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, July 22, 2017

Tube through wardrobe box on an incline

In the spring of 2013, I wrote a piece about an apparatus made from a wardrobe box.  Moving companies have them for boxing up closets without having to take the clothes off hangers.  I set the box on an incline and cut a big hole on the high end of the box and big holes on both sides of the box.  I cut a slit at the bottom of the box so the corn the children poured into the box would drop out into the blue bin next to the table.
I propped the box on an incline using a planter tray in a wooden tray that spanned the width of the table.  I taped the box down at the points where the box made contact with the trays and the lip of the table.  In the picture, it might look like the child leaning into the box at the top just might bring the whole thing down, but it was taped down well enough to pass the child-pulling-down-on-it test.  You can find the original post here.

Throughout my career, I changed the apparatus in the sensory table religiously every week.  Sometimes that meant I modified an existing apparatus.  The wardrobe box on an incline was such a case.  I simply added a clear plastic tube that ran the length of the box on the bottom.

What I expected children to do was to pour the corn down the clear plastic tube.  As predicted, they did and as they did, they closely watched how the corn slid down the tube.

If someone was pouring up top, then another child at the bottom would catch the corn coming out of the tube.  Again, as predicted, a child would inevitably catch the corn coming out of the bottom of the tube.  However, since the children could not see each other, there were challenges in synchronizing the pouring and catching of the corn.  

Catching the corn from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This  was actually a nice bit of cooperation, communication and persistence.  The child at the bottom wanted to fill his cup completely.  He only caught a few kernels from the first corn that was dropped down the tube.  The second time, the child up top poured more corn down the tube, but the child on the bottom was out of position to catch all the corn he wanted.  The child on the bottom asked the child on top for a big scoop.  When the child up top poured this time, the child at the bottom was ready.  To his delight, he was able to fill his cup.

The children quickly figured out that the metal cup fit nicely over the clear plastic tube which allowed them to plug it.  See the corollary to Axiom #6 on the right hand column of this blog:  whenever possible, the children will completely block the flow of a medium.

Once they figured out that they could block the tube, a whole new set of operations emerged.  One of them was to fill the tube with the corn and whatever else would fit down the tube.   Early in the week, someone forced something into the tube that eventually got stuck in the tube.  I found a couple of sticks and offered them to the children so they could push the the object out the bottom of the tube.  I decided to leave the sticks in the area for further play.   As the children filled the tube, they started to use the sticks to jam the corn in the tube.

Jamming corn in the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did the children decide to try to push the corn further down the tube?  How did the children know they could use the sticks to that end?   They seemed to have had a plan and were already accomplished "jammers."  Did you see how close the boy's stick came to the girl's head when he was jamming?  Was the productive use of the sticks worth the risk?  What do you think?

When the plug was pulled and the corn emptied out of the tube, one of the children put a stick down the tube.  That created a problem: how to get the stick out.  The child tried to pull it out at the bottom but it kept hitting the bin so he could not get it out.

Since he could not get it out through the bottom, he started pushing it back up the tube.  When he did that, he asked the girl if she could reach it.  The first time he asked, he did not get a response.  He re-positioned his body in an attempt to talk around the box instead of through it.  The second time he asked, she heard and took a look down the tube to see what he wanted her to reach.

I want you to reach it from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The girl could not reach it, so the boy found a long-handled paint brush to push the stick further up the tube.  What a nice bit of tool making to extend his reach!  When he did that, the stick actually touched the girl's fingers.  She still insisted that she could not quite reach it. 

I can't quite reach it from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Eventually, she grabbed it and pulled it out of the tube.  After looking at the video, I think she could have reached the stick sooner, but she was teasing her companion just a little bit.  Just look at her smile at the end of the video. 

I can't even begin to deconstruct the images in this post because the play and exploration is so complex.  The images are snapshots in time; I can see what is happening in those images, but my understanding of what children are thinking is only partial.  I essentially miss all that happens before and after and in between the captured images, which undoubtedly is important to understanding the action.

