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, April 28, 2013


I want thank Janiece Kneppe Walter and Kathleen DeVries, the EC faculty at Red Rocks Community College in Denver, for doing such a wonderful job yesterday of hosting the event Celebrating Men in the Lives of Young Children.  I know they were a little disappointed with the turnout, but that allowed for a less formal presentation and a more intimate conversation among the participants.  The dialogue before, during, and after was very thought provoking.  One point that was made by one of the participants that really hit home was: Don't give me kudos for being a man in EC, but give me kudos for being a good teacher.  Interestingly enough, this was the first time Janiece and Kathleen were outnumbered by men at an EC event.

In preparing for this event, I changed the emphasis of my usual talk just a bit.  I started to think about what makes early childhood spaces inviting to the children.

Inviting spaces offer:
                   1)  Open-ended materials and activities

                   2)  Challenges in all areas of development
                                 * Social/Emotional
                                 * Cognitive
                                 * Physical

                   3)  Time and space for the children's agenda

The most important one for me at the moment is #3.  Early in my career, I remember planning all this stuff for the children to do.  In essence, it was my agenda.  Now I put more emphasis in setting up the spaces with #1 and #2 above, so the children can make meaningful decisions every day as to what to pursue depending on their needs and interests.  The end result is a room full of self-regulated children totally engaged in the life of the room.

Did you notice that there was nothing about cute or pretty in my list?  Cute and pretty from an adult's perspective may not be cute and pretty from a child's perspective.  I don't even use the word attractive, probably for the same reason.  Maybe I am just trying to excuse myself because many of the things I make with duct tape and cardboard are not pretty.  They sometimes look real messy to me, like I have just raided the garbage bin---which may not be too far from the truth.  I mean, what's attractive about old planter trays and cardboard boxes covered in duct tape?
From an aesthetic point of view, I do not think this is very attractive.  From a functional point of view, from lean-about-how-the-physical-world-works point of view, though, it is highly inviting.

Attractive or inviting?  Are those two separate questions?

One final note about the event.  I got to hear the other speaker, Doug Gertner, talk about how to make an early childhood setting more inviting for dads.  It is an important topic and he did it well. You can find him at www.thegratefuldad.org

Monday, April 22, 2013


For those of you who follow my blog in the Denver area, I will be speaking there this Saturday at an event hosted by the Early Childhood Education Department at Red Rocks Community College in conjunction with Jefferson County Head Start Program.  The event is called: Celebrating Men in the Lives of Young Children.  It will be held at the Jeffco Head Start Center from 8 to noon.  Doug Gertner, The Grateful Dad, will also be speaking.  My talk begins at 8:15 and Doug's starts at 10:00.  A panel discussion follows our presentations at 11:10. 

The event is free and open to the public so if you are in the area, it would be great to see you there.  And don't be shy, I would love to meet anyone interested in this work or my work with sand and water tables.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


This past summer, we moved my uncle from Florida to Minnesota.  The moving company has a type of big sturdy box that is called a wardrobe box.  The movers take what is hanging in the closet and hang it in the wardrobe box and then put the box in the truck.  After the move, I asked for the box.  I flattened it and put it in storage in my basement.  I took it out a few weeks ago to make a Big Box Incline.

As you can see, the box is quite large in comparison to the table.  The box is set at an incline by using a wooden tray to prop it up.  The box is taped to the wooden tray and to the end of the table. A hole is cut in the bottom end of the box that overhangs the table to allow the corn to drop into the tub at the end of the table.  Large holes are cut on each side of the box, two on one side and one on the other.  The holes are staggered.   There is another large hole cut on the high end of the box.

Here is a view from a different angle.  You can clearly see the big hole on the elevated end and the two holes on the other side.

There was an initial design flaw for this apparatus. ( Design flaws are common for me; I have written about a couple of them for much different apparatus here and here.)  In this case, the design flaw has more to do with the setup than the box itself.  I initially put a tub that was too small at the end of the table to catch the corn falling out of the box.  The result was a lot of corn on the floor because as it hit the end of the box, it ricocheted through the slit on the bottom of the box and fell in the gap between the table and the tub.

