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, May 31, 2014


In June I will be traveling for three weeks to the UK and the Netherlands to do several presentations on sand and water play.  At this point in time, I am making preparations for that trip.  Because it takes me so long to do an original post, I am revisiting some earlier posts.  The post I would like to revisit this week is from January 26, 2011.  It directly follows last week's post that described how to make Closed Chutes.  This post includes one of my favorite pictures. It is the second picture from the end of the post in which a child has placed a funnel in a hole in one of the chutes and watches the sand flow he has created.  Why is it a favorite?  Because it shows that a simple action on an apparatus by a child changes his view of the physical world and how it works.  And the thing is, you do not even need to see the child's face to get a sense of his focus.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Experimentation with closed chutes in some ways looks like the experimentation with open chutes.  For that description look at the post from December 2nd of last year here.

However, experimentation, discovery and play take different forms with the closed design.  That is because there are more defined spaces.  With the open chute, it is more like one continuum, whereas the closed chutes have several intersecting planes that crisply demarcate spaces.  Look at the apparatus below.

First, there is top of the chute.

And then there is the bottom of the chute.
Both spaces are well defined because the support box divides the chute into a top and bottom.
What is interesting is that the child catching at the bottom does not see when the person on the top is pouring so he has to rely on his aural sense to know when something is coming down the chute.  The other option is surprise.

Of course, a child could hedge her bets by covering both chutes.  That way, whichever chute the other child decides to pour into, the child whose hands are at the bottom will be sure to catch it. That looks like a nice little game these children have created.

There is also the tube in this particular apparatus which has two different levels: there is the top which is over the tub and there is the bottom which reaches into the table.

If you notice in the picture above, the child is slowly pouring sand into an opening that has been cut in the tube near the bottom.  As she pours, two things happen.  The first is that the sand slides only a short distance and the second is that it mixes with the sand being poured from the top of the tube.  What must she be thinking and feeling when she watches the sand she pours only slide a few inches and then get swept away with the sand from the top?  Maybe she doesn't care about either of those things.  Maybe she is just enthralled with how the sand falls as she pours it ever so slowly.  Do you have any other guesses?

There is another space that offers children another level on which to operate.  That is the top of the divider box.  It is a place to find stray pellets to sweep with your hand or....

a place to stack all the pellets you can collect in whatever container you can find.

For some children this apparatus provides an opportunity to simply pour into holes.

For others, it offers opportunities to observe what happens as one works with the different materials and objects provided with the apparatus.
This child decided to put a funnel in the hole on the top of one of the chutes.  He pours sand, which is quite fine, into the funnel and then looks down the chute to see the result.
What is the result?  Is he only focusing on the flow of sand created by the funnel?  Does he also notice how the sand hits the bottom of the chute?  Does he notice how it piles up and even backs up a bit before bounding down the chute? Does he notice how the grains of sand bounce down the chute?  In any case, it is a nice example of how an apparatus---or part of an apparatus---can sharpen a child's focus on how the physical world works.

In the previous picture, you can clearly see the child's focus even though you cannot see his face.
Let's take a look at what his face tells us.
You can still see his focus, but there may also be a hint of happy wonderment.

This is the children's table to experiment with as they see fit.  Observing the children has taught me to expect the unexpected and appreciate their inventiveness.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


In June I will be traveling for three weeks to the UK and the Netherlands to do several presentations on sand and water play.  For the next few weeks, I will be preoccupied with preparations for that trip.  Because it takes me so long to do an original post, I will revisit some earlier posts.  The second  post I would like to revisit is from January 20, 2011 and is called CLOSED CARDBOARD CHUTES. This is mainly a "how-to" post with pointers on embedding chutes on a slant and on taping things securely with little to no measuring.

If you look at the DIMENSIONS in the righthand column of this blog, the first Cardboard Chutes posted in this blog (November 26th posting) fell under the dimensions of open and incline. The cardboard chutes in this post are also on an incline, but are closed.  Since this apparatus takes some constructing, this post explains how to build the apparatus.  The next post will talk about types of play and exploration fostered by this apparatus.
For this apparatus, I used three boxes.  The first box---the support box---was the width of the table on one of its orientations.  It was also both narrow and tall on its other two orientations.  Since it was the width of the table, it fit snugly inside the table and was thus easy to tape securely into the table.  The narrowness made it possible for the chutes to pass through.  The height allowed the chutes to be set on an incline.  Two other boxes were used for the chutes.  One of the chutes in the picture above is a box that held window blinds and the second chute is a box that held an artificial Christmas tree.  I cut out both ends of those boxes.  Without those ends, the chutes collapse easily.   When they are embedded in the support box, though, they are quite stable.

