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, September 28, 2014

A NEW CHANNEL BOARD

Back in October 2012, I wrote a post about an apparatus I call the Channel Board.  
The Channel Board is a flat board (18" wide and 36" long) divided into three channels.  2"x 4" pieces of wood are screwed to the board through the bottom to form the channels.  Each channel is rigged with a different surface so when the children pour water down, they see how water flows over different surfaces.

One of the big issues with this apparatus was that it was very heavy and hard to keep securely taped down.  This past week I remade this apparatus using lighter materials.   I took a sheet of black plastic and used screws to attach 1"x 2" pre-finished molding to form the channels.

To give the plastic sheet extra strength so it would not bow in the middle, I made a frame out of 3/4" PVC pipe.  I first screwed the strips of wood from the back onto the sheet of black plastic.

 I then screwed the frame onto the black plastic sheet.

The first apparatus had bubble wrap, plastic drainage pipe and rubber matting.  I wanted to try something else this time around.  In one end channel, I screwed in several DRICORE squares used for leveling floors. They are plastic squares that measure 5"x 5" with little nubs all in a row.  
I actually bought these squares several years ago thinking I would use them someday for an apparatus at the sensory table.  And finally---voila!

In the other end channel, I attached rubber matting.  I used carpet transition pieces on both ends to hold it down and in place.  The rubber matting is purposefully attached with the ribs perpendicular to the channel walls so there is a ripple effect to the water flow.  
I used rubbing matting before, but this time I glued pieces of pipe underneath so that there would be bumps for this version of the apparatus.  You get a better view of the bumps under the rubber mat with a side view.
This view also shows how a planter tray is used to create the incline for the apparatus.  

I did not purposefully leave the middle channel clear.  I glued rocks to the middle channel with liquid nails.  You cannot see the rocks because one of the first undertakings of the children was to see if they could remove the rocks.  As is very apparent, they were successful.

Even though I was disappointed to see the rocks removed, it actually led to a lot of good experimentation in the middle channel.  For instance, the children discovered there was a dramatic effect to the water rushing down the middle channel, especially compared to the water flowing down the  two end channels.  Watch as sheets of water rush down the center channel.


Did you see at the end the child placing the car in the channel?  He releases it just as he pours the water with his other hand?  Is he trying to make the car go faster by purposefully placing it in the stream of water?  There had to be a certain amount of thrill to see the water zoom down the channel.  Is that feeling intensified when a car is added to the flow?

Contrast that episode with an episode of a child rolling a motorcycle down the channel with the rubber matting and the bumps.


Herein lies the beauty of this apparatus.  It provides children with a chance to experiment with flow over different surfaces.  The flow can be with water, cars or other objects.   Not only are there endless possibilities for the children to experiment, but there are endless possibilities for the builder to experiment and be creative with equipping the channels with different surfaces. 

What would you like to see in the channels?  Now go try it.







Saturday, September 20, 2014

A NEW PUMP-FAIL

I am continually on the look out for a water pumps I can use inside at the water table.  I did find a hand held pump that I set out with the Duplo Ramp.  That pump worked well and provided children with many opportunities to explore how the pump worked and how to direct the water coming out of the pump.

I found a new pump this past weekend at Sears.  It is a siphon pump.  This pump takes water from the tub at the end of the table and pumps it back into the table through the attached hose.
The idea was for the children to be able to reverse transport water from the tub.  As often happens, children will transport so much of the water from the table into the tub that there is too little left in the water table to sustain play.  By reverse transporting, the water flows both ways and play is more sustainable.

Did the pump help with reverse transporting?  Not very well.

In the first place, the pump was tall.  It is three feet high off the ground so for many of the children it was head high or higher.  Even though I would encourage children to stand on the stool, it was still high.
Pictured above is a five-year-old trying to work the pump.  Even on the stool, the handle is head high.  Can you see him straining?  That was a second issue: the pump was too hard for the children to operate.  Actually the down stroke was doable.  It was the up stroke that was hard and it was the one pulling the water up into the pump and out the hose.  I thought this might be a good opportunity for the children to work together trying to pull the handle up, but it was just too hard even when a couple of children worked together.