I am not saying we should not try to deconstruct the images because how else will we know on some level the children and their thoughts.  However, at some point, I  just want to relish the gestalt of the ebb and flow of the children actions around the box with the tube, the corn and the sticks.  For me, the whole breadth of the action is greater than the sum of its parts.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trays in a box

I like big boxes and I like trays.  A few years ago, I decided to combine a big box with some trays.  What I got was a crazy looking contraption that fostered a lot of exploration of the spaces that were created by combining the box and the trays in a rather unique way.
I inserted two trays inside the table to form the base of the structure and hold it above the table.  I taped these trays to the table and the box to the these trays.  I embedded one tray completely through the middle of the box.  On another level. I partially embedded two trays in the box on each side.  These two trays floating out from each side offered a structure which seemed to have an odd balance.   

Here is a view from the other side.  Note the holes on the top of the apparatus.  I cut those directly above each of the trays.  I also cut holes in the bottom of the box over the support trays so the corn would not collect in the bottom of the box.
In essence, I created an apparatus with lots of intriguing spaces to explore on several levels.   Spaces that were over, under, around and through.  You can read more about how the children explored all those spaces here and here.

Since I have already written about how the children operated in the spaces created by the trays in the boxes, I want to explore how the children used the clear plastic tube that was wedged between two trays and emptied into the big blue bin next to the table.

Specifically, I want to explore the sounds the children created and experienced as they worked with the tube and the corn.   In other words, the aural nature of their experience.  In the first example, four children created a virtual cacophony.   Listen to hear how many different sounds the children produced while using the corn and the tube for their operations.

Filling the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In 15 seconds, there was the sound of the child scooping corn in his measuring cup and pouring down the tube.  There was the sound of the corn rushing out of the tube when the child unplugged the full tube.  There was the sound of the corn piling into the yellow pail as one of the children caught the corn exiting the tube.  And finally, there was the sound of the child drumming on the tube with his plastic spoon.  There was some verbal communication, but I was struck by how much of the sound and communication was nonverbal.

I want to contrast that cacophony with the sound of a child dropping individual pieces of corn down the tube so they hit a pie tin propped up in the bin at the bottom of the tube.

Pie tin from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This child was pleased with his discovery of how the individual kernels of corn hit the pie tin and made a unique sound.  He did ask me if I was ready because he wanted to share his discovery with me.  But again, his operation and communication were essentially nonverbal. 

Sound also played a really important part in this last clip.  A child had been catching corn from the tube with his little metal pot.  The piling of the corn into his pot had a distinctive sound.  All of a sudden, he heard a solid clink in his pot when I dropped a wooden ring down the tube.  Watch his surprise and delight.

A little joke from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I could have told him that I was going to drop the ring down the tube and to listen to the difference.  But no, for me it was kind of a joke.  You can tell by his laugh that he understood it completely.   Now even the joke was nonverbal.

There is an aural component to every apparatus and every medium.  By stepping back and listening, I get a better understanding of how children can learn to discriminate sounds.  Words are important but so are sounds without words.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Flex tube in a bucket

Here is an oldie but goodie.  I built the flex tube in a bucket over 20 years ago by taping an aluminum tube into a five-gallon bucket.
The aluminum tube was left over from the tubing I used to vent a new water heater I installed back then.  I originally thought I would incorporate it in a box structure but I eyed the bucket first and viola!  I propped the tube in the bucket by wedging it between the handle and the bucket.  Then I taped the whole thing together with lots of duct tape.
To make it more inviting to pour into, I added a funnel at the top.  Also, by taping the funnel to the top, I was able to cover any sharp edges at the top of the aluminum tube.

In one way, it worked just as planned: the children could pour the sand in the funnel and they could manipulate the tube by bending it.  However, before too long I realized the design flaw: when the tube was bent , the sand would get stuck in the bend which made the apparatus unstable.  Subsequently, I taped a stick to the aluminum tube to restrict how much the children could bend the tube.
If you look closely, you can see how I did the taping for this project.   I first taped the tube with horizontal strips that held it to the side of the bucket.  I tucked the horizontal strips of tape slightly behind the tube to hold the tube snug against the bucket.  Next, I used vertical strips secured over the lip of the bucket to reinforce the horizontal strips.  I taped the tube so it was six inches from the bottom of the pail otherwise sand would build up in the tube.  I taped the stick at the bottom and the top to the bucket and then wound tape around the tube and the stick to make the tube more rigid.

