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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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, May 17, 2020

Noteworthy play spaces

A little over four years ago, I went a little crazy with setting up Big boxes around the sensory table.  I started with four big boxes, one on each end and one on each side of the table.
The idea was to create spaces from which the children could access the table almost like little houses with windows.  In the picture below, two children were kneeling inside the boxes to carry out their operations inside the table.  In other words, they were working outside the box from inside the box.
This picture also shows another space that was created by the big boxes around the table.  The child in the red was doing his operation from between the boxes.  So besides the four spaces of the boxes, there were four more spaces between the boxes at the four corners of the table.

I subsequently added two more big boxes.  Box 5 connected boxes 1 and 6 and box 6 connected boxes 2 and 3.  Box 4 was still a stand alone box.  I wrote blog posts on this configuration here and here.
Though I basically used two more big boxes to encase the sensory table, I did not think about the resulting ramifications of that modification for children's play.  There were several ramifications but let me point out two that were noteworthy in terms of play spaces.

The first noteworthy play space was on top of the apparatus.  Since the space underneath the boxes was highly constricted, the top of the big boxes became stable platforms for the children to do their operations.  That was especially true if they wanted to transport the pellets between large containers and between different levels.
However, for the children to appropriate that space for play, they did have to climb on the lip of the table.  It was certainly a physical challenge to climb up and down, especially if the child carried one of the larger containers while stepping up or climbing down.  That may even have been one of the draws of that play space.

The second noteworthy play space was the floor.  In the video below, the child used the floor as a platform for her operation.  Again, since the space underneath the boxes was highly constricted, she placed three metal containers on the floor so she could fill them.

Floor play from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

However, getting the pellets in her measuring cup to pour into the containers was not such an easy task.  The child had to keep her balance as she twisted her torso to reach over the lip of the table and under the box to scoop pellets in her measuring cup.    

Another feature of the floor that made it noteworthy as a play space was that, as a platform, it was expandable.  Below, the children have taken over the floor space between the apparatus and the cabinets for their play.  There was no way they were going to be able to do their "cooking" in the highly constricted space underneath the big boxes over the table. 
There is a subtle similarity between their cooking and my cooking.  Although I do not spill onto the floor to do my cooking, I do tend to expand onto all the available counter space.

Play spaces are important to children.  The more intriguing the better.  Though some play spaces seem to be highly circumscribed, the children find spaces on and outside the margins of the defined play spaces.  Those spaces outside the margins are noteworthy because the children create new meaning as they embrace and inhabit them.


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