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, February 22, 2014


For the past three weeks, I have had the same apparatus in the sensory table.  It is a combination of a wooden tray and clear plastic tubes and plastic channels set on an incline.

That is unusual because I usually change the apparatus weekly. Sometimes I will leave an apparatus up for two weeks, but then something would be added the second week to change the configuration.  Instead of changing the apparatus these past three weeks, I changed what was in the table and the accompanying provisions.

The first week was snow with scoops, containers and people for a Snow Park.  The second week was snow with paint and paint brushes for Painting Snow.  This past week, objects frozen in ice were added to the table.  In addition, wooden hammers, tongs, goggles and table knives were available on the shelves next to the table for the children to use.

One can make an interesting comparison between the different operations fostered by the different provisions on the same apparatus.  With just the snow, there was a lot of transporting of the snow with scoops and containers from one table to the other actually using the apparatus.  With the paint, the children did much less transporting and much more mixing of the snow and paint.  The wooden tray was used a lot, but the inclines were used as a painting surface.  With the ice, the apparatus seemed to take on even less significance.  What came to the fore were the physical operations to free objects from the ice.  Maybe the sheer physicality of the invitation trumps all other operations.

Watch as this child tries to free the dinosaur from a piece of ice.  Notice how much zest he puts into his swings with the hammer.

There must be a feeling of satisfaction to be able to break pieces of ice off a larger piece with force.  That is true for both boys and girls.  Maybe the guy in me appreciates an outlet for some constructive brute force.

I have done this activity every year for 20 years.  You can read some earlier posts herehere and here.  I remember as a child growing up in Minnesota finding things frozen in ice.  My friends and I would take to smashing the ice with sticks and rocks to free the objects. In a way, I am trying to recreate that same experience for the children in the classroom.  With little or no direction, the children understand the invitation.

A mother reported this year that her child asked to make "ice toys" at home.  He told her they needed goggles, knives, hammers and toys to freeze in ice.  The mom asked how do we do that. The boy told her to just look at teacher Tom's blog to find the instructions.  When there is transfer like this to home, I know the venture is worthwhile.   So go ahead, make some "ice toys" and let the children pound and chop away. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014


The same apparatus was up for two weeks. 

The first week it served as a reservoir for snow and snow play without mittens

The second week, there was snow again, but this time the children painted it.

Even though the apparatus remained the same, the children formulated different operations in the snow each week because some of the provisions changed; different tools necessarily generated different operations. 

One child's operation, however, was the same over the two weeks.  The first week, he figured out how to launch snow using a clear plastic tube on the incline.  Watch.

That first week I entered the scene after the child had already filled his clear plastic tube with snow and placed it on the incline.  He experimented with the snow sliding in and out of the tube. As he did that, the snow melted ever so slightly against the inside sides of the tube creating less and less friction.  As he experimented, his pushes became stronger until finally he gave enough of a push to send the snow shooting right out the tube. 

I cannot be at the sensory table all the time so I do not always know how a child creates such an operation.  Because I was there in time to video tape it, though, I was able to show the child the following week his previous week's operation.  Immediately after seeing it, he said he wanted to do it again so he went to work.  Watch.

This second week, his experiments with the snow in the tube expanded in scope.  He moved the clear tube up the incline so part of it was not supported by incline.  Did he think he could shoot the snow further if the tube was higher on the incline? What he found out was that as the snow moved in the tube and the weight suddenly shifted, he almost lost control of the tube---and no snow was launched.  He tried it a second time with the same result.  Finally he dropped the tube down so the entire tube was supported by the incline.  When he pushed this time, the snow launched with plenty of force and he did not loose control of the tube.  Did you hear me register my amazement at the end of the clip?

Even though the table was set up for different activities, the snow, the clear plastic tube and the incline were constants over the two weeks.  That made it possible for this child to experiment with the physics of snow and apparatus in a truly fantastic way.  Would he have done it the second week if I had not shown him the video from the week before?  Maybe he would have eventually got around to it, but the video was an immediate reference back to what he had done the week before which triggered the desire to do it again.  And the second time around, there was even more experimenting, especially with placement of the tube.

Do you know where the snow ended up?  It ended up on the floor, of course.  That was certainly a small price to pay for such a astonishing experiment.  Besides, the snow was easily scooped up with the small dust pan next to the table that could be used like a shovel.  

It is intriguing to think about how a setup helps determine the set of possibilities for the children to create their own operations.  If you compare the current post to lasts year's post on Snow Tubes, you get an idea of how operations can be influenced by the structure and the provisions. Last year there was snow and clear plastic tubes like this year.  However, this year there was an incline. The incline part of the apparatus made it possible for this child to "launch" the snow.

