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, March 15, 2020

The art of pouring II

Last week I wrote about the art of pouring.  I was surprised at the amount of traction that post got and it got me thinking even more about the act of pouring at the sensory table.  Would the act of pouring be demonstrably different with a different medium in the table?  And would the act of pouring be demonstrably different with a different apparatus?

To look at these questions, I reviewed the types of pouring at the following apparatus: Concrete tube forming apparatus.  I built this apparatus using concrete forming tubes and a long cardboard tube.  Though it is narrow, it is stable because the whole thing is taped together with three supporting cross pieces taped to the table itself.
I cut plenty of holes in the long cardboard tube of different sizes and on different levels.  Those holes were an invitation for children to do their pouring.
The child pictured above used a plastic measuring cup to pour pellets into one of the rectangular holes.  To do that, she held the measuring cup with her right hand and rotated her wrist and forearm.   Because the apparatus was not restricting her hand action, it was a fairly straight forward operation.

However, that was not the case for the child pictured below.  For this child, he first had to reach into the small round hole with his small scoop before he could turn his wrist and arm.  Since he could not adjust the height of his pour like the child above, he had to raise his arm to shoulder height to complete his pouring action.

Below, the child found one of the big holes offered by the lowest concrete forming tubes.  She, too, was restricted in her action by the apparatus because she had to fit her pour underneath the long cardboard tube. 
Because her arm was straight, it was not inconceivable that she tried to pour backwards so her wrist turned to the right with the palm up.  

The child below found the clear plastic tube embedded between two of the concrete forms.  It is hard to see what both his hands were doing, but he did seem to be using a fine touch to control the speed of his pour with greater precision and accuracy.

The child pictured below found the highest level to pour into.  She was on her tip toes and reaching as high as she could.  And unlike the child pictured above, she could not see where she was pouring.
This was truly quite a fete because this pour encompassed her whole body.  Maybe one of the reasons she could not see where she was pouring was because she had to keep her head down to keep her balance.  Besides balancing her body, she had to balance her two-handed grip on the bowl.  She had to hold it loose enough to tilt the bowl, but tight enough so it did not drop out of her hands.

The act of pouring took on decidedly different turn for the child below.  The child created a tool to augment his pouring.  

Creating a tool for pouring from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

By inserting a loose plastic tube into the mouth of a clear plastic bottle and then filling his new pouring tool to the top, he was able to pour more pellets than if he had used each separately.  

In his book Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity, Colin McGinn posits that humans have "... an innate prehension program---a universal 'grammar' of grips and manipulations." p. 24.  If true, that means for young children to become fluent in that "grammar," they need plenty of practice with grips and manipulations.   For me, plenty of practice would include experiencing pouring with both wet and dry mediums; it would include pouring into different size holes on multiple levels; it would include pouring with things that were made for pouring and things that were not; and most of all it would include the time and materials for children to created their own self-directed pouring operations.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The art of pouring

I have been thinking about children in the act of pouring at the sensory table.  On the face of it, pouring would seem to be a simple operation.  But is it?  To look at that question, I reviewed the types of pouring that children did at an apparatus I called Pool noodles and water fall. I taped pool noodles to a crate and inserted funnels on the top end of each noodle.
On the opposite side, I taped a toner deposit container to a curved ramp made from an old rocking chair to create the water fall.

In the picture below, the child poured water from a small metal measuring cup into a clear plastic bottle.  To complete the actual pouring operation, she wrapped her hand around the handle of the measuring cup and twisted her wrist to pour the water into the bottle.
This was the type of elementary pouring that happens at the water table when there is no apparatus.

In the picture below, the child also transferred water from one container to another.  However, first she wedged one watering can through a hole in the bottom of the planter tray.  Using a second watering can, she tried to pour water from spout to spout.
Besides being quite inventive, the child transformed the operation into one that was more exacting.  The child used two hands, one to steady the watering can and one to lift and pour.  It was also exacting because it required more precise eye-to-hand coordination.

In the video below, the child added a different challenge to his pouring.  He stepped up onto a stool and reached as high as he could to pour water into the highest funnel of the apparatus.

