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, August 31, 2019

The science of sloshing and the moon landing

I am always looking for real-life analogues for children's scientific inquiry at the sensory table.  In looking over my documentation lately, I found a video of a child walking with a pretty full tub of water around the sensory table.  As he walked around the table, the water sloshed from side-to-side in his tub so he was forced to change his gate to minimize the spillage


Water sloshing from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
  


So what does sloshing have to do with the moon landing?  As it turns out, quite a bit.  In 1969, Neil Armstrong set the lunar lander on the moon.  In the course of landing on the moon, he was forced to maneuver the lunar lander with the propellant sloshing around.  Because the propellant was dwindling, the sloshing was more pronounced and that made it more difficult to keep the lunar module steady.  We all know he landed on the moon.  However, because of all the sloshing, the space agency installed extra anti-sloshing baffles on subsequent missions.  Anti-sloshing baffles; I never knew such things existed.


The amount of sloshing was unexpected.   I would venture to guess that Neil Armstrong was able to handle the sloshing because as a child, he carried or transported water in containers that allowed for plenty of sloshing.  In other words, he had an embodied knowledge of the physics of sloshing.


I contend that the child carrying the sloshing water was building that very same knowledge.  I do not begin to presume to know how the child will use that knowledge.  However, can you imagine how the parent would feel about what the child is learning when I make the analogy of his operations to those of Neil Armstrong.  Instead of just seeing the child spilling water on the floor, the parent would appreciate how the child is learning about the physics of sloshing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The extraordinary in the ordinary

There are some things that happen in an early childhood classroom that are quite extraordinary but at the same quite ordinary.    Does the one preclude the other?

In the videos below, a child used loose parts from around the sensory table to build his own construction.  It was not an expansive structure, nor was it an aesthetic marvel.  It was ordinary in every sense of the word. In fact, he only used a few ordinary elements.  Not only were the structure and elements ordinary, but so were the operations he employed in building the structure.

Next to the sensory table, there was an assortment of what I call Hodgepodge and Doohickies. Children chose from this variety loose parts for their play at the sensory table.

On this particular day, many of the implements had already been transported to the sensory table. However, one child found four things he could use to create a little building project on the floor next to the table. For more insight into this child's actions, I solicited the parent's reaction to the videos. Her reactions are in bold italics after each clip.

In the first video, the child took a clear plastic tube and dropped it inside a larger cardboard tube. With great facility, he put the tube combination into a measuring cup.  He seemed to have an ultimate plan: standing the tubes upright in the measuring cup.  His actions were extremely measured (no pun intended) because he seemed to realize the structure was not stable. With a leap of faith, he placed another measuring cup onto the structure and let go.  To his consternation, the structured toppled over.


engineering 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Mom's reaction: In the first video I noticed his uncertainty (which was really obvious when compared to video 2). I could tell the wheels were turning the whole time and I must say was impressed that he knew he had to hold the tubes at the bottom in order to keep the clear one in the cardboard one without trial and error.

Even though he did not succeed, he carried out his actions and intentions with great care and a budding aptitude for building/engineering.  He found out that balancing different objects in each other or on top of each other was not as easy as he had hoped.

After being unsuccessful and little frustrated at trying to get the tube to stand up in the measuring cup, he decided to insert the cardboard tube into an empty red coffee can.  Almost immediately, he uttered a positive and confident "Huh" that indicated he had realized his plan.  After dropping a couple of sticks inside the tube, he placed another measuring cup on top of the tube with a lot more confidence that the structure would not fall over.  He turned to the camera and gave another "Huh" and proudly declared: "It stays."


engineering 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Mom's reaction: In the second video, I noticed how much more sure of himself and his method he was. He said "Huh" right away in the beginning because he anticipated success with the smaller coffee can. He had no apprehension on his face the whole video and used "huh" again at the end (when he was actually successfully) as a kind of completion and "I've bested you" to the now standing tube. His smile at the end was priceless and showed how pleased he was with himself and his accomplishment.

