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, December 22, 2013


I take thousands of pictures in the classroom every year.  The ones you see are almost exclusively from the sensory table.  My pick for classroom photo of the year is a shot in a different area of my classroom.  It is an area of the room that most people would not consider a place of play and exploration.  The area encompasses green steps, a ledge, and the windows.
The ledge is three feet off the ground and a foot wide and accessed via the steps.  The children have appropriated this space for their own purposes.  Last year, I moved the color blocks to the windows so the children could look out to see the world in different colors if they so desired.

Now that you understand the space, here is my favorite classroom picture of the year.   I call it: Vestige of Play.
Are you surprised there are no children in the picture?  There are no children, but this picture reveals a  trace of something created by two children in the morning class.  The trace is rendered more impressive with the effects of the afternoon sun.

Like any good picture, there is a story.  The story begins with a serendipitous moment and weaves a continuing thread that actually lasts a couple of days.

It is cleanup time.  Two boys have been building with the color blocks on the ledge.  For cleanup, I ask them to put the color blocks back in the window.  Up until this point, the color blocks have resided in the lower window. One of the boys, who was not too thrilled about putting away the blocks, finally relents. But instead of putting the blocks in the lower window, he starts putting them in the higher window. He gives me a sideways glance as if to say: "If I am going to put them away, I will put them a way my way."  I just tell him: 'That works."  With no further prodding, they willingly stack the blocks in the higher windows.

This is what it looked like when they were done.  It was impressive, but when I came back in the afternoon, the sun had worked some magic to make it a stunning sight---and my classroom photo of the year.

The blocks were still in the window for the next class period the following day.  Two different boys asked about it.  They promptly took the color blocks down.  I did tell them that they had to take from the top.  After taking all the color blocks out of the window, they started to build again.
You notice they are not trying to make the edges line up with each other.  Rather, this is an exercise in free-form balancing of the blocks.

On the third day, another child noticed the blocks stacked in the two upper windows.  He set about stacking all the color blocks in one window.
Did you notice he is on his tippy toes on the bottom window ledge?  He is balancing the blocks while balancing himself.  That is quite a balancing act.  

During the next class, this window was taken down by some other children.  This all happened over the course of one week in the late fall.  The stairs, the ledge and the window are still open for play but have yielded to some other pursuits.

There is a second place photo of the year; it comes from the same area in the same week. Notice there are vents on the ledge.  Those are the blowers that circulate air in the room.   A child climbed up the steps to look out the window.  The blowers are blowing her hair and the color blocks are casting colored shadows all over her.  I call this picture: Color Me Free.

I am taking a week off from blogging.  I want to thank you all for a great year.  Come back again next year to see what is cooking at the sensory table.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Whenever I present to others on the work I do at the sensory table, I am always asked: "Do you let the children build?"  I got a version of that question recently from Serious About Play on Facebook.  The question was: " How do you inspire invention at your sand and water table?  I used to get defensive when I was asked these questions because I consider myself a play advocate who values the children constructing their own knowledge both physically and cognitively.

I will admit that when I first started writing this blog, it was mainly a platform for me to share the things I build at the sensory table.   However, the more I document and the more I write, the more important it is form me to also show how children explore the apparatus.

Let's take some concrete examples from the latest apparatus: Tall Cardboard Tubes and Rope

Let's start with the rope.  The child in the video wants to see how long the blue rope is.  To do that, he pulls the rope hand-over-hand until he reaches the cabinets.  At that point, he turns sideways which actually makes it more difficult for him to find the rope as he crosses his body with his arm and hand to grab the rope each time.  Finally, he reaches his self-selected goal and pulls the rope taut.

How long is the rope? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There is a simple beauty in that little bit of exploration.  And besides, he has created a way to take a measure of the rope.

