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.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


This past November, I did a presentation on sand and water tables at the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Orlando.  Whenever I do a big presentation like this, I update my material.  Although I am doing the presenting, the children are the ones who tell the story of discovery, learning and joy at the sensory table through the pictures and videos in the PowerPoint presentation.  

When I revisit my presentation, I also think about what will be the main points.  This year, I came away thinking a lot about Axiom #1 in the right hand column of this blog: Children need to transport whatever is in the table out of the table.  I contend that this is an overarching process that determines the nature of everything the children do at the sensory table---maybe even throughout the classroom.  I wondered if there could be a setup at the table for which the sole purpose was transporting.  What would happen if, instead of a fancy apparatus, I set out lots of different containers with loose parts at the sensory table?

When I got back to my classroom in December, that is what I did.
On one end of the blue table, I hung a red trough that I bought at a feed store several years ago.  Across the middle of the table, I taped a homemade wooden tray that spanned the width of the table.  The second, smaller sensory table occupied the other end of the blue table.  It is hard to see, but I placed a big round washtub in the smaller sensory table.  Next to  the table, I set out a five gallon pail and a big plastic tub.  Here is another view in which you can see the white washtub in the small sensory table.

I put many the loose parts for the transporting operations of the children on the shelves next to the wall in the sensory area.  I call it my collection of hodgepodge and doohickies.  By the way, the provisions do change depending on what is in the table.

On either side of the shelves, I set out more containers.  On the left there was a blue tray and a kitchen compost bin.  On the right there was a red triangular oil pan, white waste baskets with cardboard tubes and a five gallon pail with sticks.  

Next to the cabinets was another black waste basket and the orange five gallon pail with rocks.

This was a transporter's paradise, right?  Yes it was, but the first children who approached the sensory table only used the containers right next to the table and the implements and containers off the shelf.  Why didn't they incorporate all the other things like the sticks, rocks and various containers that were against the wall and the cabinet?  I was stunned.  I at least expected them to dump the rocks or the sticks into the table.  Since they did not seem to bother with those extra elements, I incorporated them in the setup the following class.
I moved the pails with the rocks and the sticks next to the table.  I put one of white waste baskets in the small table, a cardboard tube in the blue table and the triangular pan on top of the wooden tray.

That new setup definitely encouraged the children to use more of the containers and the natural elements.   For example, a couple of children filled a cardboard tube with rocks and then sand creating a fleeting sculpture.

Another child created a "waterfall" with sand when she poured sand over a porous piece of bark.  Was this another piece of fleeting art?

As I watched and listened to the children, I was struck by how much this setup encouraged role play around cooking.

Cooking from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In a way, the play the children authored reminded me of pictures I have seen of children cooking at mud kitchens.  

I am now wondering what would happen if I eliminate the table completely.  The shelves would stay, but what if I just put a plethora of buckets and tubs directly on the mats?  Stay tuned.

For all of you who attended my presentation in Orlando, I owe you a belated thank you.  There are so many presentations to go to in any given time slot, that I am honored you chose mine.  Since I did not know how many people would attend, I grossly underestimated the number of handouts.  For those of you who wrote down your email address and have not gotten the handout from me, I could not decipher your email.  If you did not get the handout and still want it, email me at tpbedard@msn.com or you can find it on the conference website.  Thank you again.  Tom


  1. Hello Tom

    What an interesting blog post. Provided you stick to your elements, axioms and corollary points I think you will still find a high level of engagement.

    As someone who works outside and doesn't have ready access to cardboard boxes and a table, I'm finding your RH column very helpful to the extent I would argue that your table is a decoy - a distraction! It is is a container and a level. You can substitute other things.

    Perhaps I'm being too provocational here but I'd love to see how you get on.

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Juliet. Yes that is way too provocational. But the great thing about provocations is that they get you thinking.

      I see the table as more than a container. It is my canvas on which to create. (Everyone needs a creative outlet.) What I try to create is something interesting for the children to find and make their own. What would happen if a child is walking in the woods and finds an interesting hole in a log? Naturally, she would want to examine it, probe it, maybe fill it with things like sticks or dirt. I see the apparatus as things children find to experiment with in this one area of the classroom much like a child coming upon something interesting in the woods. Has my analogy convinced you to come inside?

      Thanks for the provocation.

      All the best