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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


In October 2011, I did a post on building a Duplo Board Ramp.  I built a wood base with sides to hold Lego Wall Boards.  (If  you want to know more about how the apparatus was built, check out the original post.)

One of the decisions with the first design was: What should be its incline?  If the ramp is too steep, the water rushes down the ramp too quickly for the children to notice how the water is disbursed by the Duplo nubs.  With less of an incline, it is harder for the children to scoop the water from the table because they have to reach under the overhanging ramp.

This year I was able to get the incline I wanted without the overhang by adding an additional small table between my blue table and the tub into which the water empties.
The additional table serves a second purpose, too.  The ramp is not water tight so it collects the water that drips through the ramp.   Also, children tend to transport water from the sensory table to the tub and the additional table serves as another catch basin.

I have been including clear plastic tubes as loose parts this year with a lot of the apparatus.  With this apparatus, they worked especially well with the Duplo Window/Door Blocks.

There was a lot of experimenting with the tubes.  One of the more unique results was a little water fountain.   When you watch the following, you can hear the child's mother say: "Oh my goodness. Beautiful."

The three-year-old does not really understand the fluid dynamics he sets in motion (I don't either), but he does more than just pour water down the tube.  He creates a fountain.

He does, however, understand what it means to share an activity with a friend.  In the following clip, a friend has joined him.  He pours the water down the tube and she feels the water flow through her fingers as she holds the other end of the tube.  Watch.

Why is a little episode worth noting?  Because that joint engagement is essential for children to develop the ability to track the intentions of the other, a very important social skill.  You can clearly see it in the clip when each child references what the other is doing.  

With this apparatus, I decided to play myself.  With the help of some of the children, I built a wall with the Duplos.  The reason was to see if it was possible to damn the water. Here is the result.
The Duplo wall leaked, but we were able to pour water fast enough so it did reach the top of the wall and even began to flow over the wall.

That provocation led to a flurry of building and some serious water dumping.  I did not do the building this time, but I helped lift the 5-gllon bucket to dump the water.  As the clip starts, several children are pouring water into the bucket as I am lifting it with one hand.  (My other hand is holding the camera.  The strain of lifting makes the first couple seconds pretty jumpy.)  As I lift it up to the edge of the incline, one of the children helps tip it so the water pours out and gushes down the ramp to meet the Duplo structure at the other end.  On the other end, one of the children keeps pronouncing for all to here: "No way, no way!"  Watch.

This joint engagement is more complex.  Instead of all the children working on a common goal, one group is building and the opposing group is working frenetically to see if they can knock the building down with a flood of water.  That means that instead of reading harmonious intentions, these two groups are actually reading antagonistic intentions.  The beauty of this is that is all done in play.  The play provides a safe way for the children to experience those feelings and learn to cope with them.  By the way, the play never escalated to hostility.  A bit of bedlam, yes; hostility, no.

In May I did a post on children's quest for physical challenges in relation to another apparatus. Well, when a person starts looking for things in one context, it often "spills" over into another. Watch and see what I mean.

That was quite a physical feat.  This child begins to lift his submerged container out of the water. He realizes it is too full, so he makes a minor adjustment by dumping some of the water out.  It is truly minor because the container is still very full.  He lifts it completely up and proceeds to walk around the table to the other side.  There are two things to note at this point: 1) the container is not made for carrying water so it flexes as he walks requiring him to make constant adjustments in holding the container and 2) his walking motion is transferred to the water in the container again requiring him to make constant adjustments in his walking motion so not too much sloshes out onto the floor.  He does surprising well on both counts.   Once he reaches the end of the board incline, he lifts the container up and pours.  That is no easy task either because it is heavy and he is lifting it up above his shoulders to pour.  Not all of the water goes down the ramp, but an impressive amount does.  He pauses a few seconds to watch the water flow down the ramp and then returns to the bottom of the ramp to catch some of the water he has just poured down the ramp.  

There is such energy and focus in the pictures and videos.  But are they learning?  And what are they learning?  For sure they are not being told what and how to think.  Their play is self-directed driven by a quest to put their mind around how the physical and social and emotional world works. Maybe what is important is not what they are learning, but how they are learning.  

P.S. I will be presenting six sessions at the annual CECA conference in Kansas City August 7 and 8.  If you are in the area, you may want to check out the conference (www.CECAkc.org).  If you are going to the conference, please stop by to chat. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013


There are some apparatus I install every year at the sensory table.  The Clothesline is one of them.
The apparatus is for the children to wash babies and to wash and hang clothes.  The clothesline is set up over the table so when the clothes drip, the water drips back into the table.