The space was provisioned with carabiners, S-hooks and pails so the children could hook things onto the rope.  They certainly did that, but they did it in ways I did not expect.  In the video below, the child first scoops from a pail hanging from a S-hook and a carabiner.  Notice that he has to steady the pail in order to spoon the pellets.  He then decides to dump the pellets back into the table. He has to pull the whole pail back over the table. He uses both hands, but then he places his left arm under the pail and his right hand on the lip to tip the pail.   As he finishes emptying the bucket, he gently releases the bucket to swing back into place almost as if he is anticipating the subsequent motion.

Swinging pail from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

We have never had swinging pails in the classroom yet this child is quite adept at working with such a configuration.   Why is that?

I would say the tall vertical tubes were the focal point of most of the activity.  That included the bottom of the tube.  Watch the following video to see the child is using a stick to extract pellets from the bottom of the tube.  She uses her hand near the end but then goes back to using the stick.

Scraping pellets with a stick from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Not only is this child showing persistence in her actions, but she has also created her own tool to realize those actions.

Many children would pour pellets down the top of the tube.   In the picture below, the child is both pouring pellets into the top of the tube and he has stuck his hand in one of the holes to feel the pellets fall on his hand as they travel down the tube.
This child has created a new sensory experience for himself by completing a cycle of pouring pellets through the top hole of the tube and then sticking his hand in a hole lower on the tube so he can feel the falling pellets he has just poured.  

My biggest surprise was that the apparatus became a climber.  
That should not have surprised me, though.  This a vertical structure so why wouldn't the children explore it vertically?  Besides, if you are pouring pellets into the top of the tube, wouldn't you want to see where they go?   

I did make one request for this type of exploration: I asked the children not to step into the table itself.   In response to my request, one child created a path across one corner of the table using stools.  She steps on the stools on one side of the table and then onto the lip on that same side. She steps over the corner of the table onto the lip on the other side before stepping down onto the stools on that side.

The stools, of course, make it easier for her to step up on the lip of the table and subsequently pour pellets down the top of the tube.  Maybe the "stool pathway" is a natural extension of that exploration.

Did you see the boy step in the table?  After putting one foot in the table, he quickly readjusts his body and his foot so he is not stepping in the table..  As you saw, his purpose was to also cross the table and he figured out a way to do it by avoiding stepping outright into the table. He did not have to but he had internalized my request and figuratively and physically balanced his actions to comply and still complete his own undertaking: crossing over the table.

I am not as defensive as I used to be when people ask me if I let the children build.  As you can see, the apparatus I build are invitations to the children to explore.   Those invitations allow the children to bring all their capabilities and capacities to bear in order for them to make sense of the structure, the space, the provisions and each other.  And so often the understanding they author is astonishing. 

P.S.  I do have to say that children do build with many of the loose parts they discover at the sensory table.
OK, maybe I am still a little defensive.


Saturday, December 7, 2013


I have never mapped out how an idea is realized.  That is because it is not always clear to me how it all comes together.   However, with Tall Cardboard Tubes with Rope---the latest apparatus--I have a clear, yet convoluted, view of how this apparatus came to fruition.

The seed for the idea was planted by a post back in June 2011 by Juliet Robertson at Creative Star Learning.  She wrote a piece called A rope trail for everyone.  Juliet's posts often jettison me back to my childhood when I was outside everyday, often down by the Mississippi River.  In our play, we used many of the things Juliet writes about.  The post on ropes hit a cord---pun intended--so I resolved to build an apparatus indoors at the sensory table for ropes.  

I forgot about the idea, but in December of 2011, Juliet again wrote about using ropes.  This post was called Reflections on ropes.  In that post, Juliet writes: "There is something about rope that just makes it fun and appealing to children of all ages. The more I use it, the more I learn about its potential, particularly for group and cooperative work."   At that point, I redoubled my resolve to make a rope apparatus for the sensory table.

