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, October 26, 2013


Last month I wrote a piece about children feeling welcome in the classroom. It was mostly about what we as staff do at school to make families---children and adults---feel welcome in the classroom.  Two weeks ago there was an episode that made me stop and take measure of the ability of children themselves to be an important part of that process.

I have a two-year-old girl who would become very sad when her mother left.  I had her mother stay a little longer and had her come back early the first couple weeks.  When mom left, though, she would cry.  I acknowledged her feelings and I remember holding her up to our window so we could watch the squirrels gathering winter food and then disappearing.  She talked through her tears about the squirrel going in the backyard out of sight.  We would talk about how sad she felt missing her mother.

Last week, there was a turning point.  It began with me asking her to help me wash the cups after snack.

After washing the cups, though, she was sad again.  We went over to the drawing table.  I thought maybe would could draw together.  Before I could even introduce making marks together, another two-year-old from the room came over and reached out to hold her hand.
At this point, it was important for me to take a read as to whether this sad child was open to this overture.  She was so my job became that of observer.

Next, the child who was demonstrating so much empathy gently gave my little friend who was missing her mother a hug.   As you can see from the picture below, it was reciprocal.

Next, the empathetic child gently took the other child's hand and said the magic words: "Do you want to play with me?"  And off they went together to explore what they could do together in the room.  

At this point, my job was done.  And it was done better than I could have done it.  Not only that, it was done by an two-year-old expert that understood the sadness of another in a way that allowed her to make a connection at a mutually understood level. 

Instantly, I became the student of the child who was teaching me something about how to make another child feel welcome.  

The beauty of the moment astounded me.  

Do you have those moments? 

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.   Any readers of the blog who want to chat, I would love to find a time to meet.  Please contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com

Saturday, October 19, 2013


I seem to be on a kick this fall making things using planter trays and tubes.  The big box hardware store had a good sale on planter trays and I recently received a donation of cardboard tubes and several plastic tubes. The first apparatus to come out of these materials was the Cardboard Tubes Embedded in a Cardboard Tube.  The second apparatus to come from these materials is Pipes Embedded in Planter Trays.
This apparatus may look complicated, but it is relatively simple.  There are two 5-foot pieces of 3/4 inch PVC pipe running horizontally through two 29-inch planter trays placed end to end.  The pipes are embedded 1 inch above the bottom of the planter trays and extend past the table out of the trays over tubs on each end. Aquarium caulk is used to seal the holes around the outside of the pipes.  Holes are drilled in the top of the PVC pipes as they traverse the inside of the planter trays.  Here is a top view; it is easier to see all the holes drilled in the top of the pipes.

The way this apparatus works is that children pour water into the trays.  As the children pour water into the trays, the bottom fills up.

Once the water reaches the level of the top of the pipes, water drops through the holes in the pipes and  travels to the end of the pipes and flows out.

This is where the fun begins.  Catching the water from the pipes is not as easy at it may seem, though. The water does not flow at great speed out of the pipes.  Unless someone is pouring a lot of water in the trays, the flow is slow and steady.  In the video below, you see a child collecting the water in a bottle.  As the video begins, he is switching hands because it is tiring to hold his arm out straight for long periods of time.  He has to reposition the bottle to make sure the water drops into his bottle.  As the water flow decreases he continually has to reposition the bottle to make sure he catches the water.  Watch.

Catching the Water from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Can you imagine the persistence it takes the child to fill his bottle this way.  He, of course, is up to the task; just look at his concentration.

Children will always find other ways to to fill their containers.  One group figured out that certain bottles fit nicely over the pipes, so they could fill the bottles hands-free.

Take a look at Axiom #6 and its Corollary in the right-hand column of this blog.  It states that children will redirect or block the flow of the medium whenever possible.

This child has stopped the water with her thumbs. When she pulls her thumbs out, the water gushes out. Her agency has changed the rate of flow.  Should we tell her?

Another child found a second way to stop the water.  She used the basters that fit nicely into the ends of the pipes.  The basters, though, gave rise to another operation.  By squeezing the basters, this child was able to force air and water back out of the holes in the pipe.  Watch.

Basters in the Pipes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Children will always approach a new apparatus with a set of basic operations.  For example there is pouring and catching.  Children, as you can see in the above operations, are not limited to those operations, but in dialogue with the space, materials, apparatus and others, bring their full imagination to their work.  I definitely agree with Einstein when he said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Last week I introduced a new apparatus: Cardboard Tubes Embedded in a Cardboard Tube.

Whenever a new apparatus is introduced or offered as an invitation to play, I usually have some idea how the the children will approach it.  For instance, I knew there would be lots of pouring down the smaller tubes.

Since the apparatus is built so the smaller tubes can be taken out, the children were certainly going to pull the tubes out of the larger tube---and then pour sand through the open holes.
(If you have been reading this blog long enough, you will notice this is a new feature for an apparatus. There may be plenty of loose parts provided on the shelf next to the apparatus, but up to this point there have been no loose parts built into the apparatus itself.  Is this the start of something?)

Since I turn the apparatus over to the children to make it their own, I am extremely curious about the whole host of other operations that are not foreseen.   That curiosity spurs me to step back and observe to see how the children engage in a dialogue with the apparatus, the medium, the provisions and each other.  Below are some examples of that dialogue.