I was able to fix that flaw with little effort; I found a tub with higher sides.  That took care of the problem.
Some might think that the elevated end is a flaw because it is really quite high, especially for some children.  Look at this little guy at the end of the table using his little scoops to scoop up some corn.  Do you think he can reach the elevated hole?
As you see below, he does reach the hole.  He exerts maximum effort to reach so he can drop the corn down the big box incline.  The child is working so hard, even his eyes are closed.  But he did it. I once had a mom who was an occupational therapist and she would say the child is realizing great "trunk extension."  Has your child had his trunk extension for the day?
Now tell me, why would a child dump something into a hole when he cannot see the result of his dumping?  I do not know, but it happens all the time.  Where does the impulse to reach as high as he can---that trunk extension---come from?   I do not know, but I see it all the time.  Since I see these things all the time, I embrace designs that offer children physical challenges.

Since I embrace these physical challenges, I always have stools for children to use to extend their reach.  I offered this little guy a stool and he gladly accepted.
As you can see, it is still a significant physical challenge to dump the corn down the box.  Here is what it looks like from inside the box.  He can almost see what is happening---and it is not for lack of trying.

This little guy actually figures out a way to watch what happens when he drops the corn down the box.  He moves his stool to one side, and then watches the corn fall down the box from a side window.
This last operation is really rich in terms of physical development.  Notice that he cannot see his arm as he pours.  What that means is that he is exercising his internal sensors---his proprioceptor receptors---to know where his arm is in space to complete the pouring.   We take this for granted, but children need the physical opportunity to develop such important skills.

What if you really want to get a bird's eye view of the corn tumbling down the box?  Well, you could stand on the lip of the table.
In this particular case, that is more of a challenge than you may think because the girl is wearing dress up heels from the housekeeping area.  I had a student teacher at the time and she asked me if that was OK for the girl to stand on the table with those heels?  I thought it was a very good question.

Though I did not originally set up the box incline with the physical challenges in mind, I now see them as really important.  This is a good case of the children showing me what they need.  And they need physical challenges and will find multiple was to partake of them.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


What is an Oobleck Platform?  A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Pegboard Platform.    Whereas the Pegboard Platform handles a dry medium like sand, the Oobleck Platform is built to handle a wet medium like water, or in this case, oobleck.  Oobleck is a mixture of cornstarch and water and is considered a colloidal solution with dual properties of a solid and a liquid.

The top is a sheet of 1/8" black plastic that I bought in the window section of a large hardware store.  (The technical term for it is HDPE or high-density polyethylene.  In lay terms, it is #2 plastic.)  It is easy to cut with a utility knife and a straight edge.  The frame is 3/4" pvc pipe with 3/4" fittings.  There are eight elbow fittings and ten T fittings in all.  I also got those at the same hardware store.  To secure the platform to the table, I use a 1" x 2" strip of wood that spans the width of the table.  The strip of wood is duct taped to the each side of the table and the frame of the platform is taped to the strip of wood.

Holes are drilled in the four corners to attach the sheet of plastic to the frame using 3/4" multiple-materials screws.  Attaching the sheet on the four corners was more than adequate.  Rows of holes are drilled in an array similar to that of the pegboard platform.  A pipe is fitted in the middle of the top of the frame to give the sheet load-bearing strength down the middle.  

Children do not need an apparatus to explore oobleck.  Oobleck fascinates in its own right.

Introducing the platform, though, adds another level on which to work.  (See dimension #2 and axiom #3 in the right-hand column of this blog.)

It provides an additional level onto which the children drop the oobleck or onto which they set their bowls and such for hands-free pouring or mixing.

It also offers another type of surface to work on, a surface that is flat and will not let the oobleck pool.  In the bottom of the sensory table, the oobleck pools and, because of its solid-leaning nature, is hard to scoop or scrape.  The flat surface allows children to more easily scrape the oobleck with tools.  Watch as the three boys use their shovels to scrape the oobleck from the platform.

Scraping the Oobleck from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, the boy on the right says: "I think this is the grossest thing in the whole world."  Notice that he is staying clean.  He can stay clean in part because of the flat, elevated surface.