In addition, there were a couple of other problems that I had to work through.  One was how to tape the pump securely so the it would not move when the children tried to pump.  I re-taped the pump every day for five days until I came up with a tape job that was secure.  I taped the pump to the tray and to the table and to the tub.
The second problem was the hose that carried the water out of the pump.  At first, I just let it loose because I wanted the children to be able to direct the water as it came out of the pump. The children did play with the hose, but it often got dropped onto the floor.  The result was a lot of water on the floor, actually too much water on the floor.  I tried many tape jobs on the hose, too, and finally settled on one that attached it to the table and to the support tray.

Why in the world would I write a post about something that did not work?

The reason is to give you a little insight into how I approach the building process.  For me it is not a once-and-done process.  I begin with an idea and I play with it in my head.  As I begin to build, I mess around* with the materials to see what works.  When the apparatus is completed, I have my own ideas what an apparatus will do.  At this point, I give it over to the children so they can mess around with it.  From my observations of the children working with the apparatus, I mess around with it anew.   I hope you can see where I am going with this.  My initial messing around gives way to their messing around which in turn provides me with new ideas for more messing around---and so the cycle continues.

In the case of the pump, I would say the whole process was not very successful.  That does not mean, I will totally give up on the idea of reverse transporting.  I will just have to do some more messing around.

P.S. I have to thank my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, for the idea for this post.  We talk daily and she helps me process what is going on with my practice.  She pointed out that many teachers have a set idea about what is to happen in the classroom.  Not only that, their practice is then built upon doing everything in their power to make that happen.  She sees my work as one of continued experimentation and play based on children's exploration and play as they interface with the invitations I set up in the classroom.   In other words, my practice looks a lot like the children's play.  For me that is high praise.

*I am adapting the term "messing around" from the writings of David Hawkins in which he talks about the way children learn through "messing about" with rich and varied materials.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

DUPLO RAMP AND A PUMP

A Duplo Ramp is an apparatus that takes Duplo wall boards and attaches them to a frame.  The frame is supported and propped up on an incline by a wooden tray that spans the width of the table.

In the most recent setup, I added a planter tray inside the wooden tray to create a greater incline.

You can see how I made this apparatus here.  You can see how children set about exploring this apparatus here.

This year I added a hand pump to be used with the apparatus.  Before I show you how the children used the hand pump, I want to show you two other explorations the children came up with that are tangential to the play on the Duplo Ramp itself.  The first exploration has to do with the wooden tray and the second one has to do with a clear plastic tube, a loose part provisioned for play with this apparatus.

The view in the picture below is from underneath the Duplo Ramp.  What you see is a child who has discovered that there are small streams of water coming out of holes in the wooden tray.  In the foreground you can see one of the streams. The boy is on the other side of the table catching water in his bottle from the other stream.  (Without the holes, the water would overflow onto the floor because the tray extends beyond the table on each side.)
All the action is on top.  How did this child find these little streams?  It is one thing to see them, but it is another thing to incorporate them into play.  And you can see it is not so easy because the space he has to work in is small and cramped.  Children are masterful at finding these small spaces and features and adept at incorporating them in their operations.

In the second exploration, a child shows me what he has discovered.  He has figured out that if he drops a Duplo figure in the bottom of an open-ended clear tube, the figure rises to the top of the tube as the tube fills with water.  


Did you note the purpose is his actions?  He purposefully held the tube on a vertical keeping the bottom of the tube in the water so the Duplo figure stays in the tube.  He tells me: "So he [the Duplo figure] is like this."  That is his experimental set up.  Then he gradually submerges the tube so the water fills the tube from the bottom up carrying the Duplo figure along with it.  He states quite plainly: "The water went up." The experiment is complete and some new knowledge constructed.

I have been looking for a pump to use in the water table for years.  I found a hand pump in an unclaimed freight store.  I set it out as a loose part for the first time with the Duplo Ramp.  It was extremely inviting. For the most part, it took two people to operate.  One would do the pumping and one would direct where the water would go.  Watch.


How much more exciting can filling a friend's bottle be?   

