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, March 30, 2013


A couple of months ago I got an email from an Australian fellow named Alec Duncan from Child's Play Music, an excellent blog about bringing music into schools using homemade instruments. He strongly encouraged me to create a Facebook page for this blog.  He offered a lot of good information about setting up a page and for that, and the nudge, I have to thank him.

I have been mulling the prospect of setting up a Facebook page ever since.  My tech-savy daughter is visiting this weekend, so I asked here to help me set it up.   She did---thank you, Ester--- and as you can see from the new gadget on the right, the Sand and Water Tables blog is now on Facebook. Check it out here: Facebook.

And if you like it, Like it.

I will be back next week with a legitimate post about play and exploration at the sensory table.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


When I look over pictures and videos I have taken of the children working in and around an apparatus at the sensory table, I often ask: "Why is the child doing that particular operation?"  I found myself doing that a lot with the new apparatus, Pegboard Platform.

Why does a child feel compelled to methodically cover the platform with sand even though that takes a lot of time and work?
It may be hard to see from the picture, but almost the entire pegboard is covered with sand. The child's arm is in the foreground as she pours from a scoop onto the platform.  She only has a small bit left to cover just above the blue of the scoop.

Why do some children feel compelled to completely clear the pegboard of sand by sweeping it with their hands?  Or pound on it?  Or pour sand down the tube?

Why does a child transport rocks and sand from the bottom of the table to a measuring cup on the platform?  And why does he decide to pour the contents of the measuring cup down the nearest tube?  

Why does a child start at one end of the table to scoop sand into a tiny scoop and then walk to an adjacent side of the table to empty the tiny scoop into a measuring cup?  And why does he do it two more times?  Why does he decide to check the red scoop and then empty the contents into the measuring cup?  Why does he start spinning the cup after checking the level of sand in the cup?

Why is it possible for children to work so effortlessly together on a mutually agreed project that involves multiple steps?

Why?  First we need to understand that children think by doing.  One action seems to lead to another action which in turns leads to another action and so on.  The result is a flow of operations that is an interplay between the actions(thoughts) of the individual child or group of children, the available tools, and the features of the apparatus.  That flow changes the nexus of the question from me to the child.  It also changes the question from me asking "Why?" to the child posing the query "Why not?" 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Last week I introduced a Pegboard Platform.  After building this, I still had pegboard and tubes left over, so I decided to take the apparatus to another level---literally.  By that I mean, I added a second platform over the first.
Because the top platform is narrower, a piece of wood is attached to the bottom to make it more rigid so it can bear the weight of the sand.  This top platform is propped nine inches above the first platform by two longer tubes. One of these longer tubes sits between two shorter tubes at one end of the table.  This tube has a notch for each platform and is taped to the end of the table for stability.  Because the top platform is longer than the bottom platform, the second tube stands alone in the middle of the table and only has a notch for the top platform.  To make the second taller tube stable, it is taped to a piece of wood that spans the width of the table.  

Here is another view of the apparatus that better shows the difference in width between the two platforms.  It also gives you an idea of how the top platform and the bottom platform are wedged into the taller, middle tube on the end.

And a view from the other side shows the hole cut in the bottom of the larger tube.  Again, that provides an outlet for the sand the children WILL feel compelled to pour into the tube.
By the way, the red bucket hanging from the lip of the table is a recent find at a farm and fleet store in town.  It is a feeding bucket for animals.  It also works great as a pail into which the children can transport the sand and other objects.

It is useful to analyze this apparatus in terms of the dimensions and elements listed in the right-hand column of the blog.  Number one talks about orientation.  This apparatus actually has two orientations on which the children operate.  The platforms are horizontal and the tubes are vertical. Number two states that levels are important to children to understand space.  In this apparatus, there are at least three levels: the top platform, the bottom platform, and the bottom of the table. Number three talks about spaces that are open or closed.  This apparatus is a very open and airy. Number four talks about creating spaces.  The apparatus creates many spaces over, under, around and through.  Number five states that children need to put things in holes. This apparatus has two types of holes: the small holes of the pegboard and the larger holes of the tubes.

The purpose of analyzing is to see how complex the space is.  The space is only complex upon analysis.  What a child sees is an inviting place on which to operate.  More complex spaces foster a larger variety of operations that are both more complex and are particular to the apparatus.

Children can operate on spaces that are on different vertical and horizontal planes---all at the same time.

The simple act of scooping sand from the bottom of the table now becomes an exercise in working around obstacles and barriers.

The simple act of pouring is becomes a cascade to follow with your eyes and feel with your hands.

Pouring through two Platforms from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

And some operations are fostered directly by the apparatus.  For example, a horizontal plane promotes a different type of operation than a vertical plane.

