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, December 31, 2016

Classroom picture of the year 2016

For the past three years, I have been writing a post I call "classroom picture of the year."  I have an ulterior motive for such a post.  I usually write exclusively about what happens at the sensory table.  With this post, I feel like I can give myself license to talk about something wonderful that happened in another area of the classroom.

My classroom picture of the year for 2016 comes from the large muscle area in my classroom.  For me this is one of the most important areas because young children need to be able to move when their body tells them to move.  The large muscle area is defined by a 5' x 12' blue gym mat.  I usually change what is available to the children every other week.

One of the places I store some of the large muscle equipment is a closet off the cafeteria.  It just so happens that is also where community education stores some of their equipment for adult education classes.  For several years now, when I went into that closet, I would see blue steps for step aerobics.  This year, I decided to borrow some of them and set them out in the large muscle area.

In the hands of the children, the aerobic steps turned out to be large loose parts for the children to stack.  Consequently, these big blue step created the foundation for my classroom picture of the year: a child launching himself into the air.
The children started stacking the aerobics steps on top of each other in order to create a perch from which to jump.  On this particular day, they settled on six steps .  The six aerobic blocks were shoulder-height for this child.   When he jumped, he went vertical almost another foot.  He was flying; he was defying gravity.  He measured his own risk and proved to himself his physical skills.  Imagine the exhilaration this child must have felt.

For me, this is a perfect example of the power inherent in children: the power to shape and act upon their own world with an alacrity that comes from feeling competent.  And that is why I am calling it my classroom picture of the year for 2016.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lesson plans---or not

For the past couple of years, I have been questioning my role as a teacher in an early childhood classroom.  What did I really teach?  There was a time when I would look for and try to think up new and better ways to do art, literacy and numeracy.  There was a time when I would write lesson plans---although I was never very good at it, especially when it came to goals.  And to make matters worse, I always had this recurring dream that I was given a class to teach and inevitably I would loose total control because I did not have a lesson plan.  Yikes!

During the period of questioning my role as a teacher, I have gone without a lesson plan.  In place of lesson plans, I would work on provisioning the room, especially the sensory table and the large muscle area.  When the children arrived, it was their room to explore and investigate.  As a consequence, I have found myself stepping back more and watching the children interact with the materials, each other and the adults in the room.  I found myself continually astonished with those interactions.  What I saw, changed what I thought was important in the classroom.

For example, something as simple as a toddler putting a bowl on his head for a hat became significant.
Why would he try a bowl on for size?  What is he thinking and how will he keep it balanced on his head?
Children blowing bubbles in new ways had to be appreciated.   Children love to blow bubbles, but it became even more eventful when the child discovered for himself that he could blow bubbles through a rubber tube that he found on the shelf. 

Blowing bubbles from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

His expression tells it all.  His success did come at a price of swallowing a little soapy water and hence the big smile.

As the children delighted in the silly, so did I.  One child decided it would be fun to to step into the bucket of feed corn to bury his feet.  And if one child could do it, so could another---and maybe even dig her feet in a little deeper into the corn.

My admiration for their work included the self-proclaimed hard work by the children themselves.  The child in the video below was scooping corn into a pot with his hands.  Near the end of the video, the child looked up at me and said: "I've never worked so hard in my life."

Hard work from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Notice that as the teacher, I was not the task master.  He was the task master of the job he created for himself.  My role was to recognize and admire it.

Sometimes I am totally blown away by what transpires.  Below is a video of a child who was hit with a scoop but was not fazed in the least.  He was kneeling next to a tub playing with a tree cookie in the muddy water.  On his right, a red scoop appeared.  As the child with the scoop tried to lift some mud out of the tub, she lost control of the scoop and hit the boy kneeling at the tub.  It happens in the blink of an eye, so watch carefully.

Getting hit with a scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What amazed me what that he rolled with the punch, and, without a word, went about his business.  How many children---or adults---do you know who would take umbrage with such a slight.

I even valued the children taking risks on their own like standing on the lip of the table---in play high heels. 
How could I not appreciate how they were willing to take on the physical challenge of climbing and balancing to gain a new perspective on their operations?