In Juliet's posts, the trees were the anchors for the ropes.  Since I could not bring trees inside, I imagined building a framework over and around the table.  Attached to the framework on two sides and the top would be panels with holes. I thought the side panels would be 18 to 24 inches taller than the height of the table so the top panel would be higher than the table itself creating a space under the structure for play.  The panels with holes would be the anchors through which the children would pull and tug the rope.  Here is a crude drawing of how I envisioned the apparatus.
There was one problem that kept bothering me: how to make it strong enough to withstand the tugs and pulls of children on the rope.

In the winter of 2012, I was in a large hardware store.  I was attracted to pieces of pegboard that were on sale.  I thought these would make the perfect panel for an apparatus for ropes.  The existing holes in the pegboard offered the opportunity I was looking for in a panel.  I bought several pegboard panels---they were on sale, after all.  

The pegboard sat in the basement for a couple of months taunting me to build the apparatus.  I have found that to build anything, I need to start the building process, otherwise doubts keep popping up about the feasibility of the construction.  Even knowing that, I still could not get over the nagging problem of how to make it strong enough.

In the meantime, I remembered an apparatus I had built in October 2012 that was a platform on which the children could mix and pour.  The apparatus was called Aksel's tray.
This was basically a large wooden tray set between two sensory tables that allowed the children to mix and pour hands-free on a comfortable level.

Remembering the tray, I wondered if I could set up a piece of pegboard over the table as a platform to the children to work on.  Thus, the Pegboard platform was born.

At this point, the pegboard had already dropped out of contention for building an apparatus for ropes because the actual breakthrough I needed to envision the rope apparatus came a month or so earlier after I made an apparatus called Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  
The actual "aha" moment came when I was drilling the holes in the horizontal tubes.  It occurred to me that if these long tubes with holes were set on the vertical around the table, they would constitute "trees" and serve as anchors for the ropes.  There was only one problem.  I had a viable idea but I did not have the materials because I had used the long cardboard tubes I had on hand for the Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  

In June of this year, just as the school year was ending, I got The Ideal Gift.  The ideal gift was a small cardboard tube given to me by a student.  At about the same time, a colleague brought me several large cardboard tubes.  Those larger tubes provided me with just what I needed to to build the rope apparatus: long and sturdy cardboard tubes.  More than two years after the seed was planted the apparatus was built.

If you are a detail person and checked the dates for the posts I have mentioned leading up to the realization of the rope apparatus, you will notice that the dates actually jump back and forth.   That is how my mind works.  The pegboard platform actually happened after I figured out that placing the tubes on the vertical would work for the rope apparatus.  Because I no longer needed the pegboard for the rope apparatus, it was freed up to be used in another apparatus, the pegboard platform.  But I would not have had one without the other.  Does that make any sense?

Make no mistake about it; building things for the sensory table is a chance for me to play.   Not only do I think it is vitally important for children to play in the classroom, but I think adults need to play, too.  I was telling a parent a couple of weeks ago that the sensory table is my playground and when I am done building, I turn it over to the children to use as their playground.  One of the children heard me and took me to task saying that the sensory table was too small to be a playground.   I stand corrected.  It is my play space that then becomes the children's play space.    

This post is an experiment of sorts.  Instead of giving an idea for you to play with, I tried to show you how I played with an idea.  It was fun for me, but I have no idea if was of any value to you.  If you feel so inclined, let me know either way and I will be the wiser.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Back in June of 2011, Juliet from Creative Star Learning in Scotland, wrote a piece about using real ropes in a post she called: A rope trail for everyone.  That post got me thinking that I would like to figure out a way to use ropes at the sensory table.  After mulling it over for more than two years, I finally figured out how to incorporate ropes at the sensory table.  I built an apparatus I call: Tall Cardboard Tubes and Ropes.  (The tall cardboard tubes are analogous to the trees in Juliet's post. Is that analogy too big of a stretch?)
The tall tubes are taped at the bottom to each leg at the corners of the table.  They are taped so the lip of the table provides stability across the width of the table.   1x2 inch boards are taped to the top of the tubes to give them stability across the length of the table.  Holes of different sizes and orientations were drilled before taping the tubes to the table.

