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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Cardboard dividers: a study in proprioception

Proprioception is an inherent sense that tells us our bodies' position and motion in space.  For instance, when you drive a car, you use your proprioceptive sense to know where the brake and accelerator pedals are without having to look at them as you move your foot from one to the other.    

Enclosures with holes offer children the opportunity to nourish and sharpen their developing sense of proprioception.  To that end, I offer an apparatus from a few years back that I call: cardboard divider. The apparatus partitions the sensory table into seven alcoves.  Alcoves 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 are triangles.  Alcove 4 is a square. The children physically occupy the triangle alcoves.  However, the only way children access alcove 4 is through windows.

Just the simple acts of scooping and pouring require that the child know how to grip the handle; how to tilt the hand so the scoop can dig into the pellets; and how to twist the wrist to empty the scoop.   A child relies on his proprioceptive sense to complete these actions without having to think about where her hand is or what it is doing.

When a child scoops and pours through a barrier, there is an added layer of complexity to how his proprioceptive sense needs to adjust.  Below, the child uses his right hand to hold the window flap open so he can reach through the window to dump the pellets from his scoop. 
The child can see he holds the window open but he also feels that he is holding it open.  The child also sees that he is reaching through the window but he also feels that his arm is extending with the right trajectory allowing his hand to reach through the window.

In the picture below, the child with the big measuring cup is pouring pellets through the same window with a flap.  However, he is not reaching through the window with his hand.  Instead, he balances the measuring cup on the bottom of the window to tip the measuring cup so the pellets drop into the adjoining alcove. 
In the picture, he is focusing on the pellets flowing from the measuring cup.  He does not have to look at his fingers, hand, wrist, arm, elbow and shoulder even though he needs to know internally what each of those body parts are doing to complete his operation,

In the picture below, the child is scooping pellets into his small plastic measuring cup from the inner/square alcove.  Even though he seems to be looking at what his hand is doing, the proprioceptive feedback he gets from his hand and arm acting in that space enable his to complete his operation.
His left hand also plays a part in the completion of his operation.  Somehow he knows that by grabbing the top of the partition, he remains balanced as he digs into the pellets.

In the picture below, the child retrieves a pink plastic cup from the square alcove.  Since she cannot see where she is reaching, she has to rely on her proprioceptive sense in the joints and tendons in her fingers to find, grasp and lift the cup up and out of the alcove.
This operation demonstrates how proprioception is needed for very fine motor operations, too.

In fact, proprioception is needed in all motor operations.  The child pictured below is clearly engaged in a large motor operation to access the pellets in the square alcove.  (Silly me, I thought the only way to access that space was through the windows!) 
The child surely getting lots of internal sensory feedback so he knows where his body is in that space as he hangs on one of the panels of the cardboard divider.

In an article in TheScientist: Exploring Life, Inspiring Innovation entitled Proprioception: The Sense Within,  the authors write that proprioception "... not only enables us to control the movements we make, but provides us with our sense of self, the awareness of our body and its movements as we navigate through our surroundings."

Proprioception is extremely important.  Can you imagine what a nightmare it would be if we had to take our eyes off the road to look for the brake pedal every time we needed to slow down or stop the car!  Children unconsciously work on their sense of proprioception as they interact with their environment.  I contend that we can help children develop and sharpen their sense of proprioception by offering children interesting and intriguing spaces in which they can challenge what their body can do.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The art of filling

Back in March, I wrote a couple of blog posts on the  art of pouring: post 1 and post 2. Well if there is an art to pouring, there must be an art to filling, too.  If so, what would that look like?  How do children display the art of filling?

To examine that proposition, I went back to two setups from 2016.  For both of the setups, I removed the sensory table from the room.  For the first setup, I set out tubs and pails and shelves with all kinds of containers for pouring and filling.    

For the second setup, which came a week later, I removed some of the tubs but added more containers, scoops, chutes and tubes.
In the video below, a child carried out one of the most common operations for filling: pouring pellets into a  a bottle.  He placed the bottle on the floor and poured pellets from a scoop.  However, the scoop was wider than the mouth of the bottle so most of pellets missed the bottle and fell on the floor.

Pouring pellets 1 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At first glance, that did not look too artful.  I still think there was a bit of panache in his operation.  As he tipped the scoop to pour the pellets, he used his left hand to hold back the pellets until he had positioned the scoop at just the right angle so he was ready to pour.  He could have slowly removed his left hand to better direct the pellets, but instead he quickly removed his hand and the pellets spilled out as if the damn broke holding them back.  Did he think that by letting the pellets fall all at once the bottle would fill faster or more would go in the bottle?

Another child filled that same bottle differently. First, he used a smaller measuring cup so he could direct his pour more accurately.  Second, he placed the bottle in a pan(on the left) to catch pellets that did not go in the bottle. He also took it one step further by placing the pan in a wash tub(on the right). In the process, his filling operation encompassed multiple containers at the same time.

In the video below, the children filled a white trash bin.  That took time and persistence. The child kneeling next to the trash bin used her scoop to gently even out the top layer of pellets. As she did that, another child added even more pellets to the trash can.  The child kneeling immediately used her hand and scoop to again even out the top layer.

Evening out to the top from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Was leveling out the pellets an integral operation for filling a container?  How else would the children have known what constituted full in their operation.?

Somehow filling containers seemed natural.  However, the children also found ways to fill objects that were open on both ends.  In the video below, two children filled two different tubes, both of which were open on both ends.  To do that, they stuck one end of each of their tubes in the tub of pellets which basically created two narrow vertical containers.

Filling two different kinds of tubes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the tubes were so different, so were the operations needed to fill each tube.  The child on the left used his hands to slowly and methodically direct pellets into a narrow white tube.  The children on the right, by contrast, were able to fill the clear plastic tube faster because they could use scoops to fill their tube.  Interestingly, once the clear plastic tube was full, one child lifted it out of the tub emptying it immediately. No problem because the child holding the tube jammed it back into the tub of pellets and declared that they would repeat the operation one more time.

One child even found a way to fill a tube horizontally that was open on both ends.  To do that, the child used his left hand to push the tube into the tub.  Once it was basically buried horizontally in the tub, he dug his right hand into the pellets to find the other end of the tube.  Once his hands encased both ends of the tube, he lifted it out of the tub to take stock of his accomplishment.

Filling the tube horizontally from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, he turned to me to ask if I wanted to see it come out.  Without waiting for an answer, he pulled his left hand off the end of the tube and all the pellets flooded out.  Judging from his chuckle, he seemed to take great enjoyment out of filling and emptying the tube. 

In the video below, two children went about filling yet another kind of object, one that was open on both ends and on the top.  They placed a half PVC pipe on the floor and commenced to fill it. 

Filling a PVC half pipe from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I think this pushed the boundary of filling.  How did the children come to see this as a object to be filled? At what point could the half pipe be considered full?

Taking into the consideration the examples in the post, the children pushed the envelope of what could be filled and how it could be filled.  I could say they created a dynamic collage of filling operations.  Since art encompasses the possible, the children use the art of filling as one way to make meaning of their world.  One meaning for sure has to do with understanding volume using a variety of materials. But like the essence of art, their meaning making through the art of filling had elements that were also imponderable.