I even marveled at the sublime.  In the video below, three children have a lovely exchange while they each work on their own operation.  The exchange included an offer, an acceptance, a question and an answer.  The first child offered: "Want me to give you some of my sponges?"  The second child accepted by saying: "Ya, I need a lot of sponges."  The third child asked the second child: "To make cookies?"  The second child answered: "Ya, chocolate chip cookies."

Making cookies from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am in awe with the natural flow of the interchange between the three children.  It flows in a way that can only happen between the children.  There is nothing didactic here; there is no lesson plan for this kind of stuff. 

Is there learning going on?  Yes, but it is not in the teacher-directed life in the classroom.  Rather, it is a byproduct of a vital and appreciated life that is lived in the classroom by the children.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


One of the perks of retirement is that I have more time for reading.  Between helping raise a family and building a career as an early childhood educator, I rarely found the time to read books in the field.  With more time, I am reading more in the field of early education than at any time in my life.  I come at these new reading endeavors from an interesting perspective.  I use the readings to reflect on my past practice.  That in turn gives the process a new purpose.  Instead of reading to improve my practice, I am now reading to find new meaning in that past practice.  I am no longer looking for better ways to do such things as numeracy or literacy.  Instead, I am using the readings to try to understand such things as: What were the conditions in my classroom that allowed children make meaning on their own terms?

One of the books in my reading pile is The Informed Vision by John Hawkins.  I actually read it a couple of years ago but could not grasp the depth of his writing on the philosophy of education.  I have just finished the second reading of the book and so much more makes sense to me in hindsight.  Let me take one passage and see if I can make sense of it from my past practice.  On page 25, he writes:

            The product number, of possible congenital patterns multiplied by possible early 
            biographies of children, is of higher arithmetical order than the total number of
            children, past, present, or future.  The probability is effectively zero that there
            should be two children presenting the same educational challenges and 
            opportunities. ... This requires from the start a recognition of individual 
            competency and situation.  Not to recognize the individuality is not to educate.

What could that possibly mean?  For me, it means that children all come with their own individual idiosyncrasies to any given situation---in my case for this blog, the sensory table.   When I say idiosyncrasies, I do not mean peculiarities as such.  Rather, I mean the distinctive endowments each child brings to the classroom.  It is what makes each child an original every day.

Below are some examples of what I consider distinctive endowments brought to something new at the sensory table.  The first shows a child examining the sand in an apparatus call horizontal channels.  The child is using his hands to explore the sand.  And it is not just running his hand through the sand.  He is actually using his hand as a scoop so he is able to feel the sand on the back of his hand.  

Discovering how the sand feels from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

For some reason, it is important to him to feel the sand on the back of his hand both as he scoops and then as he lets it slide off.

The next example is a boy making a lot of noise by swishing the corn vigorously back and forth with a scoop in the box.

Making noise from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Children do like to make noise, but can his actions be construed so simply?  Why does he bend down when he rustles the corn?  Does he get more power and agency?  Is he trying to get a different aural perspective?

The third example shows a child taking animal bedding that he has gathered from the sensory table and depositing it in the crack between the provisioning table and the wall.

Finding the crack from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Children are compelled to put things in holes (Axiom #5 on the right hand column of this blog).  But why do this child find this hole/crack to deposit his animal bedding?

The fourth example is a child tracing her hand in the sand that has fallen on the floor from the sensory table.

Hand tracing on the floor from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

My guess is that this child has traced her hand before using a crayon or something on paper.  What makes her envision that she could do it in the sand on the floor next to the sensory table?

Maybe these are not idiosyncrasies.   Maybe it is just a child feeling the sand, another child making noise, another child stuffing animal bedding in a crack, or a child drawing her hand in the discarded sand.  I think not, because on any given day with any given child, the operations will necessarily look different.  My final example, which has two parts, is a case in point.  Two separate videos show two different children with the same object in the same context.  In both the videos below, children put a long-handled pot on their heads and then look in the mirror.  The resulting operations, however, are quite different.

Pan on the head I from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Pan on the head II from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the first video, the child is intrigued by how he looks with the pot on his head.  He then uses the mirror to reference his actions with his hands on the handle.  In the second video, the child is also intrigued by how she looks in the mirror, but for her it is a transformation of self that brings great delight.

