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, May 26, 2018

Making a joke

As I was looking through my photos and videos recently, I found two videos that showed how one child created a joke.  She did not start out to intentionally create a joke, but was so amused by her actions that she then intentionally repeated the joke with a slight variation.

In the first video, the child lined five figures on a cardboard ledge by propping them next to each other against a cardboard wall. The child tried to adjust one of the figures, maybe because it was too close to a hole in the ledge. As she tried to prop it up away from the hole, she placed the feet on top of a pellet. The pellet rolled a bit so she lifted it away. In doing so, she made the legs of the figure bump a hole in the ledge. When she did that, she lost her grip on the figure and the figure dropped into the table to her great amusement. After a good laugh, she tried to prop up the figure again, but was not successful so she left it lying on the ledge.

Joke 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did accidentally dropping the figure into the table amuse her so?  There was certainly an element of surprise for the child, but was that enough to make her laugh?  Was it the bump that knocked the figure out of her hand?  Was it that she lost control of the figure?  Was it that the figure fell into the table?   She looked right at me with my camera when she laughed.  Was she laughing because I had witnessed the little accident?  Was she simply laughing it off?

In the second video taken shortly after the first, the child reached for the figure that was lying on the cardboard edge. Instead of picking it up, she started to slide it toward the hole in the ledge. She got it over the hole and then lifted its feet. With the feet up and the head directly over the hole, she dropped the figure into the hole. She laughed at her joke.

Joke 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She went from accidentally dropping the figure into the sensory table to intentionally dropping the figure into a hole in the cardboard ledge.  If there was any surprise for the child in the second video, it could only have been that the figure disappeared in the hole.  Otherwise, the only common element of the two episodes was the dropping of the figure, first unintentionally and then intentionally.  Does this qualify as early slapstick humor?

This was a very ordinary moment at the sensory table.  However, with a glimpse into the ordinary, the extraordinary emerged.  The child's actions necessarily led to more actions.  She went from the unintentional to the intentional in her actions.  In essence, she was creating her own reality in the unfolding of ordinary moments.  And that is no joke.  That is extraordinary---with a dash of mirth.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Smashing pellets and self regulation

Here are three videos that are a narrative on smashing pellets and self regulation

In the first video, a child used a long dowel to smash the pellets.  For him this was a full body enterprise; he coordinated his jumps with pounding the dowel down into the pellets.  About three seconds into the video, the child directly to his right looked into the tub to see exactly what he was doing.  By the look on her face, her curiosity was a little on the disapproving side.  About six seconds in, she lifted her head to look at his face, again in a more or less disapproving way.  As the video ends, the child with the dowel jabbed his stick into the corner of the tub closest to the child pouring the pellets.

Smashing pellets 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Was it an accident when he jabbed his stick into the corner of the tub closest to the girl?  Or was it an overture to the girl asking her to look at what he was doing?  Or could it have been an accident that led to an overture?

In the second video, the child continued to use the dowel to smash the pellets. About one second into the video, his jump wandered a bit so he ended up very close to the girl who was pouring pellets in her pail.  In fact, it looked like his hand almost bumped her pail. He stopped pounding and jumping for a second and looked at the girl to see if she noticed that he almost bumped her. She did not seem to notice so he started smashing and jumping again. However his smashing and jumping seemed a little more animated and less controlled.  His dowel was no longer going straight up and down, but seemed to hit most areas of the tub. As he got more animated, he smiled with the freedom to smash anywhere in the tub.  Then the girl poured pellets into the middle of the tub. Though he was not watching where the girl poured her pellets, before long he directed his smashing to the middle of the tub where she just deposited her pellets. By the end of the video there was a striking contrast between the jumping and smashing by the boy and the measured pouring of the girl.

Smashing pellets 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At one point in this video, the boy jumping up and down came really close to the girl pouring pellets into her pail.  She knew he was there, but did not seem to be phased with being so close to all his physical exuberance.  Did she trust him that he would not bump into her?  Was she simply holding her ground?  Did he read her non reaction as a license to jab the stick anywhere and everywhere?