Here is the original setup.
You can find the original post here

Last year I added an additional clothesline with pulleys so the third clothesline can move.
You can find last year's post here

To accomodate the moving clothesline, I added another smaller water table on the end of the blue table.  You can see it in the first picture at the top of this post.  With this setup, though, there was one problem to surmount.  The smaller table had a slant for which to compensate if the second poll could be attached to make it stable and stand straight up.  The solution was to add a unit block and wedge from the block area and tape them together and then tape them both to the table. In that way, the poll was secured at two points and stood perpendicular to the floor.  See below.

I often relate finding solutions for problems that arise during construction of an apparatus with the problems the children pose for themselves when exploring the apparatus.  The solution arises while playing with the elements.  Sometimes it doesn't work and then there needs to be more playing.  (To let you in on a little secret---sometimes it just doesn't work.  But there was still joy in playing and sometimes a new idea surfaces to try later.)

In my previous two posts, I wrote about how to construct the clothesline and some of the operations the children performed using the clothesline, clothespins, and washing the babies. Here let me write about a couple of operations that have nothing to do with washing the babies or washing and hanging the clothes. Rather, let me write about a couple of purely sensory operations the children found to their liking this year.

First, there is rolling the soap around in your hands.  It is slippery and it makes suds; a simple pleasure that is often overlooked. Why does this child choose to roll the soap in his hand until it either slips out or makes the suds?

I appreciate when the children start to think outside the table.  Not only has the child pictured below decided that there was more to wash than the clothes and the babies, but he expands his washing of the table to the legs outside the table.

The child starts out washing the little pedestal in one corner of the table (left) and then moves down to the legs of the table (right).  What motivates this child to wash the table and its legs?

This last video may be considered washing the blanket, but after watching it several times, I think it is something different.  The child seems to be exploring what happens with a wet blanket in the water.  How does it feel to pat the blanket in the water?  Watch.

Patting the blanket from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why and how did this child reach the point at which he decided to gently pat the blanket as it floated in the water?  (On a trip to a beach, do you remember the feeling of a wet blanket in the water?  Is that what this child is experiencing?)

Children are always making choices at the sensory table in terms of what to do with the elements provided.  I fool myself if I only look for the "whiz-bang" moments.  Rather, I must remember to look closely at even the simplest and mundane operations.  Why?  Because I cannot presume to know the child unless I observe him making meaningful choices for himself no matter how simple or mundane.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


If you look at the right-hand column of this blog, you will see ORIENTATION broken down into three components: vertical, horizontal, and incline.  Now those orientations are not exclusive, but can be combined in any number of ways. Take, for instance, the apparatus below which incorporates all three.

This apparatus started out as Vertical Tubes in a Box.  
If you want to see how the children explore the vertical tubes, check out this post.

Last year, I added a horizontal tube and a inclined tube.
If you want to get an idea of how the children use the horizontal tubes, check out this post.

This year, I added a second cardboard tube running horizontally through the box.  That allowed the support for a second inclined tube so there are tubes on both sides of the apparatus.  Instead of cardboard tubes, I used clear plastic tubes.  The tubes are inclined in opposite directions so sand can be transferred back and forth.  They are also set at a different pitch so the sand travels down each at a different rate.

In this post, let me show you some of the exploration with the tube inclines.  Just to be clear, you do not need an apparatus to explore the sand in the table.  There is always a lot going on that has nothing to do with the apparatus and everything to do with the materials provided.

Let's see, though, how the apparatus affords so much more in terms of exploration.  There are added physical challenges.

Sometimes those physical challenges require cooperation and coordination.  Watch as these two boys try to pour a full bowl of sand down one of the tubes.
1-2-3 Lift! from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When you saw the video, what was your reaction when the boys dropped the heavy bowl?  Was that too dangerous to allow?  When I watched these boys, I was amazed at the amount of coordination, cooperation, and minute adjustments it took to complete their self-appointed task. Did you notice in the last frame of the video the orange sand in the boy's hair?

Sometimes the apparatus allows for some very imaginative play.  In the next video, the sand sliding down the tube represents a melting train.
Melting train from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Earlier in the week, some of the children were imaging the sand flowing down the tube as hot lava. That is easy for an adult to comprehend.  But a melting train?  Only in a child's mind---and I can appreciate that.

Sometimes the apparatus allows for the unique combination of the various elements.  This boy has figured out a method of pouring the sand down the tube without using his hands.  How inventive is that?

