About Me

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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.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Last week's post introduced the apparatus Big Box on Top.  

In that post, I noted that the space inside the box was so inviting that children actually crawled into the box and sat in the table.

I kept this apparatus up for a second week with one modification: I added a cardboard tube that transversed the box horizontally.

The reason I added the horizontal tube was to prevent children from climbing into the box and into the table.  Did it work?
Are you kidding me?  How many tubes will it take to stop them from crawling in?  I really do not have a problem with the children crawling in.  Still, I wanted to see if I could stop them from climbing into the box.  As you see, my experiment did not work.  Silly me!

Putting aside the crawling in and out, the apparatus spawned a multitude of operations as the children played and explored the apparatus.  One of the simplest operations---it is actually a set of operations---is to fill a container and then pour it down the tube.  Watch how that works with these two-year-olds.

If you take the time to analyze the video, this simple operation turns out to be quite complex. These two are filling their measuring cups with other containers before emptying their cups down the tube.  That in itself is not so simple.  Each child has a different container to fill his cup and each container has a different shape and size which makes each act of filling the cup a little different.  And why do they have to fill their cup with another container in the first place?  Why don't they just scoop corn out of the table with their cups?  As far as pouring, did you notice the amount of effort it took for them to stretch to be able to pour the corn down the highest tube.  We have not even begun to mention things like eye-to-hand coordination, muscle control, language, etc.

Pouring corn down the tube becomes a social operation when someone is on the other end. Watch.

These three boys have coordinated their play.  They are connected by the tube and they each have a role to play.  You can have the pouring and the catching as separate activities, but the boy in orange gives us a clue that it is social by checking the tube to see if the flow of corn is being obstructed by his friend on the other end.  If the video were longer, you would see clearly just how social.

Sometimes that social play involves a fair amount of negotiation, coordination, and give-and-take. You can see that in the pictures below.
The boy in the box is pouring corn through the tube to the boy with the pan outside the box.  The boy in the box is actually watching the boy catch the corn in his pan through a hole in the box. (On this day, a tube was dislodged and hole big enough to see through was left in the side of the box.)

There is more negotiation here than meets the eye because before long the roles are reversed.
The boy who was inside is now outside catching the corn while the boy who was outside is now inside pouring the corn.  How did that happen?  Through some serious coordination and give-and-take.

There are so many of these operations that arise from play with this apparatus.  Too many, in fact, to continue documenting in this post.  There is one more, though, that seemed to come out of nowhere. Watch.

The boy in the video seems to be paying a lot of attention to me, almost as if it is a performance. In a way it is, because when I saw what he was doing, I asked him to do it again.  He had no trouble recreating his operation.  But what prompted this child to dump his dustpan backwards?
Some questions arise for which there are no answers.  They are simply fodder for reflecting on the wonderment of children and their operations.

P.S.  School is out for the summer so I will be taking a break from the blog for July and August.  I will use the time to fine-tune a presentation on sensory tables for the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta this November.

As I plan for that presentation, I would like to ask for your help.  Do you have questions about any apparatus or the process of building apparatus that have come up in the course of reading this blog? If you were to go to my presentation on sensory tables, what would you want to see or hear? Also, if you have tried to make an apparatus from the blog, which did you try and how did that work for you?  The best way to learn is to do, but are there some tips that would have helped you in the doing? Also, if you thought you were going to build something you saw in the blog but did not, what gave you pause.

Please feel free to comment on the blog or contact me directly through email: tpbedard@msn.com

Thanks in advance.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Big Box on Top sounds like it could be a Dr. Seuss book.  But no, Big Box on Top is an apparatus for the sensory table.  It is what its name implies: a big box set on top of the sensory table.