If these are examples of idiosyncrasies, the question then becomes: how do I as a teacher make room for them?  For me the distinctive endowments surmount what the children are learning because it is through those idiosyncrasies that they learn and learn best.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Washing toys: the riches in between

For the past several years, I have set up the sensory table as a wash tub for toys that are to be put away for the summer.  The original intent was to lighten the staff's work load at the end of the school year.  Gradually, as the children took it over, it became something the children did willingly to contribute to the care of the classroom.

At the start of class, I would dump toys that could be immersed in water into the table to be washed and then added water with dish soap.  On shelves next to the table, I set out scrub brushes, washrags, bowls and cups for washing the toys.  In the picture below, the children were washing a manipulative called Wedgits and long sections of a large muscle toy for balancing. 

At the end of class, I asked the children to help rinse the toys in clean water and then set them on towels on a nearby table to dry overnight.

Each new class period, I would dump different toys to be washed.   For instance, one day I set out all the "jewels" (glass beads from the craft store) we had been using with the plastacine.
There was quite a bit of plastacine residue on these glass beads so it took a fair amount of scrubbing and fine motor work to get it off.  In fact, there was so much residue that I also set the jewels out for the following class.

One of the nice aspects of the toy-washing activity was the friendly chitchat that emerged between the children as they worked.  This also turned out to be a great time for the teachers to sidle up next to the table and join in the work and the spontaneous conversations.

Did the toys get clean?  Judging from the water that was left in the sensory table, yes.  Some of that was due to the fact that the toys simply soaked in soapy water.  However, the children's contribution cannot be underestimated.  Besides scrubbing and pouring water over the toys, they created natural friction---which contributes to the cleaning process---just by moving the toys in and around the table.

For me as teacher there are at least two important understandings that go along with this activity.  The first is that I have to be happy with approximations.  What does that mean?  That means that I am not looking for perfection only for participation and effort.  Too often we judge children's work by adult standards.  If I wanted all the toys the children wash to be spotless, the activity would not have to power it does to contribute to the life and caretaking of the classroom, both physically and socially.

The second important understanding is that children do not have the same objective as I do.  I want the toys clean.  The children want to play.  That means that while they are ostensibly cleaning, they are really doing something else.  For instance, look at the picture below.  We were washing the Duplo train tracks.  This child decided to put the "clean" tracks together next to the sensory table.
If I only focused on washing the toys and having the children wash the toys, I might have stopped his building the minute it began.  Instead, my decision to what I saw as a provocation on his part was to not stop it.  Were the tracks going to get dirty again?  Not so much.  Could other children still wash toys if they wanted? Yes.  

Or here is a picture of a child who was a little more interested in filling a pot with soapy water on one of the shelves next to the sensory table.
This child's actions really had very little to do with washing the toys.  Rather, it was fulfilling her need to transport water from the table to fill her pot.  Again, my agenda for the activity was different than hers.  Is my agenda more important than hers?

Let me try to explain it a different way.  Recently I have been telling people about a realization that I have come to when taking care of my grandson.  I realized that going to the park with him was not so much about the end goal of getting to the park.  The important part was the journey.  It was the stick he found that he had to pick up and which he used to hit a telephone pole.  It was the snow he then discovered at the bottom of the pole that needed to be smooshed down.  It was grate that needed to be examined on the curb of the sidewalk   What I am saying is that the time between leaving the house and getting to the park was as rich as anything we did at the park.   If I was only focused on getting to the park, I would miss the riches in between.  And if I thought getting to the park simply meant using the equipment at the park, I was terribly mistaken.  The pound was frozen at the park so we looked for sticks and rocks to toss onto the frozen pond.  We wanted to see if the ice would break or not.  In fact on this particular day, the equipment was the least important feature of the park.  It was almost like another journey began once we got to the park.

Getting back to washing the toys, did I want the toys clean?  Yes.  But that was my agenda.  If my intention was to bring the children into the activity, I had leave room for them to create their own agenda along the way.  If I did that, it was a win-win proposition.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Agency for children---and the teacher

This post will take me into uncharted territory.  Usually I write about an apparatus I have set up at the sensory table.  But the last couple of weeks I have been writing about the life of a cardboard box in the classroom.  In doing those posts, I began to think about my role in the classroom, and more generally, what type of agency does a teacher really have and how can others see it. 

