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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I wrote about the Channel Board last week.  I wrote about how it was made and how the children used it.

I am often asked: Do you let the children build or help build an apparatus?  My answer no, not at this point.  Every time I am asked, though, I have to think about it again.  There are two main reasons why I do not engage the children in the building of the apparatus.  One reason is that I see over 100 children a week.  I see them over eight classes that only meet once a week for a two hours.  It is hard to create continuity between the classes; no two children are in the same class.  I see what I build for the sensory table as an installation that has to be strong and secure for all the children to use during the course of a week.  The second reason is selfish: I believe everyone needs a creative outlet and building apparatus for the sensory table is mine.

That said, I think that young children do need avenues to create and put things together.  To that end, I added loose parts to the Channel Board this year.  First of all, there was the crate that was not secure, but just sitting in the table.  I thought children might take it out, but no, it became a space on which to operate and an area of focused play.  Below you can see a child using the crate.  He has set a funnel in the hole and is pouring water in the hole.

On the shelves next to the sensory table, there was a clear tube for which the children found many uses.
The boy on the left is using it in conjunction with the Channel Board. He has laid it in one of the channels and is pouring water in the tube for his friend to catch.  The girl on the right has set the tube in the ever-present 5-gallon pail and is pouring water from the table into it.

There were also pieces of flexible tubing on the shelves that the children found and used.

On the left, boy is trying to pour the water down the clear tubing from his plastic measuring cup.  That takes some precise pouring.  Before long, he finds that a funnel fits nicely into the tubing (the picture on the right) and makes the job of pouring easier.

He does not stop there.  He finds another bigger funnel and fits into the black funnel for more pouring fun.

The process of using the loose parts really got interesting when the children started combining them.  The child pictured below is holding the flexible tubing in the mouth of the clear plastic tube to transport water from the table into the pail.

And even more intriguing was one group started to put the tubing inside the larger clear tube.  That led to some original pouring operations.

Wait!  Did I just make a case for the children building at the sensory table?  Maybe I will have to include more loose parts from now on.

Monday, October 22, 2012


A Channel Board is a board divided into three channels.  The channels are formed by 2 x 4's screwed into the base board from the bottom side.  Each channel is then rigged with a different surface so that when water flows down the individual channels, it flows with different effects.
One channel has bubble wrap that is held in place with carpet tape.  As water flows down the bubble wrap, it disperses around the channels between the bubbles of the bubble wrap.  If water is poured slowly, the effect is dramatic: water creeps down through the channel.  The middle channel is black plastic drainage pipe cut in half and attached to the channel with screws.  When water is poured down this channel, large ripples are created.  The third channel has a piece of rubber floor mat that is stapled in the channel.  The rubber floor mat has smaller ribs, so when water is poured down the channel, little ripples are created.

This is a take-off on the Water Ramp apparatus featured in this post.

I have tried different materials in the channels.  One year, I lined one channel with carpet.  Can you guess what happened to the water when it was poured down that channel?  It disappeared and then slowly leaked out the bottom of the channel.  One year, the middle channel was outfitted with a PVC pipe that was cut in half.
If you think about it, there is no end to what material---and subsequent effects---you can use in the channels.

Another interesting aspect of this apparatus is illustrated by the picture below.  Two girls are trying to catch the water that is poured down the channels.  Once the water hits the flat board, though, it is anybody's guess where it goes.
That, by no means, is a deterrent for any child.

The apparatus is very sturdy; it has lasted at least a decade.  The one drawback, though, is that it is heavy, and because it is heavy, it is hard to secure.   One year, I actually had the bottom of the apparatus resting on the bottom of the tub.  That damaged the board because it was always in water, which is not good for wood.  One year I used less of an incline and formed a short bridge between the table and a tub.  The problem there was that water would drip off the side.  Below is the configuration and the subsequent solution that year.

Since I do not look over my documentation before I set up an apparatus, I re-invent the wheel, so to speak, each time I set up an apparatus I have used before.  That was true this year, too.  I forgot how heavy the channel apparatus was so I set it up at a fairly steep angle (see the first picture in this post). The apparatus only lasted a day on that incline because its weight made the setup unsustainable.  Below is this year's final configuration that lasted the week.
The incline is not so great.  It rests on the tray on the blue table and the lip on the clear table. There is no need for a tray underneath because the channels keep the water from spilling out the side.  One addition this year is the unattached crate.  It ended up to be a surface above the water on which to operate and area of focused play.

That is enough explanation for now.  Take a look at how the children actually use the apparatus. In the video below one child is filling a bowl with water and rolling it down a channel on its side. She fills the bowl each time.  It's almost like the bowl and water are racing down the channel together.  A second child is pushing a copper pot down the middle channel.  That takes a little more effort than the rolling the bowl on its side.  She is looking at the child rolling the bowl down the adjacent channel as if to reference her own actions.  A third child is pouring water down the bubble wrap channel with a pink cup.  A fourth child is gathering water at the bottom tub.  She comes around to the top of the board and pours the water down the same channel as the child who is rolling the bowl.  Whether intentional or not, it is a nice bit of choreographed action.  The fifth child is an active observer. After observing she goes over to the shelf to pick out what she wants to work with.

Channel Board Work from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did you notice there are only girls around the sensory table this day?