I never used this as a stand-alone piece.  Instead, I used it as an additional bucket into which the children could transport.  To understand why transporting is important, see axiom #1 on the right hand column of the blog.  To get even a better understanding of why transporting into pails is important, read my second-ever post from 2010 here.

Since it was a stand-alone piece, I would use in combination with other apparatus.  I could easily set it up with water apparatus either outdoors or indoors.

The flex tube in a bucket worked just as well with sand. 

People have often asked me for ideas for sand and water play without a sand and water table.  This could pass for one of those ideas.  Add a few more buckets or tubs and the children will transport to their hearts content. 

The quality of the pictures was not so good because I had to take digital pictures of prints that are over 20 years old.  The apparatus lasted for at least three years.  However, I never recreated this apparatus after I started taking digital pictures.  Why?  I am not sure because I did use the aluminum tubing again in apparatus when I was taking digital pictures, but never in the same way. 

What that tells me is that I used my documentation early on simply as a means of recording what I built with snippets of children playing at the apparatus.  I did not use the documentation to think about what I built and how children used it.  I am glad the images are still around for me to reflect on now, but some of the riches of how children thought with the apparatus are gone. 

Just an end note:  I will be one of the presenters for the Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.  The conference begins in a few days on July 10th.  With the virtual conference, you will be able to access the conference any time you want and as many times as you want.  You can check out the lineup and the topics here.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Playing in the rain

We watch our grandchildren a few times each month.  Over the last month, we have watched them twice while it was raining.  The first time it rained, I got out an apparatus called Pipes embedded in planter trays that I have been storing in my garage.  I built the apparatus for school a few years ago.  For the apparatus to work, the children have to fill the trays over the top of the pipes for water to spill into the holes on the top of the pipes.  Once the water spills into the pipes, the water exits the pipes at the end of the table.

For my two granddaughters, I simply propped the apparatus on the summer swimming pool and a couple of storage tubs.  We would take turns filling the trays and catching the water coming out the ends of the pipes.

The older of the two granddaughters used a funnel backwards to direct the water from the pipe into the black pail on the ground.  How is that for fashioning her own tool to direct the water where she wants it to go?

The younger one ended up at the sand table---a snow saucer containing sand that sat on top of a little lawn table. She kept piling the sand up saying she was making a mountain.  Her sister ended up joining her. 
Was my toddler granddaughter using the wet sand to represent the mountains she had just experienced on a family trip to Colorado?   Are you getting the idea that my grandchildren are above average?

Two weeks later, the older granddaughter and my grandson were over and it happened to be raining again.  Instead of bringing out any apparatus, we set up funnels and cups over the sewer grate in the alley behind the house.

I wanted to create a little greater flow into the grate so I bought out a snow shovel and started pushing the water to the grate.  Well, shoveling water became a thing.  My two grandchildren went in the garage to get their little "water" shovels. 

I also brought out flexible plastic tubes.  I thought we might be able to direct the water coming down the alley into the grate.  That did not work.  Instead, the children inserted the tubes as far as they could into the grate.  

Once they put the tubes all the way into the grate, they started pulling them out as fast as they could.  Why?  Maybe because pulling the tubes through the grate created a ripping sound or maybe because...?

I also brought out long PVC pipes.  I dropped them down into the grate to see how far they would go in.  They went halfway in before hitting bottom.  When I pulled them out, the two grandkids worked very hard to reinsert the pipes back into the grate.  Once they had reinserted the pipes in the grate, I decided to slide the flexible tubes over the pipes.   They immediately made up their own game of launching the tubes from the pipes.