There is a lot written about giving the children agency in the classroom.  How often do we really give children agency?  Do we really give children agency when we offer children choices so they will learn what we want them to learn?  Do we really give children agency when we work so hard for children to internalize our wants and desires so they see them as their own?  Do we really give children agency when we look for them to substantiate our world view?

Those are heady questions and not easily deconstructed.  One of the ways to deconstruct those questions is to raise the question: What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?

I will try to answer that by moving to another part of the classroom: the large muscle area.  I have a large muscle area as defined by a 5' x 12' blue mat.  This area is always open during the hour and a half of unstructured play time in the classroom.  I chose this area because I think I can easily find an example of the interplay between children's agency and my own.

A couple times a year, I set up a wooden climber and slide on the large muscle mat.  I do that because I know children need to climb and slide---even indoors and even at times other than at gym or recess.  However, there are metal shelves at the end of the slide so I have to cover them with other blue mats so children do not bump into the metal shelves.
I'll let you in on a little secret: they never do anyway.  Instead, they liked to launch themselves into the mats from the slide.

The children also liked to take the mats to cover themselves for rollicking games of hide and seek.

In essence, these mats became two big loose parts in the large muscle area for the children appropriate for their own uses.  Needless to say, there were many, many uses, but here is one fetching example of how the children used the mats as loose parts.  Two children covered the slide with the two mats.  One child held them in place while the other stepped onto them to slide down.  It was slower than they or I expected.  At the end, she declared: "That's a nice boat ride."

That's a nice boat ride from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Up to this point, my agency was setting up the invitation for large motor play.  When I saw that the children started to used the blue mats for their own purposes, I made a conscious decision to let them move the mats away from the metal cabinet because they were already regulating their own speed down the slide.  At that point, I became really curious how many different ways the children could use these mats.  That meant that I needed to take a step back to watch.  Not only was I going to watch, but I was also going to document how the children used the mats.

After watching how the children used the mats,  I decided that I could create a new invitation for play in the large muscle area by just setting out multiple mats.  I took away the climber and set out seven mats.  Now it was the children's turn to show their agency.  They did not disappoint.  They stacked them so they could jump.

They laid them all out on the big blue mat so they could pretend to go sleep on Christmas Eve only to wake up to see that Santa had left them presents.

Some of the children decided to try to build a fort with the mats to protect themselves from the bad guys.  As the video below shows, that was not so easy because the mats were flimsy and floppy and took quite a bit of effort to manipulate.

Mat fun from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

With the help of others, though, they eventually did create a decent looking---though quite unstable---fort.

I think it is easy to see the children's agency with the blue mats.  There manipulation of the mats both when the climber was up and when there was no climber was only limited by their imagination, both individual and group imagination. 

Where was my agency in all of this?   My agency can be clearly seen in the initial set up.  From there, though, I do not think it is so clear.  Was making the decision to let the children initially move the mats away from the metal shelves something that can be considered agency on my part?  Can observing and recording what they were doing be considered my agency.  What about the decision to create time and space for the large muscle play?  Can that be considered agency?  I think taking the children's lead by creating a new set up with just the mats surely showed agency on my part. 

If indeed all those things I mentioned fall under the rubric of my agency, I am struck by the realization of how much the children's agency and my agency are intertwined.  It is like a small game of soccer.  I kick the ball to them.  They receive it and dribble with it a bit, sometimes with moves I have never seen.  Then they kick it back to me in an unexpected way or direction that makes me have to shift my stance to receive and handle it.  Maybe I do a few dribbles, but then I kick it back to them in a way that gives them a chance to receive, dribble and kick in yet another new way.  Agency is not something I have or they have.  Instead, it is something that emerges in the context of the room between the materials, the children and myself.  It is not static, but ever changing.

Does that make any sense?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The life of a big box in the classroom...continued

Last week, I began a post that showed the life of a big box in the classroom.  That life began with a fort made from four big boxes set up in the large muscle area of the classroom.

The four boxes were then moved to the sensory table where they were arranged so there was a box on each end and a box on each side. 

After they were removed from the sensory table, one of the big boxes became an extra room in the housekeeping area.

