About Me

My photo
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, December 10, 2016

Idiosyncrasies

One of the perks of retirement is that I have more time for reading.  Between helping raise a family and building a career as an early childhood educator, I rarely found the time to read books in the field.  With more time, I am reading more in the field of early education than at any time in my life.  I come at these new reading endeavors from an interesting perspective.  I use the readings to reflect on my past practice.  That in turn gives the process a new purpose.  Instead of reading to improve my practice, I am now reading to find new meaning in that past practice.  I am no longer looking for better ways to do such things as numeracy or literacy.  Instead, I am using the readings to try to understand such things as: What were the conditions in my classroom that allowed children make meaning on their own terms?

One of the books in my reading pile is The Informed Vision by John Hawkins.  I actually read it a couple of years ago but could not grasp the depth of his writing on the philosophy of education.  I have just finished the second reading of the book and so much more makes sense to me in hindsight.  Let me take one passage and see if I can make sense of it from my past practice.  On page 25, he writes:

            The product number, of possible congenital patterns multiplied by possible early 
            biographies of children, is of higher arithmetical order than the total number of
            children, past, present, or future.  The probability is effectively zero that there
            should be two children presenting the same educational challenges and 
            opportunities. ... This requires from the start a recognition of individual 
            competency and situation.  Not to recognize the individuality is not to educate.

What could that possibly mean?  For me, it means that children all come with their own individual idiosyncrasies to any given situation---in my case for this blog, the sensory table.   When I say idiosyncrasies, I do not mean peculiarities as such.  Rather, I mean the distinctive endowments each child brings to the classroom.  It is what makes each child an original every day.

Below are some examples of what I consider distinctive endowments brought to something new at the sensory table.  The first shows a child examining the sand in an apparatus call horizontal channels.  The child is using his hands to explore the sand.  And it is not just running his hand through the sand.  He is actually using his hand as a scoop so he is able to feel the sand on the back of his hand.  


Discovering how the sand feels from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


For some reason, it is important to him to feel the sand on the back of his hand both as he scoops and then as he lets it slide off.

The next example is a boy making a lot of noise by swishing the corn vigorously back and forth with a scoop in the box.


Making noise from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Children do like to make noise, but can his actions be construed so simply?  Why does he bend down when he rustles the corn?  Does he get more power and agency?  Is he trying to get a different aural perspective?

The third example shows a child taking animal bedding that he has gathered from the sensory table and depositing it in the crack between the provisioning table and the wall.


Finding the crack from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Children are compelled to put things in holes (Axiom #5 on the right hand column of this blog).  But why do this child find this hole/crack to deposit his animal bedding?

The fourth example is a child tracing her hand in the sand that has fallen on the floor from the sensory table.

Hand tracing on the floor from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

My guess is that this child has traced her hand before using a crayon or something on paper.  What makes her envision that she could do it in the sand on the floor next to the sensory table?

Maybe these are not idiosyncrasies.   Maybe it is just a child feeling the sand, another child making noise, another child stuffing animal bedding in a crack, or a child drawing her hand in the discarded sand.  I think not, because on any given day with any given child, the operations will necessarily look different.  My final example, which has two parts, is a case in point.  Two separate videos show two different children with the same object in the same context.  In both the videos below, children put a long-handled pot on their heads and then look in the mirror.  The resulting operations, however, are quite different.


Pan on the head I from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.



Pan on the head II from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


In the first video, the child is intrigued by how he looks with the pot on his head.  He then uses the mirror to reference his actions with his hands on the handle.  In the second video, the child is also intrigued by how she looks in the mirror, but for her it is a transformation of self that brings great delight.

If these are examples of idiosyncrasies, the question then becomes: how do I as a teacher make room for them?  For me the distinctive endowments surmount what the children are learning because it is through those idiosyncrasies that they learn and learn best.


 




 


3 comments:

  1. This is a superb quote you've shared Tom, and revealing examples that you've found to relate to it. I have posted it to our local Early Learning group as we begin thinking about upcoming report cards (sorry "Communication of Learnings"). Reflecting the idiosyncrasies of each child is an interesting challenge when we use a standard template and "common language". Your post is also a good reminder that our critical texts should be revisited...interesting how it takes on deeper meaning for you.
    One of those modern French philosophers said something to the effect of: "A text is a lazy machine, it requires a reader to do all it's work".
    Provocative Post Tom!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Aaron for expanding on the thoughts on idiosyncrasies as how it may relate to school and required reporting. Are the parents looking for where their child sits with the norms---above, meeting or below--- or would they rather get a picture of their child as a competent learner who uses his/her distinctive endowments?

      For some time, I have been documenting what I interpret as children's idiosyncrasies in their learning. Some of those idiosyncrasies jump right out, but many are much more subtle. In fact, it is only after looking with an open mind for them that they seem to appear. What I am trying to say is that we most often look for how children fit a norm and see idiosyncrasies as deficits. I see them as endowments, but I have to be open to seeing them. An important question would seem to be: What gives the best current image of a child for all involved in his/her education. Sorry, I am not sure I am making sense.

      I am not sure I understand the quote from the French philosophers:
      "A text is a lazy machine, it requires a reader to do all it's work." Did you mean test? Otherwise I do not understand.

      Delete
  2. Sorry, I think I got onto a philosophical tangent there (one of my own "endowments"!)...The "lazy machine" that is a text, (any text awaiting a reader), does require an audience to bring it to life, to give it meaning. I was thinking about those reports we write, but writing in general. Language is my own pre-occupation, but it is something that lives with so much potentially emergent energy, in the young children we work with. I think that our brand new reports here in Ontario (based on Four Frames of Learning) will better reflect a more cohesive and interrelated sense of how Kindergarteners are learning. Aside from the prolonged sitting that is involved, I am looking forward to the challenge of writing in this mode. Hopefully my "lazy texts" (reports) will find active readers.

    ReplyDelete