I have set up big boxes around the sensory table before.  In each case, though, they have been placed next to the table like this:

I could have created a similar set up, but I started to play with different placements for the box. I chose this time to place the box on top of the table itself.  To make it secure, I cut notches in the box so it would fit over the table.  The box could then be anchored to the table with duct tape.
I then inserted cardboard tubes.  Two tubes completely transverse the box in opposite directions. That allows the children to transport the corn from one side of the box to the other.  Another tube is placed so that corn from outside the box can be poured into the box.  And the fourth tube is placed so corn is transported from inside the box to outside the box.

What did I expect the children to do with an apparatus like this?  I expected them to pour corn into the tubes from the outside.
One of the interesting aspects of this operation is that when the corn is poured down the tube it seems to disappear.  That is unless you actually watch it fall through the tube.

I expected children on the other end to catch the corn either with buckets or their hands.  
The interesting thing about this operation is that the child cannot see when the corn his coming. Because the big box blocks his view of the children pouring, he has to rely on his sense of hearing to know that corn is coming down the tube.

I expected children to work under the "dome" of the box to pour the corn out of a the box---

and since there were cut-outs in the tubes that transverse the box, I expected children to investigate how the corn moves through the tubes in the box.

What I did not expect was that the space would be so inviting that a child would actually crawl into the box itself.  I actually thought the tubes would prevent the children from crawling in.  As it turned out, the tubes were mere obstacles to navigate going in and out of the box.

Once one child crawls in the box, it can pretty much be expected that more children will crawl in the box.  A little crowded you say?  Yes, but what better way to explore the space than with your friends.

Axiom #2 on the right-hand column of this blog states that children with explore all the spaces in an apparatus.  After play with this apparatus, there seems to be a natural extension of that axiom: If the spaces are big enough, they will use their whole body to explore those spaces.  And Axiom #5 states that children are compelled to put things in holes. After play with this apparatus, there seems to be a natural extension of that axiom: If the holes are big enough, they will actually put their bodies in the holes.

My original thought in placing the box on top of the sensory table was to create large spaces that the children would experience "in," "out," and "under" in their play and exploration of the apparatus. Leave it to the children to take those simple concepts to the max.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Every year I set up baby washing in my classroom.  Several years ago, I decided to incorporate a clothesline right over the table so the children could also wash and hang clothes.

The original setup is described here.

This year I added a new component to the apparatus.  I added another rope and looped it around two pulleys: a moving clothesline.  (The new rope is pictured in the middle below.)  This year I also added another small table. The moving clothesline traverses both tables so the children can send clothes from one table to the other.

To make the rope a loop, I cut a piece of rope twice as long as the distance between the two poles and duct taped the two ends together.  That way the duct tape would not impede the rope from moving around the pulley; the only time the rope would get stuck is when clothes or a clothespin would hit the pulley.

Watch how it works.

There are at three things to note from the video.  First, as soon as the boy has finished hanging the pants, the pants spring back to the pulley end.  That is because the boy at the blue table---who has taken a keen interest in the moving clothesline---is pulling on the rope so the pants spring back as soon as the boy hanging the pants lets go.  Second, when the boy who hung the pants tries to move the pants, he  pulls the rope the wrong way so the pants do not move.  Almost immediately her realizes the situation and adjusts his actions to send the pants over to the other table.  Third, the girl on the right is a avid observer of the whole operation.  That is important because we often dismiss the role of observers both in terms of support given to those performing any given operation and in terms of the their own learning by active observation.  

One group this year engaged in a entirely new pursuit: they brought the animals over from the block area to join the washing fun and then decided to hang them on the new clothesline.
As you can see, most are just balanced by their ankles on the rope, but one is actually attached with a clothespin.  

The moving clothesline added a new element to washing babies and clothes.  And it never fails, the children take that new element and make it their own and give it their own twist.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


The Boxes in Boxes apparatus started with 11 boxes in two tables.

There are six boxes---all connected---in the larger blue table on the left and there are five boxes---all connected---in the smaller clear table on the right.

Over the course of three weeks, the apparatus grew to over 25 boxes---all connected.  This view is looking at the apparatus from the perspective of the smaller table.