Since funnels are provided, you would expect a child to use a funnel to aid in pouring the sand down the tube.  Would you expect a child to use three?  How does that change the experience from using just one?

Use of the funnel also provided an opportunity for children to work together.  Below one child is pouring sand down the tube with a funnel from the top while the other is catching it on the bottom with a scoop.  Without the funnel, the child at the bottom would want to move because sand would surely fall on him.  It turns out to be a good example of coordination and cooperation.

One child found a different use for a funnel by adding one of the loose pieces of pipe that was provisioned on the shelf next to the table.  He found out he could plug the funnel with the pipe so no sand flowed through the funnel.

When he removed the pipe, the sand naturally filtered through the funnel.  He added another twist to the pouring, though, by pouring sand directly through the pipe straight into the hole of the funnel.  It was more of a challenge to get the sand in the pipe, but any sand that did not go into the pipe was caught by the funnel.  Did he realize he just created a catchment for the sand?

One child even figured out how to fill one of the loose tubes with sand.  As long as the bottom of the tube was buried in the sand, he could pour sand in one end to fill it up.

But what do you do with it once you have filled up the tube?  This boy lifted the tube out of the bin using one hand to hold the sand in from the bottom.  After standing up, he let 'er rip.
Why and how does a child come up with this operation?  He definitely wants to see the sand shoot out the end of the tube, but the result is so short considering how long it took him to fill it.  And he does it again and again.

Since the tubes do come out, they can also be put back into the holes.  If the holes were bigger that would be an easy task, but since they are not, it takes effort to get the smaller tubes back in the larger tube.

Now the apparatus turns out to be a real-life, 3-D puzzle.  Is there any better kind?

One more interesting operation was created by a child as she tried to get sand out of one end of the big tube.  The most intriguing part is at the beginning of the video: the child has figured out by tapping the big tube with her bowl, sand drops down into her bowl.  (She cannot put words to what she is doing, but by knocking the tube with her bowl, she is creating vibrations in the tube that cause the sand to drop from the end of the tube.)  She does not get the results she wants quick enough so she simply starts scraping the sand into her bowl with her little scoop.

I continually wonder why and how the children fabricate such a myriad of novel operations.   Can this "messing about" be considered real science? 

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.  If you have been to my presentations before, it has changed a bit and been updated.  If you cannot make the session or have questions about building in and around the table that will be hard to answer during the formal presentations and would like to chat, please contact me through the blog or directly through email: tpbedard@msn.com   I would also be interested to talk to anyone who has actually been inspired to build apparatuses to find out how it went.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013


The story of my most recent apparatus begins last spring during the last week of school.   I was given two gifts: one was a large cardboard tube from a colleague and the other was a small cardboard tube from a five-year-old from one of my classes.  I wrote about the gifts in a post called An Ideal Gift.   As presaged in that post, these gifts produced the spark that led to a new apparatus: Cardboard Tubes Embedded in a Cardboard Tube.

I used a special kind of drill bit to cut the holes in the large cardboard tube.  It is called a hole saw drill bit.

I cut the holes big enough so the smaller cardboard tubes could be put in or taken out.  I did not want them to fall through the holes, though, so I made pins from wooden dowels and inserted them through the narrow tubes to suspend them in the larger tube.

On a whim, I cut the smaller tubes to different lengths.  Part of the reason I did that was an attempt at aesthetics.  Another reason was the thought that maybe we could figure out a way to make music on the apparatus.  One of my colleagues thought the apparatus looked like a pan flute.  
(Before any music can be made on this apparatus I will have to consult Alec, a colleague in Australia, who has a wonderful blog called Child's Play Music.)

The smaller, narrower tubes present challenges and a wide array of opportunities for pouring the sand into the holes.  You can try to pour with a big scoop, but what is the result?
This picture is a good illustration of how an activity like this on an apparatus like this promotes large motor development. For example, there is the strength it takes to lift and pour the sand. There is also good trunk extension as she reaches to pour.  And as she reaches, she has to balance.  And look how she balances: she uses her body to brace herself at her waist against the the table and she uses her left arm---right down to the finger tips---for counter balance.

Of course, you can still use the big scoop and get more sand in the hole, but that takes a little more effort and control.
Contrast this child's large muscle efforts to the previous child's.  She is balancing again with her waist against the table with her left arm as a counter balance.  Since she is trying to pour with more accuracy, though, she has to control her right arm at least two different ways: first she has to pour more slowly and second, and at the same time, she has to hold the scoop so the spout pours directly into the hole.  By the way, imagine the concentration of the the child on the other side of the table as he watches the sand filter through the bottom of the tube.

Because there are a variety of pouring scoops available to the children, some can choose one that allows them to be very accurate in pouring sand into the holes.   
Now we are getting into more fine motor development, not to mention more refined eye-to-hand coordination.

When a child discovers the funnel, it opens up a whole new experience to pouring sand into the small holes.  The child pictured below has chosen to work with the long tube at the end of the apparatus.   He is filling a cup by spooning sand into the tube through the funnel.   
Did you notice that the funnel allows him to pour accurately even above eye level?

There is more to tell about the unique explorations of the children, but I will leave that for another post.  I would like to leave you with a picture that gives you one child's perspective as she catches the sand falling through one of the narrow tubes.  

I can't help but think this apparatus has come full circle.  It was sparked by An Ideal Gift from a child and now it is the spark for a multitude of explorations by other children.