Like all good builders/engineers, the time came to test his structure.  He exuded a high degree of confidence with his body language as he tested putting a couple of other loose elements on top of his structure.  It was not hard to see that he was smiling with his whole body.


engineering 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


Mom's reaction: In the third video, I thought it was so cute how he could barely contain his excitement and couldn't sit still (It almost looked like he had to go to the bathroom!). He was willing to tempt fate by placing another container on top but wasn't too sure it wouldn't wreck his masterpiece so he ended up taking it off. He seemed a lot more relaxed after he took it off to know the tube would remain standing.

The videos really show his mechanical aptitude, which runs in the family. My husband is a 3rd generation elevator mechanic.

The parent watched the videos with her son.  This was what she said about his reaction to the videos:

He had a big smile on his face the whole time we were watching the videos and was so proud that a video of just him was commanding all of our attention. At one point he asked me, "Why did I go "ha, ha"?", I said I didn't know and asked him why he did it and he said "Because I liked it" which I interpreted as him being proud of himself.

The following week, the child was back in the sensory table area for more building.  He kept experimenting making several new balancing structures with the various ordinary loose parts..

The videos and the photo showed a child who, given the time, space and materials, used his agency to understand a little piece of his world.  And he did it while working with the most mundane elements: a plastic tube, a cardboard tube, two measuring cups, an empty coffee can, and a metal pail.  That was the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Australia bound

Next week I, will travel to Australia through Real World Learning, a group that specializes in STEM professional development.  I will be doing a number of sessions around Australia emphasizing STEM at the sensory table.  For me, the sand and water table has always been a science table in which the children created their own experiments as they played and explored the various apparatus and materials.  They were masters of scientific inquiry and often taught me something new about the apparatus and/or the materials.

There will be a couple of sessions in Australia, however, that will be relatively new for me.  I will be holding a few sessions on children's STEM explorations around invitations that allow for loud/boisterous/adventurous play in other parts of an early childhood classroom.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

For the Science in STEM, two children pursued a spontaneous line of scientific inquiry of their own choosing.  They appropriated scarves from the housekeeping area to see what would happen when they put them over the room's blower.  To reach the blower, they climbed a set of steps and balanced on the top step as they directed their scarves over the blower.


Blower fun 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


In fact, they each did their own experiment.  The child with the yellow/green scarf pressed his scarf over the blower while the child with the orange scarf launched his over the blower.  In one way the results were the same: squeals of delight.

For the Technology in STEM, a child draped a large scarf over the slide.  The scarf reduced the friction while sliding down, so she could go barreling down the slide to crash into the mat at the bottom.


Superslide from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


The scarf could be considered a form of technology because it was basically an instrument used to increase the child's speed down the slide.

For the Engineering in STEM, a group of children attempted to build a fort with a bunch of loose mats that were in the room.  
Were they able to build their fort?  Not quite, but they had a great time developing their nascent engineering skills.

For the Math in STEM, two children used loose mats to cover the top holes of the cubes.  They invented their own game of sinking into the cube.  To sink, they slowly shifted their weight into the middle until they and the mats dropped into the hole.


Sinking from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.


There was certainly a lot of physics in this episode, but there was also a lot of math.  Math is not just numbers, but also all the positions that define the space---in/out, up/down, over/under and around/through---that both of the children experienced concretely.

STEM may sound intimidating, but when one steps back to observe, it is everywhere in the early childhood classroom.  Children do not "do" science.  Children "live" science.

If you are in Australia and curious about any of the sessions, please check out the events section of Real World Learning.
 










Sunday, August 4, 2019

Horizontal tube with holes

In 2013 I built an apparatus that I called: horizontal tube with holes.  I placed a long cardboard tube lengthwise across two sensory tables.  I supported it above the tables with two brown planter trays.  For stability, I taped the tube to the the two edges of one of the brown trays and to the lip of the clear table.
I cut and drilled multiple holes in the tube.  Those holes provided multiple points of entry for the children's operations.

