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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, April 23, 2016

Re-purposing objects

Last week I wrote about the physical challenges children create for themselves.  They do it all the time.  This particular post was in the context of four large boxes installed on four sides of the sensory table.

Another feat the children undertake all the time is to re-purpose materials to suite their own mission at any given time.  The examples again come from the same installation of big boxes around the table.

One example of re-purposing something is the child who decides to use a dustpan as a scoop.  The dustpans and brooms are always next to the table for sweeping up messes.  This child wants a bigger scoop for his operations, so he appropriates a dustpan.

Dustpan scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Another adult around the table actually comments on what a big scoop the child has and compares it to a bulldozer.

Another child takes a short, clear plastic tube to make a scoop.  That is a bit tricky because the tube is open on both ends.  Watch how carefully he proceeds so he does not loose any pellets out of the other end of the tube.

Tube scoop from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

He is careful, that is, while scooping and lifting the pellets out of the table.  However, when he is ready to pour, he quickly launches the pellets into the bucket.  Most of the pellets end up in the bucket, but some fly out the other end.

Another child takes a long, clear plastic tube for a lever on a fulcrum to transport the pellets from inside the table into a bucket next to the table.  Because the high end of the tube reaches beyond the table, he spills a fair amount of pellets on the floor.

Lever and fulcrum from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

He could have just lifted the tube to pour the pellets in the bucket, but instead, he uses the lip of the table as a fulcrum to both support the weight of the tube and establish a point on which to rotate the tube to empty it into the bucket.  It looks like real-world physics to me.

One child went so far as to bring scissors from the writing area on the other side of the room.  I often have children bring things from other areas, but this is the first time someone has brought something from the writing area to use at the sensory table.  Watch as she uses the scissors to pick up one pellet at a time from the table and then drop it into a window in the box.

Scissors as pincher from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She is very meticulous about making sure she gets only one pellet at a time.  In fact, the second time she goes for a pellet, she gets two and drops one before putting the other one in the window.

I could have done the teacher thing and stopped her by saying the scissors stay at the writing table.  Instead, I did a different teacher thing:  I observed and recorded what I saw.  I could not help but think how ingenious this child was to take a writing table utensil and re-purpose it as pincer in the sensory table.

In fact in every instance I referenced, I could have found a reason to stop the actions of the child.   For instance I could have said for the first one: "Dustpans are for sweeping."  For the second one: "You will loose the pellets out the other end."  For the third one: "You are spilling way too much when you fill your tube."  If I had done that, though, I would have missed the resourcefulness and the inventiveness of the children as the re-purpose the materials at hand.  That idea is transformative because it applies to all other constructions and all other areas of the room and all the materials in the room.

The question is: Does anything go or are there limits to what is allowed?


  1. "Does anything go or are there limits to what is allowed?" I think this is where observation and scaffolding comes in. If the materials are being using in a purposeful (and safe) way that doesn't interfere with the play of the other children, of course the children should be allowed to add or alter materials. But, if the materials being put in the sand table are being dumped randomly, or so many are put in that they're in other children's way, then it's time for a conversation about "what's your plan with that?" or figuring out how the child can do their plan without interfering with others.

    1. Thanks Shelli, well said. The instance with the scissors is interesting, though. I pride myself on knowing what is happening in my classroom at all times. I did not see that the child had brought the scissors over to the sensory table before I saw what she was doing. If I had seen her walking over to the table with the scissors, I may well have asked what her plan was. But maybe she did not have a plan, but only realized one once she got to the table with the pellets. Upon reflection, I have to ask myself if I had seen the child walking with the scissors would I have let her approach the sensory table or would I have redirected her back to the writing table?

  2. It is difficult for me to allow my children free reign. I work hard to allow it, but find that when I do- the children are not as purposeful with the materials as they should be. For example- we have cars in the block area, and If they want to use them in another center that would be fine if they served a purpose. If you are drawing the car it is fine to take it to the art center, but if you are just walking around aimlessly running the cars all over the furniture then you need to take it back to the block area.

    Since what usually happens is the latter, I end up asking them to take their cars back to the block area quite often.

    Today,some of the children were playing out on our deck with our beans. One child had taken quite a few cars outside but he was lining them up on the edge of the deck which is very high up from the ground so I asked him to take the cars back inside so they wouldn't fall. Would it have been a huge deal if they had fallen? Probably not, but I didn't want to have to walk all the way down to get them lol.

    But a little while later I noticed one of the children had taken a car outside and was sliding it down one of the tubes into a bucket of beans. He was having a great time and I didn't want to interrupt his play so I have since decided that cars on the deck isn't such a big deal and I will just encourage the children to take them down from the ledge if we have a problem with them falling a lot.

  3. Oh,and I was using our dustpan as a scoop yesterday lol. It works great!