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, January 28, 2017

Evolution of the wooden tray

One of the very first apparatus I built was a wooden bridge that spanned the width between two toddler water tables.  I built it in 1988 when I started work with a public school district in an family education program.  I simply nailed and glued sides to a board using scrap wood I found in my basement.  To keep the water from leaking, I used plasticine (the pink line on the board) to seal the joints. 
The bridge offered a surface almost like a counter above the water tables on which the children could work.  In the picture above, the children are filling their bottles through funnels.  If they tried to do that with the bottles in the water, the bottles would want to float making that operation extremely frustrating if not impossible. 

I later added a piece of wood to close off one end of the wooden bridge.  In the picture below the children have piled the end that is closed with sand and rocks.  
The end on the lower left of the picture is open.  Since it extends beyond the table, there is a pail
underneath that ends up catching any sand that might fall from the apparatus.

Since I wanted to use this apparatus at just one table and since I wanted to use it with water, I added a second piece of wood to the open end to create a wooden tray that spanned the width of the table above the bottom of the table itself.  I also used proper caulk to seal the joints and painted it red.
Since I was going to use it with water, I needed to drill drainage holes in the sides on the bottom.  I decided on two holes on each side that were not too big because I thought a slow drain might offer children a chance to play with water in the tray.

Below is a good example of just that.  I had installed the wooden tray with a setup I call the swamp. As the video starts, one child tells me they are making a "sink-float."  When I ask them how they do that, the child says they put swamp water in the tray.  I see the piece of wood is already floating so I ask if it is floating yet.  Interestingly, he says not yet and then proceeds to float the wood---with motorboat sound effects---back and forth.

A sink-float from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am pretty sure he understood what float means.  I just think he was telling me they were not done with their sink-float project.

You may have noticed that the wooden tray in the video is white as opposed to red.  The first wooden tray lasted 21 years.  In 2009, I decided it was time to build a new wooden tray.  One of the reasons was because of the drainage holes.  The drainage holes in the red tray would close because the wood would expand when in constant contact with the water.  With the white try, I used water-proof caulk to glue in pieces of a plastic straw to create a waterproof barrier so the holes would stay open.  

Since the holes stayed open, the focus of some play episodes would actually become the drainage hole itself.  In the video below, the child works very hard to align the turkey baster with the drainage hole.  It is not so easy because the baster is longer than the width of the tray so he has to align it with the drainage hole at an angle.

Turkey baster squirter from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Forcing the stream from the baster through the small drainage holes makes it seem like a water jet.

The wooden tray had another important function.  It often served as a base for other apparatus.  On the left, it provided the incline for a chute apparatus.  On the right, it was combined with a crate for an apparatus with tubes and pipes.
At some point in time, I wanted to expand the area that encompassed the sand and water table.  To do that I started using a second smaller table in conjunction with the larger blue table.  To connect the two tables, I started using the the wooden tray as a bridge, much like I did 28 years before.  Now that bridge also became a container into which the children could fulfill their natural inclination to be transporters.  And transport they did.  

  From sand to suds.
From dinosaurs and animal bedding to a row of pigs in containers.
When I look back on the 28-year life of this humble apparatus, I am in awe.  It started as a bridge and became a tray.  Then it alternated between being a tray, a base and a bridge again.  And in each new setup, the children found multiple ways to incorporate it into their play and explorations.  Not bad for a few pieces of wood nailed together.

It makes me wonder if this would be a good metaphor for teaching: a thing that never looses it roots but evolves over time to be versatile enough to meet the children's needs for play and exploration at any given time with whatever materials are on hand.  And, at least once in its life, needs a major makeover or re-do to address any flaws and to look and feel fresh and alive again.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Below is a generic five-gallon bucket that can be found in any hardware store.  It is set up next to the water table all the time no matter what apparatus is in the sensory table because I have learned that children need to take whatever is in the table out of the table.  The child in the picture below is simply taking the water from the table and pouring it in the bucket.  Like all children, this child is fulfilling an inherent need to transport.