This may look fairly simple, but it turned out to be a multidimensional space.  It had length: the cardboard tube spanned the two tables.  It had width: the width of the table perfectly holding the planter trays.  And it had vertical depth with three levels of play: the table, the trays and the tube, all on different levels.

There was actually a fourth level of play, namely the floor.  The level of the floor is represented by the bottom of the tub next to the table.  The following video shows how one child incorporated the bottom of the tub---a.k.a. the floor---in her operations.


Covering the bottom of the tub from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She used her pail to methodically distribute the pellets to cover the bottom of the tub.  Was she cooking, gardening, ... ?

In addition to vertical depth, this apparatus provided horizontal depth, too.  The child pictured below explored that horizontal depth as he reached well into the tube to scoop out pellets.

Of course, depth also had another meaning with this apparatus.  Whether the children filled pails, the tube or the trays, the depth they experienced was volume.


The fact that this apparatus was multidimensional encouraged all kinds of operations in and around the tables.  I especially appreciated those operations that involved a certain amount of vigor.  In the video below, the child used both hands to propel the pellets out of the tube into the tub next to the table.


Horizontal blast of pellets from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child basically shot the pellets out of the tube by pushing them to the end of the tube with her right hand and thrusting them out toward the tub with her left hand.  So what if not all the pellets landed in the tub.  She created her own experiment with force and trajectory

Children are masters at exploring all the dimensions of any given apparatus.  They do it spontaneously; they do it methodically.   Sometimes they even do it with zest, and for me, that is always a bonus.





Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unique loose parts

In my last post, I wrote about children making meaningful choices around an apparatus I called the vertical tube and rope apparatus.
When I looked through my documentation on how children explored this apparatus, I noticed a couple of unique loose parts that played an integral role in their explorations.  Those loose parts were S hooks and carabiners.  In the picture above, the pail floats in midair above the table because the handle of the pail was suspended by a S hook attached to a carabiner attached to the rope strung over the table.

Here is a better view of the carabiner and S hook holding the pail in the air over the table.  That configuration allowed the child to pour hands-free.  
Contrast that operation with the child trying to hold the bucket up with one hand and pour with the other.  Of course, she could have set the pail in the bottom of the table and poured hands-free, but pouring pellets in the bucket hanging in the air was more intriguing for sure.

Not only was it intriguing to fill the bucket floating in midair, but with a little push or two, the pail easily became an experiment in pendular motion.


Pail pendulum from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child in the video above first used his left hand to push the pail four different ways.  He then used the metal bowl in his right hand to push the pail in four more different ways. 

Part of the definition of a loose parts is that they can be rearranged and combined in novel ways.  Below are some of the ways the children arranged, rearranged and combined the carabiners and S hooks.

Besides hanging pails, this child also used the carabiner to hang a metal measuring cup on the rope for easy access.

Below, the child on the left collected the carabiners and clipped them all together into a big clump.  On the right, a different child collected the carabiners and used them as a manipulative by hanging them end-to-end vertically.
 

Below, the child on the left combined a S hook with carabiners to carry the pail with a chain-like piece of equipment of her own making.  The child on the right took several carabiners to tie together all the ropes on one side of the apparatus.                                                                                                                                                                 

The child in the video below set a challenge for herself to connect two sets of S hooks, one set of hooks hanging from above and another set hanging lower.   To do that she had to make sure the lower hanging set stayed together as she lifted it up to meet the set hanging from above. 


Connecting the S hooks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Her actions were deliberate and cautious because she was not sure the two sets would hang together. As she stepped back to view her completed challenge, I saw a sense of accomplishment both in her face and gestures.