That makes me wonder what other variables might determine a set of possible operations for the children to author.  That's a big TBD.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Last year I wrote a post about Painting Snow  If you look at that post, you will see that the only apparatus was a wooden tray for the children to use as a platform above the table.  This year, the tray is still there and I left the incline tube and slide from the previous week's Snow Park.

Snow is a wonderful medium on which to paint.  It is such an intense white, that even the watered-down tempera paints show up nicely.

Look at this series of pictures showing a child painting with the magenta paint.  Notice how the color expands.

How much of this painting is a conscious effort to explore color and how much is it an act of affecting his environment---the snow---to change it?  In any case, it looks like he is about to add some red to the magenta.

The reason for long handle paint brushes to slow down the process of adding color to the snow.  If the children were simply to pour the paint on the snow, the activity would be done in no time.  With the brushes, the children apply smaller amounts of paint.  Watch how this works.  The child has lined up his paint pots so he can add the paints with the brushes to the bowl of snow.

Mixing snow and paint from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What does he get?  He gets some vibrant snow, for sure.  Is it a color investigation or is it a mixing exploration?

At some point, though, the addition of paint to snow becomes just a mixing exercise.  Watch the short video below to see the child stirring snow, melted snow and all the colors together.

Mixing melted snow and paint from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What does he get?  A cold brown concoction.

With a set up like this, there are other things to paint besides the snow.  There is the incline apparatus.

There is the table itself.

Or maybe even yourself.

I am still left with questions.  Does painting snow give children a sense of agency to affect a change in the snow?  Is painting snow a color investigation or a mixing exploration?  Does it switch between the two?  If so, what precludes the switch?  How much do the properties of the snow define either that investigation or that exploration?  Do the children have a better understanding of the properties of the snow by painting it?  Why do children paint other things in addition to the snow?

Sunday, February 2, 2014


We have had our share of snow and cold this winter.  School was closed 5 times in January because it was so cold---in the range of -40 degrees windchill.  (At -40 the C and F temperature scales converge).  Because snow is such a big part of our experience with nature in Minnesota, I like to bring snow into the classroom once or twice during the winter.  That way the children do not need to get all dressed up to learn about the properties of snow.  Imagine playing with snow without coats or mittens.  The hands get cold for sure, but they can scoop and dig in the white stuff in the comfort of indoor temperatures.

Last year I wrote about bringing the snow into the sensory table in a post entitled Snow Tubes.  In that post the children were able to explore the snow using various kinds of tubes.

This year, besides the loose, clear plastic tubes, I set a couple of tubes---one clear and one not clear---on an incline.  Two pieces of plastic channels were taped to the tubes to create open snow slides.

I call it a Snow Park because I added people and figures to the provisions for the table.

OK, calling it a snow park may be a stretch, but there was no shortage of people and figures going down the tubes and the slides with the snow.  
The people and the figures often get stuck, but that created a challenge for the children to see if they could somehow make the figures drop down the tube.  How do children know to pound the tube to make the figures go down?

It took me a couple of tries to get the incline stable enough so the children could use it without it toppling over.  After all, children are the best testers of the integrity of an apparatus.  To get a steep enough incline, I taped two planter trays together at the ends.  A nice feature of this arrangement is that the top planter tray is open, so it creates another space to work in for the children.  
A white, wooden tray that spans the table is added which creates a platform on which the children can work above the bottom of the table.  The white tray has a dual purpose in this arrangement: it also serves as an anchor onto which the planter tray structure is taped.  With enough duct tape, there is no toppling of this structure.

If you look at the apparatus as a whole, you can see that it divides the table into several spaces with different levels.  That makes the space more complex and intriguing for the children.  In addition, the children bring their own complexity of operations to bear on the apparatus.  What does the intersection of those two complexities yield?  One of the things it yields is focused engagement in the different spaces on the different levels.
This picture is a good illustration of the many levels and spaces the children can work on and in for this particular apparatus.

Part of the complexity of the sensory table is that it is also a science table.  Children are always investigating how the physical world works.  Here is a nice example of one of those experiments with the snow in one of the loose tubes.

Ooopsie from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

How great is that!  This video also highlights the difference between experimenting with snow outside and inside.  Outside it would be hard to use the tubes without mittens and if the snow fell out of the tube on the ground it would be no big deal.  Inside, the child is able to feel the cold with his hands and comfortably watch the snow slide from one end of the tube to the other.  And if the snow falls out on the floor, there is a surprise incongruity. Thus a child's scientific term for a surprise incongruity: ooopsie.