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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, January 27, 2018

Making sense

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I retired from working in the classroom in June 2016.  For over 35 years I was an early childhood educator teaching thousands of children from infants to preschoolers with diverse backgrounds and abilities.  One of the things I am able to do in retirement is read more in the field of early childhood than ever before.  What that allows me to do is to reflect on my past practice.

One of the books I have just read is Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Vea Vecchi.  This a book in which she reflects on her past practice as an atelierista.  On page 148, this is what she says:
          "I would say gaiety and surprise are the feelings that have perhaps most
          accompanied my work with children.  For thirty years, when I set foot inside
          the scoula comunale dell'infanzia Diana, I experienced the strong sensation of
          stepping into a parallel world, with special rules, atmospheres and ways of thinking."

For me, this makes a lot of sense.  I would echo her words and say that my experience of being with children always felt like entering another world, a world in which the children were constantly creating their own ways of thinking; a world in which they were making sense of the world around them

I would like to play with this idea at the sensory table.  To do that, I will use documentation of a couple of children playing at an apparatus from 2013.  The apparatus is a big wardrobe box that I installed over the sensory table on the horizontal.
The are multiple holes cut in the apparatus on top, on the ends, on the sides and in the bottom.  One of the bottom holes empties into a blue tub next to the table.   There is another hole in the bottom of the box that is evident from a picture showing the other side of the apparatus.
This hole opens up over the sensory table itself.  Children can scoop corn either from the ends of the sensory table or through that hole in the box.

The first example of a child creating his own sense of this apparatus finds a child using a dump truck to dump the corn into the hole on the bottom of the apparatus over the sensory table.  He would say that he was dumping it into the pit.
This was the first time in my experience that a child used the word "pit."  It is a very simple word but a sophisticated concept.  I was curious if he really understood the meaning of that word so I asked his mother.  She told me that the grandfather was always telling stories about working in the open pit mines on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.  Yes, he understood the word.  That blew me away because that told me he was making a connection between the stories he heard from his grandfather and his play at the sensory table. 

One of the ways children make sense of their play and explorations is by making connections with their other life experiences.  Sometimes they are ordinary and sometimes quite profound.

The second example of a child making sense of this apparatus is a child dropping a clear plastic tube through the hole in the top of the apparatus.  He drops the tube through the top hole.  It hits the bottom of the box and bounces up before falling through the bottom hole into the blue tub. 

Tube fun from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not sure why this child takes such great delight in dropping the tube through the hole.  One reason may be that the tube takes an unpredictable, bouncy trajectory to get through the box.  Maybe it has to do with the gaiety and surprise that Vea talked about, this time from the child's perspective. In any case, it is an action he repeated over and over again, each time smiling and laughing.

I am not sure this example is one of making connections.  In fact, this play seems to make no sense other than the pleasure derived from dropping the tube in the hole, watching it fall and retrieving it to do it again.  But then I go back to what Vea says about children creating their own way of thinking.  Do I have to understand his actions or is it enough to value and respect it as a window into this child's thinking?

Sometimes as adults we talk about children being silly as if what they are doing makes no sense.  Maybe we miss or discount those silly episodes too easily.  It is easy to privilege the profound moments when children make connections between what they are doing and their life experiences.  It is a bit harder to appreciate those silly moments and see them as as children's thinking, as children making sense of their world.

Am I making any sense?


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