Rubbing the Platform with a Tin Cup from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Children do not shy away from complexity if they can physically explore it.  For them it is a stage for experimentation that frame a continuing sense of wonder.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I was walking through a big hardware store in January and saw some pegboard on sale.  I have never made anything with pegboard, but I was fascinated by all the uniform holes so evenly spaced.  The fascination turned into a desire to make something with the pegboard.  The result was a Pegboard Platform.

The Pegboard Platform consists of a piece of pegboard held up by four cardboard tubes that serve as legs. As you can see, the dimensions for the platform are slightly narrower than the sand table and half as long.  The tubes are cut so the pegboard rests nine inches above the lip of the table. Notchers are cut near the top of each tube so each corner of the pegboard fits inside.  The pegboard is sturdy enough that there is no need for support across its length or width.  There is also a hole cut in the bottom of each of the tubes so when children pour sand down the tubes---and they will---it has an outlet.
As you can see from the picture above, the tubes are duct taped to the sides of the table.  The pegboard corners, however, are not duct taped in place.  The notches are narrow enough so the corners fit in snugly.  To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised at how well this stayed up with a minimal amount of taping.

The Pegboard Platform transforms the sand table in at least three ways.  It provides a surface above the table on which the children can work.

It also creates a space under the platform for the children to explore.

(If you are very industrious, you can work both above the platform and below the platform at the same time.)

Finally, the tubes provide holes for the children to put things in.  The tubes make deep vertical holes that are an irresistible draw for children.

I do not use the word cool very much in this blog, but after setting up the apparatus and then pouring sand onto the pegboard, something really cool happened on three levels.  On the top level, the level of the pegboard, sand slowly sifted through the holes and left a pattern that we all thought looked like a waffle.  On the sand in the table, another pattern was formed consisting of little mounds of sands of differing heights.  Mirror patterns?

The third level of cool was the space under the pegboard.  What happened that was so cool in that space?  The pattern of the sand as it fell through the holes.

The children thought it looked like rain.  Did I say it was cool?

p.s.  Greg at Males in Early Childhood interviewed me via email and posted the interview.  We all like to tell our stories and Greg gave me a chance to tell a little bit of my story.  Thanks Greg. And while you're there, check out his other posts.  He is a dedicated early childhood teacher from Australia and cares deeply about children.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I like to bring natural elements into the classroom.  Here are four previous posts that feature natural elements: Wooden Tray and RocksSticks and StonesSwamp II, and Gems, Sticks, and Stones.  I present to you another post that features natural elements: rocks and sticks.  Since I had just finished with Snow Tubes, I decided to keep the clear plastic tubes in the table plus add some little dinosaurs.

The thing about loose materials like the rocks and dinosaurs and various utensils is that they often all get dumped into the table at once.  I guess there should be a second corollary to Axiom #1 on the right-hand column of this blog.  That corollary would read: Children will transport all the loose items provided for play into the table---in very short order.  Actually this operation is important to realize because often we put our own aesthetic on what is really the children's endeavor.

The children, of course, filled the tubes with sand.

Dinosaurs also fit into the tubes nicely.

Rocks did, too, but not all of them.

Three very interesting pursuits from the week are worth noting that demonstrate the ingenuity and wonder children can experience during non-scripted play at the sensory table.

The first was a realization that sand can flow like water making what looks like a waterfall.

Did you hear a second boy say there were three [sand flows]?

The second pursuit happened when I asked a child to move the tube so when he poured sand into it, the sand that missed would not end up on the floor.

I thought it was a reasonable request.  He tried pouring the sand with the tube over the table.

For some reason, though, he did not like the tube in that position.  I think it cramped his pouring style. So he insisted that the tube face the original way.  To my surprise, he also had his own solution for the sand dropping on the floor: put the bucket under the tube.
This episode reminds me of the boss who told his employees that if they came to him with a complaint, they also had to come with a solution to the problem.  This young three-year-old is way ahead of the game.  Imagine the difference in the outcome if I had insisted the tube stay over the table.  We were both happy with the solution and I am sure he felt empowered.

The last pursuit was really an experiment.  A child stuck his hand and part of his arm into one of the clear tubes.  He examines his hand in the tube and then decides to use the tube as an extension of his hand by scooping up the sand with the tube and lifting it in the air so the sand would fall down into his hand.  He was a little surprised at first and proud of what he discovered. Then he proceeded to take a larger and larger scoop of sand with the tube before removing his hand from the tube.  Watch especially how he tracts the sand as he lifts the end of the tube up and the sand falls into his hand and imagine what he must be feeling both in terms of physical sensations and sense of agency. 

Looks like a future engineer to me.

Early in the post, I mentioned the chaos in the table when everything gets dumped into the table. I also said that adult aesthetic is not a child's aesthetic.   I did not mean to imply that they do not have a sense of aesthetics. The children get the last word today with their sense of beauty using natural elements.