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, July 28, 2018

Moon Sand operations

Just because an apparatus is simple does not mean that the operations that emerge in the children's play and exploration are simple.  A couple of years back, I set up a large wooden tray with low sides on the end of the sensory table.  For that particular apparatus, I used Moon Sand.
The tray was placed on a small, flat table in such a way that the tray hung over one end of the blue sensory table.  Basically children had two large open surfaces on which to work on two different levels.  The lower level required the children to bend over and into the table while the higher level allowed them to stand and work on a counter-type level.

One way children spawned complexity around this fairly simple apparatus was to do one thing in a variety of ways.  Using their hands and assortment of implements, the children found different ways to flatten out the Moon Sand.

In the video below, the child used only his hands to make the Moon Sand flat in the jello mold. 

Moon sand in a jello mold from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
In the second video, a child pounded the sand with a large white scoop to make it flat in the tray. 

Pounding the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the third video, a child found a clear plastic tube that she used to roll the sand so it was flat.  And she did it in such a way as to make a smooth transition from the edge of the tray to the bottom of the tray.

Rolling the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the fourth video, a child used the bottom of a stainless steel bowl to flatten the sand.  For his operation, the sand was so smooth that it took on a sheen.

Burnishing the moon sand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In the last video, a child appropriated the dust pan for flattening the sand.  He even pushed down on the pan part with his right hand to make sure it was good and flat.

Flattening the moon sand with a dust pan from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Each of these children flattened the Moon Sand in their own way.  Big deal, right?  I do think it is a big deal because I appreciate the inherent beauty in the way each child found to do something ordinary: flatten the sand.  For the child who just used his hands, it was almost like a mediation so all the sand was just so.  For the child who pounded, it was a meditation of a different sort with bumpity-bumptiy rhythm.  For the child with the clear plastic tube, it was building a transitional incline with the sand.  For the child with the steel bowl, it was burnishing the sand.  For the child with the dust pan, it was finding a new use for a found tool.  Taken as a whole, their operations of flattening the Moon Sand took on a complexity that could easily be overlooked. 

These were just five examples of one operation the children created around flattening the sand.  There were surely many more.  And for each one, the children fabricated their own purpose.  The children essentially transformed the ordinary into extraordinary.  And for that, I am in awe.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Simple operations?

I have always been curious about the operations children employ as they explore and experiment with a new apparatus at the sensory table.   Below is an apparatus I built over seven years ago.  I called it Boxes in boxes - bridge.
This construction was unique because it was not built inside the table, but next to the table.  It consisted of a iMac box embedded in a furniture box.  The iMac box formed the "bridge" between the table and the furniture box.  Children poured corn into the holes that collected on the bottom of both boxes.  They also used the holes to reach in to collect the corn.  In other words, the holes also offered multiple entry points for their operations.

There were even holes inside the iMac box that connected it to the furniture box.  As seen from the top hole of the iMac box, one hole was bigger for pouring and one was more like a slit to sweep the corn from the bottom of the iMac box into the furniture box.

Many of the operations that the children used in their play and explorations of this apparatus looked simple at first glance.  One child used a simple operation to fill his measuring cup.  He reached inside the iMac box to scrape corn into his measuring cup.  In the video below he repeats the operation three times and the third time, he reaches as far as he can into the box to collect his corn.

Collecting the corn with his hand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did he collect his corn that way?  It would have been easier to scoop it directly from the sensory table.  That is especially true when he had to contort his body to reach as far into the box as possible.  Though the operation looked as if he was simply filling a container, there was a lot more going on than just scraping corn into a measuring cup.  For instance, there was also some good trunk flexion and trunk extension as he bent over to reach the corn.  Is that why he did it that way?

Another child filled a black bowl and then poured the corn into one of the top holes of the apparatus.  He collected corn from the table in his bowl.  He filled it as full as he could.  Since he did not want to spill, his whole operation was done slowly and carefully.  Even when he poured the corn from his bowl into the box, he made an effort to create a measured flow instead of just dumping it in the hole.

Pouring the corn from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Though this was essentially a simple filling and pouring operation, again, there was a lot more going on.  For instance, to complete his task, he had to use a good deal of balance and eye-to-hand coordination.  I would go so far as to say that there was a zen-like quality to his operation, especially as he focused on the corn from his bowl hitting the bottom of the box.   Why did his filling and pouring take such a form?

