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, May 28, 2016

Ephemeral

I often tell people that so much of my work happens even before the children arrive at school.  For the sand and water table, that means setting up an invitation that I think will capture the children's imagination.  Sometimes that is an elaborate installation and sometimes it is a very simple construction.  Whether the construction is complex or simple, the apparatus is not complete until the area is provisioned with intriguing loose parts.

I wrote about a simple construction last week with Jurassic Sand and dinosaurs.  Along with the dinosaurs, I provided other natural elements such as rocks, sticks and tree cookies.
Whenever I equip the sand table, especially if it is a very simple setup, I have a choice: Do I leave it as a blank slate on which the children assemble their own creations or do I create an invitation using the loose parts myself?
I think you would agree that the Jurassic Sand makes a beautiful canvas.  More often than not, though, the children dump everything into the table.  
So much for a blank slate.   Because I also like to create, I often offer my own arrangement of loose parts on the blank canvas as an overture to children to rearrange or embellish.
Even then, what happens more often than not is that everything ends up in the table helter-skelter.
A busy helter-skelter to be sure with the children totally engaged in their individual and joint endeavors.

Every once in a while, though, something special happens.   One child used a half-log as a base for balancing tree cookies, sticks and rocks.  She also used other rocks, shells and pine cones to adorn the assemblage. 
 
The child who made this took great care in making it happen.  She started by earnestly examining the properties of the sand using a small scoop with a hole in the bottom.
From there, she moved around to the other side of the table and started to balance the tree cookies between the log and the table.
 
Then she brought the container of rocks over from the shelves and started balancing those between the lip of the table and the tree cookies.
At one point during the making, she even accepted an unsolicited offering of sand from another child.
She had a look of "what-are-you-doing?" surprise, but after a moment of reflection, she gladly incorporated his offering in her work.

What she ended up with was something ephemeral.  Something totally out of the ordinary using ordinary materials in a way only this particular child could on this particular day with those particular materials.  It is a piece that will never be repeated.  
 

When I look at her piece of nature art, I can't help but be reminded of the work of nature artist Andy Goldsworthy.  Though her piece may not have the symmetry of many of Goldsworthy's pieces, it has the same beauty built in an organic progression of adding one element of nature to another with a harmony of purpose, both consciously and unconsciously.






Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jurassic Sand and dinosaurs

People always ask me what I use in my sensory table.   For the most part, I use either wood pellets, water or sand .  One of my favorite kinds of sand is the original Jurassic Sand.  This sand is expensive for filling a sand table, but well worth the investment.   The sand is soft and dustless and has a beautiful natural color.  I use it several times a year.  Most recently, I set it up with small dinosaurs and other natural elements such as sticks, tree cookies, rocks, pine cones and a half log.
I added a simple wooden tray as a bridge of sorts to connect the blue sand table with the smaller, clear sensory table.

As far as setups go, this is pretty simple.  However simple it is, though, it is still quite inviting.  The bridge offers a different level on which the children can do their operations.
For the twenty-month-old child in the picture above, it is an extremely comfortable level.  His arm and hand rest comfortably in and on the tray as he animates his dinosaurs.  Since the wooden tray is narrow, it creates a space in between the two tables that children step into.  That space makes it easy for a child to reach the other side or engage in play with another child on the other side.

I thought with all the natural elements, the children might build environments for the dinosaurs.  Nope.  They had other ideas and many of them had to do with pouring sand.  Below, a child buries a little pteranodon.


To bury the pteranodon, he uses a little scoop.  (The scoop is a measuring scoop from a baby formula can.  I am partial to hodgepodge and doohickies.)  Burying the dinosaur looks like intricate work for him; it takes him three scoops to cover the dinosaur with precision and care.  The first scoop covers most of the dinosaur.  The second scoop covers the feet and the third scoop covers the last speck of green from the wing.  When done, he declares: "OK, he's buried up."  He could have used a bigger scoop like the child next to him, but was he purposefully matching the tool to the job?  Or does the tool determine the job?

Here is one example of a child creating an environment for the dinosaurs, but only using the sand.  The child uses a long-handled kitchen spoon to carefully transport sand into the orange bucket next to the table.


