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.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Children's approaches to experiences

Let me begin with a quote from David Hawkins.  On page 139 of his book The Informed Vision, he states: "Because children differ in constitution and temperament, and also in the history of their previous learning, each child will assimilate experience and knowledge selectively from his environment, in accordance with his momentary readiness and his unique individual style."

I am in total agreement with his statement.  However, there would seem to be a necessary preamble to it.  And that would have to do with how children approach their experiences.  Although children may approach experiences similarly, those approaches will differ depending on the conditions Hawkins laid out in the opening quote.

For example, I went back into my archives to see the different ways children approached play and exploration around the pegboard platform.  I made the apparatus below using four cardboard tubes and a piece of pegboard.  I cut slits near the top of each tube and inserted the corners of the pegboard into the slits.  I also cut openings at the bottom of each tube so any sand poured into the tubes would empty back into the table. 
I taped each of the tubes to the lip of the table.  I was surprised that I did not need to do any more taping to make it stable.

How did the children approach the apparatus in their operations and in what way did those approaches differ?

Some children used the apparatus as a counter to pour, mix and cook.  The two pictures depict similar operations.  However, if you look at the children's focus, the children on the left approached the activity as individuals, while the children on the right approached their activity as a joint venture.

Another child used the apparatus as a platform but in a much different way.  The platform served as a base on which to construct small sculpture.  Basically, he propped sticks over an upside down stainless steel bowl.
He actually gave that sculpture kinetic form when he poured sand through the top of the sticks and watched how the sand fell onto the top of the bowl.  In addition, he observed how the sand dispersed after hitting the top of the bowl.

Another child took a totally different approach to using the platform.  Instead of using it as a counter or a base on which to build, she used the pegboard itself as a canvas to create a rather impressive pattern by methodically pouring sand over the entire top of it.

Creating a pattern from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The resulting pattern was not only impressive, but it was highly symmetrical, especially when compared with the previous stick and stainless steel sculpture.

Another way the children approached the apparatus was to focus their operations on the cardboard tubes.  In the picture below, three children did three different operations with the tubes.  The child on the left with the necklace dropped rocks into the tube.  The child reaching into the tube on the right removed rocks from the tube.  And finally, the child with the yellow scoop just finished pouring sand into his tube.

For one child, the tube was a container to fill with rocks.  However, when he tried to then fill the tube with sand, he noticed that most of the sand disappeared as it flowed through the rocks. 

Children not only approached the apparatus from the top, they also approached it from the bottom.  In the video below, the child worked very hard at taking all the rocks from the bottom of one tube.

Pulling out the rocks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This is only a small---and I emphasize, small---sampling of how children approached one apparatus.  The only way to understand how children can approach an apparatus in so many different ways is to appreciate how children bring their differing temperaments,  readiness and unique styles to their encounter with the apparatus.  We can observe the different approaches, but we cannot know what experience and knowledge they will assimilate.  We can only offer a rich environment in which they can play and explore to build their repertoire of experiences that lay an ongoing and critical foundation for all their subsequent learning.   

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A pink plastic cup

On a shelf next to the sand and water table I had what I called a set of hodgepodge and doohickies. Basically they were an assortment of materials and containers from which the children could choose to use in their operations at the sensory table.  Though the materials and containers changed depending on whether there was sand or water in the table, a few things never changed.  One of those things was a little pink plastic cup.

Many of the items I set out on the shelves came from second-hand stores like Goodwill.  However, I do not remember where I got the pink cup.  For all I know, I could have inherited it from a teacher before me.  I can say that the pink cup was not something I purposefully went looking for to add to the sensory table provisions on the shelf. 

I am sure I entertained the idea of getting rid of that lowly little cup.  It is a good thing I did not because as tag my pictures, I keep seeing that pink cup everywhere.  Not only does it pop up everywhere, but it is used in any number of ways by the children's in their operations.

For instance, the children used the pink cup to fill other containers like a plastic ice cube tray (on the left).  Or they simply used it to catch water (on the right).

Axiom #6 on the right hand column of this blog states that children will try to stop the flow of any medium.  In the picture below the child found that the pink plastic cup fit nicely over the end of the PVC pipe, thus blocking the flow of water from the pipe.

When packed with snow, the pink cup served as a mold.

