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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.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


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.  

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