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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.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Last week I wrote about an apparatus I called the Sand Cascade.  The idea was to create a chute with steps so when children poured the sand down the chute it would look like a bouncing waterfall.

The sand flowed down the chute, but it was not the awe-inspiring cascade I envisioned.  It was more like a bumpy chute.  Because of that, I said it was a failure.

Silly me.  I was only looking at it from my perspective.  When I began to look over the documentation of how the children actually used the apparatus, I had to rethink the failure part. Let's look at just two different features of the apparatus to see what I mean.

The first feature is the cascade chute.  Children poured sand down the chute using different cups, scoops and other implements.
The children experienced different rates of flow depending on how much they poured and how fast they poured.  And depending on which side of the chute they poured, the flow or lack thereof created a puzzling contrast.

Children also used their hands to explore.  If the sand did not flow down the chute and got stuck on a step, children used their hands to sweep it down.

They also explored the chute with the small rocks that were part of the provisioning for this apparatus.
What was unique about this exploration was that rocks could either get stuck on a step or they could tumble down the chute.  Did they only tumble down one side of the chute?  Did they always get stuck on one side of the chute?  How did the weight, size and shape of the rocks affect how they tumbled?

The second feature to consider is the hole at the top of the apparatus.  This feature was especially unique because it was not obvious where the sand went when a child poured it in the hole.
For many of the children, that was not important.  What was important was the physical challenge of stretching and balancing to pour the sand in the top hole.

For some children, detecting what happened to something put in the top hole was a latent discovery.  Because they were able to follow the sound of the rocks through the box, the children in the video clip below figured out where the rocks exited the box.

Disappearing rocks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There are a couple of things to note from this video.  The first was the joy experienced by the children, especially the one on the left, of discovering exactly where the rocks went.  Maybe the joy was heightened a bit because it was necessary for their eyes and ears to work together to follow the tumbling rocks through the box and out the bottom.  There was also an additional aural component to this apparatus: the big rectangular box amplified the sound of the rocks tumbling down the long, narrow box.  That component briefly fooled the child on the right when he heard the other child's rock tumble down and he looked inside the big rectangular box for it.  (Did you catch that when you saw the video?  I didn't see it the first time either.  It took me several passes and slowing the video down before I saw the child look for the rock in the big rectangular box.)

One child even figured out a way to modify that top hole.  He propped a minnow net over the hole and then poured sand through it.
This slight modification regulated the flow of sand into the hole by slowing it down.  As a consequence, the child saw the sand slowly drain through the minnow net from the top.  Contrast that with the view most children experienced when they poured sand into the minnow net.
By the way, this child said that this was what helicopters have and they pour it over fire.  That is a very nice representation of something he has heard about or seen in a video.

That was just two features of the apparatus and just a few of the different explorations by the children.  How many more features and how many more explorations are there in this one apparatus?

As you can see, there is no way I can call this a failure.  I forgot that children will approach the apparatus like any found object that they find intriguing.  They will enter into a unique dialogue with the apparatus, a dialogue based on a whole set of experiences and competencies, a dialogue informed by their interactions with the physical materials.   I just forgot that once I have built something, it is no longer mine.  It then belongs to the children to make it their own.


  1. Experiments never fail - they just don't turn out as we predict. That's a key part of learning.

    Oh and I love the cascading chute! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I like what you said about experiments never fail. I will have to remember that. One of the issues with this apparatus was that it took longer to build than usual. And I had this grand vision of how it would work. Maybe I invested too much ego in the project so I lost sight of the fact that my idea becomes something else in the eyes of the children.