A second big box became a cabinet for the light table to cut down on some of the fluorescent light radiating from the ceiling lights.

What happened to the other two big boxes?  Using a utility knife and an old paper cutter, they were cut into bases and shapes for the children to make cardboard sculptures. 

With over a hundred children making sculptures, the last two boxes were gone.  In fact I had to find more cardboard.  That was really not so difficult. 

As it turned out, though, we were not done with gluing cardboard.  I decided to follow the individual projects with a large group cardboard sculpture.  I rounded up some more cardboard---again, not so hard.  I laid out a provocation using a large piece of cardboard as the base.  I glued a long, narrow box in the middle to give the invitation a third dimension.  

This was a group project across eight different classes and over a hundred children.  As you can imagine, it just kept growing from one class to the next.
It grew organically up and out.  By the end, it was about 5 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 2 feet high.  Interestingly, we had to move it each day because we used this same table for snack.  The top of the light table cabinet was were it resided when it wasn't on the table.  Yet, another use for the big box!

That took a week, but we were not finished.  Next we painted the sculpture.  Before the children painted the sculpture, I spray painted the whole thing with black spray paint.  I only offered two colors for painting the sculpture: lavender and pink.

As the week progressed, the sculpture was easily covered in paint.  In fact, near the end of the week, the children were painting over the paint and adding design elements such as dots and stripes.

This was our masterpiece.  I hung it in the hall for all to see.  Underneath the sculpture, I displayed six pictures to show how it evolved.   Parents and other staff in the building were duly impressed.

In a matter of three months, the cardboard boxes inspired a fort, a sensory apparatus, an extra room in the house area, a cabinet for the light table, and both an individual and a group cardboard sculpture.  In other words, the boxes served as provocations in the large muscle area, at the sensory table, in the dramatic play area, with the manipulatives at the light table, and at the art table.   Not bad for a material that costs nothing.

Did I say I loved cardboard boxes?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The life of a big box in the classroom

I like big boxes.  I try to set them up around the sensory table at least once a year.  This past school year at the end of February, I arranged four big wardrobe boxes around the sensory table.  They were arranged so there was one on each end of the table and one on each side of the table.
One of the reasons I like big boxes around the table is that it expands the table and creates inviting spaces that the children can inhabit while doing their operations.  Children can be in a box reaching out or they can be in the in-between spaces created by the boxes.
How does working inside a big box change how children approach their operations?  For one thing, children often kneel in the box as they do their operations because the window in the big box makes it a little more difficult to stand and work.  If a child stands, she has to bend her back and lean over the lip of the table.  Children do it, especially if they want to extend their reach, but kneeling is more comfortable.  How does a child in between the boxes experience the working space and how does that affect his operations or his relationships with others working inside the boxes? 

Before the boxes were set up around the sensory table, they were taped together on the large muscle mat in the classroom to make a box fort. 

The boxes were connected by inside doorways allowing the children to crawl in and through the boxes.  Holes and windows were cut in the top and sides for rousing games of peek- a-boo. 

The boxes had a life before they were set up at the sensory table and they also had a life after the sensory table.  One of the boxes was moved to the house area next to the books.  This became a room within the house.  It became a new place to for the baby to sleep.
 It was an exciting place to share with friends.
It was a place that could be moved just enough to create a new space in which to hide.
It was a place that could be re-oriented to be a superhero cave.

Another big box was re-purposed to be a capsule for the light table.  Three big holes were cut on three sides, but the side closest to the wall was not cut to give the box stability.
The idea was to block the fluorescent light coming from above so the table itself would seem brighter for the children's operations.
Besides making the table seem brighter, it also created the feeling of being inside a space and under a canopy.

It would seem that the life of these big boxes was a study in children's exploration of space.  They willingly and enthusiastically explored the spaces offered them.  Interestingly, though, their explorations of space were byproducts of the operations that they created and recreated within those spaces.

Wait, aren't there two more big boxes?

To be continued...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Guest post

I recently did a workshop for a nature preschool here in Minnesota.  I usually do get some immediate feedback after a workshop, but usually it is just a photo and a brief note about how the children took to the new apparatus they built for their sensory table.  However, this time, one of the participants sent me a detailed description of the children's exploration of their new sensory table apparatus and her own reflection on their explorations.  I asked her if I could use her observations and ruminations as a guest post.  She willingly agreed.  

