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, September 28, 2013


Over two years ago I wrote about an apparatus that is called---for lack of a better or catchier term---Large Plastic Tube with Funnels.  It is an apparatus that I have used once a year for more than 20 years.

This apparatus was created from a three foot piece of discarded pipe I found at a construction site.  It is a 4" diameter PVC pipe fabricated with a set of holes on two sides.

Since I did not want water to flow through the holes on the bottom, I put duct tape over the holes that I designated as the bottom (pictured on the right).

If you look back at the original apparatus on the top of the post, you will see that it required a lot of duct tape to secure the funnels into the holes of the pipe.  Because the children are so good at testing the integrity of an apparatus, the children usually found a way to dislodge the funnels.  I wanted to figure out a way to make the funnels more secure without using copious amounts of duct tape.  I went to the hardware store and bought 1" fittings that could screw together through the holes.  I did have to enlarge some of the holes to accommodate the fittings, but I was able to do it with a utility knife.  It was not precise, but the fittings and washers cover the hole anyway.

I placed the female fitting on the outside of the pipe and the male on the inside.  I also added a cap to one end of the large pipe because I wanted the water to only flow out of one end.

This year's version looks almost the same as the earlier version but with less duct tape.  The funnels, though, sit deeper into the fittings and are supported by the fittings so they are more stable.

I have used this simple contraption every year because it is so engaging for the children.  There is something about pouring water in one of the funnels and then watching it spill out the end of the pipe into the tub.  What it is, I am not sure.

A more important reason I set it up every year is the type of play and exploration that emerges as the children operate on the apparatus.  You can see some of the earlier examples of play that is unique to this apparatus here.  As far as unique play goes, this year was no exception.

Some of the unique play was the direct result of a couple of new utensils that were included with the cups and bottles.  The two new utensils were a baster and a big plastic syringe.  Let's look at the baster first.  Below you can see a two-year-old explore with the baster.

He places the baster in the hole without a funnel to see it protrude through the pipe on the left.  He then puts the baster through the funnel to see if the baster still protrudes.  It did not. Here you have a little scientist hypothesizing, experimenting and evaluating the outcome.

What can a child discover with a syringe?  One child discovered that if you put the syringe in one of the funnels, it plugs the funnel.  What is so unique about that?  The child still continues pouring into the syringe which still empties through the funnel.  In other words, it is a selective plug because it lets water through the syringe itself but not through the larger funnel.  What a unique way to experience volume.

In the video below, the child has discovered what I call a "bubble machine."  It is not really a bubble machine, but by placing the bottle upside down into the syringe which is in one of the funnels, he can see individual bubbles rise through the bottle.  Why? Because the syringe has such a small opening at its bottom that water slowly drops from the bottom making the bubbles rise slowly and one at a time.  I was impressed and I got a chance to ask them where they thought the bubbles come from.  Listen to their answers.

Where do the bubbles come from? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

One child went so far as to create his own tool by combining the baster with the syringe.  The child found out that the baster fits tightly into the syringe.  Because the opening at the bottom of the syringe is so small, it takes a lot more work to fill up the baster.  For that same reason, when he goes to empty the baster, it is harder to squeeze.  He has created a tool to change the flow both in and out of the baster.

Baster and Syringe: Creating a New Tool from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The newer version of this apparatus still cannot be considered elegant; it is, after all, a piece of junk from a construction site.  If you have read this blog long enough, though, you know I subvert the elegant for the functional. By functional, I mean that children can and want to explore and operate on the apparatus.  This apparatus passes the test every year.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The start of school always brings a form of apprehension to all the participants involved.  The teachers wonder how will the children do when the parents leave.  The parents wonder how will their children do when they leave.  The children?  Well, how do they feel?  How do you make a child feel welcome in your classroom for the first time?

There is not one answer.  For sure we must acknowledge the child's feelings of being left with strangers.  The feelings range from being sad to being mad.  We do not try to placate or redirect. Again, we acknowledge her feelings the best way we can.  That may be verbal or non-verbal.  I tend toward the non-verbal.

We know we are nurturing, but how do we convey that to a child who is upset about her mother or father leaving?  Since we have eight different classes and over 100 children in a week, we got a lot of practice this past week.  Here are some of the things we tried.

