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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 14, 2016

What do spaces have to do with Harry Potter?

For the past four weeks I have been writing about aspects of play at an installation called "big boxes around the table."  Catchy title, no? The aspect of play for this post is the connections between play and the space in which that play is realized.
For this installation, the sensory table was encased in five large boxes.  In essence the apparatus created unique spaces that invited children to explore.  The title may not be catchy, but the invitations for play were quite fetching.  

The children played in those spaces by inhabiting them and giving them life.  Some of that play was physical.
The picture above captured a child in two boxes at the same time.  He was standing with his feet and legs in one box and his head and torso in another box.  If you look closely, you can see the child's head and hand in the window of the one box.  The space was so cramped that only one arm and hand could fit around the child's head at a time.

Some of the play was solitary, like the child who found himself alone scooping pellets after everyone else left.

However, the majority of play must be categorized as social.  There were so many examples of social interactions, but let me give you just two.  The first actually took place next to the setup.  We often forget about the spaces created around an apparatus; children do not.  In the picture below, the children have settled into the space between the boxes and the cabinets to do their cooking.  They have taken the pellets from the table and the containers and utensils from the white shelves.  In this case, too, the floor was an important factor in determining the space. 
Could this play have happened without the installation?  Does the installation have any role in sustaining this all-consuming social enterprise?   The children's bodies and their containers contributed to defining the space in which they were working.  Maybe the actualization of the children defining that space was more crucial to the social engagement than the original space created by just the apparatus.

Even though the setup from the example above may not have been the critical piece for the social interaction, that same setup did play an important role in the following scenario.  In the video, one child was the witch collecting "potions" from the other two children.

Gathering potions from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The setup in this example would seem to be a main character stimulating this scenario.  There was place up high to gather the potions.  Was it a castle?  The witch came down from the perch to collect the potions from her helpers working in spaces that felt like nooks and crannies.  After gathering the potions, she returned to her place in the sky.

There was more to this scenario.  After she gathered her potions, she came down from her perch to give instructions to her helpers.

Witches instructions from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I do not know what she said to them, but the cackle of the witch was unmistakable.  She did, in fact, tell me early on that she was a witch collecting potions.

When I showed her mother this video, she was able to give me more context to this play.  She had recently been reading Harry Potter to her daughter and her daughter was smitten.  So here she was, making some sense of  a story her mother had read to her.  She could not do it alone, so she enlisted the help of others.  The others probably had no idea about the scenario but were perfectly willing to play along because she carried the plot of the story.  Not only that, she did it with such passion.

What makes these social engagements so powerful is that they are authored by the children without adult interference.  They are authored by the children using a complex set of factors, some of which are the spaces available to them.  Sometimes those spaces play a lesser role; children can play cooking in any number of spaces.  It is true, it would take a different form, but it is still cooking.  Other times the space is critical.  A Harry Potter play needs a castle with perches and nooks and crannies to fabricate a good rendition of the magical tale. 


  1. Just discovered your blog this week. Tried out a couple of ideas on a smaller scale than yours in room for 15-28 month olds, based in uk. Fantastic!
    Child not keen on messy play loved dripping cornflour through suspended basket with holes, spent 40 minutes pouring, reaching, stretching and catching the drips.
    Paint and suds brilliant. Again children engaged and staying at activity over an hour in 4 cases. At one point 8 children using activity.
    I read a few posts about large muscle area in your room, is there anywhere I can read more or see more of your set ups.
    Sorry for long post but we all got so much out of these activities. Thankyou.

    1. There was a time in my career I had a b - 5 room and I still did sensory play so I am glad to see someone using the ideas with younger ages. I have not written much about my large muscle area. I have lots of documentation, though, and will think about sharing, maybe in a companion blog. Stay tuned.