Openings were cut in the bottom of each tube because I knew children would pour and put things in the holes.  To catch the stuff, I placed planter dishes under each tube.

I really expected the children to weave the ropes in and out of the holes. But there was not much of that.  I would not say I was disappointed, just surprised.

Instead, there was a lot of activity centered around pouring pellets in the holes.  First, there were the holes in the sides of the tubes.  Have you ever tried to pour something into a hole on a vertical plane?  It is not so easy because you cannot tip your cup high enough without loosing contact with the hole.

Of course, if you can find the right implement, you can pour all the pellets down the hole.

Second, there are the holes on the very top of the tubes that create a challenge the children cannot resist.

Reaching and Pouring from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What is so great about this video is that the boy has to reach up as high as he can while standing on a stool all the time keeping his noodle scoop perpendicular to the tube until he can turn his wrist to pour the pellets into the top of the tube.  Did you see his expression upon completing his self-appointed task?  The smile is priceless.

Some of the most unique play was a direct result of the provisions offered with this apparatus. There were small pails, carabiners, and S-hooks.  Below you can see all three being used: a carabiner is clamped onto to the rope; an S-hook is hitched to the carabiner, and the handle of the pail is linked into the S-hook.
When the pail is attached this way, it hangs above the table and swings back and forth.

One child hooked several carabiners together and attached a pail to the lowest carabiner.  He proudly told everyone around him that it was a campfire.

In addition to the apparatus, the children took full advantage of the carabiners as unique manipulatives.
(Please note that these are not climbing grade carabiners.  Rather, they are tagged as D-clips in the hardware store where I found them.)

The S-hooks were also used as a new manipulative.

This girl makes linking the S-hooks look easy.  That is because she does it carefully and with great precision to make sure the original links are not broken.

This apparatus fostered many unique types of exploration and play that I will write about over the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I want to thank Juliet at Creative Star Learning for her original inspiration.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I want to thank all those who attended my presentation this morning at the  National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC) Annual Conference in Washington D.C.  It was an 8:00 AM session and I found out there are a lot of early risers in the field of early childhood.  If you are visiting the blog for the first time, welcome.  Know that questions and comments are always welcome. If you want to email me directly, just click on the complete profile button and push email.  

Because it takes me a long time to do an original post, I am looking over previous posts and I am reposting some that may have gotten less attention than others. This fourth repost goes all the way back to December 2010.  For me this was an important early post because it showed that by combining apparatus, there is no limit as to what a person can build at the sensory table.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Combining apparatus allows one to exponentially vary the configuration of any given apparatus. That is especially true if you keep in mind all the dimensions mentioned in the right-hand column of this blog.  Here you see a cardboard tube embedded in a cardboard divider.

Note that this is another version of the cardboard dividers, one in which the panels are much lower.

A hole is cut in two of the panels on one side. The cardboard tube is threaded through the holes and taped. A section of the tube in the middle has been cut away.   Now besides the open spaces created by the vertical walls of the divider, the tube creates both horizontal and closed dimensions to the apparatus. 

In another version of this combined apparatus, an additional plastic florescent light cover is embedded in the divider.  This configuration is a little different because the table is used to support one end of the tube and channel and both the tube and channel extend over the end of the table so children can push the sand out of the tube and channel into the tub below.

Little construction vehicles are added because they fit nicely into the tube and channel and create a different type of play with moving the sand with front loaders and bulldozers.  

If you look at dimensions to the right again, the cardboard divider is an open apparatus with vertical walls.  The tube in the apparatus introduces a horizontal and closed dimension and the plastic channel adds an horizontal and open dimension.

What does that mean for play?

