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, August 27, 2016

Rocking chair car ramp

For a couple of years, pieces of a bentwood rocking chair had been sitting in my basement waiting to be repaired.  Here is a picture of a bentwood rocker.
I finally decided nobody was going to fix it so I was going to throw it out.  However, when I looked at the pieces of wood, I wondered if I could make anything out of the curved pieces of wood.  I was especially intrigued by the two handle pieces.
My initial idea was to make a curved ramp for the water table so when the children poured water down the ramp it would follow the curves of the apparatus and fly off the end.  I detached the two curved handle pieces.  I then used a utility knife to cut a black piece of 100 HDPE plastic so it measured 12" X 36." Because the plastic sheet was bendable, I was able to screw it onto the two curved handle pieces.
I left handles on one end so I could attach it to a base onto the water table.

When I got to school and tried it out, I was totally disappointed.  When I poured water down the ramp, the falling water never gained enough force to overcome the curve up to fly off the end of the ramp.  The water just pooled and rolled off the sides of the apparatus at the bottom of the curve.  I was all set to chalk it up as a failure and bring it home to try to modify it.

When I showed it to my colleague, she was impressed with the appearance and the form of the apparatus.  She suggested I put it somewhere else in the room for the children to explore using balls or cars.  I decided to set it up on the green steps in my room with a bucket of cars.  Instead of a rocking chair water ramp, I ended up with a rocking chair car ramp.

Here is what it looked like in action.  Three boys were camped around the ramp.  One of them was even sitting in between the handles in a comfortable position for launching his cars.   The child in the blue shirt launched a car that jumped right into the bin at the end of the ramp.  "Wow," he exclaimed. "It went right in."  As the car traveled down the ramp and launched, his right leg kicked in unison with the movement of the car.  He tried two more times, one time it crashed into another car, but that cleared the way for the third launch that flew over the bin.  At the end of the video, the child in between the handles launched two cars simultaneously, both of which flew off to the side on the end.

Rocking chair car ramp from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Since the rocking chair car ramp was not tied down, the children could move it around to their hearts' content.  Two of the boys featured in the video above, climbed the stairs to sit on the window ledge so they could launch cars from a little higher elevation.
The arrow in the picture above points to the car that just flew off the ramp.  The higher the elevation, the more dramatic was the the flight for the cars.

Three children even turned the rocking chair ramp on its head.  They did that so they could see what would happen if they propelled the cars up the curved ramp.

Up the rocking chair car ramp from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Silly me, I have no imagination.  I thought cars could only go one way on the ramp: down.

One child even turned the whole ramp over and ran her cars on the underside of the ramp.

Instead of using the ramp for propelling cars, one child used it for transporting the cars in mass.

 They also found out it worked well as a baby teeter-totter

Heck, it even worked well as a lounge chair.  It was made from a chair, after all.

I was about to take this home when I saw that it did not worked as I had intended.  I counted it as another one of those failed ideas for sensory table.  Thanks to my colleague who could see it with fresh eyes, I left it in the room as a loose part for the children to explore.  My intentions seem measly compared to the many and varied uses the children came up for this construction.

I am left with the question: How do we keep our "intentional" practice open to allow the children enough agency to discover the possibilities of a setup that can only be realized through their play?  Sometimes we need fresh eyes.  Thank you Lani for your fresh eyes. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Worm slide and social connections

Every year since I bought a "bucket of worms" on sale at a sporting goods store, I have set up a worm slide.  Each year it looked a little different, but the idea was always the same: the children would put the plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) in pipes and pour water on them so they would go sliding down the pipes.  This was the 2016 version.
The trays and crates formed the base of the apparatus.  A flexible, plastic tube was threaded through the pink crate and emptied back into the blue table.  A white plastic chute ran from the top of the green crate to the brown planter tray on which the pink crate was anchored.  Finally, a narrow, PVC pipe ran through the green crate to empty into a tub next to the table.  This pipe had a slit down the entire length of the pipe.  In the picture, the child in the foreground was putting an orange worm into the slit.  If you want a detailed description of how I put this together, check out the act of building post from last week.

I have written several times over the years about how the children explored the worm slide. The post children's turn at the worm slide talked specifically about the many different operations the children came up with at this apparatus.  This year when I was looking through the pictures and videos I was struck by the breadth of social interactions and the varied moments of connection at the worm slide.

The first example is 8 seconds long.  A child was collecting worms in a bottle.  He reached for another worm from the pile in the white wooden tray.  Before he could grab one, the child next to him offered him a worm.  He accepted and put it in his bottle.

Have a worm from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was struck by this simple gesture.  The child who offered the worm realized the other child was collecting worms.  He did not need to offer the worm he had in his hand, but he did.  Why?  The child who was collecting the worms in his bottle looked at the proffered worm and accepted it.  Why?  He could have simply turned down the offer.  The reciprocating gestures all unfolded without a word said.  These questions arose because these two children usually did not interact with each other.  It could be said that they tended to do their own thing.   What made this moment of connection possible?