Launching the tubes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the pipes were so high, I had to keep replacing the tubes over the pipes.  I did not mind because there were too many good things going on, not the least of which were my grandchildren helping each other out and cheering each other on.

Both days we got soaking wet even though we had on our rain jackets and boots.  We did not care because we were so absorbed in our play.  The play was not built around toys to be bought.  It emerged spontaneously in our interactions with each other and the materials.   I can't forget the part rain played in our play because the rain made our entire world one big water table.

Just a end note:  I will be one of the presenters for the Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.  The conference begins in a few days on July 10th.  With the virtual conference, you will be able to access the conference any time you want and as many times as you want.  You can check out the lineup and the topics here.

One final end note:  I will be presenting a version of the this presentation at the NAEYC national conference.  I recently learned that my presentation has been chosen as one of the ten featured presentations for the national conference in November.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

More thinking

Last week I wrote that the sensory table is a rich space for thinking for both me and the children.  I used examples of my thinking and children's thinking around an apparatus that I made from of a large box that I installed over the sensory table in such a way as to form two wide inclines.  I installed a box tower in the middle to support the inclines and make them stable.

I had a hard time writing that post because I tried to capture the thinking process in expansive terms to make it seem rich.  However, in writing the post, I made it sound like there was a linear progression between my thinking and the children's thinking.  That was not the case because our thinking processes were more like a dance in which the steps were not coordinated but still connected. The connection points were junctures in which all of us, both individually and collectively, made decisions about what our next non-choreographed steps would be.  At each juncture, there were multiple possibilities. To try to make it sound like one thing led to another did not do justice to our thinking.

I would like to try again to illustrate that the sensory table is a rich thinking space, but this time in a less linear way.  The thinking revolves around a tool I made for another apparatus.  It is a homemade plunger that I made by screwing a cap from a jar onto an end of a dowel.  (Dowels are expensive, so I re-purposed a shovel handle.)

Since I wanted to offer the plungers to the children for play with this apparatus, I needed to create an invitation as part of the apparatus.  To that end, I embedded two horizontal tubes: a cardboard tube and a white PVC pipe.  This was one of those juncture points for me.  What tubes do I use?  How long should they be?   Where should I position them in the apparatus?  Each decision would have changed the decisions the children could have and would have made.  Since I wanted the children to explore the apparatus with the plungers, one decision was dictated to me; namely, the diameter of the tubes had to match or be slightly greater than the diameter of the plungers.  That way the children could push the sand through the tubes with the homemade plungers, which they did.

The new invitation now created a juncture point for the children: what would they do with the plungers besides using them to push sand through the tubes?

Here are a couple of things two children came up with while working on opposite sides of the PVC pipe.  The child with the red hair inserted his plunger into the pipe.  The child in the stripes was about to insert his plunger into the hole when he saw a plunger coming from the other side.  The child in the stripes reached up and grabbed the end of the plunger.  He pulled it out of the other child's hand and right out of the pipe.

Where did the plunger go? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child with the red hair was quite baffled because he did not know what happened to his plunger.  He looked inside the pipe to see if it was there.  It was gone!  What was he going to do now?  He looked for his plunger on the other side of the table.  He found it almost immediately because the child in the stripes had already dropped it back into the table.  After retrieving his plunger, the redhead went back up on the stool to re-insert the plunger in the pipe.  This time he held it tight and slid it back and forth inside the pipe.  

Making noise with the homemade plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did he slide the plunger back and forth in the pipe because he thought it might disappear again?  I do not know, but he did seem to be pleased with the new noise (music?) he was making with his actions.  And that was reason enough to continue doing it.

At this point, I need to shift the focus to another feature of the apparatus.  I attached a long cardboard tube to the box tower.  That decision created another juncture point for me.  How long should the tube be?  How and where do I tape it down?  I made the decision to only attach the top of the cardboard tube and not the bottom.  I thought by attaching it only to the box tower on the top, the children would have license to direct the sand within the apparatus.

This invitation was juncture for the children.  My imagination is not good enough to guess all the possible operations the children could have come up with, but here are a couple of real ones.  The children found a cardboard chute that fit inside the cardboard tube.  They used it to fill a green plastic coffee can a child positioned over the bottom of the tube.