It offers opportunities for focused play in an individual space on a different level with a different dimension.  The child below is playing with the truck and bulldozer on a level six inches above the bottom of the table. In addition, he is operating on a horizontal open plane.  That naturally restricts his motor movements on that plane.
The child below is scooping sand with her hand from the tube.  This is a horizontal plane that adds a closed dimension to the apparatus.  How far can she move her hand when she scoops the sand?  And how far into the tube can she reach to scoop the sand?  She, too, can operate on two different physical levels. Actually, there is a third level with the tube when you see the tube as two separate levels: in the tube and on the tube. Both the channel and the tube offer motor experiences on a horizontal plane.  The tube also offers motor experiences that are altered by the open/closed nature of the tube.

If also offers new challenges for transporting the sand both through the window and through the tube.

It also offers new opportunities for social interaction.

And it offers new opportunities for role play.

Children will explore all the spaces you give them.  Their explorations lay the groundwork for their firsthand knowledge of spatial relations.  It almost sounds like math!

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I am in the process of finalizing my presentation on sand and water tables for the National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC) Annual Conference next week in Washington D.C.  Because it takes me a long time to do an original post, I am looking over previous posts and am reposting some that may have gotten less attention than others. This third repost was from September two years ago, although the actual apparatus was built more than five years ago.  I like big boxes and I like to figure out ways to attach them to the sensory table.  This particular version created two very different spaces at the table and allowed me to talk about the spaces and how children dialogued with those spaces.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


A big box by itself always offers hours of fun for young children.  When I come across a big box, I like to bring it into school and attach it to the sensory table.  A few years ago, we bought a big TV.   It was not a flat screen, so it came in a big box.  So what did I do? I brought the box to school and attached it to the sensory table.

I attached it by cutting a rectangular flap on the side of the box adjacent to the table.  The top and two sides of the flap were completely cut through, but I only scored the bottom so I could fold it over and tape it to the lip of the table.  Since the lip was two inches wide, I actually scored it twice, once at the box and once where I wanted the flap to bend over the lip.

The reason it is taped is to keep it attached to the table so the children do not pull it away from the table. The hole is suppose to be a connection between the box and the table.

In addition, I cut big holes on three sides of the box not facing the table.
(If you look inside the box, you can see that all the loose flaps are taped down.  That gives the box a little extra strength and does not allow the medium to get under the inside flaps.)

This apparatus creates two separate spaces.  The spaces are very different.  The space in and around the table itself is very open and bright.  The space created by the box is closed with less light.  They are, however, connected by a window that I thought would create action between the two spaces.

This apparatus was set up in my classroom over three years ago.  I thought the window would connect play, but as I look over my documentation, I do not have any pictures of the window as a catalyst for play between the two spaces.  Neither do I have a recollection of much exploration through the window.  As you can see in the picture below, two children are playing in the two different spaces totally oblivious to each other.

Maybe the window was too small or maybe the spaces were insular enough that there was litlle play between them.  I have attached other big boxes to the sensory table and cut a larger hole between the box and the table that has resulted in much more interaction between the two spaces. Here a big box setup that fostered play between the box and the table.

Both spaces for this apparatus, though, were attractive for the the children.

Some played in the table.

Some played in the box.

Because I used farm animals and animal bedding, much of the play was similar.  There was a lot of scooping of bedding into the containers, putting the animals in the containers, and feeding the animals.

At the table

And in the box

Though the play was similar, I think the experience of space was different.  Children get a different sense of space when they are standing at the table than when they are kneeling on the floor and putting their hands, arms, head, and torso into the box.  An apparatus like this is teaching children about space because they experience space with their bodies.  And learning about space is fundamental to later academics subjects such as geometry.

Speaking of space, you cannot forget about the space on top of the box.  In the picture below, you can see a child sweeping animal bedding from the top of the box.

This picture actually shows all the different levels and spaces being used at one time in and around the table and apparatus: two girls are sweeping the floor (lowest level, flat/open space); two boys are in the box (a little higher lever, three-dimensional/closed space); one girl is playing in the table (the next highest level, three-dimensional/open space); and one boy is sweeping the top of the box(highest level, flat/open space).

