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, 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. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016


I did not think I would get around to doing a post this week because I did an all-day workshop yesterday in Belton, Missouri.  Belton is seven hours from my house in Minnesota.  I went down on Thursday afternoon and returned on Friday night.  I was gone from home for 33 hours, 14 of which was on the road.  I thought I would be too tired to write this week.

I was tired for sure, but as it turned out, I was also inspired by the people and their efforts at Grace Early Childhood Center in Belton.  So much so that I have to share some of the inspiration.

For this workshop, the participants had to build after I presented them with a framework for building apparatus in and around the sensory table.  In addition, I presented them with axioms of how children play around the built structures at the sand and water table.  (The framework and the axioms are in the right-hand column of this blog.)  In anticipation of the workshop, they had collected all kinds of materials such as cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, PVC pipes, guttering, etc.

As the participants started to build, I could not help but think that this was really a pop-up adventure for these teachers.  Here is a picture from a pop-up adventure for children from my retirement party last June.  The children could build anything they wanted with the materials on hand.  Adults were there to help only if a child asked.

Here is a picture from yesterday's workshop.  In this case, the adults could build anything they wanted from the materials on hand.  I was there to help if asked.  

They pursued possibilities.

They played with unique configurations.  This group actually took the liner out of the
 sensory table to use as a receptacle for stuff coming out the clear tube from the white box in the 
table.  And, they fitted the drain hole with a tube for the children's experiments in 
theorizing and testing: "where does it go?"

 Some even ventured to use power tools for the first time.

They even made some very unique elements for their constructions.  On the left is a PVC connector taped into a bottle.  When the child pours
into the bottle, which end of the connector will it come out?  On the right is a bottle taped into the
 bottom of another bottle.  
In essence, it is a 
homemade funnel emptying into 
another homemade funnel.  Brilliant!

  They even got to theorize and then test their theories 
about how their apparatus really worked.

I arrived in Belton on Thursday night after dark.  It is always a little disconcerting for me to arrive in a new place at night.  On top of that, I arrived in a storm.  It was raining hard.  There was a lot of lighting and thunder.  The wind was blowing hard.   The next day at the workshop when I reflected on the disquiet I felt coming into this new place just the night before, I could not help but think that some of the staff at Grace Early Childhood Center might be having some misgivings about going to this new place of building to which they had never been before.   During the course of the workshop, several even mentioned that they were not comfortable with the building process.  Despite not feeling comfortable building, they made 17 different apparatus for their tables.  Not only was I inspired by their ingenuity and their imagination---no two apparatus were the same---, but I was inspired by their effort to throw themselves into this endeavor for which there was no blueprint, nor specified outcome.

I want to thank Jan for inviting me down to do the workshop.  I also want to thank both Jan and Jill, the principal, for making me feel so welcome and to make sure I had everything I needed.  And, I want to thank the staff at Grace Early Childhood Center for playing along---and inspiring me. 

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 in 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.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pool noodles

People often ask me how often do I change the apparatus in the sensory table.  My answer is that I change it every week.  Sometimes it is a wholesale change and sometimes I only change what gets attached to a base that I will use for more than one week. The base pictured below was so good I used it for three consecutive weeks.
The base was a white wooden tray (made from scrap wood from my basement) that spanned the width of the table.  I duct taped it to the lip of the table on each side.  I then duct taped the green crate to the wooden tray.  I purposely taped in on the end that would give the most height to the apparatus.  The height allowed me to create a suitable incline for the PVC pipe in the first apparatus which was a worm slide. Since the crate has holes, I was able to thread flexible tubing through the crate adding a bit of intrigue to where the worms would end up. 

In addition, the wooden tray section of the base offered a unique space in which the children could pour hands-free.  The crate in the middle created two of those spaces, one on each side of the table.

For the second week, I used the same base to secure a rocking chair waterfall to the sensory table.
I did rearrange the flex tubing and added another PVC pipe, but the waterfall ramp was the new deal.

The third week, I kept the rocking chair waterfall, but I replaced the flex tubing and the PVC pipes with pool noodles, three to be exact.  One noodle was shorter and more sturdy.  I taped that noodle(the middle one) vertically onto the crate and the wooden tray.  The end standing in the table was taped so the only exit for water that was poured into the blue funnel was through the holes that were drilled in the noodle.  The two thinner and more flexible noodles were threaded through the crate and taped both to the back of the crate and the lip of the table near the brown planter tray.  The noodle on the left was left open at the end so when a child would pour water into the black funnel, the water would empty into the smaller clear table.  I taped the end shut of the noodle on the right so when a child would pour water into the red funnel, the water would squirt out the holes in that noodle.
There are a couple of things to note from this picture.  The first was that the height of the apparatus allowed for some good, tiptoe trunk extension.  The second was the number of different funnels both in size and shape.  The black one is used for changing fluids in cars.  The red one is just huge, the biggest I have found.  And the little blue one has a surprise: its own flex tube.

I provisioned turkey basters for play with these noodles.  It was not long before the children figured out that they could plug the holes with the turkey basters.
And with the holes plugged with turkey basters, they could fill the red funnel to capacity.  When they filled the red funnel to capacity and they pulled the plug, they got a nice surprise: water gushing out of the noodle into the brown planter tray.
I actually drilled the holes in the noodles with a drill.  I did not know how big I should make them or even how many.  I started with small holes and tested the apparatus.  Four holes were too many so I taped over two and that worked well.  I kept the smaller holes, but to my surprise as the children tried to fit more things in the holes, the holes got bigger.  As the holes got bigger the stream of gushing water got bigger.  Some water even ended up on the floor, oh my!  But what fun!

FYI: I do not plan to blog next week because I travel to Missouri to do an all-day workshop on Friday for a public school EC program.  This is a workshop in which I offer a framework for building in and around the sensory table and the participants get to build their own apparatus.  It is almost like a pop-up adventure play event for adults.  Also, at the end of October, I will be presenting on sand and water tables in Seattle at the WashingtonAEYC conference.  My session is on Saturday morning from 9:00 - 10:30.  The following week I am LA for the NAEYC national conference.  My presentation for that conference is Thursday afternoon from 1:00 - 2:30.  If you plan to be at either of those conferences and you get a chance, stop by and say hi.