  •       Connect with the parent and child as they arrive.
  •       Give a clear message that a parent is welcome to stay in the room as long as she wants and will always be welcome in the room.  The parent must trust us if she is to willingly leave her child in our care. The children will pick up on the parent's trust.
  •       Ask the parent how does she comfort the child when she is upset.
  •       Ask the parent to say goodbye quickly.
  •       If the parent thinks the child will cry when she leaves, we ask the parent to physically hand the child to a staff person.  That is important because the non-verbal communication of handing a child to a staff person tells the child that the parent trusts the staff. 
  •       Not all children like to be held, so we pay attention to her non-verbal cues.  If she does not want to be held, we put her down.  We will usually stay near letting her know someone is there for her.
  •       After acknowledging her feelings either verbally or non-verbally, we will begin to play with a toy.  Often times, other children gather around and they take over the play. We continue to find new things to play with.  If the child is on a lap, she will often join the play.  For those who are a little more reluctant, we will play with a toy and then set it near the reluctant child.  This works 95% of the time.
  •       This year I also tried something completely new with a child who was particularly distraught about his mother leaving.  I took him over to the water table.  (Imagine that, me taking a child over to the water table.)  That did not settle him down.   There were several children busy around the table but he was having none of it.  While he was still crying, I began to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."  Instead of singing "like a diamond in the sky," I would substitute a silly word for diamond.  For instance, I would sing: "like a tomato in the sky."  The children around the table laughed.  That was actually enough to halt the distraught child's crying.  As I kept singing and substituting other words for diamond, the laughter and silliness grew to encompass the reluctant child.  The child ended up leaving my lap to fully engage with the materials and others in the room.  I chalk it up to humor.  Remember, though, not all children appreciate humor; some just need comfort.

There was one notable exception to our welcoming efforts this past week.  We had a mother break down.  She was terribly conflicted about leaving her children in our care.  Every time she would try to talk about leaving, the children would cry with their puppy-dog eyes full of tears.  It was too much for the mother.  What to do?  I asked the mother to stay for the two-hour class period.  With her as a reference point, the children moved out and explored and had a good time.  The children even started to make important connections with other staff.  Next week we will try again.

Learning to belong is a process that is really a life skill.  When we as adults enter into a new situation, we, too, try to figure out how to belong.  For some people it comes easy; for others it is very hard.  No matter the disposition, we have to find ways to make the parents and children feel welcome.

Did you notice that I did not use the word separation?  If we only talk about separation, we forget about the welcoming part.  Only after a parent and child feel welcome in the classroom will separation feel like a normal thing.

Now that school has started, how did you make your families feel welcome?

Saturday, September 14, 2013


This summer when I was looking at pictures I have taken over the years, I found a picture of an apparatus I have not made for at least five years.  It is a combination of planter trays and a cardboard tube.
In the picture above, the trays are stacked to form a multilevel tray apparatus.  A short cardboard tube is attached to the apparatus.  The tube has a section cut out in the middle.

At the beginning of this school year, I decided to recreate this apparatus.  Now you need to understand when I recreate an apparatus, it is rarely the same as the original.  There must be a reason for that, but I am not sure what it is.  It may have to do with the parts I have on hand when I start to build.  This year's version does not have the multilevel trays and the cardboard tube is a lot longer and has more and varied holes.
This is the time of year planter trays go on sale.  I threw out my old white ones and bought new brown ones.  They are sturdy and support the longer tube well.  The longer tube reaches beyond the regular blue sensory table, so a smaller, clear table was set up next to the blue table.

Watching the children operate on this apparatus, I was struck by how many points of entry there are and how the children find them all.  There are the ends.

There are the holes.

There are the open sections.
There is something amazing about this picture.  How many spoons and scoops do you see just on this end of the table?  I see six in this small section of the table. 

Not only do the children use all the points of entry, but they are always creating and recreating operations to explore the apparatus.  They do such things as scooping the pellets from a tube into a pail.
This child was not successful at first.  He kept at it and was able to get the pail under the end of the tube, the spoon upside down to scoop the pellets, and finally pull the pellets to the end of the tube so they dropped into the pail.

One child wanted to sweep out the tube with a little broom.
You can see the child referencing his actions by looking at the broom in the open section of the tube.  He can't see his hand but he knows his hand is controlling the broom.

How about a child who hooks a little ladle in a hole of a tube and then fills the hanging ladle?

Earlier in the post I speculated as to why an apparatus changes when a recreate it.  As I said before, it may have to do with the parts I have on hand when I start to build.  I am now wondering why and how children create and recreate operations at the table with the different apparatus. Well, it may have to do with the provisions on hand when they begin to explore.  Actually, it is probably the agency the children bring to both the apparatus and the provisions.   That agency flourishes when both the apparatus and the provisions are open-ended.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Last week I wrote about a chapter I read in a Reggio book this summer that made me stop and think about what I do in the classroom.  The book was The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, Third Edition.  The chapter I read was by Carlina Rinaldi called: "The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia."  You can find my post from last week here.

I reread the chapter this week and was again blown away with how much Rinaldi has to offer in terms of the importance of listening in the classroom.  As I reread the chapter, I took notes and wrote reflections as I went along.  What follows are some of those notes and thoughts.