Compare that pouring operation to the child who filled a big bucket and poured it rapidly down one of the holes on top of the apparatus.
Again, this is a simple pouring operation, but for this child, the operation involved a little more muscle strength and control.  He also had to exhibit more perseverance to fill the bigger container.  Why did he dump when the other poured methodically?

As adults, we sometimes think we know what children are experiencing.  Our experiences have imprinted our thought processes in such a way as to control what factors we see as salient when interpreting children's actions.  At first glance, we only see children filling containers and pouring them out.  We do not see the complexity and nuances of their operations.  Their actions are much richer, maybe even richer than we can know.  Why bend over to reach into a box to fill your container with corn?  Why fill your bowl as full as possible to empty it carefully into a hole at the top of the apparatus?  Why expend so much energy filling a big bucket just to dump it into a hole? 

Without a deep curiosity about what children do and why they do it, we never see past the simple operations of filling and pouring.  Without that deep curiosity, we often forget to ask questions that help us understand where these operations originate and why they take different forms.  I am not saying that we can know, but without an effort to take the children's perspective, we are limited in understanding what the children are truly experiencing. 

Why does this child lie on the floor over the stool to look in the hole of the apparatus?  What does she see?  What does she hear?  What does she smell?  What does she feel physically and emotionally?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

How to pump with a hand pump

A few years ago, I added a hand held pump to the Duplo ramp.  There were basically two reasons for adding the pump: 1) because it invited one child to pump and one to direct the water being pumped, it connected children in play; and 2) because it connected children in play, it gave them agency in different ways to pump and different avenues for directing the water out of the hose.

To illustrate these two points, I offer the following videos.  In the first video, one child used her hands to pump the water from the white pail.  A second child directed the water from the pump into a plastic bottle.

Hand pump from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This was a serious endeavor.  The child with the bottle somehow gauged that one more pump-worth of water would fill the bottle to overflowing and spill on the floor; he was forced to empty the bottle into the tub next to the water table.  On the other hand, the child with the pump kept on pumping making it imperative for the child with the hose to simultaneously empty his bottle and re-direct the water from the hose into the tub.  He was able to get the hose back in the bottle and stand up for another fill.  The child with the pump, though, had to find another way to pump because her right hand was too tired.  What does she do?  She switches hands.

In this second video, two children again filled the same plastic bottle.  However, this time the child with the bottle propped the bottle onto the Duplo ramp against some Duplo blocks.    The child with the pump, on the other hand, ended up trying a new strategy for pumping: he tried to pound the pump handle to make it work.

Hand pump pound from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the child managing the bottle did not need to hold it with his left hand, which would have obstructed his view, and because he propped it approximately at eye level, he was able to observe more closely how the hose filled the bottle.  As for the child with the pump, his fatigue with pumping opened up another way to work the pump: pound the handle.  I find it interesting that he laughs the first two times he tries to pound the handle.  Maybe he simply acknowledged the surprise and novelty of pounding the handle to make it work.  He finally got down to business and began to pound in earnest.

In this third video, two children demonstrated another way to operate the pump and to direct the water coming out of the hose.  The child with the pump actually uses his tummy to complete the pumping action.  The child with the hose, on the other hand, blocks the end of the hose by placing it over one of the nubs of the Duplo ramp.

Hand pump using the tummy from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Where did the idea of using his tummy to push come from?  Was he tired of using his hands to pump?  Did he think he could push with more force using his belly?  And where did the idea of putting the end of the hose over one of the nubs come from?  Did he know it was going to make the water spray out?  Of course once they knew they could make the water spray, they had to do it again and again

Though I focused on the connection and agency of the children as the explored the pump, I feel a need to champion the joy and laughter in each of the clips.  The joy and laughter must surely come from both the connection and agency the children feel as they discover the ordinary and surprising things they can do with the pump.  However, the children are not simply acting on the materials, on the structure or with each other.  They are inhabiting the space in a way that gives each episode its own texture, its own shape and its own rhythm.  Each joy is unique.  Each laughter is unique.  And they are all authentic.