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, December 31, 2016

Classroom picture of the year 2016

For the past three years, I have been writing a post I call "classroom picture of the year."  I have an ulterior motive for such a post.  I usually write exclusively about what happens at the sensory table.  With this post, I feel like I can give myself license to talk about something wonderful that happened in another area of the classroom.

My classroom picture of the year for 2016 comes from the large muscle area in my classroom.  For me this is one of the most important areas because young children need to be able to move when their body tells them to move.  The large muscle area is defined by a 5' x 12' blue gym mat.  I usually change what is available to the children every other week.

One of the places I store some of the large muscle equipment is a closet off the cafeteria.  It just so happens that is also where community education stores some of their equipment for adult education classes.  For several years now, when I went into that closet, I would see blue steps for step aerobics.  This year, I decided to borrow some of them and set them out in the large muscle area.

In the hands of the children, the aerobic steps turned out to be large loose parts for the children to stack.  Consequently, these big blue step created the foundation for my classroom picture of the year: a child launching himself into the air.
The children started stacking the aerobics steps on top of each other in order to create a perch from which to jump.  On this particular day, they settled on six steps .  The six aerobic blocks were shoulder-height for this child.   When he jumped, he went vertical almost another foot.  He was flying; he was defying gravity.  He measured his own risk and proved to himself his physical skills.  Imagine the exhilaration this child must have felt.

For me, this is a perfect example of the power inherent in children: the power to shape and act upon their own world with an alacrity that comes from feeling competent.  And that is why I am calling it my classroom picture of the year for 2016.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lesson plans---or not

For the past couple of years, I have been questioning my role as a teacher in an early childhood classroom.  What did I really teach?  There was a time when I would look for and try to think up new and better ways to do art, literacy and numeracy.  There was a time when I would write lesson plans---although I was never very good at it, especially when it came to goals.  And to make matters worse, I always had this recurring dream that I was given a class to teach and inevitably I would loose total control because I did not have a lesson plan.  Yikes!

During the period of questioning my role as a teacher, I have gone without a lesson plan.  In place of lesson plans, I would work on provisioning the room, especially the sensory table and the large muscle area.  When the children arrived, it was their room to explore and investigate.  As a consequence, I have found myself stepping back more and watching the children interact with the materials, each other and the adults in the room.  I found myself continually astonished with those interactions.  What I saw, changed what I thought was important in the classroom.

For example, something as simple as a toddler putting a bowl on his head for a hat became significant.
Why would he try a bowl on for size?  What is he thinking and how will he keep it balanced on his head?
 
Children blowing bubbles in new ways had to be appreciated.   Children love to blow bubbles, but it became even more eventful when the child discovered for himself that he could blow bubbles through a rubber tube that he found on the shelf. 


Blowing bubbles from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

His expression tells it all.  His success did come at a price of swallowing a little soapy water and hence the big smile.


As the children delighted in the silly, so did I.  One child decided it would be fun to to step into the bucket of feed corn to bury his feet.  And if one child could do it, so could another---and maybe even dig her feet in a little deeper into the corn.




  
My admiration for their work included the self-proclaimed hard work by the children themselves.  The child in the video below was scooping corn into a pot with his hands.  Near the end of the video, the child looked up at me and said: "I've never worked so hard in my life."


Hard work from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Notice that as the teacher, I was not the task master.  He was the task master of the job he created for himself.  My role was to recognize and admire it.

Sometimes I am totally blown away by what transpires.  Below is a video of a child who was hit with a scoop but was not fazed in the least.  He was kneeling next to a tub playing with a tree cookie in the muddy water.  On his right, a red scoop appeared.  As the child with the scoop tried to lift some mud out of the tub, she lost control of the scoop and hit the boy kneeling at the tub.  It happens in the blink of an eye, so watch carefully.


Getting hit with a scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What amazed me what that he rolled with the punch, and, without a word, went about his business.  How many children---or adults---do you know who would take umbrage with such a slight.

I even valued the children taking risks on their own like standing on the lip of the table---in play high heels. 
How could I not appreciate how they were willing to take on the physical challenge of climbing and balancing to gain a new perspective on their operations?

I even marveled at the sublime.  In the video below, three children have a lovely exchange while they each work on their own operation.  The exchange included an offer, an acceptance, a question and an answer.  The first child offered: "Want me to give you some of my sponges?"  The second child accepted by saying: "Ya, I need a lot of sponges."  The third child asked the second child: "To make cookies?"  The second child answered: "Ya, chocolate chip cookies."


