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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.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Two years ago, I wrote a post on the Quest for Physical Challenges. Since that time, I often find myself appreciating the children's actions in terms of the physical challenges they formulate for themselves.  My appreciation has grown to the extent that it is time to add a new axiom to the axioms in the right-hand column of this blog.  The axiom states: Children will pursue their own unique physical challenges when working on, at or next to an apparatus.

 It can be as simple as reaching into the bottom of a bucket to test a child's ability to extend her reach downward.

That is also true when the child has to work very hard to reach what she can't even see, but only feel.
That, by the way, takes a certain amount of agility because she has to use her fingertips to find the pink cup before she can even pick it up.  And the only way to pick it up begins with using her fingertips ever so gingerly.

Not only will they try to reach down as far as they can, they will also reach up as high as they can.

Maximum reach from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This child in the video reaches as high as she possibly can.  It is so high she cannot even see where she is depositing the pellets.  Someone in OT would marvel at this child's trunk extension.

Besides stretching and agility, the children will also work on their flexibility.  Look at the range of motion this child is exhibiting with his arm, wrist and hand as he dumps pellets into the pail through two different holes in the box.
I am also wondering if this child in his contortions is also crossing his midline not once, but twice.

When testing their flexibility, that does not just pertain to body parts, but it includes the whole body, too.
My guess is that this child could have easily reached the bottom of the tub without bending his body to fit in the tub.  But where is the challenge in that?

Children will also create opportunitites for novel ways to accurately control their movements.
Besides accuracy in her actions, she has added a bit of flexibility to the physical challenge. Standing in the box, she pops her head and one arm out of a small hole in the top of the box. That position requires her to stand sideways as she reaches to pour the pellets from the scoop. That position also requires her to hold the scoop in her palm and then push it up so the pellets end up in the tube.

Children will often engage in physical challenges that test their coordination.  It takes a certain amount of coordination to simply pour water into a cup, but it is more of a challenge when a child pours and catches water at different points on the apparatus.
The child is coordinating his actions of his right hand so the water goes from the ladle into the syringe.  (The water then goes into the pipe that exits the tray.)  At the same time, he coordinates the actions of his left hand so he catches the water exiting the pipe.  When he does it well, it looks like one coordinated action.

Some of the physical challenges children seek will be fine motor.  The child pictured below is trying very hard to put a plastic worm inside a clear plastic tube.  
The task is difficult because the opening in the tube is small and the plastic worm is flaccid.

Children will always find ways to test their balance.  That often occurs even when they are trying to carry out a different operation.
This child is trying to get something out of one of the tubes. She could get at the tube more easily if she had her feet on the floor and reached under the tube she is draped over.  But this way, she can also work on her core strength.

There is yet another physical challenge children will create for themselves: they like to test their ability to apply force.  The child in the following video tries to push the homemade plunger as far as he can into the pail of feed corn.

He meets a lot of resistance.  What better way to test his own strength?

His actions take an interesting twist.  He climbs into the pail of corn to see how far he could push his feet down into the pail.  

I do not think he reaches the bottom, but with a strain in his voice, you can still hear him say: "I can't move."  He goes from testing his upper body strength to his leg strength.

Often times there will be a social aspect to these physical challenges.  That is especially true when space is limited.  The two children pictured below are in box that makes it necessary for them to negotiate physical space.
Though it may look like these two boys are wrestling, they are simply trying to coordinate their separate moves.  Did I say physical challenges?

These are just a few of the physical challenges that I have found looking over my archives. As you can see, the children seek out many different types of challenges.  Those challenges are manifested at the intersection of the features of the apparatus, the materials, the loose parts and the children's own physical capacities and needs.  What is important is that those physical challenges are freely chosen by the children to meet their physical needs.  Some are developmental for sure, but then others are totally idiosyncratic to each child.

Axiom #9: Children will pursue their own unique physical challenges when working on, at or next to an apparatus.

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