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, June 2, 2018

Filling the bucket

Can we fill the bucket?

That sounds like such a simple question.  However, a simple question like that can tell us a lot about how children think.  The underlying assumption of this statement is that thinking and doing are synonymous for young children.

Below are two videos in which children started with the question: Can we fill the bucket?  I would venture a guess that they did not start out with that question.  Instead, their actions began by simply transporting the sand out of the table into the bucket next to the table (see axiom #1 in the right hand column of this blog).  At some point, they filled the bucket enough, that the question of filling the bucket became real.  This is the point at which my narrative begins.

A child filled his pot with sand.  His objective was to carry it around the table to fill a five gallon pail on the other side.  Another child accurately assessed that the pot was heavy so he attempted to help the child carrying the pot to help. That child carrying the pot saw his overture, but dismissed it.  That child who wanted to help then started to back up as the child carrying the pot started walking forward. The child who wanted to help still found a way to help. He darted ahead and gently moved a child out of the way so there was room for the child carrying the pot to empty his pot into the bucket. As the pot emptied, the child who had tried to help got more and more excited as the level of the sand in the bucket got higher. By the end of the video, the children screeched with excitement at how full the bucket was getting. 

Filling the bucket 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

From the video, the question looked more like a dialogue between the children.  Some of that dialogue was verbal and some of it nonverbal.  Some of it looked like a question: How do I help?  Some of it looked like an answer to the question: I'll clear the way so he can pour the sand in the bucket.  And some of it looked like commentary on the process: the screeching and jumping up and down with delight.

The children filled the bucket within an inch of the top.  They could have put more sand in the bucket so why did they stop there?  In any case, this was how full they decided they wanted it to be.  At this point the questioned morphed into: Can we lift it?  This is where the second part of my narrative begins.

One child decided to see if he could lift the bucket full of sand.  As he strained to lift the bucket he said: "Help. We need help." The child right behind him stepped forward but did not offer help.   Instead, he said he wanted to try. This child strained and was able to move the bucket a little bit by himself. He even asserted: " I kind of lifted it." A third child stepped forward and said "let me try now." He was not able to lift or move it. A fourth child stepped forward and said: "I bet I can do it." He tried but he was also unsuccessful in his attempt to lift. The child who first tried to lift the bucket and asked for help then stepped forward to grab the handle of the bucket. As he did that, he uttered a simple command: "team work." He repeated his command implored the others to grab the handle together. With mighty grunts, four of the children grabbed the handle and started to lift. They were able to lift it and move it slightly. The bucket actually ended up on top of that child's foot. "Ow!" he exclaimed. As the video ended, the three other children helped get the bucket off his foot.

Filling the bucket 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As the children answered one question, another one presented itself.  In the process, their thinking became more complex and eventually even more coordinated.  They worked out taking turns without anyone---meaning an adult---telling them when and how take turns.  They worked out lifting the bucket together without anyone---meaning an adult---telling them when and how to. 

Teachers are not always so good at asking questions.  Too often we ask questions of fact.  Even such a simple question of filling the bucket uttered by an adult too easily morphs into a lesson in which we ask another question such as: How many cups do you think it will take to fill the bucket? Those type of questions don't promote or get at children's thinking.  Not every moment has to be a teaching moment.

Children, on the other hand, are a source of good questions.  Given the time and materials, children's questions, both simple and complex, present a window into their thinking.  Not every moment has to be a teaching moment, but every moment is a learning moment.  Children's questions may be the best measure of how and what they are learning.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all your posts and all the ways you share both the apparatus you create, and the ways that children explore them. I really appreciate it. I teach a STEM enrichment preschool, and next year, I'm working to enhance our sensory play (I wrote a post compiling all my ideas as "the ultimate guide to sensory tables" https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2018/06/22/sensory-bins/) and I plan to add some apparatus in as the year goes on!