This is the view looking at the apparatus from the bigger blue table.

I wrote about the first addition to the apparatus in the last post because of the need to fix a design flaw.

After that addition, two more boxes were added.

Both boxes were inserted through the sides of the larger box and anchored by the lip of the blue table.  Inserting the boxes after the fact was quite easy.

I used the lip of the table to measure the height at which the box would be inserted; traced the shape of the box on the side of the larger box; and cut the hole.

Before the box was inserted, a hole was cut in the bottom of the box in one corner.
To understand the full connectedness here, you need to understand that there is a hole where three boxes meet that is not visible from the outside. That way, corn from other boxes ends up in the newly embedded box and then drops into the bottom of the table.

I embedded another box with the same operation on the set of boxes in the smaller table

I then added another box that connected the two sets of boxes in each of the tables.  That addition formed a bridge that allowed the children to move the corn from one table to the other.
Of course, there are holes connecting the boxes in the smaller table with the bridge box and another hole at the end of the bridge box over the blue table so corn can be moved back and forth between the two tables through the box structure.

We are not done yet.  I added another box on the outside of the small table that rested on the floor and was connected to the existing structure in the smaller table.

Though the box goes all the way to the floor it has a false bottom.  How do you make a false bottom? You run a sheet of cardboard through the box and support it with another box inside the original box.
That all gets taped up and then a hole is cut in the top of the box.

Without the false bottom, the corn would be way too deep for the children to reach.  As is, it is just the right height to dangle an arm in and finger the corn while you watch your friend play with the cars.

Did you follow all that?  If you did your spacial literacy is off the charts.  The children in the classroom have an distinct advantage because they get to explore the spaces with their whole being. Watch!

As you saw in the video, the children were all over the apparatus.  They were over, under, around, and through it.  The result of all that exploration: a sense of space borne through their own actions and operations.

To conclude and to make the point for spacial literacy, here are six more pictures of children exploring the apparatus.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 2, 2012


In the preceding post, I introduced the apparatus Boxes in Boxes.  

What I did not tell you is that there is a design flaw.  Look at the surface formed by the top of the large box in the foreground.  It is a nice, flat service on which the children can put the implements of play.  I did figure as much when I first set it up.  What I did not anticipate is that the children would use the surface for piling corn and animating corn.

Watch what happens in the video below.  The two children start by carefully pouring the corn on top of the box.  They seem very careful to keep it on top and not spill.  All of a sudden, the boy starts to slap the corn on top of the box.  

Yes, corn is flying all over.  That is not what I envisioned for play at this apparatus. 

I videotaped this little episode because I knew I made a mistake in the construction of this particular apparatus.  The child does what he does naturally: explore all aspects of the apparatus and the medium.  In other words, he is doing what he is suppose to do.  And oh what fun!  He must be saying to himself: "Look what I can do!  I can make noise and I can propel the corn in interesting ways.  I can really have an impact on my physical world."

So what do I do if I do not want corn all over the place.  I change the apparatus.
You can see in the picture above that I taped another box on top of the large box.  (I actually embedded the box and cut a hole in one corner so the corn falls into the box below.)  That pretty much eliminated the large flat surface.

"How did that work?" you ask.  Watch.

As you can see, instead of pouring corn on top of the box, the child now pours it in a box.  The child does not slap the corn, but he does churn the corn vigorously.  He must be saying to himself: "Look what I can do!  I can make noise and I can propel the corn in interesting ways.  I can really have an impact on my physical world." 

Children at this age do not misbehave.  (I actually never use that word or say a child is bad.)   Rather, they are in the process of exploring what is acceptable and what is not.  So much of what is acceptable and what is not is determined by the environment.   When I plan an activity, I do not blame the children for not doing what I expect.  Rather, I observe and take joy in their exploration. If I have to modify the activity so I am comfortable with their exploration, I do so readily.  Children are absolutely the best explorers, and by following their cue, I discover quite quickly when an apparatus has a design flaw.