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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, February 20, 2016

Cardboard dividers

The cardboard divider apparatus is one of the first apparatuses I built in my classroom 26 years ago.  Back then, I had a very small table and I wanted to divide up the space to cut down on squabbles over shovels and pails and such.  I first wrote about this apparatus more than five years ago.
I have subsequently written about it in one form or another six other times.  The most comprehensive summary was a post called ruminations on the cardboard divider.  I have written about this apparatus so much because it is simple to build and, at the same time, it creates a myriad of possibilities for the children to explore and author unique play experiences.

This year, I used a box from a large flat screen TV.  The box was big, which allowed me to cut one cardboard panel that was long enough to divide my two sensory tables lengthwise down the middle. 
I cut windows in the divider and then duct taped around them to lessen the prospect for paper cuts.  Someone I work with thought I had purposefully designed the windows to look cockeyed.  She liked the visual effect of the "crooked" windows.  The truth be told, I rarely measure; I just cut.  And the same goes for taping, too.

In addition to the one long panel, I had enough cardboard from the same box to make two flat cardboard panels for inserts to create spaces in the blue sensory table.  Here is a view from above.  It is easier to see how the inserted panels form the spaces across the width of the table.  These spaces are like little work cubicles.  And working in cubicles is a life skill, right?

Since I have written about this apparatus several times before,  I want to expound on only one type of social play that emerged this year that I have not seen before.  I don't know exactly what to call it but it involves ordering and making and paying for food through the windows.   What follows are three videos that illustrate this play.

In the first video, the girl looks through the window and asks the boy if he would like some food or something to eat.  The boy waits a long two seconds before he equivocally shakes his head "no."

Would you like to order something to eat? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I do not know why the boy doesn't accept the other child's invitation to play.  But that happens all the time in children's play.  And everybody just moves on to the next encounter.

In the second video, a boy is working feverishly filling his container.  He has already filled it to overflowing several times but there seems to be some urgency in his action.  When he is satisfied with his filling, he leans over the table and calls through the window to the other side: "More food."  I think he is letting someone know on the other side he has more food.  He moves to the adjacent cubicle and as he does he broadcasts that he needs an order.  As he moves to that adjacent space, the child in that space lets him in.  One more time he says he needs an order.  He proceeds to dump his container through the window saying: "More mac and cheese."

Mac and cheese from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In this video even though one child is orchestrating the action, all the children are playing along.

In the third video, a mother is in the room playing with her daughter at the cardboard divider.  The daughter hands her corn through the window.  Her mother says she will pay her five dollars.  Mom reaches through the window and counts out five on her daughter's palm.

Five dollars from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Without the cardboard divider, this sublime play episode with the mother and her daughter would never have happened.

Through observing children over the years at this apparatus, I know that children initiate new social interactions each and every time it is introduced.  What was different this time that spawned the "food through the window" play?  This play was widespread between other play partners and in other classes.  Why this play this year?  What experiences do the different children have with ordering or delivering food through windows?  What experiences in their life inform this play that make it meaningful to them?   

I have learned that I cannot always predict the scenarios that emerge in children's play.  And I cannot always know why those scenarios appear.  I suppose if I really wanted to know what to expect from children then I would have to teach differently.  But then I would just be fooling myself into thinking I can predict and know. 


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