Here is a second simple, but magnanimous gesture.  The child in the video had been collecting worms when she asked: "Do you want some of these, Teacher Tom?"  I asked for one and then asked which one could I have.  She tried to take one out, but her hand did not fit in far enough to get a worm.  When that didn't work, she said: "I'm thinking."  She tried one more time to reach in to retrieve a worm for me.  Her hand was still too small.  She took her hand out and said: "Maybe I should dump them out."  And she started to dump them out.

Would you like a worm? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did she offer me worms in the first place?  Was she simply trying to draw me into her play?  Did she think I was more likely to accept her offer?  Was it simply because I was the closest person to her?  I do not know.  I do know that she was being generous and engaged in some sophisticated problem solving to make good on her offer.  Again, what made this ingratiating connection possible?

Some social interactions are clearly planned and executed.  In the video below, two boys were working to complete an intentional operation.  One child placed a worm in the tube, filled his bottle with water and then poured the bottle of water into the tube to flush down the worm.  The child at the end of the tube was holding a pot to catch the worm as it shot out the tube.

Did you catch it? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What was so interesting in this social exchange was the different ways the two boys communicated with each other.  One child was quite verbal.  He said things like: "Did you catch it?" "Where did it go?"  The other child did not say a word.  That does not mean he did not communicate.  As the child approached saying "did you catch it," the child with the pot clearly looked at the child coming towards him.  He then looked at his pot as if to say look in here.  He even raised the pot slightly to show him that he caught it.  The child who poured looked in the pot and then gave the child a quick smile as if to say he understood.  The video ended with the child about to dump the water and the worm into the tub next to the table.  Was he communicating that he wanted to do it again?  Especially with differing communication styles, what made such a intentional connection possible?

Here is a final example of social interaction at the worm slide.  This play falls more on the side of dramatic or fantasy play.  The children in the video were sorting the the worms into "bad" ones and "good" ones.  The child in the striped shirt held up a worm and told the other child: "Oh, these aren't good.  You know why?"  He pointed to a feature on the worm and said: "Well, that can sting you."  Without saying a word, the girls seemed to agree judging from the face she made. 

This one's a bad one from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

A third child easily inserted himself into the play when he held up and worm and said: "This one is a bad one."  The boy in the striped shirt began to reach for the worm but quickly realized that the other child was collecting his own set of bad ones.  To keep the play on track, he quickly agreed: "Yeh.  OK."

What a wonderful little dance this was to keep the fantasy going.  Two children were sorting worms and there was still plenty of room for a third to easily slip into the play.  What made such a fluid connection possible? 

What made all these varied moments of connection possible?  In all four examples, the setup and the materials were all the same.  Even one of the operations across the four examples was similar, namely, collecting worms.  Why did those moments of connection looks so different?  Was it simply because there were different children in each example?  My guess is that it was even more complicated than that because the way these moments unfolded were also particular to all the factors coming together in the moment.  By implication, these moments will never be duplicated.

It is an intriguing puzzle to attempt to figure out what makes these moments of connection possible.  However, their real value lies in savoring the unfolding of the intricacies in each.  In other words, relish the gestalt of the moment because it is in the ever changing moments that the children are making sense of the world.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The act of building

I have never documented the entire building process for an apparatus.  Part of the reason may be that the building process for me is an organic process.  Rarely is it completely planned out.  I start with a global idea and a collection of loose parts and then I begin to put it together. 

Let's start with one global idea: a worm slide.  The idea was for the children to place plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) into pipes so when they poured water down the pipes the worms would be flushed down into another tub.

Here was the first version I built over 12 years ago.  It was extremely simple.  Two plastic PVC pipes were set on an incline using an upside down planter tray as a base.

Pictured below are some of the loose parts I started out with for this year's version of the worm slide.  There was a white wooden tray, a narrow PVC pipe, a couple of crates and clear plastic tubing.
I decided to use both my water tables.  I taped them together using black duct tape.  I did not need to tape them together, but the taping job also served as an apron that closed a gap between the two tables which cut down on the water spillage.

I started building the worm slide by placing a planter tray across the width of the small table.  The tray was wider than the table, so it was important to make sure there was a drainage hole.
I have learned over the years that the children see the planter tray as another container to fill.  Without the drainage hole, the water could spill over the sides of the planter tray all over the floor.

I taped the planter tray to the small table and then taped the pink crate on top of the planter tray. 

I then set the white wooden tray across the width of the blue table.  To tape it to the table, I crossed taped at each point where the tray rested on the lip of the table.  One piece of tape went from the tray to inside the table and the other piece of tape went from the tray to the outside of the table and under the lip.
In addition, I took a longer piece of tape to wrap around the two points of cross taping on the same side at the lip of the table.  This is called thrashing and tightens up the tape holding the tray down to make it more secure. 

On top of the wooden tray, I anchored a green crate using duct tape.  I used the same method of cross taping and thrashing.
This setup comprised the base of the apparatus.  I now had multiple levels and holes to which I could start attaching different elements.

The first element I added was a plastic chute that went from the brown planter tray to the wooden tray.  The idea was to have the children put worms on the chute, pour water onto the chute and watch the worms drop out into the table through a hole in the green crate.