Here are three boxes I used to make closed chutes three years ago.

In this version, the support box is as wide as the table and actually sits on top of edge of the table.  A cardboard tube has been added so the flow of material can go two ways.  With the chutes only going one direction, the play and exploration sometimes stops when most of the material is emptied from the table.  Because of that, I considered the first design flawed and made the modification while the apparatus was still attached to the table.

To make the holes for the chutes, I first trace the end of the "chute" box onto the support box near the designated top of the support box.

If I were just to cut the shape I traced, the chute would be horizontal when I insert it through the box.

I don't want that, so I add an inch or two to the original trace on the top to be able to orient the chute on a slant.
Two inches is a lot to add to the original trace.  The more you add, the steeper the slant. (This almost sounds like a geometry lesson for a teacher.)

When the holes are cut, I insert the chutes through both holes.

By the way, I hardly ever measure.  Once I have done one side, I move to the other side. I usually place the top of the trace on the second side about where the bottom of the trace is on the first side.  I then add an inch or two to the bottom.

After inserting the chutes, I tape all around the them with duct tape to keep them from sliding up or down in the support box.  If I have cut the hole a little too big for the chute, the taping covers up extra spaces.  Taping is another process for which I do not measure.  I like to use duct tape that tears easily.  I will tear off a piece that is longer than the juncture I want to tape.  I use my fingers to push it into place.

Once the tape is in place, I tear or cut any extra that is hanging over the corner.  One section of the torn duct tape is pressed flat against the box and the other is folded over and down.

When I have taped all the chutes in place, I tape the apparatus to the table.  I orient it so the higher end of the chute is above the table and the lower end extends over the table and directs the material into a tub on the floor next to the table.

OK, kids, it is now yours to investigate and explore!

If you are counting, there are eight children around this table playing on several different levels and in several different spaces created by the apparatus.  My question is: Could there be even more children playing here?

Saturday, May 17, 2014


In June I will be traveling for three weeks to the UK and the Netherlands  to do several presentations on sand and water  play around the sand and water trays.  For the next few weeks, I will be preoccupied with preparations for that trip.  Because it takes me so long to do an original post, I will revisit some earlier posts.  The first post I would like to revisit is  called Creativity and Tongs.  That post was written in October 2010.  Looking over the post, I am surprised that I had the audacity to think I understood were creativity comes from.  I do not.  I do know that if given the setup and provisions, the children try multiple schemes to complete their self-selected tasks.  Their solutions may be creative but where does that creativity come from?

Newsweek had an article in its July 10, 2010 issue referencing the decline in creativity scores of children in US since 1990.  The article can be found here.    With emphasis on testing and getting answers right, is there any wonder creativity suffers?

There is an easy antidote to this problem.  Here is a video clip of a child using tongs that illustrates the antidote nicely.  Two-year-old Teddy has a pair a tongs.  He is trying to pick up a rock.  He has not yet mastered opening and closing the tongs to pick up the rock.  He jabs at it and says: "I'm cutting the cupcake."  Then he picks up the rock with one hand and slips it between the open tongs he is holding in his other hand.  He has not yet mastered pinching the tongs to hold the rock, so in a sweeping motion with his hands, arms and tongs as one, he drops the rock into the water.

Tongs from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Teddy has not mastered the use of the tongs by adult standards.  What he brings to the task of mastering the tongs, though, are abilities, such as large and small motor capabilities, and concrete operational schemes, both of which are the wellspring of his creativity.  By allowing him to experiment with the tongs---instead of teaching them how to use them---he will master them.   By experimenting with them he will have more "tong scenarios" on which to bring to any new task using tongs or similar implements.  Can you use tongs to cut a cupcake?  Of course, especially if the tongs have a spatula type head and you do not have a knife handy.

The antidote to decreasing creativity:  Let them play!  And let them play with real-life, three-dimensional materials on tasks they set for themselves.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Simply said, The Funnels and Clear Plastic Tubing apparatus is a favorite in the water table because of the breadth and depth of play fostered by the apparatus.  Funnels are taped to one end of clear plastic tubing and then the tubing is threaded through a crate.  The tubes vary in length and empty back into the table at various points or into a tub on the side of the water table.  The crate is taped to a wooden tray that spans the table and holds the apparatus above the water table.

The exploration usually begins with the question: "If I pour water in this funnel, where does it come out?"  That is not so easy because the water has to flow through the maze of tubing in the crate.
If more than one child is pouring at the same time and the water is coming out of multiple tubes, the children are treated to a worthwhile perceptual challenge. 

