About Me

My photo
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, January 25, 2014


This past weekend, I was invited to do a workshop for the Head Start group in Minot, North Dakota.  Shirley, the Professional Development Coordinator, attended my presentation on sensory tables at the NAEYC annual conference in Washington, D.C. this past November.  Early in December, she asked me if I would be willing to travel to Minot to do a workshop for the staff in January.  (I had never been to Minot but I figured how much colder could it be than Minnesota in the middle of the winter.)  In discussing what type of workshop, we settled on a balance between my PowerPoint presentation and the staff building using duct tape, boxes, cardboard tubes, and whatever else they could scrounge up.  The PowerPoint presentation was to set the stage for the building and I would circulate between the various building groups to act as a resource.

The day before the workshop Shirley and Karen, the director, gave me a tour of the Head Start building.  The first room I saw was the room I was to present in.  It was a large room because they were expecting about 60 or so staff.  Right away I noticed they had a small hill of boxes, a stack of long cardboard tubes and a table of tools and tape.  I knew they were ready.

They also showed me around the center.  The first thing I looked at when I went into each of the rooms was the set up for their sensory tables. That was good because then I could do a few last minute changes to my presentation to include ideas to think about when setting up a sensory area.  A couple of years ago, I did a post on set up for the sensory table.  It is called: Taking My Own Advice.

One of the things I like to do in my workshops is post documentation on the walls or cabinets. There are two reasons for that.  As people come in, they have something concrete to look at to prime the pump of their imagination.  The second reason is to display additional apparatus accompanied by written explanations that are not in the presentation.
You can see the documentation on the cabinets in the back.  You can also see the table of tools and cart of PVC pipes.  And if you look to the left at the end of the cabinets behind the colorful mat, you can see the small hill of boxes.

As the staff arrived on a cold and snowy morning, they brought more tools, more boxes and a variety of other materials to build with.  Clearly they had already thought about possibilities for building.

And build they did.  Most of the participants started out in the big room using the power tools. That surprised me because I thought we would start out using just utility knives and duct tape.  I quickly realized this was not a timid group.

Some of the staff had never used power tools before but they went right to work.  To use a drill or a big saw for the first time must be empowering.

At one point early on, there was a line waiting to use the power tools.

Staff who were housed in the building left the big room to work in their own classrooms. 

And work they did.

Others stayed in the big room, especially those who wanted to be close to the tools and whose classrooms are located off site.

For an hour and a half, I witnessed a whole lot of negotiation, collaboration and cooperation.  And to do any kind of constructing like this, they had to do a great deal of problem solving.

To realize their ideas must have been extremely validating.  It was sure a delight to see what they built.  Here is a sample.

When children approach a venture, they are only limited by their imagination.  Since their imagination is unlimited, they have no limits except those imposed by the materials themselves. Maybe for adults the same tenet is true.  The important thing, then, is to start.

Thank you to all the participants at Minot Head Start.  Though there are limits imposed by the materials used in the building, the intersection of the properties of those same materials and the imagination of the builders is stunning.   The proof is embodied in the new and exciting constructions created by the Head Start staff in Minot.  A special thanks to Shirley and Karen for inviting me to do this work with their staff.

P.S.   I will be traveling to the UK this summer for three weeks starting the second week in June. The first week I will be in Scotland and then I will work my way down to London.  If you are at all interested in hosting a workshop, please contact me via the blog or email: tpbedard@msn.com   I am willing to go to individual centers or have centers club together.  Since I am already in the UK, the expense of getting me there is off the table so hopefully I can make it affordable for groups of 10 or more.  Contact me and we can negotiate.  I will also be visiting old friends in the Netherlands for a couple of days---June 28 - July 1--- so I am also willing to do a workshop or two in the Netherlands or Belgium.  Again, contact me if you are interested.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


First there was The Table Embedded in a Box.

And now comes Addition #2 to the Table Embedded in a Box.

Here is a view from the table side of the second addition with one of the tubes exiting the box and emptying back into the table.
It is clear from this picture that the second addition has created a more enclosed space between itself and the big box.  You can see the second addition is almost like a wall at the end of the table.  Though it is not nearly as enclosed as the space inside the big box, it is still a desirable space in which to operate for the children.

Here is a side view of the entire apparatus in full operation.
Wouldn't you like to play here?

