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, 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.


  1. Hi Tom! Just took look at your post of our Minot Workshop experience, so fun to read your side of the experience. We are seeing all kinds of wonderful adaptions to our once pretty basic sensory table experiences. The excitement is catching. Love watching the children engaged in what they are doing and the cooperation they are learning. Thank you for sharing all of your ideas, knowledge and experiences with us. You made a difference for the children in our program.

    1. Hi Shirley. Thank you for the feedback and I am glad to hear that the work is continuing and catching on. There are at least two more points from my perspective. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm and creativity of your staff. They came up with ideas that I would have never thought of. The other point was the amount of problem solving that happened as the staff worked on their constructions. Wait, there is a third point: the staff was also able to teach me a few things like the difference between using a saw drill bit on cardboard and using it on PVC pipe. Thanks again for inviting me to Minot.

  2. Tom, Thank you so much for coming to our center. We had a ton of fun! I expecially enjoyed your comments about how to make a sifter out of the cool square box and I loved watching you laugh at us while we went to town on our big box. My favorite problem solving event was trying to get our box out of the door, from now on, I think I will start the building process in the classroom! I must say though the tear down was even more amusing watching my husband trying to get it out of my room with the mind set we were going to reuse it. When he finally got it out in once piece I informed him he could take it out to the garbage. Thanks for all the ideas and laughs, it sure brought our team to a new level of interaction and the kids loved it!

  3. Thanks Marie. I do not know who had more fun, me or you guys building with such zeal. I hope you know I was not laughing at you. I was genuinely happy at how you had collected your materials and were in the process of making something that was a combination of the shape of the materials and your imagination. By the way, I have made the mistake of making something at home and not being able to fit it into the car. Or, I have made something at home and it did not fit in the table. I now keep the measurements (height, width and depth) of my sensory table at home. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Keep building!