Once the children have figured out where a tube empties, there is no end to their explorations. The child in the video below has figured out that the black funnel empties into the tub through the black hose.  As the video clip begins, he has found a bottle that fits perfectly over the end of the hose. Listen to his reaction as he watches the bottle fill after he has poured water into the funnel.

This child had already figured out that if he pours water into the black funnel, the water comes out the black hose.  Why is he surprised that he was able to fill the bottle when he placed it over the hose and poured water into the funnel?  Has he changed the apparatus enough by adding the bottle to the end of the hose that he has to test the new configuration to see if it works according to his plan?  He is certainly pleased with his work.

He does not stop there.  He pulls the bottle off the hose and examines the bottle closely.
What is so intriguing about this bottle filled with green water?  Is it the color?  Or has he noticed that the green water in the bottle provides a different lens through which to see the rest of the classroom?

One of the changes in the setup from previous years, is that there were some loose parts available to the children as part of the provisions.  The loose parts added a new dimension to the play and exploration.  

Let me show you one one example of how a child used one of the loose parts for her own purposes.  The child has taken a funnel and tube that is loose and not part of the apparatus.  She uses it to pour water into a measuring cup resting on a little stand in the water table.  She does an amazing job of balancing the tube and funnel all the while keeping it in the measuring cup.  That is not an easy task because every moves she makes has an effect; she constantly has to make adjustments to pull off this supposedly simple operation.  
Loose parts - funnel and tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

After all the adjustments, she is able to get water into her cup.  She lifts up the cup and proudly states: "I poured some water from there into here."  Without missing a beat, she lifts up the measuring cup to eye level and---like the scientist she is---asks: "How much water is there?"

As adults, we often overlook these types of accomplishments made by children.  Of course, the water will flow into the bottle.  Of course, you can pour water from there into here.   The significance of these accomplishments has more to do with process of exploration rather than an actual outcome.  The children set up their own challenges; they try out different procedures or operations; and they evaluate the results.  No wonder some people think children embody the spirit of a true scientist.

P.S.  If you are interested in other posts about the funnel and tube apparatus, there are two that explain different setups here and here.  There is also another one that highlights other types of exploration at the apparatus here.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


A planter tray has been a staple in my sensory table for more than 12 years.  It all began so innocently.  One fall in the hardware store, I found two planter trays on clearance and thought they might be useful in the sensory table.  To my surprise and good fortune, the trays fit perfectly inside the table.  Not only that, they also created a second level in which the children could play.

Next, I found bins that are similar to the planter trays in the our back storage area and decided to stack those bins on top of the planter trays.  The result was a multiple tray apparatus.
This apparatus created more levels and more spaces in which the children could operate.  The spaces were also more complex.  To scoop the medium from the bottom of the table or from one of the lower trays, it was necessary to navigate under and through spaces.  In other words, it took more motor control to transport within the table from one level to the next.

A couple years later---again in the fall and on clearance---I bought a couple more planter trays and built a bigger multiple tray apparatus with more levels.
From this one apparatus I was able to document at least five types of play: motor, sensory, cause-and-effect, science, and social.  As long as the apparatus is open-ended, there is no end to the variety of play children will create in such intriguing and complex spaces.

This school year, I visited the hardware story again to find more planter trays.  I went hog wild.
This multiple tray apparatus lives up to its name.  It is a total of 11 trays creating five distinct levels.

Here is what one half of the apparatus looks like from a slightly higher vantage point.  The levels are labeled.

Watch how a two-year-old navigates scooping pellets from the bottom of the table to depositing them into the very top tray.

Maximum reach from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What an operation by this two-year-old.  After she scoops the pellets into her tiny scoop, she slowly stands---she is on a stool---to keep her balance without spilling any of the pellets.  Next, she uses her left hand to help her reposition the scoop in her right hand so she can grab the handle.  By holding the handle, she will have her maximum reach. She reaches as high as she can and drops the pellets from her scoop into the top tray even though she cannot see into the top tray.  She cannot even see if all the pellets drop out of the scoop, so she shakes the scoop a couple of times to make sure all the pellets are out.

One of the upshots of building vertically is that it beckons the children to engage in vertical endeavors. What are vertical endeavors?  Operating on the lip of the table can be considered one.

There is one more reason why planter trays are a staple at the sensory table.  They often serve as a base to hold other apparatus above the table.

When the trays are turned upside down, they span the table and create a higher base for structures that need higher elevation over the table.

P. S.  No matter how many levels I create using the planter trays, the children have no compunction about adding their own levels.
Can you see the children have turned one of the stools upside down to hold containers that they are filling?  Another level just above the floor is now available for their operations.