex and intriguing space and pay special attention to the three boys at the beginning of the video who, without conflict, are essentially operating in the same space.

PLAYING IN THE BOXES from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Here is an example of three children taking from the same tray almost at the same time with no conflict. The spaces---and levels, in this instance---allow them to take from the same tray and transport to another space within the apparatus.

If I have not convinced you to this point, maybe a comment from a teacher who attended the presentation I did at the Wisconsin early childhood conference in the fall of 2011 may sway you.

I was fortunate enough to see your presentation at the WECA conference last fall and you have completely changed my approach to sensory tables! My sensory table (in a small space) now incorporates an elevated bin, a floor bin, and a five gallon bucket. I've started building outside of the table with boxes, tubes, and copious amounts of duct tape. It has drastically improved my classroom! I no longer limit the number of students playing there and it always works great with very little arguing and lots of teamwork. I will be taking the idea of branches since they have been having so much fun building with plastic tubes!

The second thing I do is make sure I am not misinterpreting instances of physical or verbal contact between children as conflict.  I wait, observe, and try to read the children's faces and body language. Watch the video below to see what I mean.  Children are transferring pellets from a section of the table partitioned by Cardboard Dividers.  The boy in orange will give the boy in stripes a couple of body shoves.  

I watched and waited during this little incident to see if it would escalate.  It never did.  In the process, these children were learning about negotiating space, which is not always done verbally, but can also happen physically.  I do not subscribe to the rule I often hear in early childhood classrooms that children need to keep their  hands and bodies to themselves.  At this age, children are all about hand and body contact.   They learn to regulate their contact in real time in real contexts.  If I try to micro-manage all the physical contact that happens in the room, the children would not learn and I would drive myself crazy.

The third thing I do is to encourage and recognize Act of Kindness.  How is that done?  When I see a child needs help, I will ask another child if he can help him.   In the video below, I have asked the bigger child to help the younger child get the spoon out of the table.  He readily complies and even says: "Here you go."  The other child does not have much language, but his nonverbal reaction sure says thank you.  

Also, when I see a child being generous to another child, I make sure I let her know that what she did was very kind.  In the picture below, one child gives another child a water bead the second child has been coveting.  I made sure to tell the giver that it was really kind of her to find---and then to give---the coveted water bead the to other child.

With those three things, 95% of contact and interaction around the table is a non-starter in terms of conflict. 

So what about the other 5%?  That is Part II for next week's post.


  1. Awesome post Tom - you're so right that children use their body far more to communicate at this very young age. And that we need to take that minute to see what their physical contact with each other means. Always giving them the opportunity to solve an issue. Thanks

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    2. Thanks Maureen. The longer I work with children, the more I see that they are capable of negotiation and accommodation with others. It is by no means a free-for-all, but less adult intervention when they are constructively working things out.