Making cookies from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am in awe with the natural flow of the interchange between the three children.  It flows in a way that can only happen between the children.  There is nothing didactic here; there is no lesson plan for this kind of stuff. 

Is there learning going on?  Yes, but it is not in the teacher-directed life in the classroom.  Rather, it is a byproduct of a vital and appreciated life that is lived in the classroom by the children.

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.


 




 


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Washing toys: the riches in between

For the past several years, I have set up the sensory table as a wash tub for toys that are to be put away for the summer.  The original intent was to lighten the staff's work load at the end of the school year.  Gradually, as the children took it over, it became something the children did willingly to contribute to the care of the classroom.

At the start of class, I would dump toys that could be immersed in water into the table to be washed and then added water with dish soap.  On shelves next to the table, I set out scrub brushes, washrags, bowls and cups for washing the toys.  In the picture below, the children were washing a manipulative called Wedgits and long sections of a large muscle toy for balancing. 

At the end of class, I asked the children to help rinse the toys in clean water and then set them on towels on a nearby table to dry overnight.

Each new class period, I would dump different toys to be washed.   For instance, one day I set out all the "jewels" (glass beads from the craft store) we had been using with the plastacine.
There was quite a bit of plastacine residue on these glass beads so it took a fair amount of scrubbing and fine motor work to get it off.  In fact, there was so much residue that I also set the jewels out for the following class.

One of the nice aspects of the toy-washing activity was the friendly chitchat that emerged between the children as they worked.  This also turned out to be a great time for the teachers to sidle up next to the table and join in the work and the spontaneous conversations.

Did the toys get clean?  Judging from the water that was left in the sensory table, yes.  Some of that was due to the fact that the toys simply soaked in soapy water.  However, the children's contribution cannot be underestimated.  Besides scrubbing and pouring water over the toys, they created natural friction---which contributes to the cleaning process---just by moving the toys in and around the table.

For me as teacher there are at least two important understandings that go along with this activity.  The first is that I have to be happy with approximations.  What does that mean?  That means that I am not looking for perfection only for participation and effort.  Too often we judge children's work by adult standards.  If I wanted all the toys the children wash to be spotless, the activity would not have to power it does to contribute to the life and caretaking of the classroom, both physically and socially.

The second important understanding is that children do not have the same objective as I do.  I want the toys clean.  The children want to play.  That means that while they are ostensibly cleaning, they are really doing something else.  For instance, look at the picture below.  We were washing the Duplo train tracks.  This child decided to put the "clean" tracks together next to the sensory table.
If I only focused on washing the toys and having the children wash the toys, I might have stopped his building the minute it began.  Instead, my decision to what I saw as a provocation on his part was to not stop it.  Were the tracks going to get dirty again?  Not so much.  Could other children still wash toys if they wanted? Yes.  

Or here is a picture of a child who was a little more interested in filling a pot with soapy water on one of the shelves next to the sensory table.
This child's actions really had very little to do with washing the toys.  Rather, it was fulfilling her need to transport water from the table to fill her pot.  Again, my agenda for the activity was different than hers.  Is my agenda more important than hers?

Let me try to explain it a different way.  Recently I have been telling people about a realization that I have come to when taking care of my grandson.  I realized that going to the park with him was not so much about the end goal of getting to the park.  The important part was the journey.  It was the stick he found that he had to pick up and which he used to hit a telephone pole.  It was the snow he then discovered at the bottom of the pole that needed to be smooshed down.  It was grate that needed to be examined on the curb of the sidewalk   What I am saying is that the time between leaving the house and getting to the park was as rich as anything we did at the park.   If I was only focused on getting to the park, I would miss the riches in between.  And if I thought getting to the park simply meant using the equipment at the park, I was terribly mistaken.  The pound was frozen at the park so we looked for sticks and rocks to toss onto the frozen pond.  We wanted to see if the ice would break or not.  In fact on this particular day, the equipment was the least important feature of the park.  It was almost like another journey began once we got to the park.

Getting back to washing the toys, did I want the toys clean?  Yes.  But that was my agenda.  If my intention was to bring the children into the activity, I had leave room for them to create their own agenda along the way.  If I did that, it was a win-win proposition.