So often I see loose part displays that would be considered art that are aesthetically pleasing using all manner of materials both natural and man-made.  In addition to using loose parts to make art, they are also used to represent things such as flowers or buildings.  The children have helped me expand my idea of what is a loose part.   I now think there needs to be another category of loose parts, namely, functional loose parts that the children use to complete an enterprise of their own making.  Ramps, tubes and tires are common loose parts that fit into this category and are well known in ECE.  After watching the children play and explore with carabiners and S hooks, let me add those to the list of functional loose parts.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Meaningful choices - part 2

In my last post, I wrote about children making choices.  I wondered if the choices they were making were meaningful choices or did those choices become meaningful once they made them.  Maybe it is not a question of one or the other.  Rather, it may be a combination of both.

To make some sense of this question, I looked at the choices children made in their play around an apparatus I built in 2013 that I called tall cardboard tubes and ropes.  I taped four tall cardboard tubes to each corner of the sensory table.  I drilled multiple holes in each of the tubes and strung ropes through the holes. 
I cut holes on the bottom of each tube and also placed a plastic tub under each to catch the pellets that the children poured down the tubes.  I also added a 1"x2" boards between the cardboard tubes at the top for stability.

Because there were so many holes on so many levels, the children could make meaningful choices as to which holes they wanted to work with.   Below, the child reached as high as he possible to pour pellets into the hole at the top of the tube.  Because the hole was so high and he had to reach with his full extension, his pour yielded many pellets in the hole, but also some in his face.
In a way, that choice became meaningful for him because he gained some physical knowledge about what his body could do.

The child in the following two pictures made a meaningful choice to pour pellets into one of the middle holes.   He found out the pouring directly from the pink cup did not work so well, so he found a better way to pour into the middle hole by pouring pellets from the pink cup into a small scoop that fit nicely into the middle hole. 















 



His choice took on more meaning when he encountered and solved a problem around pouring pellets into the middle hole.

The child below made a meaningful choice to bring the dinosaurs from the block area to the sensory table to combine them with the tub and pail on the floor. 
He created more meaning as he used the bottom hole, the tub and the green pail to establish a world in which the dinosaurs could climb, eat and fight.

Believe it or not, one of the meaningful choices the children made was to climb on this apparatus.  In the following video, two children climbed up onto the lip of the table so they could pour pellets down the top opening of the tubes.  In the process, they used and created a lot of embodied knowledge, especially in their efforts to keep their balance as they climbed onto the narrow lip of the table.  In fact, the child in the stripped shirt lost his balance on the first try and had to step back down onto the ground.  On the second try, as he stepped onto the lip of the table, he shifted his weight over the table so he would not loose his balance.  And both children knew to use their left hand to hold onto holes in the tubes for stability.


Climbing the apparatus from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Up until this point, I have only talked about the children making meaningful choices.  When the children started to climb the apparatus, I had to make more conscious choices: Should I let the children climb the apparatus?  Was it safe?  Did the children have the requisite physical ability---strength, balance, etc.---to climb?  Did the children demonstrate they could assess their own risk?  Those were all moment-by-moment decisions that I was making for each child.  And those were meaningful choices because they were giving me information about myself: How do I feel about the children climbing?  What am I learning about the children's need to physically challenge themselves?  What are the children learning about themselves and their capabilities?

Even though it looked like the children had unfettered choices to explore this apparatus, there were limits.  With this apparatus, I chose not to allow the children to climb into the table.  Why?  I am not sure, but I think it had to do with the children stepping on the pellets and grinding them to sawdust.

The children honored that boundary.  One or two children did step into the table, but it was an accident and they immediately stepped out.  That said, children are great limit testers.  In the video below, the child arranged stools so she could traverse the corner of the sensory table without stepping into the table.


Making a path from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

He body posture at the end told me that she was quite proud of herself because she was able to define the boundary with her path over and around the corner of the table without stepping into the table.

In all these examples, both the children and I were making meaningful choices because they were were not prescribed.  We operated together in an flexible environment of rich possibilities.  And because the choices were not prescribed, they were authentic.  Those authentic choices opened up a myriad of other authentic choices that, in turn, created more meaning for all of us.