A chute in the tube filling the can from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

An interesting thing happened when the child tried to remove the coffee can from the tube.  Because he had to lift the tube up to remove the can from the bottom of the tube, he spilled sand onto the bottom of the apparatus.  The very act of spilling created another juncture point for two children who were standing around with the homemade plungers.  These two children saw this as an opportunity to jump into action.  They used the plungers to shovel the sand into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.

How did we get back to the plungers?  In other words, how did the plungers go from being a tool to push sand through the tubes; to an obstruction to be removed from the pipe; to an instrument for making noise; and finally, to a shovel of sorts?  There is certainly no way to draw a straight line connecting those transformations.  Rather, it happened in the context in which I was able to realize my thoughts in my head and with my hands and the children were able to realize their thoughts through individual and group actions in real time.   What makes this a rich space for thinking is the multitude of possibilities for individual and collective agency that constantly emerge with each new action/thought.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A rich space for thinking

In 2014, I built an apparatus I called the Box Peak.   I removed one side of a big narrow box and set it up over the sensory table in such a way as to create two large, open inclines. 
To make the whole structure stable, I embedded a box tower that supported the middle of the structure.   
I built it so children could experience pouring sand down a wide incline.  I had done other big inclines, but not this wide and not this open.  I cut a hole in the bottom of each incline for the sand to exit through the bottom of the apparatus and drop into tubs resting on the floor underneath the holes.  However, the holes I fashioned were much smaller than the width of the incline adding an additional challenge for the children to direct the sand into the holes.  

The reason I want to revisit this apparatus is because I want to demonstrate how the sensory table is a thinking space for both me and the children.   I have already offered my initial thoughts on the apparatus.  After watching the children engage with the space and materials, I decided to change the apparatus.  On one side of the apparatus, I installed a cardboard box that formed a chute for directing the sand into the hole at the bottom.
I cut two holes in the top of the chute, but purposefully kept its closed nature in contrast to the openness of the large box incline.   The closed nature of the chute also added an extra challenge for the children to track the sand traveling through the chute.  I also wanted to provided a second path for the children to pour the sand through the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.  The child in the video below illustrates the two paths quite nicely.

Putting sand in the hole two different ways from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She seemed very methodical in her operations.  She filled the pink cup two times.  The first time she poured the sand directly into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.  The second time she poured the sand indirectly into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus because the sand had to first travel down and out the chute.

Next, I added a horizontal chute onto the top of the apparatus.  Much like the inclined chute, I cut holes on the top at the two ends.  One hole emptied into the box tower and the other one emptied into the top of the inclined chute.
My idea was to have the children figure out the path of the sand from the top of the apparatus to the bottom of the apparatus, again adding an extra challenge for the children to track the sand going through two chutes.

Once they had figured out the path of the sand, they came up with their own self-appointed task: to modify the path of the sand.  One child found a clear plastic tube and inserted it through the hole in the bottom of the apparatus up into the inclined chute. 

When they were satisfied that the tube captured the sand coming down the chute and directed it through the hole at the bottom of the apparatus, it was time for another change in their thinking.  What would happen if the tube rested in the sand at the bottom of the tub next to the sand table?

That led to a more articulated joint endeavor: filling the tube with sand through their modified path.   
Using that one loose part and the affordances of the set up, the children changed the apparatus to fit their own evolving ideas.

