About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 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 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.   

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Funnels part 2

Last year I wrote a post on funnels.   In that post I explained how I used funnels when I built apparatus and how children used them as loose parts.  After watching a video multiple times that I posted two weeks ago, I saw something new and different that made me want to revisit funnels.  What I saw in the video was how the funnel changed the flow of the sand into a narrow stream.

Plugging the funnel 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In essence, the funnel transformed the sand that was poured into a wide-mouth opening to a narrow and precise stream.  I began to wonder how else funnels were used by the children to create other transformations.  With a quick dive into my archives, I did find some interesting transformations.  Here are a few.

One of the first transformations was simply covering a large hole with a funnel.  In the picture below the child covered one of the vertical tubes with a red funnel.   If a child poured sand directly down a tube, it quickly disappeared down the hole.  But when the child covered the hole with a funnel, the sand filled the funnel and was channeled so the flow of sand was slowed and evenly regulated down the tube.
Because the funnel slowed down the flow, the child observed how the sand sank into the red funnel.  What he saw was the sand sliding down from the sides into the middle of the funnel.
In other words, the funnel transformed how the sand flowed through the embedded tube.

What did that transformation look like from the bottom?  In the video below, a child poured sand into a funnel that was placed over one of the tubes embedded vertically in a box.  As soon as he finished pouring the sand, he crouched down to see how the sand exited the tube.

Checking the flow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

It came out as a pencil-fine stream.  I speculate that the transformation caught the child's interest because he could not see the actual transformation of the sand from his cup to a fine stream.  He could not see because the tube was embedded in the box making part of the operation invisible to him.  In addition, the thin stream was framed by the larger diameter of the pipe through which it traveled completing the intriguing contrast between how he poured the sand into the funnel and how the sand exited the tube.

Here was an interesting transformation using a funnel with water.  The child used a funnel to cover the end of a horizontal pipe.  Up until this point, the water flowed freely out of the bottom of the pipe.  When the child positioned the funnel over the pipe, the flow was first blocked.  As the pipe filled with water, the hydraulic pressure built up behind the funnel so the water was pushed out with enough force to form a waterspout.

The child pictured below had a different idea of how to use the funnel to transform the flow of water.  This child inserted the stem of the funnel into the tube.
Now instead of a water coming out of the tube like through a nozzle, the funnel dispersed the water so the flow was not so organized.

In the video below the child actually used two funnels to carry out a transformation with water.  Ostensibly the transformation was filling a bubble bottle using a combination of the two funnels.  The child inserted a plastic syringe (first funnel) into a blue bubble bottle.  She placed a red funnel (2nd funnel) onto the syringe.   After pouring a second cup of water into the red funnel, the water started to overflow from the top of the bubble bottle.  She tried to catch the overflow with another bottle, but that did not work.  Finally she took the syringe with the red funnel out of the bubble bottle and emptied the rest of the water from the syringe into another bottle.

Overflow from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I appreciated how calm this child was throughout the whole operation.  She knew she was spilling but she seemed more interested in the transformation from filling to spilling.  Because the syringe had such a constricted stem, she was able to watch the transformation in slow motion.  And finally come up with a solution to the spilling issue.

Here was one last transformation.  The child in the video below used a long black funnel to redirect the flow of water coming out of a tube into another flexible tube.

Redirecting the water from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In this case, the child used a funnel to transform the path of the water.   The transformation may not have been efficient, but it sure was joyous.

Are these examples with funnels really transformations?  I am not sure because the transformations are not permanent.  The funnels do transform and shape how the different mediums flow, but then the different mediums revert to their original state.  Is there such a thing as transient transformation?  If so, the children have used their agency to come up with a whole host of explorations to make some sense of this phenomenon.    

The question is: Am I making any sense?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Conference musings

This past weekend I was invited up to Devil's Lake, North Dakota to do a building session for the North Dakota Childcare Providers Association annual conference.  

After my morning presentation of a building framework, the participants had about an hour to start their building.  Because we were working in the cafeteria and the tables we were working on were our lunch tables, they had to pack their unfinished contraptions into a corner during the lunch hour.  After lunch, though, they could not wait to start building again.

Two builders who were worked side-by-side made two separate but similar incline constructions.  Both used long narrow boxes on an incline.  Both cut holes as windows so whoever played with the construction would get glimpses of the marbles or beads racing down the incline.  They each set the boxes at an angle in a shoe box.  They cut holes in the end of the shoe box so the marbles or beads crossed through the box into receptacle boxes that they fashioned from the lids of the shoe boxes.  The two constructions looked the same, but were slightly different.
Though they each made separate constructions, their plan all along was to combine the two to make one construction.  This was a great illustration of how individual inventiveness could be combined to create something new.  See below.

Two other builders were ingenious in their own right.  Their idea was to make a ball cascade with pieces of gutter.   To do that, they fashioned a two cardboard pieces to suspend and hold the top gutter in place above the bottom gutter so when the ball rolled down the top gutter, it would drop into the bottom gutter and go on its way out the box.

For someone to build in a workshop like this, they have to take a risk, an intellectual and emotional risk.  The questions come fast and furious.  How do we start?  Oh, that doesn't work, so how do we modify it?  What is your idea?  How do we make it work?  There are also physical risks involved, too.  For instance, working with sharp tools carries its own risk.

Did I say risk? 

Niki Buchan was the keynote for the conference.  Niki is from Australia and does consulting around the world on outdoor learning for children and adults.  Well, even Niki got into building.  She created a rotating construction by making a cardboard washer between a cardboard base and a cardboard platform that held three small cardboard tubes.