I am not sure why children feel this need to transport, but children made that need abundantly clear to me the first time I set out a pail next to the sensory table.  I have since learned that it does not need to be a bucket or a pail.  Rather, it just has to be a container next to the table.  For instance, it can be a large plastic storage bin.
Another example that I like to set out next to the main blue sensory table is a clear toddler sensory table that makes a fine repository for all their transporting needs. 
It can even be a homemade container.  Below, the container is a cardboard box positioned outside the table on the floor and connected to the table with a ramp.
That urge to transport is so strong that the children will fashion their own "pails" next to the table.  The child pictured below is transporting into several small containers she has set on the floor. 

Some of the transporting by children can be quite creative.  The child is transporting the water into the bucket that is in a bigger tub.  That makes for less of a mess but a lot more planning and execution.
This picture also highlights that children will transport indirectly into the containers next to the table.  This child is using the black tube connected to the funnel to get the water into the yellow pail.  Cognitively, she has to make the connection between pouring the water into the funnel and the water dropping into the pail. 

The children will even put together their own contraption to transport indirectly.  Below, the child takes a loose cardboard tube and props it against a window of the apparatus.  On the other end, he positions a bowl to catch the sand coming down the new path he creates to transport the sand from the table into his container.

On the right hand column of the blog the very first axiom states that children need to transport.  That is true even for very young children.  The toddler in the video below is visiting my room and playing at the water table.  What does he do?  Without any encouragement or instruction, he starts scooping the water from the table and pours it in the green bucket next to the table.

By giving children an outlet to constructively transport, I change what they are doing and who they areThey are not dumping; they are transporting.   They are not a dumpers; they are transporters. 

Which one sounds better to you, dumpers or transporters? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Snow table

In October 2015,  I built two trash bin apparatus from plastic waste baskets.  We had been using the two white trash bins at school for recycling.  The school got nice new recycling bins and no one wanted the old white bins.  I decided to claim them to see if I could make something new for the sensory table.  When I was done making, one of the new trash bin apparatus looked like this.
Through the middle of the bin, I embedded a large, wired-reinforced tube made from strong flexible plastic.  I wove a smaller flexible tube from the top of the bin through the bottom and out along the side of the bin.  And finally, I embedded a clear plastic tube diagonally through the bin.  I set it up at the sensory table with water.

A couple of weeks ago, I was outside playing in the snow with my grandson.  The snow was hard and crunchy and there was meager supply to say the least.  I thought I might be able to extend our outdoor play a bit if I could find some tubes to use with the snow.  My original idea was to have us fill the tubes with snow.  I did pull out some tubes, but I also found the trash bin apparatus I had built in 2015.

I set the bin on the seat of our picnic table.  My grandson was already on top of the table busy breaking the ice and smashing the hard snow.  Since there was no good snow on top of the table, we had to search for some decent stuff in another section of the yard.  We found some in a section of the parking area where the sun doesn't shine.  We filled a green bucket and brought it back to the table.
As he started to put snow in the end of the clear tube, I found a plastic chute to connect to the tube.  The idea was to create a path to the ground for the snow dropping out of the tube.  However, the chute kept falling down when the apparatus moved as he scooped snow in the tube.  Offhandedly I said the chute wouldn't stay connected.  To that my grandson said I should use some duct tape.  He knows me too well.  I followed his advice and used some green duct tape to connect the tube to the chute.

For over 45 minutes and several trips to mine some more decent snow to refill his green bucket, he scooped the snow into the clear plastic tube.  In the process, he would constantly check to see if it came out the other end and to see if the chute to the ground was filling up with snow.

He used a broken ice cream scoop to shovel the snow into the tube.  When the end of the tube was full, he used a duct-taped piece of wood to push it down the tube.