When I was thinking about embedding the tubes, I could have embedded them in the top of the box, but I wanted to create a reservoir around the holes to catch and hold the pellets.

To do that, I created a false bottom a coupled of inches below the top of the box. I took a piece of cardboard that was larger than the opening of the top of the box because I needed to make flaps to hold the false bottom in place.  To make the flaps, I first measured the top of the box and drew the rectangular opening on the piece of cardboard.   I shaded areas around the corners and cut those shaded areas out to make the flaps.
I scored the flaps with a utility knife so they would bend easily when I inserted them into slits cut in the box.  The slits are the length of the flaps and the thickness of the piece of cardboard.   
It is important to put the tube through the false bottom and out of the box before lowering the false bottom and inserting the flaps in the slits.  Since the tube is flexible, it is doable.

Once the false bottom is in place, I taped the flaps on all sides around the box and taped the edges where the false bottom meets the box.
To be sure, the children found many ways to probe the different features of this apparatus.  Let me show you a video, though, that demonstrates how one child combines several features in one fell swoop.  The child starts by scooping pellets from the table and pours them into a tube that empties into a measuring cup.  He then grabs the measuring cup and steps onto an adjacent stool to empty the cup into a hole in another box.  After pouring pellets down that hole, he drops to the floor to reach into the box to scape the pellets he just poured down the tube into the bottom of the box.

This child has created his own script using the whole apparatus to move pellets from one end of the table to the other.  Talk about intention and industry; this guy has it in spades.

I cannot leave this apparatus without showing you one more video.  I call it Close Encounters because of how close the children are playing together.  Two boys are standing on one stool, one in back of other, pouring pellets down a tube.  At one point, one of the boy's elbow is actually in the other boy's face.

What is astonishing about this video is how close these two boys are in their play.  It is not parallel play and neither is it cooperative; one boy seems to be conducting and the other contributing.  All done without a hint of discord. 

How close were they exactly?  Take a look.

I am left with the question: What makes it possible for these two boys to play so closely together sans conflict?  Is it the children themselves?  Is it something about the apparatus?  Is it something about the operation they configure?  Maybe it is because there is no rule that only one child is allowed on the stool at a time so they are able in a real context to accommodate and negotiate physically using their own bodies.  

What do you think?

Saturday, January 11, 2014


The Table Embedded in the Box creates an intriguing space for the children to explore.  One of the reasons why it is so inviting is because the box is big enough to encase half the table and still leave room for children to climb in the box and play at the table.  Or in this case, in the box in the table.
I usually do not let children play in the table itself.  This child I let do it on this day because he had the whole area to himself and I felt like he was "basking" in the space created by the box and the table.  He had found his spot on this day at this time and I was not going to deny him.

There is another reason why this space is so inviting: there is a second box that is taped to the big box.  This box is embedded with two aluminum vent tubes exiting on two different sides of this second box.  

On the left, the tube empties back into the table.  On the right, the tube empties into the big box.

Here is a view of the top of the second box.  You can see the two holes for the aluminum tubes.
Note all the duct tape.  To keep the aluminum tubes in place, the ends are cut so that the tubes stay in the box.  The strips that are folded over are sharp, so I had to make sure they were covered with plenty of duct tape---and then some.
(I hope you can understand the crude drawing.)

Here you can see children fully engaged with the combined apparatus.  In the picture there are five children at multiple levels in multiple and varied spaces.  

Let's see and listen exactly how the pellets rattle down the tubes.  In the video below, the child scoops pellets from the big box, stands up, steps up on a stool and pours pellets in the hole of the tube that empties back into the box.  

I have watched this video several times because I am not sure what he does the second time he pours pellets into the hole.  In fact, he dumps very few pellets into the hole and leaves his spoon on top of the hole.  He quickly ducks down to look into the box to see exactly where the pellets come out.  When he does that, he sees there are pellets pooling at the bottom of the tube so he reaches in to scrape a bunch out with his hand.  I am still not sure, though, why he stopped pouring so abruptly and ducked into the box to see where the pellets emptied into the box.  Maybe he heard the pellets only go so far down the tube and realized they did not empty back into the box like they should have.  If that is the case, he is doing a wonderful job of reading the aural cues emanating from the apparatus.

By the way, here is a picture that shows clearly where the pellets actually empty into the box.  It kind of looks like pellet heaven.

