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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 27, 2018

Making sense

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I retired from working in the classroom in June 2016.  For over 35 years I was an early childhood educator teaching thousands of children from infants to preschoolers with diverse backgrounds and abilities.  One of the things I am able to do in retirement is read more in the field of early childhood than ever before.  What that allows me to do is to reflect on my past practice.

One of the books I have just read is Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Vea Vecchi.  This a book in which she reflects on her past practice as an atelierista.  On page 148, this is what she says:
          "I would say gaiety and surprise are the feelings that have perhaps most
          accompanied my work with children.  For thirty years, when I set foot inside
          the scoula comunale dell'infanzia Diana, I experienced the strong sensation of
          stepping into a parallel world, with special rules, atmospheres and ways of thinking."

For me, this makes a lot of sense.  I would echo her words and say that my experience of being with children always felt like entering another world, a world in which the children were constantly creating their own ways of thinking; a world in which they were making sense of the world around them

I would like to play with this idea at the sensory table.  To do that, I will use documentation of a couple of children playing at an apparatus from 2013.  The apparatus is a big wardrobe box that I installed over the sensory table on the horizontal.
The are multiple holes cut in the apparatus on top, on the ends, on the sides and in the bottom.  One of the bottom holes empties into a blue tub next to the table.   There is another hole in the bottom of the box that is evident from a picture showing the other side of the apparatus.
This hole opens up over the sensory table itself.  Children can scoop corn either from the ends of the sensory table or through that hole in the box.

The first example of a child creating his own sense of this apparatus finds a child using a dump truck to dump the corn into the hole on the bottom of the apparatus over the sensory table.  He would say that he was dumping it into the pit.
This was the first time in my experience that a child used the word "pit."  It is a very simple word but a sophisticated concept.  I was curious if he really understood the meaning of that word so I asked his mother.  She told me that the grandfather was always telling stories about working in the open pit mines on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.  Yes, he understood the word.  That blew me away because that told me he was making a connection between the stories he heard from his grandfather and his play at the sensory table. 

One of the ways children make sense of their play and explorations is by making connections with their other life experiences.  Sometimes they are ordinary and sometimes quite profound.

The second example of a child making sense of this apparatus is a child dropping a clear plastic tube through the hole in the top of the apparatus.  He drops the tube through the top hole.  It hits the bottom of the box and bounces up before falling through the bottom hole into the blue tub. 

Tube fun from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not sure why this child takes such great delight in dropping the tube through the hole.  One reason may be that the tube takes an unpredictable, bouncy trajectory to get through the box.  Maybe it has to do with the gaiety and surprise that Vea talked about, this time from the child's perspective. In any case, it is an action he repeated over and over again, each time smiling and laughing.

I am not sure this example is one of making connections.  In fact, this play seems to make no sense other than the pleasure derived from dropping the tube in the hole, watching it fall and retrieving it to do it again.  But then I go back to what Vea says about children creating their own way of thinking.  Do I have to understand his actions or is it enough to value and respect it as a window into this child's thinking?

Sometimes as adults we talk about children being silly as if what they are doing makes no sense.  Maybe we miss or discount those silly episodes too easily.  It is easy to privilege the profound moments when children make connections between what they are doing and their life experiences.  It is a bit harder to appreciate those silly moments and see them as as children's thinking, as children making sense of their world.

Am I making any sense?


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Perspective taking

I just finished reading a book by Vea Vecchi called Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia.  I was struck by something she said about seeing things from different points of view.  On page 143 she states:

          I think analyzing the same object from different points of view is a lovely, intelligent 
         game and also represents and ethical attitude towards awareness of plurality of ways
         of seeing the same problem.

In other words, for children to be able to see and understand different points of view they need experiences in perspective taking.  Since Vea is an atelierista, her examples naturally emphasize children working out different points of view through various forms of representation.

I would like to play with the same idea of perspective taking at the sensory table.  To do that, I will use documentation from 2012 around an apparatus called Big Box on Top.
I acquired a large box and decided to place it over the table.  I cut big openings on two sides of the box.  I cut notches in the bottom panels of the box so I could slip the box over the lip of the table on two sides.  That allowed me to securely fasten the box to the table.  I embedded cardboard tubes of various lengths through the box.

With this apparatus there are a multitude of ways children can experience different perspectives.    From the outside of the box, they can pour and watch the corn go down a cardboard tube.

Or they can take the opposite perspective by catching or blocking the corn coming down the cardboard tube.

For a little bit different perspective, the children can reach into the box to pour and see where the corn goes.

By wedging her head inside the box, another child is able to gain yet a different perspective.  She can see the corn flowing in the tube through a hole cut in the tube.

If possible, children will always ask what does it feel like to be totally under the box inside the table and how does that change the experience of transporting the corn out of the table into a bucket.

Or, what does it feel like to inhabit the space under the box inside the table with others? 
It is certainly imperative to understand where your body ends and another person's body begins in this tight of space.

Here is an example of perspective taking that is a little more complex.  One child is in the table under the box and the other child is outside the box.  The child inside pushes corn through a horizontal tube.  The other child reaches in to grab what the other is pushing through.  Neither can see the other, but they can feel each other's actions through the tube.
The complexity arises because they know where each other is but they cannot see each other.  As a consequence, they have to interpret the actions of the other strictly through verbal cues and nonverbal cues to understand where the corn comes from and where it goes.  In essence, to complete their actions they need to begin to grasp the other's perspective without even seeing what the other is actually doing.

In the video below, a similar scenario plays out.  A child is pouring corn into a tube from inside the box and the child on the outside is catching it.  As the video starts out, the child on the outside of the box uses a blue scoop to catch the corn.  When the corn stops coming, he transfers the corn into the tube to his right so it drops back into the box.  At the same time he is doing that, he anticipates that more corn is going to come out of the tube from inside the box so he uses his left hand to block any corn that comes out.  And indeed it does.  After emptying his blue scoop in the cardboard tube, he adeptly re-positions the scoop replacing his left hand to begin the process all over again.

How does this child know that more corn is coming?  Where does he think the corn goes when he pours it in the tube to his right?  Does he think the corn coming out is the corn he returns to the box?  There is a reciprocity in play here that forces the child to understand the actions of another.

Perspective taking is essential to understanding others---and ourselves.  And as the two examples above point out, perspective taking is not static.  Rather, it is dynamic.  It is constantly changing because either we are moving or the objects are moving or both are moving at the same time.  Perspective taking requires initiation, reciprocity and imagination.  And therein lies the richness of perspective taking in all domains.