Snowtube play from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

After pushing the snow with the piece of wood, he took a measure of his work by looking down the clear tube.  

I had hoped to extend our outdoor play a little.  It did that an more.   It inspired a whole set of operations that my grandson created to constructively transport the snow through the tube and down the chute. 

Oh, and by the way, we had a lot of fun, too.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Classroom metaphor of the year

Last week I posted my 2016 classroom picture of the year.  I borrowed some aerobic steps from the adult ed program in our building and set them out on the large muscle mat in the classroom.  In the hands of the children, the aerobic steps turned out to be large loose parts for the children to move and stack.  Consequently, these big blue steps created the foundation for my classroom picture of the year: a child launching himself high into the air.  
For me, this is a perfect example of the power inherent in children: the power to shape and act upon their own world with a cheerful willingness that comes from feeling confident and competent.  That is why I called this my classroom picture of the year for 2016.

I could have featured many other pictures or videos showing the children shaping and acting upon their world using the aerobic steps.  Just the act of stacking them took strength and persistence.  Below is a video showing exactly that.

Stacking the aerobic steps from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Early in the video, the child asked me for help.  I could have helped, but I made the decision that it was too early to intervene and that she was really doing quite well by herself.  Both she and I were rewarded because she did it on her own and my decision as a teacher was validated.

There was also a certain level of risk as they acted upon their world.  The child in the first picture was jumping from a height of six aerobic steps.  The child below climbed on top of a stack of eight aerobic steps.  That took whole body strength and the ability to continually shift her balance.

How will you get down? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What made this child's action so risky was that the stack of aerobic steps was wobbly when stacked this high.  Consequently, she had to compensate her actions to the wobbliness of the stack in real time.  She used every muscle in her body to continually shift her balance as she got to the top step.  Her classmate first exclaimed: "Wow!"  Then she asked her twice: "How will you get down?"  The child was so preoccupied with her accomplishment that she had not thought about how she would get down.  In response to the question, she just shrugged her shoulders.  If you are wondering, she did not jump, but basically slid down the side of the stack of steps.

Even as children acted to shape their world, risk was relative and children figured that out.  Below a toddler found a way to take a risk while standing on only two of the steps.  Standing on the aerobic steps, he spun himself around several times.  As he spun, he almost lost his balance but caught himself before he fell.

Spinning from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did he decide to spin on top of the steps?  Spinning has a certain amount of risk even on the ground because you can get dizzy which may cause you to fall on the ground.  However, even this toddler felt the need to engage in some risk taking.  When he almost lost his balance, he pointed down and said: "Fall."  Maybe in his toddler way he was actually saying: "I almost fell down."  Interestingly, though, that did not stop him from spinning some more.

There were actually innumerable ways the children used the aerobic steps to shape and act upon their world.   One group of children stacked all ten of the steps on top of each other.  That was no easy task because the stack of aerobic steps ended up to be taller then them.  For that operation, they had to use plenty of strength and agility to create one stack of steps.
Not only was this a test of strength and agility, but it also became a de facto math lesson; they each took turns counting the steps they had stacked.  This was not a rote math lesson.  Rather, they authored their own counting lesson using real objects that they manipulated.

One interesting way the children acted and shaped their world with the aerobic steps was to create their own obstacle courses, often times bringing in other objects to jazz it up.   Objects like Biliboes or even a rocking chair.
One time their obstacle course actually took the shape of a path that led from the large muscle mat and spilled over into the block area.  Interestingly, it ended with the rocking chair that the children had to step into without touching their feet to the ground.

Aerobic step path from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

After watching this video several times, I have decided to create a new category for a year end summary.  I call it "metaphor for the year. " In this case, the metaphor is the path the children created by themselves that spills into other areas and ends unexpectedly.  In other words, children, as a group,  create their own path to learning in the classroom that each child traverses in her/his own way that is not contained to one area of development and that is crowned by a totally unexpected end.  What do you think?