About Me

My photo
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.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Joy

Whenever I do workshops on constructing apparatus for the sensory table, I tell participants that one of the defining characteristics of play at the sensory table is pure joy. In conjunction with that statement, I show the following picture.

I always thought I knew what joy was and this picture was the essence of that joy.  I am currently reading a book of essays entitled The Philosophy of Play as Life edited by Wendy Russell, Emily Ryall and Malcolm MacLean.  One of the essays, "'Life as Play' from East to West" by Damla Donmez, has got me wondering if I really understand what joy is.  I jotted down some thoughts as I read the article and then looked for more instances of joy at the sensory table at just one apparatus, two cardboard chutes taped together and set on an incline.  
The reason I chose just one apparatus is because my reading made me think that joy is context specific.  And by controlling for the physical context, I should see joy manifested differently in different children because it is momentary and no two moments are the same.  And by seeing the different manifestations of joy, I would have a better understanding or joy and what it entails.

One way joy is manifested is through exuberance.  The video below is a good example of that.  The child in the blue pours pellets down the cardboard chute.  As he does that, he cannot contain himself; he squeals with delight and does a little happy dance.


Joyful pouring from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not sure why he is so thrilled with his actions.  Is it the sound of the pellets as they tumble down the chute?  Is he mimicking the energy of the pellets as they tumble down?  In any case, this is joy, right?.

Another way joy is manifested is through creating precise moments of understanding how the world works.  The child in the video below explores how different objects roll down the cardboard chutes.  With each new object he tries, he shrieks with laughter. 


Down the Chute from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Does he laugh because of the way the objects roll down?  Does he laugh because he is thrilled with the results of his experiment?  In any case, this is joy again, right?.

Another way joy is manifested is through an element of surprise.  The two children pictured below are engaged in a serious endeavor.  One child pours sand down the cardboard chute and the other catches the sand.  The child pouring keeps putting more and more sand in his pot and pours it faster and faster each time.
What eventually happens is that the child with the pot pours so fast and so hard that he knocks the bowl right out of the hands of the child catching the sand.  The result of that unexpected outcome is quite a good laugh.
This joint endeavor proceeds along with each child doing their part.  The surprise of the bowl getting knocked out of the girl's hand transforms that exact moment into joy, right?

What is common about all three of these episodes is that the feeling of joy bubbles up from their inner being in response to their own actions.  I contrast that with a quote from the above mentioned essay: "Every forcible act abolishes the inherent joy of play and makes it only a dull imitation." p. 47.

I am still left with many questions.  Joy is a state of being, but so is happiness.  What is the difference?  Is it the exuberance or the laughter that defines joy? Is there such a thing as a quiet, private joy? Does joy really have a purpose other than the affirmation of one's being?

In tossing around the idea of joy with a friend from Canada, she wrote the following: "Without genuine joy and joyful moments, a classroom doesn’t have the heartbeat it should."  That doesn't help define the essence of play, but it does help me understand the importance of joy.  (Thanks Gill.)

I don't know if I am really any closer to understanding what joy is.  I am left with the idea that sometimes words get in the way of understanding something as ephemeral as joy.  



Sunday, November 17, 2019

The thing about sharing

Sharing is a good thing, right?  Don't we want a world in which children and adults share, especially when we are talking about finite resources?  However, the thing about sharing is that IT is not so simple.  That became abundantly clear to me in a recent discussion I had with three other teachers while recording an episode of the early childhood podcast Teaching with the Body in Mind.  (The sharing episode should come out on or about December 3rd.)

In an early childhood classroom, the problem with sharing begins with how we generally use the word.  When we ask a child to share something with another child, we are not really asking them to share.  In truth, we are asking the child to give the thing in question to the other child.  Children learn the code early.  They understand that you are asking them to give the toy they are playing with to the other child who wants it.  Is it any wonder children do not want to "share?"  That is especially true if a child who has the toy is totally engaged with the toy in question.

A child who wants a toy from another child, has also learned the code.  That child will say something like: "You should share."  If the child doesn't get the toy they want, they have learned to go to an adult to mediate the "sharing."  The child might say something like: "Johnny is not sharing with me."  To which the adult intervenes with a statement to the affect that we "share" with our friends.  And more often than not, the adult will manage the "sharing" by setting the stage for taking turns.

Taking turns may indeed be a form of sharing.  However, I would venture to guess that our idea of taking turns as a form of sharing would include the child voluntarily taking turns instead of simply acquiescing to the adult managing the turn-taking.  In fact, we probably think the ideal is for children to turns on their own. 

A teacher may ask: "Then how do I get children to share?"  Is the way to get children to share making them share?  Do we think that by practicing adult-mediated sharing, children will form a sharing habit?

I contend that children in an early childhood classroom are already sharing.  The problem is that we do not see it because we are too busy implementing our own idea of what sharing is.  In fact, because we are so focused on the above idea of sharing, we are blinded by all the real sharing that goes on in the classroom---or in life.  I further contend that if we start looking for true instances of sharing, we start a virtuous circle in which we recognize and encourage such sharing, which in turn leads to even more sharing.



If you are looking for concrete examples of what I am talking about, take a look at the following three posts.  The first post goes all the way back to December 11, 2011 where I write about acts of kindness, which include acts of sharing.   The second and third examples deal with conflict: conflict 1,  conflict 2.  Conflict is important in the classroom because resolving conflicts in a respectful manner lays the groundwork for real sharing.  How?  Conflict---and its resolution---is one way children begin to understand their own wants and needs in relation to that of others.  Is that not one of the prerequisites for true sharing?

In a way, this blog post is a way of sharing an idea.  Hopefully it is also a invitation for you to share your thoughts on the idea.