For those who want to explore the oobleck with their hands, the flat surface allows them to easily feel and scrape with their fingers.  Again that is not as easy when it pools in the bottom of the table.  It becomes too thick and takes a lot of effort to handle.  Watch these set of hands fondle the oobleck while  engaging in some free association about how it is like milk.

Caressing the Oobleck from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, the hands in the foreground have stopped scraping the oobleck and begin to caress the hard, smooth surface of the oobleck.  The child goes from scraping to caressing in part because of the flat, elevated surface.

Aren't you wondering what is going on under the platform?  I personally thought the sand filtering through the holes of the Pegboard Platform was cool.  I think what happens as the oobleck pushes through the holes of the Oobleck Platform is wondrous.  Watch and you decide.

Oobleck Platform-Underneath from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Let's take a closer look underneath to what is happening. The oobleck is being squeezed through the holes by gravity pulling on its mass.  But do you see the droplets that form at the ends of the streams of oobleck. Why is that?

I do not know why those droplets form.  I do not know why the oobleck flows at the rate it does.  I do not know why some streams reach the bottom of the table and others do not.  There is one thing I do know: it is a wonder to play with, to feel and to behold.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


The second week in February we still had a good bit of snow in Minnesota.  In fact, we just got rid of most of the snow on the ground the last weekend in March. And the truth be told, there were still snowflakes in the air just two days ago.

When we have a good winter for snow, I like to do two indoor activities with snow.  The first is to bring snow into the sensory table to let the children play with it without having to wear all the cumbersome gear---snowsuits, boots, mittens, hats---that they need when they go outside to play in the snow.  This year I added Snow Tubes to this activity.

The second activity I like to set up is Painting Snow.  For that I attach the wooden tray in the middle of the table so it serves as a platform on which the the children can work and as a place on which to put the paint cups.  The paint cups are filled with watered-down tempera and long-handled brushes.

Since the season for snow is pretty much over, I really debated whether or not to do a post on Painting Snow.  Looking over the videos and pictures of the activity, though, convinced me to post. The setup is just an example of an invitation to explore and, in the grand scheme of play, their explorations are more important than the activity itself.

There is, of course, painting the snow with the brushes.  Sometimes that type of painting can be quite attractive because the colors show up vividly on the white snow.

Once the children get into it, though, it takes different variations.   In the following video, the girl in the foreground is painting the snow in the table.  The boy across from her is asking to dump the paint in the table.  The girl next to him is painting the tray.  The boy next to her is holding a clump of cold snow and painting it.  How does he do it?   And the girl across from him is painting the snow she has gathered into a bowl.  As the video comes back to the first child, you see her begin to pour the paint from the paint pot.  (I think she was reading the request of the child across from her.  It is amazing how children pick up on another's operations.)

Different Ways to Paint Snow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Children need to transport the snow out of the table (Axiom # 1 in the right-hand column of the blog).  Depending on how that is done, that can be simple or more complex.  The girl in the video below has chosen to transport the snow from a pot to the side tub.  That is not as easy as tipping the pot and dropping the snow in the tub.  Somehow she knows that to get the snow out, she has to bang the pot against the tub.  Where does that knowledge come from?

Transporting the Painted Snow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In addition to satisfying that inner drive to transport the snow, she has also created a new level on which to paint the snow.

The Painting Snow activity incorporated the snow tubes mentioned in the previous post.  That led to many interesting operations.  Here is one that is especially fetching.  At the beginning of the video, the boy has lifted the tube from the snow.  There is a little pillar of snow left in the table. He carefully places the tube back over the little snow pillar.  He then reaches down into the table to scoop some more snow.  As he does that, it is interesting to watch how he uses his other hand on the tube for balance, especially as he reaches further into the table to scoop the snow.  After getting some snow, he tries to drop in into the tube.  He gets some of the snow in but most lands on his hand---which must be cold---and back into the table.  He lifts the tube up again and implores me to "look it."  This is a happy and capable two-year-old who has just created his own 3-D puzzle.

Painted Snow in the Snow Tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I must caution you that if you are averse to messy activities, stay away from this one.  By the end, the color is "mud" brown and the children are covered with splatters of paint.

If, on the other hand, you appreciate full-on sensory exploration, keep this in mind when the snow flies in your neck of the woods.  If it never snows where you live, then just delight in watching these children paint the snow.