The second element I added was a long, narrow PVC pipe with a slit cut down the length of the pipe.  The pipe was embedded through the green crate and emptied into the smaller table.  I taped the pipe on the front and the back end of the crate  That was stable enough so I did not need to tape it to the lip of the table at the bottom of the pipe.
The idea here was to have the children use their fine motor skills to put the floppy worms into the pipe and then use more muscle coordination to pour water down the narrow pipe to send the worm shooting down and out into the small water table.

The third element I added was a long, flexible plastic tube.  I ran it through the pink crate and taped it onto the green crate on the outside.  The end of the tube emptied into the blue table.
Why did I tape it to the outside of the crate instead of through it?  I don't honestly know.  It was one of those organic decisions that was made at the moment.

The fourth and final element was a long, clear plastic tube.   The tube was woven through the green crate...
and it emptied into the black tub on the end the table.

There you have the 2016 version of the worm slide.  All that was left to do was to turn it over to the children for testing.  Actually, that was not all that was left to do because when the children tested the apparatus, some things did not work as planned.  

After one session with the children, the first thing I changed was the plastic chute.   As it turned out,  the incline was too slight to have much effect.  In other words, the worms would just pile up on the chute.  I reversed the incline of the chute and made it steeper so it emptied into the brown planter tray. The second thing I did was to remove the clear plastic tubing because the worms kept getting stuck in it.  When I removed the tubing, nothing emptied into the black tub so I reversed the inclination of the thin PVC pipe so it emptied into the black tub.  The only element I did not change was the flexible tubing running through the pink crate.  By the second session, this is what the worm slide looked like.
Did you understand all that?  If you did, your spacial literacy is off the charts.  

The purpose of showing you the building process from start to finish---and revamping---was not to have you copy what I did.  You can certainly do that if you want.  No, the purpose was to give you an idea of the building process.  The act of building is a creative process that begins with you.  Use what you find in this blog, combine it with the loose parts you have on hand and use your imagination to put it all together.  


Sunday, August 7, 2016

The art of scientific inquiry

Last week I wrote about new additions to the channel board apparatus.  I added a gutter sponge, a piece of tree bark and a tube connected to a funnel that emptied into the channel with the DriCore squares.
I was disappointed with how the sponge and bark channels worked out.  Basically, the water would flow under those two elements with little effect.  The tube, on the other hand, was the most salient element for the children.  There seemed to be no end to the how the children experimented with the water coming out of the tube.  Let me give you some examples.

In the first example, the children found a bottle with a narrow neck that they pushed up the tube to block the flow of water out of the tube.  They then tried to figure out if they could pour enough water into the tube to make the bottle fall out.  The bottle filled up and water did squirt out the sides, but it did not fall the first time.  You can't see it in the video, but two children then poured water into the tube almost simultaneously.  The water squirted out the sides of the bottle with more force and then pushed the bottle out of the tube to their great delight.

Tube hydraulics from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, one of the children summed up the experiment when he said: "See, it flushes out."

In the next video, the children changed their research slightly.   They found a different bottle with a wider mouth so it fit over the tube instead of inside the tube.  Two children poured water into the tube and then came around to watch to see if the bottle fell.  They watched intently, but it didn't fall.  The bottle filled up and water spilled out the top of the bottle, but it still didn't fall.  They kept trying and finally coordinated their efforts to pour enough water fast enough so the bottle was launched down the channel.

Tube hydraulics 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This video was spliced because it took a long time for the children to get this bottle to move.  Constantly adjusting the variables of how and when to pour the water and their persistence paid off to their great satisfaction.

Besides experimenting with plugging the tube, they also experimented with how to change the flow of water coming out of the tube.  To that end, they inserted a blue funnel into the tube.  At the start of the video, one child handed another child a pot of water to pour down the tube.  After he did that, he positioned himself at the mouth of the funnel to get the best view of the flow of water out of the tube into the funnel.  Another child joined him and, head-against-head, they watched as the water poured out of the tube into the funnel.

Changing the flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

To tell you the truth, I am not sure what was more exciting, seeing the water flow out of the tube into the funnel or watching that flow head-against-head?  There can certainly be a palpable joy to joint scientific endeavors.

These same children took that same funnel and turned it around to see how that would change the flow of water coming out of the tube.   With the mouth of the funnel over the tube, the child with the pot went to the end of the table to pour water down the tube.  Two of the children got up close and personal to the end of the funnel to get a good view of how the water flows coming out of the funnel.  The water gushed out and the two jumped back.

Flow experimenting 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the narrow end of the funnel constricts the water flow, it gushed out with more force.   That startled them enough to jump back in joy and delight and for one of them to exclaim: "That surprised us!" 

There were countless other experiments with the water coming out of the the tube.  With all that exploration, did the children know they were doing research into physics with such things as the force of fluids under pressure or how changing the aperture of the hole affects water flow?  Certainly not, but on an unconscious level, they are building a body logic that lays the foundation for later inquiry into and understanding of hydraulics.  Not only that, these experiments create a social and emotional bound for art of scientific inquiry.