An apparatus creates an inviting and unique space for exploration.  Whether an apparatus is vertical, horizontal, on an incline, or any combination of the three, I trust the children to make it their own and create new and novel operations. By relying on their agency, I do not need to manage their behavior.  I can observe and when I observe, I see that what they are doing is not inconsequential.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013


This past week was the last week of school for our program until September.  It is not unusual for teachers to get end-of-the-school-year gifts.   Often times it is easy to see that the parent has chosen the gift for the child to give.

Before I get to this year's IDEAL GIFT, I have to show you what a colleague also gave me at the end of the school year.  She gave me a set of 10 cardboard tubes.  Three are pictured below.
They came in two sizes: 1) 90" (2.286 m) long with a 3.25" (8.255 cm) diameter hole and 2) 105" (2.667 m) long with a 4.25" (10.795 cm) diameter hole.  These are great cardboard tubes because they are long and strong.  Where did she get them?  Her neighbor is a professional fisherman and the fishing rods are shipped in these tubes.  He wanted to get rid of them so she thought of me. So if you know someone who fishes professionally, ask him or her for the cardboard tubes the rods come in.

The IDEAL GIFT this year looks a lot like those tubes.  It is pictured below.
Is it the same?  It is also a strong cardboard tube, but much smaller.  It is 18" (45.72 cm) long with a 1.25" (3.175 cm) diameter hole.  A child who has been in my class for three years (I have a mixed-age class), brought this in on the last day of school.  She said it was from her easel so I am assuming it held paper that unrolled onto the easel.  

What she said next and why it is the IDEAL GIFT is this:  "I think you can use this in your sensory table."  I was blown away.  Here was a 5-year-old child who understood what makes me tick and felt the urge to be generous.  In short, it was a tailor-made gift just for me.  I often have adults bring me things they think I can use in my sensory table, but this is the first time a child has tendered an offering.   

I, of course, accepted it graciously.  My mind began to race immediately on how to use it.  I began to think of orientations---vertical, horizontal, incline.  Maybe I will embed it in one of those larger tubes; I have embedded boxes in boxes but not tubes in tubes.  TBD.

Now I ask you: Did she or did she not give me the IDEAL GIFT?

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Last week I wrote about the Evolution of a Worm Slide.  That was my play.  Now it is the children's turn to show you their play.

The first thing they do is examine the worms.  By the way, these are not real worms; they are plastic worms used for fishing.  Some children will have not have anything to do with the critters. Most of the children do engage in various forms of inquiry, though. Watch how this boy investigates the worms.

Touching the worms from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This child actually spent a long time at the table studying the feel and the properties of the worms. When he came back the next day, this is how he felt about the worms.

Then there are the worms and the tubes together.  Since the worms are so flaccid, it takes a lot of concentration to get even one into the tubes that have narrower openings.

Sometimes the worm does not want to cooperative so it takes a lot of perseverance to deposit the worm in a narrow pipe.  Watch.

The boy tries three times, but the worm does not go in.  The video does not show it, but he eventually gets it in.  An adult might get frustrated, but a child creates his own challenge and, with a lot a intricate fine motor work and perseverance, finishes the job.

Then there are the worms in the plastic chute (florescent cover).  That has a wider opening so the children can and do pile the worms.  In addition, the chute does not have a very steep incline.  As a consequence, there can be a logjam of worms in the chute.  How do you get them moving again?  You begin by gathering a good quantity of water to pour into the chute.  Watch how it works.

The amount of cooperation between the children is stunning.  First, the two boys work together to fill the bottle and then the older boy pours the water and the girl with the net catches all the worms.  Beside the cooperation, there was persistence on the boys' part and patience on the girl's part for the whole operation to be successful.  

Sometimes it is trying to figure out where the worm comes out and where does it go.

Sometimes there is just the worms and containers.  One of the preferred operations is to fill a bottle with  worms and water. 
The thing about the worms is that they are so squiggly so it takes a fair amount of fine motor work to get them in the bottle.  

Sometimes it has nothing at all to do with the worms.  Sometimes it is just about pouring and catching the water coming out of the tubes and chute.  The thing is, there are as many ways of catching the water as materials on hand and the various inclinations of the children.

Sometimes it is the smallest container

Sometimes it is catching the drops with a bottle.

 And sometimes it is catching the rushing water with a pail.

This is just a small sample of the children's play at the Worm Slide.  It is as varied as the children who conceive it.  The funny thing is this play looks like serious work that helps develop persistence, concentration, investigation, cooperation, communication, self-rgulation and a host of other important life skills.  Does play drive the learning or are they one and the same?