My thinking begins with an idea of something I would like to build.  Once the apparatus is built, I turn it over to the children for their thinking.  Their thinking is doing; it is playing with ideas that surface in their actions.  Once I observe how the children think in this space, then I come up with new ideas that I try to realize.  Then it is the children's turn again, and so the thinking continues.  There is not script.  Ideas bounce around that emerge from our actions with others and with the materials and the setup.   In other words, this is a rich space for thinking for me and the children.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My first box tower

I have been looking over old pictures that I took at the sensory table.  I found a set that documents the first box tower I ever installed in the sand table.  The photos are at least 28 years old.  For this first box tower, I used an empty box that had held a thousand drinking cups.  The box is a good size to begin with, but appears huge in the 2' x 2' yellow sand table.   To make the box tower stable, I taped the bottom of the box to the bottom of the table.  I also taped the box to the side of the table near the bottom using strips of duct tape pulling the box horizontally to the table. 
I embedded a large diameter PVC pipe through the apparatus.  I also embedded plastic containers---I think they were Cool Whip containers---into the sides.  However, those containers did not traverse the width of the box.  Instead, they acted as shelves into which the children could transport the sand or hold other, smaller containers.  Below is a picture from the other side of the box tower.  In that side, I embedded a larger container, a plastic ice cream bucket. 

When I looked at these pictures, I wondered why I set up the box tower with the box upside down.  All I can think of is that it was not one of the features of the box I was paying attention to.  I guess I passed up a literacy opportunity on that one.
The picture below shows a toddler putting sand in the ice cream bucket that is embedded in the box.  Since there is sand in all the containers, it looks like the children have used all the embedded containers for their sand operations.

Here is the same child putting sand in the PVC pipe with his green spoon.  He has transported his sand from the table, to the ice cream bucket and then to the PVC pipe.  

The picture below is of very poor quality, but informative.  It shows the child bending down so he can look through the PVC pipe.  In other words, he uses the hole through the box created by the PVC pipe to change his perspective of this micro-world. 

An integral part of this setup is the five-gallon bucket next to the table.  The bucket offers the children another invitation to transport the sand at this apparatus.   Since children always want to take the sand out of the table, the bucket gives them a constructive outlet for them to do that.  In other words, the placement of the bucket next to the table means less sand on the floor---and that's a good thing.

Just a side note:  I will be one of the presenters for the Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.  The conference begins on July 10th and runs for five days.  With the virtual conference, however, you will be able to access the conference any time you want and as many times as you want.  The line up for the conference includes two Teacher Tom's: Teacher Tom from Seattle and myself, tomsensori Teacher Tom.  That means you get two Teacher Tom's for the price of one. 

If you are at all interested, you can save $100 on registration by signing up for early bird registration by tomorrow July 10th.  Again, you can check it out here:  Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.

One final side note:  I just learned that I will be giving a version of this presentation in November in Atlanta as one of the featured presentations at the NAEYC annual conference.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


For me, funnels are indispensable at the sensory table.  They are items that work with both wet and dry medium.  I installed them as an integral part of the apparatus and I provided them as loose parts for the children's operations.

Here are two examples of funnels I used as part of an apparatus.  For the first example, I taped clear plastic tubes to the bottom of the funnels and then I threaded the tubes through the crate so water poured into the tubes exited at different points around the table.  In addition, I taped the funnels to the crate so the children could not manipulate the funnels.  I wanted a stable apparatus in which the children could track the water flowing through the clear tubes.

For the second example, I taped funnels to connectors that emptied into a large PVC pipe.  The pipe was set on a slight incline so when the children poured water into the funnels, the water exited on the end over the grey storage bin.  Again, I wanted a stable apparatus, one that used funnels to capture all the water the children poured from their different size containers.

Sometimes I set up funnels in such a way that they were an integral part of the apparatus but did not get tape down.  
Without the funnels, it would be more difficult to get the water into these pool noodles without a lot of spillage.   For some reason, the children rarely pulled out the funnels.  But they could if they wanted to.
Besides showing that a child could remove a funnel from the apparatus, this picture gives a hint at the variety of funnels I have found.  There are two funnels that came with hoses already connected to them; the black funnel is tall and narrow (I found it in an automotive store); and the red one comes from a surplus store and is the biggest one I have ever found.

Even if I made them an integral part of an apparatus, I always provided more funnels as loose parts.  On shelves next to the sensory table, the children always found funnels to be used with either wet(left) or dry(right) medium.