The first thing that struck me is the view of the child in this pedagogy.  Children are competent. "Children...have the desire and ability to search for the meaning of life and their sense of self as soon as they are born.  That is why we, in Reggio, view children as active, competent, and strong..." (p.234).   For me that means children have something to say; they have questions to ask; and they have answers to give to their own questions and to those of others.   So often as teachers, with all our certainties and planned agenda, we dismiss what they have to say as irrelevant or silly or, even worse, cute.  Or we answer their questions with facts so they know the "truth."  Several years ago I heard a speaker talk about an experience he had with a child outside on a wintery playground.  The child told the teacher: "See the bunny."  Thinking the child was talking about a real bunny under a bush, the teacher strained to see the bunny.  He could not. The child insisted there was a bunny.  Finally the teacher got down on the child's level to see what she was pointing at.  What he saw was a pile a snow under the bush that indeed looked like a bunny. He now saw the bunny she saw---and was amazed!

This leads me directly into the second thing that struck me about this pedagogy.  To listen to children is to give value to their ideas.  Listening is a way of welcoming the children and their thoughts. By doing so, the children will be encouraged to share even more.  (I know for myself, nothing shuts me down quicker than when I feel like someone is not listening to what I have to say.)    In that process of sharing their ideas, they get to test their own theories about how the world works.  That happens both internally when they evaluate their own work or externally when they exchange their ideas with others.  In other words, ideas need to be tried out; without validation or corroboration how will they know what is real.  That only happens in a listening context in which children feel valued and competent.

This leads me into the third thing that struck me about this pedagogy.  Listening has a strong emotional component.  By listening to the children, we are creating bonds with the children. Within those bonds the children feel good about themselves and their abilities.  Not only does this build real self-esteem, but it also supports their natural inclinations to explore and make meaning in their lives.  It  supports their courage to explore the unknown and ask questions and pose possible answers.  As they do that, they experience the true joy of discovery.  This becomes a virtuous circle.  And for the adult in the classroom, listening to this joy can be transformative. Rinaldi equates documentation with listening.  In addition, she states that documentation is an act of love.  In other words, listening is an act of love.  And can there be any greater emotion to share with the children?

In the context of this blog, listening takes the form of documenting the myriad of operations created by the children at the sensory table as they dialogue with the space, the materials, the medium and the apparatus.  But I am still left with questions.  How can I begin to bring the children into the dialogue so they can reflect on what has been documented?  With so many things going on in an early childhood classroom, to whom am I not listening?  What filters do I use to help me decide to whom I listen?  What are the values behind those filters?

Not listening is easier than listening.  Listening takes a lot of work.  To be a good listener means to suspend my agenda and enter into the unknown.  (What teacher likes to do that?)   The unknown is not a comfortable place to be, but it is where learning happens.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Back in May I traded posts with Alistair Bryce-Clegg from the UK.  We are up to it again.   (You do realize us fellows have to stick together.)  When I saw the Mini-Me post recently, I asked if I could host it on my blog.  I especially like the point he makes that "there is nothing more powerful for self esteem than having a little 'you' that you can take around with you".  This looks like a great way to start out the school year in a way the children can relate to---to themselves.

I hope you find it as valuable as I did.


I know that I have written about these before but they are great and a perfect 'start of
the year' activity.

 Hamstel Infant School

The idea of a Mini-Me is that you create your class or group in miniature. The children
can then use these miniatures in their play.

There is nothing more powerful for your self esteem than having a little 'you' that
you can take around with you or create fabulous fantasy small worlds to play in.

Hamstel Infant School

Mini-Me's can be really effective in helping children to develop language and
communication skills as well as personal social skills and positive behaviours.

Hamstel Infant School

How to do it

What You Need :

  • Digital camera
  • Printer
  • Laminator
  • Small yoghurt drink bottle (one per child)
  • Glue

What to do :
  1. Take a full length photograph of each child . It is worth spending the time to make
    sure that they are all of a similar size. If you are taking them in your setting then find a spot to stand the children and always have the camera in the same place
  2. Cut around the photograph
  3. Laminate
  4. Attach to the front of the yoghurt drink bottle

Tip:  PVA glue can take a long time to dry. Try attaching your photograph to the bottle with self adhesive Velcro or a glue gun.

You could also try using the bottle to store special messages or gifts to or from the children.

Don't forget to Mini-Me yourself so that the children can use you in their small world play. This can really help them with familiarisation. The downside of having the adults in the setting as a Mini-Me is that you really find out what you sound like to the children!

Hamstel Infant School

I have successfully used family Mini-Me's with children who are finding it difficult to settle. Far from making the children more anxious, if they have Mini-Me's of their significant family members it allows them to involve them in their play and gives them a sense of security.

Kids AllowedNursery

Once you have made a set you will find yourself making them again and again. It doesn't stop with your children, once you have got the hang of laminating a picture and sticking it to a bottle, the world is your Oyster!

Have fun Mini-Me-ing!


Alistair Bryce-Clegg
Early Years Consultant
07772 387 203