Children naturally explore levels and spaces.  The more you provide, the more they will explore and discover.   

P.S.  If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Washington DC in next week, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Saturday morning from 8:00-9:30, so we will see who are the early birds.   In the process of preparing for the conference, I am putting together a three-ring binder of some of the apparatus that do not fit into the presentation, including some of the newest apparatus.  Any readers of the blog who want to see more examples that do not fit in the presentation, contact me to find a time to meet and chat.  Please contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Thursday, January 20, 2011


I am in the process of finalizing my presentation for the National Association of Young Children Annual Conference for the third week in November.  Because it takes me a long time to finish an original post, I am looking over previous posts and will repost some that may have gotten less attention than others since I began writing over three years ago.  This second repost is from January 2011 and features an apparatus that I have since forgotten about.  Since finding it anew, I will reconstruct it sometime this school year because of the types of play and exploration it fosters. This post also covers more in-depth the building process.

If you look at the DIMENSIONS in the right-hand column of this blog, the first Cardboard Chute apparatus falls under the dimensions of incline and open.  The cardboard chutes in this post are also on an incline, but closed.  Since this actually takes some putting together, this post talks about building the apparatus.  The next post will talk about types of play and exploration fostered by this apparatus.
For this apparatus, I used three boxes.  The first box---the support box---was approximately the width of the table on one of its sides.  It was also both narrow and tall on its other two sides. Since it was the width of the table and fit snugly inside the table, it was easy to tape securely into the table.  The narrowness made it possible for the chutes to pass through it.  The height allowed the chutes to be set on an incline.  Two other boxes constituted the chutes.   One of the chutes in the picture above is a box that held window blinds and the second chute is a box that held an artificial Christmas tree.  I cut out both ends of each box.  Without those ends, the chutes collapse easily.   When they are embedded in the support box, though, they are quite stable.

Here are three boxes I used to make closed chutes three years ago.

In this version, the support box is as wide as the table and actually sits on the lip of the table.  A cardboard tube has been added so the flow of material can go two ways.  With the chutes only going one direction, the play and exploration sometimes stops when most of the material has been emptied from the table.   

To make the holes for the chutes, I first trace an end of the "chute" box onto the support box near what will be the top.

If I were just to cut the square, though, the chute would end up to be horizontal, not on an incline, in the support box.

I don't want that, so I add an inch or two to the original trace on the top to be able to orient the chute on a slant.

Two inches is a lot to add to the original trace. The more you add, the steeper the slant. (This almost sounds like a geometry lesson for a teacher.) 

By the way, I hardly ever measure. Once I have done one side, I move to the other side.  I trace the chute on the other side; I usually place the top of the trace on the second side about where the bottom of the trace is on the first side.  I then add an inch or two to the bottom.

When the holes are cut, I insert the chutes through both holes.

After inserting the chutes, I tape all around them with duct tape to keep them from sliding up or down in the support box.  If I have cut the hole a little too big for the chute, the taping covers up extra spaces. Taping is another process for which I do not measure.  I like to use duct tape that tears easily.  I will tear off a piece that is longer than the juncture I want to tape.  I use my fingers to push it into place.

Once the tape is pressed in place, I cut any extra that is hanging past the corner.  One section is pressed flat against the box and the other is folded over and down.   

When I have taped all the chutes in place, I tape the apparatus to the table.  I orient it so the higher end of the chute is above the table and the lower end extends over the table and directs the material into a tub on the floor next to the table.

OK kids, it is now yours to explore!

If you are counting, there are eight children around this table playing on several different levels afforded by the apparatus.

P.S.  If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Washington DC in November, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Saturday morning from 8:00-9:30, so we will see who are the early birds.   In the process of preparing for the conference, I am putting together a three-ring binder of some of the apparatus that do not fit into the presentation, including some of the newest apparatus.  Any readers of the blog who want to chat and see some examples that do not fit into the presentation, I would love to find a time to meet.  Please contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com