As loose parts, children used the funnels to find ways to put their own stamp on an apparatus.  For instance, the child pictured below used two funnels to change how sand flows through a vertical tube embedded in a box.   He placed a funnel on top to collect the sand going down the tube and he placed a second funnel in a bottle under the tube to gather the sand coming out and direct it straight into the bottle.  Ingenious!


Children often used the funnels for building or making novel creations.  On the left, the child has taken containers and funnels from the shelves to build a little tower inside the black funnel.  On the right, the child has created a new musical instrument using two funnels and a plastic syringe. 

In the video below, the child shows how playing with funnels can lend itself to a unique literacy experience, one that involves playing with words.  He stacked three funnels on top of a vertical tube and as he poured the sand in the top funnel, he created a little mantra of "funnel on top of funnel on top of funnel."

FUNNEL WORD FUN from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

One of the more interesting uses of a funnel as a loose part was a child using it upside down to transport water from one container to another.

Funnel as tool from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In essence, she made the funnel into a new tool with a new purpose.

Believe me, I have just scratched the surface for how I use funnels and how the children use funnels.  The fun with funnels never ends and knows no bounds.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Starting simple

I worked in the field of early childhood education for 38 years.  Over 30 of those years were spent in the classroom with children.  When I began my career in a small, non-profit childcare center, I did not have a sensory table in my classroom.  It took 10 years of teaching before I got a sensory table.  At that point, I was hired by a public school district to be an infant/toddler teacher in a family education program.  When I began to set up my new classroom, I found I had inherited a sensory table from the previous teacher.  I actually inherited two sensory tables from her, one for sand and one for water.  Both of them were very small.

As I started working with the sensory tables, I found them quite boring.   That was especially true of the sand table.  The setup was very basic: sand, shovels, scoops and pails.  The children quickly tired of the setup and so did I.  One of the first things I did to make the sensory table a little more interesting was to add an element or two to foster a little more play and exploration.  One of the early additions was a cardboard box taped inside the table with an attached plastic chute.
This is a digital picture of a photo from over 25 years ago.  I was already taking pictures back then, but because I was using rolls of film and because I was new at documenting, my pictures are not so plentiful and not so informative.

I said the table was small.  It was a metal table that stood 10 inches off the ground and was a square that measured 2' x 2'.  I did have a mat underneath that expanded the total sensory area to 4' x 4'.  Needless to say, even the expansion did not create a big area.

One of the important elements of this setup is the five-gallon pail next to the table.  If you look at the axioms in the right-hand column of this blog, the very first axiom states that children need to transport the sand out the table.  The pail gives them the option to do it constructively.  And, as many of you know from firsthand experience, without the bucket, the sand gets dumped on the floor.

My documentation on this apparatus is sparse.  I usually like to go into some depth about how the children explored an apparatus.  I cannot do that with this apparatus.  All I can do is speculate.

I am struck by the simplicity of this setup: a cardboard box with a plastic chute inside the table.  Though it was a simple setup, it created several spaces within the table that were intriguing invitations for the children's operations.

In the picture below, there are four main spaces in which the children can operate.  There is the pail and the the box.  Both of these spaces can be considered spaces to fill and empty.  There is the chute which allows the children to set the sand in motion.  In addition, the chute creates a space underneath.  If the children want to get sand by scooping underneath the chute, they have to figure out how to do that without bumping into the chute and without spilling.  And there is the sand table itself.   Interestingly, the cardboard box divides the sand table into different areas: there are areas on each side of the cardboard box and one in front of the box.  The box is both a barrier and guide for the children to operate in that space.  For instance, if a child wants to scoop sand with the white measuring cup, she has to move the cup laterally as defined by the edge of the cardboard box and the edge of the sand table.

When I started building apparatus, I had a birth-to-five classroom.   In the pictures I have of this apparatus, there are three children of different ages (4, 3, and 1) all playing at the table at the same time.  Not bad for a simple apparatus.

I started transforming my sensory table by building simple apparatus.  If you are tempted to build, I would urge you to start with simple constructions, too.  Though the structure might be simple, the children create their own complexity through play and exploration.  Just imagine what the play would be like for these children in this tiny table without the box and chute.