Her pouring is very meticulous.  She carefully scoops sand from the table, not even filling her spoon.  And as she deposits the sand in the bucket, she sprinkles the sand so it falls just right into the bucket to make the place for the dinosaurs.   Was she making a nice, clean home for the dinosaurs like we would for a pet?

The third example of pouring using the dinosaurs is a collaborative effort by three children.  One holds the dinosaur; one holds a strainer; and the third child pours the sand into the strainer.


Referring to the dinosaur getting rained on by the sand, the child holding the strainer chuckles: "He's getting all covered.  Looking at the faces of the other two, they are all in on the fun.

I thought I was setting up the sensory table for children to create enthralling dinosaur dioramas.  Silly me.  Instead, they used the dinosaurs for elaborate pouring exercises of their own making.  It just goes to show, I can create what I think is a wonderful invitation to play but the children will do with it what they will.  More power to them.




 

 



 

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. 




Saturday, May 7, 2016

Scientific inquiry: measuring space

I have always thought of my sensory table as a science table at which the children conduct their own experiments.  I set up an apparatus to be explored.  The children are given free range to use the apparatus, the medium and the loose parts to come up with their own theories about how the physical world works.  For the latest setup,  big boxes around the table, the children used the installation to measure physical space.  Measuring, after all, is a form of scientific inquiry.  Here is the setup.
There are six large boxes that for all intents and purposes encase the blue sensory table.  Boxes 1, 2 and 4 are wardrobe boxes affixed to three sides of the table.  Boxes 3 and 5 form a connection between the wardrobe boxes.  Box 6 stands alone but is open to the table. The installation creates a myriad of spaces over, under, around and through.  The children find and measure all the spaces.

Here is an example of two children measuring the spaces created by three of the boxes (1, 3 and 4).
How exactly are they measuring those spaces?  They did it with their bodies.  The child in the box had to first figure out how to get in the box.  Taking a measure of the opening, she figured out she had to crawl in.  Once in, she could have stood up.  Instead, she decided to kneel,  probably because the parameters of the box she was sensing made it easier to work from that position.  The child outside the box is also carrying out multiple measuring operations.  She is giving pellets to the child in the box through the window in the connecting box (3).  To do that, she measures the space between the two big boxes, the area under the connecting box, the height of hole in the connecting box, and the size of the hole.  In doing all that, she has brought over a stool so she can reach as far into the connecting box as possible to give her friend pellets. 

Here is another example of children measuring space both inside and outside the boxes from the other side of the apparatus, in this case, the boxes 2, 4 and 6.  One child is in the wardrobe box, one child stands next to the wardrobe box and two children are in the between spaces created by the three wardrobe boxes.
How do these children measure the spaces?  If you notice, each one is leaning up against a box essentially assaying one of the boundaries of each of their spaces.

Speaking of boundaries, here is a photo a child assessing the upper boundaries of this apparatus.
This is an excellent example of a child finding spaces to explore that are on top of an apparatus.  I always tell others to build to their comfort level because the children will go as high as you build. However, as you learn more about your children and what they are capable of, you may want to stretch your comfort zone so the children can more accurately measure their own risk.

There was one space in which a child could actually measure the distance all the way through a box, box 3. One child reaches through the box to see if she can reach her brother on the other side.



 

Another choice example of a child measuring the space with her body comes from inside box 2.  The child is sitting inside the box.  To get pellets from the table, she has to reach through a narrow opening created by the connecting box 5 that bisects the original opening in box 2.
She measures both the length of her arm reaching into the table and the width of her face wedged between the spaces created by the two boxes.  By the way, she maximizes her reach by wedging her face into that space.

There are many more spaces to measure in the apparatus.  However, it is easy to forget some spaces that are not so perceptible---except to the children.  Those are the spaces that are next to the setup in which children find clear boundaries in which to operate.  Here is one of those spaces.
In this case, the space is created by box 2, the shelves, the wall and the floor.  Using her body, she helps create a space that is enclosed on three sides.  In essence, she has measured the space so now she is part of the boundary. 

Axiom #2 on the right hand column of this blog states that children will explore all spaces in any given apparatus.  When they are exploring those spaces, they are also conducting a form of scientific inquiry by measuring those spaces.  They measure the spaces with the instrument they know best: their bodies.