High pour from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

For this child, the act of pouring became more physical.  Not only did he have to reach with his full extension to pour, but he also had to balance his whole body as he leaned up and over to reach the black funnel.

In the video below, the child added another different challenge to pouring.  She poured water from two different containers at the same time.  To do that, she had to pour water from the metal measuring cup in her left hand using an overhand action.  To pour water from the green plastic cup in her right hand, however, she had to use an underhand motion.

Double pour from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The other interesting challenge for this child was that she was pouring water into holes on a vertical axis.  To get most of the water in the holes required a different type of dexterity and coordination than pouring water down into a container or funnel.

In the picture below, the child added yet another different challenge to pouring.   For her, the act of pouring became one of power.  She lifted a five gallon pail to pour the water into the planter tray.
It took strength to lift the bucket up and rest it on the lip of tray so she could control the rate of water flowing from the bucket.

Is pouring so simple?  I do not think so.  In the book The Hand,  Frank R. Wilson states the following: "To a large extent, we remain ignorant of the fine details of muscular control of rapid hand and finger movement.  There are thirty-nine muscles located in the forearm and hand..." p. 358Wilson was not referencing pouring per se, but muscular control is at the heart of pouring, too. Not only that, but when we start to compile the number of muscles, tendons and ligaments in the upper arm, the shoulder and the rest of the body, I would think our ignorance grows exponentially.

Taken from the examples above, some of  the physical skills needed to pour are flexion, eye-to hand coordination, arm and body extension, balance, dexterity, power, and coordination.  Could pouring be a foundational skill for writing considering that pouring facilitates practice in gripping objects and completing complex hand movements?  If so, we would do well to offer children more and varied opportunities to pour, including precision pouring and power pouring on multiple levels to promote extension and balance so they master the art of pouring.  

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Under the table

I have built many apparatus using big boxes.  A few years back, I built an apparatus by partially embedding the sensory table into a large box.  The idea was to create a place in which the children could discover multiple and unique spaces for their explorations.

I cut quite a few large holes in the box so children would have access to the table and the material in the table.

Since there were so many holes, the children could work inside the box while being outside the box (the child below in the light blue top in the foreground).
There was even room to crawl into the box next to the table.  On the far side in the picture above, two children actually climbed into the box.  In other words, they played in the embedded table from inside the box in which the table was embedded.  And there is no better way to explore space than to inhabit it with your whole body.

I thought I knew the spaces I created for this apparatus.  As it turned out, the children showed me a space that was completely oblivious to me.  Namely, the space under the table that was embedded in box.

They showed me this was a place to explore in two ways.  The first was that it was a container just like the table for holding the materials.  The second way was that it was a place to physically occupy.
In the picture above, the child has extended her leg under the table so her pink stocking foot is visible under the table.

One child went so far as to crawl underneath table.   I am not sure why, but his body was getting to know the "under" space.

When I saw the children exploring this "under-the-table space," I remembered thinking that I should build more apparatus that utilized the space under the table.  Even though I made a mental note to use that space in another apparatus, I never did.

Last September, I was reminded again of that the space under the table held possibilities for exploration and play.  In one of the sessions I did in Australia last year, one group attempted to make use of that space under the table.
It all started spontaneously with a touch of serendipity.  As the group was working on an apparatus to fit in the table, they nonchalantly placed a narrow yellow pipe under the table.  They thought they were going to incorporate it into their apparatus they were building inside the table.  

One of the participants grabbed a spool and decided to see if she could roll it down the pipe to the other end.
It became a little game between two of the participants to see if they could role the spool on the pipe from end to end under the table.  It was not easy, but their "play" was utilizing a space they had just discovered.
In the end, the pipe and the space underneath the table were not included in the final apparatus.
The yellow pipe was still under the table near the end of their building process, but by now it was just one component that could not be incorporated into the apparatus.

I actually got pretty excited watching this group play in that space under the table.  It reminded me of the children inhabiting that space so many years ago.    It makes not difference that they did not use the space under the table in their final apparatus.  What matters was that these adults were truly playing, playing with possibilities.  What matters was that they followed a serendipitous tangent that helped them discover the space under the table.  What matters was their research odyssey to understand the space and materials with which they worked.