By the way, Dani is quite a photographer in her own right.  Check out some of the beautiful images of nature she has captured on her web page:  http://daniporterborn.zenfolio.com

Thank you Dani. 

New Sensory Table Apparatus (inspired by workshop with Tom Bedard)
by Dani Porter Born, Dodge Nature Preschool

Materials: cardboard dividers; windows, doors, and holes cut into cardboard; pvc pipe, cardboard chute, and flexible accordion dryer tubes; scoops, bowls, cups, spoons, and other containers for transport; large bin outside of sensory tub; wood pellets.

During a professional development workshop with Tom Bedard, we learned more about his approach to working with young children at the sensory table and were given the opportunity to build a new apparatus for each of our classrooms. As teachers, some of us approached it with a bit of trepidation, maybe not being comfortable with the building process or materials, or not sure who should do what… perhaps a bit like children when approaching a new task. Once we actually got started, the ideas kept flowing and the excitement built. We were curious to see what the children would do, how they would use it, and what we would learn from them. Here are the observations I documented after watching two classes approach our new apparatus for the first time.

-Children transported pellets in and out of every container and hole, using everything they could find. “Look, I filled this all up!”
-While they explored, they asked questions such as, “What’s this for?” “What do we do with this?” Where will it go?” “What are these things?” I did not answer those questions, but encouraged the children to make their own choices.
-One child looked at the large bin that pellets were falling into outside of the sensory tub. He looked at me and stepped one foot into the bin. “Can I put my toes in?” When he saw that it was ok, he stepped all the way in, with bare feet. “It feels kind of dirty. Kind of bunchy.” Other children wanted to get in as well. We decided that two at a time would be manageable. One child really wanted to get in and was finding it especially hard to wait for his turn. I complimented him on his patience and asked if it was hard to wait. He nodded his head, yes, but continued to wait.
-A child picked up a longer pellet in broke it in two. “Look how easily they come apart, they separate.”
-A child picked up a short accordion tube and talked into it like a microphone, noticing how different his voice sounded.


Engineering and Problem Solving:
-One child noticed that pellets were not sliding down the chute and said, What can we do?” Another child replied, “I have an idea.” She put her hand through a hole in the chute to push the pellets. A third child grabbed a spoon and pushed the pellets through. Yet another child reached up from the bottom of the chute to pull the pellets out.
-A child noticed a vertical tube above her head and wanted to get pellets into the tube but she couldn’t reach. I asked if she wanted something to stand on and gave her a hollow block. She reached as high as possible and stood on her tiptoes, then used a long-handled spoon, absolutely determined to get pellets into the tube.
-“How can we attach this?” (accordion tube onto the end of a chute where pellets fall into a second bin). One child matched the two ends together, then another held it in place while children pushed pellets through.
-A child stuck one end of the accordion tube over the top of a pole that is used as a brace. Another child looked at it and lifted a scoop of pellets up to pour them through, then realized he couldn’t because the top of the tube was over the pole. He turned and looked for another place to pour his pellets.
-A child discovered a funnel was clogged with wet pellets that had expanded and crumbled. “How do I get this out of here?” He went to find a pencil to clear the funnel and then used the funnel to catch pellets at the end of the chute, since the funnel was too small for pellets to move through.


Teamwork and Socialization:
-Two children picked up a flexible accordion tube and wondered what to do with it. One held it while the other spooned pellets into it. The first child looked inside and could see that some pellets were stuck. She shook it until the pellets fell out.
-Children peeked through windows, smiled, laughed, and exclaimed delightedly when they saw each other.
-They passed containers and pellets to each other through windows.
-Play at the sensory table included much conversation and body language about what the children were doing, how to share materials and how to negotiate space.

Watching the children use this new apparatus was fascinating. Because we planned for different levels, many spaces, and open-ended materials, the children were able to explore and use the sensory table in ways that seemed very satisfying to them. There was a lot of movement in and around the table and while many children were drawn to it, there were enough spaces to keep it from feeling too crowded.