At the end of the sessions, the builders were asked to leave their constructions in the hall so other conference attendees could see the possibilities for cardboard constructions for the sensory table.
On Monday after the conference, a couple of the educators sent me some pictures of things they had already built.  Below is one of those pictures.  I noticed that the incline for the apparatus was not very steep so the child needed to push the pellets down the cardboard chute.
When I mentioned that, the educator wrote back that the child was pretending that he was making cement.  He would push the pellets down the chute much like a cement worker would push cement down the chute coming off the cement truck.   She also said that he used a dust pan like a mixing blade to mix the cement in the pail.  She added that his dad was in construction.

In their play scenarios, children in early childhood settings recreate the work of adults.  For the most part, however, that play is in the housekeeping area of the classroom.  Because of the way this educator set up this apparatus in the sensory table, this child was able to represent in his play what he has seen his father do at work.  He could be his father in play.  How cool is that?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

What is the teacher's role?

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on children's scientific explorations with rocks in the sensory table.  Looking back one of the episodes in the post, I think I got one wrong. Here is the episode I think I got wrong.

Some experiments children create do not have the intended result.  In the video below, two children try to plug a funnel with rocks.  After adding rocks to the funnel, the sand still flows through the bottom of the funnel.  One child brings more rocks so the funnel is completely full of rocks.  However, when he pours sand in the top of the funnel it still flows out the bottom to his consternation.

Plugging the funnel from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

When I asked him why the rocks do not plug the funnel, he said he does not know.  At this point, they no longer pursue this investigation, but move on to other explorations with the clear plastic tube and sand.  Scientists reach dead ends all the time, but like these two, continue to explore new veins of inquiry.

In looking over my documentation, I found a subsequent video that casts a little different light on this episode and opens up a different line of thought for me.

Let me start with the different line of thought.  After adding more rocks to the funnel, the child says he does not know why the sand still flows through the funnel.  At that point, I could have explained that there are still spaces between the rocks so the sand can still get through the funnel.  To prove the point, I could have also suggested that they put their contraption on the ground so they could see the sand flow through the spaces between the rocks.  Instead, I decided to keep quiet.  I thought that if I interjected myself at this particular point in time, I would necessarily change the direction of their inquiry.  And, I don't think my job is to always give children the answers to their questions.  Rather, it is more important for me to give them time and space to further play with those questions.

As it turns out, the children did not really reach a dead end.  They actually continued this same inquiry with the rocks, sand, funnel and tube.  However, it did take an interesting tangent.

In the video below, the sand has stopped flowing through the funnel.  It is not because the children have plugged it with rocks.  Rather, the sand in the tube is so high that it plugs the funnel so no more sand can flow into the tube.  In fact, the sand has backed up into the funnel so the funnel itself is full of sand.  At this point, the children start to take the rocks out of the funnel.  The sand still does not start to flow.  The child in the red shirt starts to lift the funnel out of the tube.  To their great delight, the sand starts flowing again.  The child who is holding the tube squeals with delight.  Interestingly, the pitch of her squeal rises as the sand rises in the tube.  As the sand empties out of the funnel, the sand forms a little mound just above the height of the tube.

Plugging the funnel 2 from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

They may not have figured out exactly why the rocks did not stop the flow of sand through the funnel.  They may not have understood that the sand in the tube blocked  the flow of sand through the funnel.  I do think they were starting to understand a bit about flow and volume.  The most important outcome of their investigation, though,  has to be their palpable joy. 

My overarching question is: How do teachers decide when, where and how to intervene in children's explorations and play?  Are we so driven by a superimposed need to make sure children are learning all the time that we intervene too often?  In this particular instance, I am glad I stepped back so the children could direct their own inquiry and reach that point of pure joy.  And the great thing about joy is that it reinforces their agency to keep exploring.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tubes embedded in a big box

Over fifteen years ago, I put together an apparatus using an large box and two cardboard tubes.  One tube was longer but not as wide as the other.  I cut a window of sorts in the longer tube so the children could see the sand rush down the tube midstream.   Both tubes emptied into the tub next to the sand table.

I embedded the two cardboard tubes at different angles.   I made the incline greater for the longer tube on the left and not as great for the wider tube on the right.   The tube on the left was steep enough so the children could easily pour directly down the tube.  I modified the tube on the right by cutting a piece away from the top.  Otherwise, the children would have had a harder time pouring sand down the hole.
I created one more feature for this apparatus.  I cut part of the back panel of the box to create a space underneath and inside the box.

For the children, this apparatus provided the opportunity for them to move the sand from the sensory table out of the sensory table to a tub set next to the end of the table.  That was important because---as stated in axiom #1 on the right---children need transport what is in the table out of the table. 
The tubes gave them a constructive way to do what they needed to do.

Besides all the action up top, there was also a commensurate amount of action on the bottom.  Interestingly, the children at the bottom could not see when someone poured something down the tube because the box itself obstructed their view.  As a consequence, they were often surprised when something shot out of the tube. 
Over time, however, the children learned to use their sense of hearing to know when something was coming down the tubes.

Of course, a child could always try to peek.
I kept the apparatus up for two weeks.  However, I did make a couple of small changes for the second week.  First, I took out the sand and replaced it with whole kernel feed corn. 
Second, I cut holes on both sides of the box to install a planter tray.  That added another level for the children's operations that was partially inside the box and partially outside the box.

Over the course of two weeks, the children had two separate experiences using the same apparatus.  Corn streaming down the tubes was much different than sand streaming down the tubes.  The corn had a different smell; it was lighter, faster and noisier; and it was bouncier than the sand.   In essence, the children had an opportunity to compare the characteristics of two different mediums through the same apparatus. 

That sound likes science.