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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 2, 2015


Last week in a post entitled Water Beads 1, I talked about how the water beads ended up all over the floor.  Whenever there is a huge mess at the sensory table, my first inclination is not to find fault with the children.  They are doing what they do best: explore and test.  Rather, my first inclination is to look for design flaws in the apparatus or the setup.  As I looked at the setup and how the children were using it, I figured out that the incline on the PVC half-pipe was too steep. That caused the water beads to race down the pipe and bounce all over the place.
Since it was not the children's fault and since I did not want to stop their rich play, I created a temporary cardboard patch to minimize the number of water beads bouncing onto the floor.

After class, I found a solution that was both simple and satisfactory: I removed the top of the Oobleck Platform so only the frame was left.  The children lost a second platform for their operations, but I was able to lower the incline for the PVC half-pipe and add an additional half-pipe.
This change made for a more open apparatus.  Children could pour and drop beads up, over, around and through the apparatus.

Did it make a difference in the number of water beads on the floor?  Yes it did.  Mind you, there were still plenty bouncing around, but not nearly as many as with the original setup?

An interesting question now becomes: Did it change the children's play and exploration?  Did removing the platform change the play of the children?  There was now one less platform for them to work on.  And if it changed the play, how did it change?  Was there some play that did not change?

Here are two videos showing basically the same operation: filling the tube with water beads.  The first video is with the black sheet of plastic on the frame and the second is with the sheet of plastic off.   See if there is a difference in operations.

Can in the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Water bead water fall from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There does seem to be a few differences.  In the first video with the plastic sheet over the tube, the tube does not get so full.  Also in the first video, the child is surprised at the juice container appearing in the tube. In the second video, the whole operation seemed to more intentional. Someone held the juice container so it blocked the water beads so the tube could fill up completely.  The child holding the second container to catch the beads waited patiently for the beads to be let loose and for them to fill and eventually overfill his container.  The reactions in the second video were also more boisterous from the children and the adults, too.

What brought about the change?  Was it because the children were building up experiences with the apparatus and the materials?  Was it because of the openness of the apparatus seen in the second video that allowed the children to monitor the whole process of filling up the tube and watching it empty?

There is one set of operations that did not change substantively: collecting the beads.  The video below shows the open setup without the plastic sheet.  You will see children collecting the water beads in a strainer.  There are so many hands in the video it is hard to tell who is just feeling the beads and who is adding to the beads in the strainer.  You can see that another set of hands pours beads down the clear tube for another child to collect in a copper pot.

Water bead collecting from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This operation did not change substantively between the two setups.  There are pictures and movie clips at both setups of the children collecting the beads in all sorts of containers.   However, it probably is important to have at least one platform above the water for the children to more easily fill containers without having to hold and pour at the same time.

The absence of conflict in either setup during the operation of collecting beads is intriguing to say the least.  Is that because there were plenty of water beads?  Maybe.  In the last video, though, you did see multiple children working in the same container, the strainer.  Some had immersed their hands in the beads and some were in the process of adding still more beads to the strainer. No one questioned or challenged the other's intentions.  Why?  How did they arrive at this mutual dance?

And that is just one segment of the video.  The second segment shows other children cooperating in a mutual endeavor to pour and catch the water beads down the clear plastic tube.  Is that because there is a fascinating way to transport the beads from one point of the apparatus to another, from one level to another?  Does the mutuality of the transporting---pouring and catching---foster the positive interchange?

There are many and varied factors that could lead to so little conflict at the table.  Some are inherent in the questions raised above; some are unknown because I have not found the right questions.  Some may be so big or complicated that it would be difficult to tease out the factors. For instance, maybe we have been able as a group to create a culture of constructive negotiation, accommodation and cooperation.  If so, what are the factors, human and material, that have contributed to such a culture?  Where to begin?

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