The sensory table is a place that is filled with opportunities for problem solving, both for an individual child trying to figure out how to do something and for peers to figure out how to be in the same space. For the most part, the children were able to negotiate play with each other with little to no guidance from me. The play was so important that they wanted to be able to keep doing it and so they figured out ways to make that happen.

I noticed a lot about individual children – the way they approach play, how they interact with peers, how they use language, and other things they might like to do based on their experience with this apparatus. I can use those observations to help provide other opportunities and experiences in the classroom.

It was gratifying to help build something that turned out to be so high-interest. From the children’s use of the apparatus, I learned where I might modify things, which spaces I could add to or take away from, and how I might build it differently next time. The experience was also freeing. I am not much of a builder but now I feel confident that I can do it again, try different configurations and different materials, and learn what the children have to teach me.

P.S.   I will not be blogging next week.  I will be at the NAEYC annual conference in Los Angeles.  I will be presenting on sand and water tables.  If you are attending the conference and would like to stop by, my presentation is on Thursday from 1:00 - 2:30 in Platinum Ballroom C of the Marriott.  If you do come, make sure you stop by and say hello.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Water fountain

Over 20 years ago, I built a water fountain for my sensory table.  I built it right after I redid the plumbing in my house.  When I turned the water on, water came squirting out of the pipes all over the basement.  My very first thought was: Wow, I bet kids would love to play with leaky pipes.  I kid you not and that gives you an idea of how I think.  However, first I had to fix my leaky pipes and then, with the left over copper pipes, I made a water fountain for the children.  The photo of my original fountain below is not so good because I had to take a digital picture of a print.  
I soldered copper tubing and connectors and elbows together to make this.  I taped funnels onto the ends and then drilled holes in the top pipes.  I drilled too many holes so I had to duct tape some of them up again to increase the pressure so the water would actually squirt out of the fountain.

That water fountain lasted me many years until I made a new one in 2006 out of PVC pipe.  Since I had a bigger table, I was able to build a bigger fountain.  You can see how I built it on an earlier post.
At the same time, I made a companion piece for the infant/toddler sensory table.  It was the same, only smaller.

This year for the first time, I combined the two tables side-by-side in the sensory area.
Interestingly, the children mostly played with one water fountain or the other.  The one thing it did do was increase the capacity of how many children could be there at one time.  How about 10?

Like any apparatus, there are a multitude of explorations and experiments I could highlight.  I want to highlight just three that all center around the small water fountain.  The small water fountain has never been in my room because it was an apparatus I fashioned for the infant/toddler room.

In the first video, two children pour water into the white funnel.  When that is filled, the child with the watering can starts to fill the blue funnel.  Watch as they experiment.

Little water fountain 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There are several things to note in the video.  The first is the height at which the water springs out of the fountain.  It is pretty anemic.  The second is that the child with the watering can has figured out that water going down the funnel into the pipes makes a "swirl."  He points it out to the other child and they both end up helping the "swirl" with their fingers.  The third is the level of the water in the sensory table.  It is almost up to the holes of the fountain.  That is important because it leads directly to the next exploration by these two children.

At some point in their explorations, one child noticed how high the water was in the tub.  He suggested that they fill the tub so it covers the holes of the water fountain to see what happens.  That is exactly what they did.  As the one child pours water into the yellow funnel, they watch the water bubbling out of the hole that is under water.

Little water fountain 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not always around to see everything that happens at the sensory table, but I was lucky enough to catch this sequence.  By the end of their explorations, the water in the tub was quite high.  Could they have overfilled the tub so water would spill on the floor?  Yes and I was surprised how careful and intentional they were with their experiments so as not to spill.

The last video relates to the first video.  It was taken on a different day with a different child.  The child found a funnel with a flexible tube extension on the shelves next to the table where the provisions for the table are displayed.  He has inserted it into the yellow funnel and begins to pour water into that funnel which is about 12" higher than the yellow funnel. 

Little water fountain 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When you compare the first video to this one, you see that the child in this last video has created more pressure with the high funnel so the water squirts out with more force than in the first video.