One of the more fascinated play scripts to emerge from this combination of apparatus was making ice cream.  Children would pour pellets down the tube and a child would catch it with his or her bowl.  They would say they were making ice cream.  How pellets rattling down a tube represent making ice cream, only the children know.  And know they do. 

Here is a short video clip in which you can see for yourself the ice cream making process.  As the video starts, one child is inside the box and a second child is outside the box.  You can hear the pellets rattling down the tube.  The boy inside the box has a small metal bowl which he places under the pellets coming out of the tube.  With a killer smile, the little guy in the box announces: "We are making ice cream for sale."  The child outside the box looks inside the box to see if the bowl is full and then tells the other child to: "Put it in the bucket."   The boy inside promptly empties his bowl into the bucket.

And that is how ice cream is made.  Hey, but you knew that.

To end the post, let's switch gears completely from the apparatus to a child's investigation of sound that has little to do with the apparatus itself.  It is true it takes place on top of the apparatus, but it has more to do with the provisions a child finds around the apparatus.  (Axiom #7 in the right-hand column of this blog states that children will always devise new and novel activities and explorations with the materials presented that are tangental to the apparatus itself.)   Watch and listen as he experiments with the different sounds the pots, bowls and pails make as he strikes them with two long kitchen spoons.

First of all, the child has set up all the pots, bowls and pails with care and order. Not only that, he takes great care to figure out how each sounds.  He almost sounds like a musician warming up.  

Could we look at the child figuring out the flow of the pellets, or the children making ice cream or the child doing sound experiments to illuminate all the learning the children are achieving?  Of course. For me, though, I would rather appreciate the wonder that unfolds from moment to moment and be thankful for the time I can spend with these children. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014


If you have read this blog long enough, you know that I like to build things with big boxes.  People around me know that and are always offering me boxes.  The custodian in my building is no exception.  Back in October, he presented me with a big box.  I have written about a Big Box next to the table.  I have written about a Big Box on Top of the Table.  And I have written about a Big Box Incline.  For some particular reason, this box called out to encase part of the table, thus creating: Table Embedded in a Box.

One of the first things one of the children asked me when he saw the table in the box was how did the table get inside the box.   

The first decision was where to position the table inside the box. After deciding, I outlined the area I wanted to cut to accommodate the table.    
I cut the hole in the box with a utility knife.  I removed the bin from the frame of the table and inserted the frame through the hole.  
There is one thing to note about this arrangement: the table is purposefully placed in one side of the box leaving a space next to it for the children to use as a play space inside the box.

After putting the table in the box, all the flaps were duct taped shut.  Holes were cut in the sides so the children could reach through the box to get at the table.  One of the holes included an opening in part of the top of the box so children did not all have to bend over to reach into the table.

Two other holes were cut so children could crawl in and out the box to explore the space created by having the table set up in the box.
Do you see the two 5-year-olds in the box playing at the table embedded in the box?  They are big in a small place, but they willingly accommodate.

And indeed it can get quite crowded in the space inside the box.
It may look like there is a tussle going on, but both these children are just trying to change positions in a tight space.  It helps to know that these two children are always on the move even in open spaces.  To continually change places in the box, they continually have to negotiate space.  Sometimes that is done verbally, but these two were adept at doing is physically with their bodies without creating friction. I have seen more fractious contact when bodies are this close in open spaces.  Why is that?

Since this space was so attractive, more children wanted to go in than would fit.  That set up a situation in which the children needed to negotiate use of the space: who is in and who is out.  To explain how that happened would take another entire post.  Suffice it to say, they did it with great facility and no conflict.  Part of the ease of taking turns was the fun of crawling in and out of the box and part of it was that it got hot inside the box if someone stayed in a long time. 

If you look at Axiom #2 on the right-hand column of this blog, you will see that children will find and use all the spaces created by an apparatus.  For the Table Embedded in the Box, that means there is also the space underneath the table for a children to discover.
How must it feel to "swim" in the pellets in this tight space?  

I have never had a child play underneath the table.  I have had children reach far underneath the table to retrieve something or to sweep, but to actually spend time underneath the table and play there?---no. Because part of the the table is embedded in the box, a novel space is created that opens a window of opportunity to discover the space underneath the table.  And the best way to do it is with your whole body. 

A space created is a space found.