In the third and last video, the girl has leaned over the tub to scoop some pellets in her container.  She pretty much covered the whole tub with her scooping action.  The boy was still jumping up and down smashing the pellets but he adjusted his actions to the one free corner of the tub so he would not bump the girl.  As soon as the girl stood up to pour pellets into her pail, he moved his smashing to the area she just vacated.  As she leans over the tub to scoop some more pellets, he stopped pounding and jumping as he watched her scoop the pellets. He did not move his dowel, but kept it planted in the area where she had scooped the first time. The girl avoided the dowel as she scooped her pellets. As she did that, the boy took his dowel and jabbed it into the pellets just over her scooping action. As she stood up to pour pellets into her pail, the boy started jumping and smashing again. As he did that, he jabbed the dowel closer and closer to the girl. That did not seem to phase the girl because again she leaned over the tub to scoop some more pellets. Interestingly, the boy moved the dowel with each subsequent jab back away from the girl. As the girl finished her scoop, the boy made an accidental jab outside the tub. He lost his balance slightly and caught himself on the tub. At this point he was almost directly over the girl who was still leaning over the tub. As the girl stood up, she asks him if he is ever going to stop. The video ends with him poking the pellets in the sensory table.

Smashing pellets 3 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the book Lois Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia; a selection of his writings and speeches, 1945-1993,  Malaguzzi in a speech from 1989 stated: "No act of the child after birth can be perceived as devoid of meaning in any way.  That is absolutely not possible. ...there is no action, no act, no act in which a child is a protagonist or of which a child is a recipient, which does not contain meaning in it above all for the child" (p. 352). Granted, these three videos that make up the narrative are short, but what meaning do their actions have individually and as a dyad?

The focal point for most people watching the video has to be the physicality of the boy and how close he comes to bumping or hitting the girl.  However with a closer look, a new focal point emerges: how they negotiate space while both go about their business at the sensory tub.  That negotiation of space becomes an intricate dance between the two children.   It is a intricate dance in which the boundaries keep shifting, in which the boundaries are constantly crossed and exchanged. 

For sure, children are learning to self regulate.  How else could they pull off their close encounters without getting into some conflict?  But it turns out to be much more than self regulation.  To regulate themselves, they necessary have to recognize ---at least tacitly---how the other regulates his or her own actions.   As it turns out, self regulation is not exclusively about the self.  Necessarily, self regulation is also about the dynamic interplay between others.  In other words, self regulation turns out to be about mutual regulation, too.    

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Box tower as balancing apparatus

Axiom #9 on the right hand column of this blog states that children will always create their own physical challenges as they explore an apparatus at the sensory table.  That is also true both throughout the classroom and outside.

One of the physical challenges children engage in all the time is balance.  A few years ago, I built a box tower that the children used to practice their balancing skills.   The tower consisted of three boxes on the bottom, two in the middle and one on top arranged pyramid style.  The structure rose vertically two and half feet out of the table.
I covered the top of each box with a found piece of cardboard that had been manufactured with nice symmetrical holes.

These holes played an important role in helping the children balance as they explored the apparatus.  Here are two simple examples.  Both children pictured grab a hole for balance, one as he bends down (left) and one as he reaches up (right).

Because this was a vertical structure, the apparatus encouraged children to go vertical.  As they went vertical, testing their balance became more of a challenge.  The video below starts out with the child in the red stating that the child in the green shirt was going to fall.  To which the child in the green shirt said: "I have my balance."  To prove it, he stepped up onto the lip of the table to pour some pellets into the farthest top hole.  After pouring the pellets, he spread his arms for just a second to further prove his ability to balance.  

You are going to fall from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What allowed him to "have" his balance, except for the brief moment when he spread his arms, was the fact that this child established three points of contact at all times with the stable setup.  Even when he was stepping down from the lip of the table, he dropped his metal measuring cup so he could grab two of the bottom holes of the apparatus.  That allowed him to lift his right foot off the lip of the table and to step back onto the stool.

