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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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, January 7, 2017

Classroom metaphor of the year

Last week I posted my 2016 classroom picture of the year.  I borrowed some aerobic steps from the adult ed program in our building and set them out on the large muscle mat in the classroom.  In the hands of the children, the aerobic steps turned out to be large loose parts for the children to move and stack.  Consequently, these big blue steps created the foundation for my classroom picture of the year: a child launching himself high into the air.  
For me, this is a perfect example of the power inherent in children: the power to shape and act upon their own world with a cheerful willingness that comes from feeling confident and competent.  That is why I called this my classroom picture of the year for 2016.

I could have featured many other pictures or videos showing the children shaping and acting upon their world using the aerobic steps.  Just the act of stacking them took strength and persistence.  Below is a video showing exactly that.

Stacking the aerobic steps from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Early in the video, the child asked me for help.  I could have helped, but I made the decision that it was too early to intervene and that she was really doing quite well by herself.  Both she and I were rewarded because she did it on her own and my decision as a teacher was validated.

There was also a certain level of risk as they acted upon their world.  The child in the first picture was jumping from a height of six aerobic steps.  The child below climbed on top of a stack of eight aerobic steps.  That took whole body strength and the ability to continually shift her balance.

How will you get down? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What made this child's action so risky was that the stack of aerobic steps was wobbly when stacked this high.  Consequently, she had to compensate her actions to the wobbliness of the stack in real time.  She used every muscle in her body to continually shift her balance as she got to the top step.  Her classmate first exclaimed: "Wow!"  Then she asked her twice: "How will you get down?"  The child was so preoccupied with her accomplishment that she had not thought about how she would get down.  In response to the question, she just shrugged her shoulders.  If you are wondering, she did not jump, but basically slid down the side of the stack of steps.

Even as children acted to shape their world, risk was relative and children figured that out.  Below a toddler found a way to take a risk while standing on only two of the steps.  Standing on the aerobic steps, he spun himself around several times.  As he spun, he almost lost his balance but caught himself before he fell.

Spinning from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did he decide to spin on top of the steps?  Spinning has a certain amount of risk even on the ground because you can get dizzy which may cause you to fall on the ground.  However, even this toddler felt the need to engage in some risk taking.  When he almost lost his balance, he pointed down and said: "Fall."  Maybe in his toddler way he was actually saying: "I almost fell down."  Interestingly, though, that did not stop him from spinning some more.

There were actually innumerable ways the children used the aerobic steps to shape and act upon their world.   One group of children stacked all ten of the steps on top of each other.  That was no easy task because the stack of aerobic steps ended up to be taller then them.  For that operation, they had to use plenty of strength and agility to create one stack of steps.
Not only was this a test of strength and agility, but it also became a de facto math lesson; they each took turns counting the steps they had stacked.  This was not a rote math lesson.  Rather, they authored their own counting lesson using real objects that they manipulated.

One interesting way the children acted and shaped their world with the aerobic steps was to create their own obstacle courses, often times bringing in other objects to jazz it up.   Objects like Biliboes or even a rocking chair.
One time their obstacle course actually took the shape of a path that led from the large muscle mat and spilled over into the block area.  Interestingly, it ended with the rocking chair that the children had to step into without touching their feet to the ground.

Aerobic step path from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

After watching this video several times, I have decided to create a new category for a year end summary.  I call it "metaphor for the year. " In this case, the metaphor is the path the children created by themselves that spills into other areas and ends unexpectedly.  In other words, children, as a group,  create their own path to learning in the classroom that each child traverses in her/his own way that is not contained to one area of development and that is crowned by a totally unexpected end.  What do you think?


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