Saturday, June 22, 2019

Meaningful choices

As of late, my go-to book for thinking about early childhood education is The Informed Vision, by David Hawkins. In his book, Hawkins often talks about setting up the classroom for children so they can make meaningful choices.  What constitutes meaningful choices? And, more specifically, what constitutes make meaningful choices in the sensory table?

What complicates any answer to the question of meaningful choices is the following quote.  Early on in the book, Hawkins wrote:

           "The product number, of possible congenital patterns multiplied by possible early 
            biographies of children, is of higher arithmetical order than the total number of 
            children past, present, or future.  The probability is effectively zero that there 
            would be two children presenting the same educational challenges and opportunities." (p. 25).

In other words, every child who enters the classroom is different from every other child.  How, then, can a teacher set up any area of the classroom so every child can make meaningful choices?

My answer is a simple answer: every child has to be able to find their place in the classroom.  That would be a place in which they feel valued for who they are and the choices they make about how to engage with the environment.




As an example, let me show you choices that children could and did make around one apparatus set up at the sensory table in 2015.  I chose to build an apparatus in which I embedded the sensory table halfway into a big box that I called table embedded in a big box.







I chose to add a second box that was tall.  I inserted two tubes in the box that went from the top the box, down into the box and then out of the box. One tube emptied into the table and the other emptied down into the bottom of the big box.




The first meaningful choice children made was to not engage with the apparatus at all.  Because children were not required to move to stations around the room, some children chose to work in other areas of the room that included the writing table, the large muscle area, the building area, the housekeeping area, the manipulative area and the book area.   Even though I myself had chosen to put a lot of effort into building the apparatus, I still had to honor a child's choice not to engage with it and to engage with something more meaningful to them on that day.

One child chose to arrange the loose pails, pots and bowls on top of the apparatus so he could use the plastic serving spoon to deliberately test the different sound each object made. 


Percussion play on top of the box from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

He gathered the pails, pots and bowls and arranged them almost like a drum set on top of the big box.  No other child did this with this apparatus.  In essence, he played with an idea of his own making/choosing that resulted in new meaning for him.

It was not unusual to see a child actually go into the box itself.  That was likely since I purposefully chose to leave some room as an invitation for a child to crawl in.  The child in the video below crawled in and situated herself as she gleefully exclaimed: "I fit in even though I am taller than this whole thing!"


I fit in the box from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In essence, the child has chosen to use her body and her emotions to make meaning of this complicated apparatus.

If one child fit inside the box, why not two?  However, when two children chose to be in such a small space their choice took on a much different meaning.  It was not just figuring out a complicated structure, but it was also about how to negotiate movement in a very tight space.
These two children chose to be in the box together.  They also chose to constantly move, even go so far as to as to switch places a couple of times.   In essence, they were socially constructing what it means to accommodate another child in a very confined space.

Many children decided to engage with the second box with the tubes.   Because the tubes were inserted into the box, the children could not see the path of the pellets that were poured into the holes at the top.  Instead, they had to experiment to see where the pellets exited when pour into one of the holes at the top.   The child below did just such an experiment.  He chose one of the holes into which he poured the pellets.  He had an idea where the pellets would come out and looked to see if his hypothesis was right.


Hypothesis from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In essence, the child chose to experiment with the apparatus, not only to make sense of it, but also to understand the properties of the material he was working with and the forces acting upon that very material.

Children often decided to act together.  Below, five children poured pellets down two holes.  They may not have been as interested about where the pellets went as they were in the frenzy to pour as fast and as many pellets as they could as a group.
In essence, they were socially constructing what it meant to work as a group in self-chosen task.

I began with the question: What constitutes meaningful choices for children?  In almost every example I gave, I actually reversed the order to show that children were making choices and that they were meaningful to them.  That was true if they worked alone or with others.

For me this raises several questions.  If children are truly given the freedom to make choices, are all their choices meaningful?  Can a child even make a choice that is not meaningful in some way? Who gets to decide what is a meaningful choice?  Are some choices more meaningful than others?