Here was an interesting study in balance at this same apparatus.   These two children were standing on the same small stool.  The child in the red shirt was more stable because his knees were up against the table and his hands were in contact with the box.  What about the child in grey?  He was not as stable because his feet were on the corner of the stool partially behind the boy in red.  Because he was not as stable, his actions seemed more measured and cautious. 
Though he seemed less stable, he still had several points of contact.   The finger of his left hand rested on the lip of the cardboard tube.  And the spoon, which was an extension of his hand, was also touching the lip of the cardboard tube.  Granted, those were light touches, but touches just the same.  His balance was also aided by his incidental contact with the child in red as he reached over his shoulder and leaned against him ever so slightly.  In their book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee posit the following:  "Nothing stabilizes balance better than light touches and contact with the environment" (p. 31).  Like a said, a study in balance.

At a conference last year, one of the participants called me out for letting a child climb on the sensory table.  She asserted that it was just too dangerous.  It was true, there may have been an increased risk of falling.  However, that risk was mediated by the children's own sense of caution as they challenged themselves physically.  Why else would their movements have been slow and purposeful as they climbed up and climbed down? How did they know to have at least three points of contact---even if they were ever so slight---to keep their balance?

It is true that children do not need to climb on the sensory table to work on their balance.   But since almost everything they do in life depends on their sense of balance, they do have to have opportunities to grow their balance both at the sensory table and throughout the room.  And more often than not, the children will create their own balance challenges.  Our job is not to always shut them down in their balancing endeavors, but to make sure they are indeed measuring their own risk.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Box divider with tubes

Over the years, I have built apparatus to divide the sensory table into discreet spaces.  Here is one of the first ones I ever built over 25 years ago.  In this early version, I used a long, narrow box to divide the sand table into two sections.
On different levels, I embedded three small cardboard tubes through the box.  I also added a PVC pipe that I taped to the box on an incline.   The box was longer than the sand table so I cut notches in the bottom of the box to slip over the lip of the table on two sides.  That allowed me to securely tape the box to the table.  This structure rose vertically from the table so if it was not securely taped down, the children could have dislodged it by using minimal horizontal force on the top of the apparatus.
I taped the box above the bottom of the table so the children still had room underneath the box for their operations.

To tape the incline to the box, I jury-rigged a paper brick to lessen the incline and to hold the end of the pipe above the bottom of the table.  To help keep it stable and make the whole apparatus even more secure, I also taped the pipe to the lip of the clear plastic sand table
I taped a homemade hopper to the top of the pipe to direct the sand down the pipe.  I made the hopper from an empty paint bottle by cutting off the top and part of one side.  I kept the bottom to give the hopper structural strength.

The hopper worked well.  Without the hopper it would have been harder to pour sand down the inclined pipe.  That was especially true when the children tried to pour a bucket of sand down the pipe; without the hopper, most of it would have missed the pipe.

Though the box divided the sand table in two, children used the embedded tubes to connect the two spaces.  In so doing, they were also working on their proprioception.  What physiological feedback did this child get as he put his hand in the tube to deliver the sand to the other side?  And what physiological feedback did he get as he turned his hand inside the tube to dump the sand from the spoon?  He could not see his hand, wrist and part of his arm because they were in the tube, but his internal sensory receptors informed his actions.

The children also used the embedded tubes to connect in play.  Below, one child is reaching with a spoon full of sand through a tube to deposit it in another child's container.  To guide her actions, she watched her own actions through the tube.  On the other side, a child focused on the spoon and constantly adjusted his actions so he could receive the gift of sand from the other. 
That may look very simple to adults, but it was a highly complex set of coordinated actions.  Were the actions verbally mediated or were they totally action driven?  I honestly do not know, but can imagine that either may have been true.   What I do know is that this apparatus fostered this interaction and without the apparatus, it never would have happened.

I have always been intrigued by how children explore spaces and the elements within those spaces.    Sometimes those explorations are solitary but often times the explorations are in solidarity with others.  They continually improvise within the immediacy of their world.  If their immediate world at the sand table is rich in possibilities, the potential for those improvisations grows exponentially.