So what is the point?  The point is that the sensory table in my classroom is the science area.  It is an area in which the children create their own science experiments.  They act, observe, theorize, test, and observe again.  I suppose I could have set up an experiment in which the children would pour water into funnels with the intention to have them observe the vortex created by the water draining from the funnel.  However, that would be so limiting compared to the multi-varied experiments they author themselves. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

More pool noodles

I started to write about using  pool noodles two weeks ago.  I had bought some noodles over a year ago but could not figure out a use for them.  I had installed a base for another apparatus and when I looked at it, I thought that it would be a perfect base for the noodles.  The base consisted of a crate taped to a sturdy wooden tray that spanned the width of the table.
I threaded the longer, more flexible noodles through the crate and taped them to the back of the crate.  I also taped them to the lip of the table next to the brown planter tray in the foreground.  One noodle, the middle one, was very sturdy so I taped it to the front of the crate so it stood vertically in the table.  That noodle was closed on the bottom end by taping a lid from a plastic jar over the hole.

The pool noodle on the left emptied into the clear toddler sensory table.  I drilled holes in the vertical noodle and the long, flexible noodle on the right.  Since both of these noodles were tape shut on the lower ends, water poured into them would exit through these drilled holes. 
In the picture above, the water exited the end of the noodle on the left because that end was left open.  In the picture below, the child poured water into the blue funnel and the water exited the two drilled holes in the vertical noodle because its bottom was taped shut.

Children are rarely content to just pour and catch the water.  Instead, they experiment with modifying the holes any way they can (see axiom #5 in the right-hand column of this blog).  The child pictured below decided to use the funnels to modify the holes in the vertical noodle.

That same child modified the hole at the end of the noodle that emptied into the clear toddler table.  He found a plastic nozzle of a watering can that was on the shelf next to the table and stuck it in the end of the noodle.  Watch.

Filling his bowl. from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The nozzle dispersed the water coming out of the noodle so his pan filled more slowly.   As the water slowed to a trickle, he grabbed the nozzle and pushed it in.  Was he thinking that he could get more water out of the nozzle by pushing it in further?  It just so happened that as he pushed the nozzle, someone on the other end of the noodle poured more water in.  That made more water squirt out and he subsequently had to re-position his bowl to catch the water.  What we have here, and something he will eventually figure out, is corresponding coincidences, not cause and effect.

Axiom #6 states that children will block the flow of any medium in the table whenever possible.  Well, it was possible with the pool noodles.  The child in the video below discovered that the tip of a baster fit nicely into the hole of one of the noodles.  Watch what else he discovered.

Baster fun from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was pouring the water into the funnel that fed the pool noodle.  The child was holding the baster in the hole of the noodle thinking he had blocked the water from coming out.  But he heard water coming out somewhere.  He was not sure if it was from the noodle or from where I was filling the noodle so he kept looking around for the source of the water.  He then pulled the baster out and to his great surprise and amusement, the water squirted up and out of the noodle.  His expression tells it all.

As the children played with the holes in the noodles, the holes became larger just from the force of different things being inserted in them.  Later in the week when an older group had their turn at the apparatus, the bigger holes made for the "best" play.  Watch.

Gusher from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

One child had actually filled the noodle with water through the large red funnel.  He filled the noodle so full that water was spilling out of the funnel.  (Remember this noodle was blocked on one end.)  That child gave a signal that the noodle was full.  At that point, the child holding the basters pulled the two basters out at the same time.  It was a gusher, a dual gusher.  In the video, the child can be heard saying: "This is the best."

By the way, the water was gushing so much that the water was going on the floor.  A parent who was volunteering in my room saw that and quickly moved to the other side to position a bucket to catch the water.  The children now had a new purpose to their play: Can we get it in the bucket?

When I set up the pool noodles, I envisioned that the children would pour water into the top of the noodles and catch it wherever it came out.  That was the extent of my imagination.  As the children played with the apparatus, they showed me a myriad of other possibilities for this apparatus.  Their adeptness at exploring and experimenting gave me a chance to carry forward those experiments to other classes, which in turn allowed other children to build upon the previous knowledge created by other children to generate even more explorations and experiments.  

If you are going to the Washington AEYC conference at the end of October in Seattle, you can see my presentation on sand and water tables on Saturday morning the 29th from 9:00 - 10:30.  If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in LA, you can see my presentation on Thursday afternoon November 3rd from 1:00 - 2:30.