There is more than pouring water and rolling objects down the channels.  Often times the children will run their hands down the different channels to feel the texture.  Sometimes it is a full-on texture experience with the feel of the water rubbed over the channel.

Another girl at the sensory table!  How great is that?

P.S.  My posts may be a little spotty over the next month.  I am doing a session on reflective practice at the sensory table for the 
Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota this coming weekend. I am also finalizing my presentation on building a dynamic sensory table for the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference in Atlanta November 7 - 10. If you are attending the conference and want to see my presentation it is on Saturday morning from 8 - 9:30 am.  If you are at the conference but can't attend the presentation---maybe a little too early---drop me a line and maybe we can meet and chat.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Last week I wrote about Clear Plastic Tubes and Funnels.  I kept that apparatus up for a second week, but I added another component: a 5.5 liter laundry detergent jug with a push valve.
A crate is taped to the small water table.  The jug is taped securely to the crate.  A firm, clear plastic tube is taped to the handle of the jug and empties into the tray forming the base of the tubes and funnels apparatus.  A funnel is taped to the jug and is connected to a tube that is threaded through the crate to empty into the blue table.

Here is a view from the other side.  You can see that a hole is cut in the laundry jug for filling.

Pushing the button on the laundry jug is not as simple as it may look.  Why?  Because it takes a certain amount of force to get the button to push down.  In fact, you have to use an index finger on the lip of the button mechanism to create enough opposing force for the thumb to push down. Once it is down, it is easy to hold down and fill a cup.

Some children were able to master the operation by themselves.  Some were not.  That was OK, because getting water out of the jug then became a two or three person operation.  We often take these operations for granted, but they do take a certain amount of communication, coordination and cooperation.  And don't forget the active observer taking it all in so he can contribute later on.

In reviewing pictures for this post, I ran across the picture below.  A child is filling the jug through the hole.  That was expected.  What was not expected was the other child watching the operation through the small cap hole on the end.

Of course, the child pouring had to check the water level himself.

Here is a little insight into on how this component originated.  Last year a colleague gave me the laundry detergent jug.   She said when the jug was empty, she immediately thought of me.  If anyone could do anything with it, she thought, I could---and probably in the sensory table.  I took it not really knowing how I would use it.  In fact, I did not do anything with it all year last year. Instead, I left it in the housekeeping area as a prop, which the children generously appropriated for their own purposes.  It was easy to carry around because of the handle and they enjoyed the challenge of pushing the red button.  I would revisit using it as part of an apparatus every once in awhile, but none of the ideas seem to gain any traction.  I could have left it in the housekeeping area this year, too, but using it to extend the tube and funnel apparatus was as likely place to start as any.   The challenge was to have the jug above the table out of the water oriented in such a way as to allow the children to operate the button.  I also wanted the jug to be within reach but the button still had to be over the table so when it was pressed the water would empty into the table and not onto the floor.  I brought in a crate and tried two different orientations.  Once I was satisfied with the orientation, I taped the crate to the table and then the jug to the create. Once the jug was in place, I added the other components to make it more interesting. 

Sometimes it just takes a willingness to play with objects---almost like a child---to see a idea become a reality.   By the way, I joked with the parents that this component originating from adult world of washing clothes allows the children to work on the "life skill" of pushing the button of a laundry detergent jug. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Before I tell you about this apparatus, I must thank Juliet Robertson from I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!  Back in September, she wrote a post on a water wall that used the axioms, dimensions, and elements on the right-hand column of this blog to understand how the children explored all aspects of play at the water wall.  I think she did a better job of explaining the axioms than I do.  Check it out here.  And thanks Juliet.

Clear Plastic Tubing and Funnels is a favorite apparatus.  I try to set it up every year.  I did not set it up last year, so it was the first apparatus I set up for our new school year.

The setup is as follows.  There is a planter tray set inside the table that is the base for the apparatus.  A crate is then duct taped to the tray to make it sturdy.  Next, funnels are inserted into individual pieces of clear plastic tubing and the two are duct taped together.  The tubing is threaded through the crate so the funnel sits on top of the crate and the tubing exits the crates in various places.  The funnels are secured to the top of the crate with duct tape.  The clear plastic tubing is also secured to the crate and various parts of the table to make them secure.  In the picture above, the highlighted funnel is connected to the tubing that empties back into the table through a sprinkler head.  What that means is that the water is poured into a funnel on one side of the table, crosses over to the other side of the table through the tube running through the crate, and travels along the opposite side of the table along the edge before emptying into the table through the sprinkler head.

Here is a picture showing where the other funnels that are connected to shorter tubes empty.

And if you go to the other side of the crate, there is a big black funnel that is connected to a black tube that empties into a second water table.

And when the children begin to figure out how the water flows through the "water machine," there is a lot of focused action that usually connects several children.

This year I have changed the setup that holds the implements and utensils that the children use in the sensory table.  That setup is pictured below.
Everything often ends up in the table, but it is a nice way to start the class and it gives children a place to put the implements and utensils when it is time to clean up.

I have posted twice about this apparatus before here and here.  The second of those posts really points out how children use familiar and novel operations to explore the apparatus.

I have to leave you with this final picture; it attests to capacity for play at this apparatus. For this particular class, this is only their second session together.  Still, well over half the class has chosen to play here with total engagement.  Some are working at the funnels; some are working at the ends of the tubes; and some are just scooping and pouring.  How many children can you count around the table?