Children also combined the pink plastic cup with other items.  On the left, the child combined it with a funnel to refine the stream of sand he was pouring into the bucket.  On the right, the child combined it with a clear plastic tube to fashion a container to hold more sand.

One child even asked the scientific question: How would the pink cup roll down a wavy incline?  She found out that the waviness of the incline coupled with the structure of the cup (narrower on the bottom than on the top) made for an interesting trajectory.


Even when the children were not using the pink plastic cup, it was always at the ready.  And it did not matter whether the sensory table was filled with sand or water.

I am very curious what drew the children to use the pink plastic cup.  The cup was worn and heavily used and not particularly pretty.  So what was the attraction with this cup?  Was it because it was pink and stood out among the other items?  Was it because the children could handle it with ease because it fit a child's hand so well?

I do know that this ordinary little cup added a richness to play in the sensory table that few---including myself---could have predicted.  This lowly cup makes a beautiful case for the the ordinary contributing to the extraordinary in children's play.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Making tools

In his book The Informed Vision, David Hawkins uses the phrase "Messing About" as one of the phases of school work in science.  He defines Messing About as follows: "Children are given materials and equipment --- things --- and are allowed to construct, test, probe, and experiment without superimposed questions or instructions" (p. 68).

Children in the process of Messing About are natural tool makers.  In the following video, a child used a rock to clear the sand off of a small ledge in the sand table.  In essence, the child created a rock scraper to complete her chosen task.

Rock scraper from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

It is fascinating to watch the fluid hand motions of the child as she used the rock scraper to try to get as much sand off of the ledge as possible.

In the second video, a child created a ramp from a piece of tree bark.  He created it by turning the smooth side up and propping it on the lip of the table.  He used the tree-bark ramp to test how different rocks slid down the incline.

Tree bark ramp from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As the first rock slid down the ramp, it hit a little crack at the bottom of the ramp, which caused it to tumble into the table.  The second rock he slid down was bigger and the little crack in the bark did not make it tumble and roll into the table.   He was intrigued enough with the first two results that he continued experimenting with how other rocks slid down the tree-bark ramp.

The child pictured below used a funnel to create a tool to insure that all the sand he poured into the top funnel went into the plastic bottle on the bottom of the tub.
An interesting aspect of this exploration was that there was a slight delay from when the he poured sand into the top funnel and when it came out the bottom funnel into the clear plastic bottle.  That made it quite challenging to not overfill the bottle.

The child pictured below used a pot as a tool to pour water from a plastic measuring cup into a funnel.  In essence, the child used the pot to "hold" the handle of the plastic measuring cup instead of actually holding the measuring cup with his hand. 
Although this may not look like what is normally considered a tool, the pot in this instance became an extension of his hand.   

One of the most unique uses of a funnel was when a child used one to create a vacuum.  In the video below, the child experimented with plunging a funnel into a metal bowl with water.  As she did that, she nonchalantly placed her index finger over the hole.  And when she did that, air could not escape and the pressure differential caused her to lift water up as she pulled up on the funnel.

Creating a vacuum with a funnel from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When she tried to push the funnel back into the water, again the air could not escape through the hole so it started to displace the water in the bowl making it hard for her to push the funnel to the bottom of the bowl.  Leave it to a three-year-old Messing About to create a vacuum with a funnel.

The child in the video below used a clear plastic tube to create a tool to extend his reach.  He did that by inserting his hand and arm as far into the tube as possible.   With the tube on his hand and arm, he collected some corn from the sensory table.  After collecting the corn, he reached through the window in the box to deposit the corn into the hole at the bottom of the box inside.

Making a tool to extend the hand from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I recently read a story in the January/February 2019 issue of DISCOVER that made me think of this child and his tool.  In the article on page 46, scientists were trying to save the northern white rhino from complete extinction.  To do that, they had to build a custom probe to harvest a rhino's eggs because they were inaccessible using standard equipment.  Can't you just see this child creating such a probe?

What came first: Did the children look for some thing to help with their testing or probing or did they find some thing that suggested a path to their testing and probing?  Did the children even know they were making tools? What do you think?

Here is what Hawkins believes: "Children are in fact playful and eolithic, ...   I use the word eolithic in memory of our remoter ancestors who had to start life with objects not intended for any purpose, but who after picking up the stone, for example, invented uses for it. The first invention was not the object --- but the purpose." (p 107 -108).