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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, February 10, 2018

The need to climb

Some of the apparatus I build actually invite children to climb.  Here is a good example of one.  I call it the piggy back incline.  Basically it is two long, narrow boxes combined to make one big inclined chute.  The boxes are taped together with holes on the inside of the top box (yellow outline) all emptying into the bottom box (orange outline).  A large TV box is used to support the combined structure.

Here is the same picture showing the holes into which the children pour the corn.  Holes 1-7 are cut in the top box and empty into the bottom box.  Hole 8 is the top end hole for the bottom box.  All the corn from those 8 holes ends up at the low end of the bottom box and empties into a tub next to the end of the table.  Hole 9 empties into the small clear sensory table through a long white cardboard tube.

If you understood all that you are a spatial genius.   If you want a little more detail on how I built this, you can go here.

Because this apparatus rises high above the table, I know it invites children to climb.  They are always exploring every level of an apparatus, so naturally they will play on the highest level afforded by the apparatus (see axiom #3 in the right-hand column of this blog). To that end, I set out stools for the children to use to reach the top of the apparatus. 

Some children need to see where they are pouring the corn.  For a child to see the topmost hole in this apparatus, he actually has to climb onto the lip of the table. 

That need to climb looks different for different children.  Some children are content to execute their maximum reach by stepping on the stool and pouring into a hole they can't even see.  Interestingly, though, they get plenty of feedback for their actions because they are able to see where the corn goes.















For some children, climbing is more than standing on their tiptoes and reaching as high as they can.  For some, climbing is a physical challenge to test their strength, coordination and balance in a problem they pose for themselves.  In one case with the piggyback inclines, the physical question is: Can I climb and balance on the lip of the table to pour the corn into the hole on the top of the structure?


Balancing on the lip of the table from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This video is an excellent example of a child who really needs to test---even challenge---her physical abilities.  A perfectly reasonable and responsible teacher can look at her stepping high off the ground and balancing on the 3" lip of the table and see a situation that puts the child in danger of falling.  I will never dismiss that possibility, nor take it lightly.  What I choose to see is the body mechanics of how she is climbing.  For instance, as she bends down to pick up the pail of corn, she does so slowly all the while gripping the box with her left hand.  When she stands straight up and her left hand lets go of the box so she can hold the pail with both hands to pour, she places her left elbow against the box for balance.  She uses her torso against the box to balance in the act of pouring her corn in the hole. When she climbs down, she again grips the box with her left hand.   All those body mechanics tell me she is capable of this challenge, a personal challenge that is genuine because she has created it herself.

I contend that children need to climb.  It may be easy to provide that experience outside or in a large muscle room.  So what happens when a child shows a need to climb in the classroom?  How do we plan for that?  Some children are easy because their climbing is done by standing on their tiptoes.  Others have a greater need that can be satisfied with stools or steps.  But what do we do for the children who need more of a challenge, who need to create their own challenges? 

To be clear, I am not advocating that you should be as comfortable as I am with children climbing on the table.  Everyone has to know their own comfort level.  I worked with other adults in my classroom who were not comfortable with the children climbing so high.  I would always tell them that if they were monitoring that area, it was up to them to decide their own comfort level.  If they were not comfortable with children climbing on the table, they were to own it and set their own limits.  Over time what I saw was that co-workers were willing to push their own limits of what was acceptable after watching me and watching how capable the children were in managing their own risks. 

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