The pump, in conjunction with the Duplo Ramp, fostered a lot of complex play scenarios.  One of the more intriguing scenarios unfolded as children experimented with directing the water that was being pumped.  Children did everything from fill various containers to directing water back down the Duplo Ramp. One thing they did not do is squirt each other.  In hindsight, I am surprised. Maybe there were enough constructive ways to direct the water that they did not think of squirting their friends.  (I highly doubt that, but it will have to do until a better theory emerges.)

This pump worked well, but at times the tubes would detach from the pump.  That created an opportunity for the children to "fix" it.  Watch the video to see how the children figure out that the pump is not working and how to make it work again.


As you saw at the end of the video, they were quite happy they fixed it and were able to squirt the water again.  

Whenever a new contraption is made available there is a lot of potential for conflict.  The pump is no exception.  For some reason, though, there was virtually no conflict over who got to use the pump.  The two videos you just saw are indicative of the children's interactions with each other and the pump.  In the last video, did you hear the child ask the child with the pump when was he going to get tired?  The reason he asked was because he was waiting for his turn.  Though the child responded that he was not going to get tired, he would eventually give the other boy a turn on the pump.

As a teacher, I do not use the term share and rarely regulate taking of turns. Rather, I see the children as generous and kind and willingly taking turns of their own accord.  How do they do that? One of the things I do do as a teacher is encourage the child who wants to use something to ask to use it when the child who has it is done. If a child knows another child is waiting, he will almost always pass it on when he decides he is done.  In this case, both children feel a sense of agency. More importantly, the child with the toy is given a chance to be generous and the child who wants the toy learns that by waiting, he can get it with little or no conflict.  

Oh, if we could only learn from the children.








Saturday, September 6, 2014

LISTENING, AGAIN

Last year at this time I wrote a couple of posts about the pedagogy of listening from a chapter by the same name by Carlina Rinaldi in the Reggio book The Hundred Languages of Children, Third Edition.  As I start the school year, I am revisiting both the posts and the book.   And since I am part of a book study group looking at this exact chapter in The Hundred Languages of Children, I am not alone in learning some of the nuances of listening in the pedagogy of listening.

In both posts last year, one on being a good listener and one on important aspects of listening,  I came away with a lot of questions about what does it really mean to listen.  When I look over those questions, they are still relevant and have not been answered yet.  I can summarize the questions thus: Who do I choose to listen to? Why do I choose to listen? When do I choose to listen? and How do I choose to listen?

One aspect of listening is more clear to me after much discussion and thought.  Namely, to listen, I have to be quiet myself.  I found an old video from the classroom that I think is a good example of me not listening.  Three children, all young three's, are at the water table and one of them has figured out how to make the water stop and go in a fountain apparatus.  Watch and listen :-)

Plugging the Fountain from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There was really no reason for me to tell Finn to put his finger in the hole again because he was going to do it anyway.  Neither did I have to keep encouraging him to stop the water coming out of the fountain.  At one point Finn yells across the table to Caleb for him to put his finger in the hole. He does not really want Caleb to do it, but is announcing that he is going to do it, but he is using my words.  And again, I did not need to ask him if he could make it go again. I was not listening. I was trying to direct him when I really did not need to.  My voice in this video is just a distraction. If you take my voice out, one can really listen and observe what the children are doing.

In this particular video my encouragement and questions did not change the children's exploration. I can imagine, though, that my questions, narration and encouragement can affect the trajectory of the children's play and exploration.  Is that so bad?  I do not know, but my constant interjections may send a subtle message that I doubt some of the children's competencies.

In the classroom, why do I always feel like I need to ask a question or narrate or interpret or encourage?  There may be a time for that, but I am beginning to think that I need to be more quiet to truly be able to listen.


p.s. I recently came across a TED talk by Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist from Scotland. She says her sole purpose in life is to teach people how to listen. She says to do that, we first need to listen to ourselves.  She goes on to say that we need to be resonating chambers. And that we must stop the judgements because they get in the way of our listening.  Listening is contextual, fluid and full of uncertainty.  (That sounds exactly like an early childhood classroom.)