About Me

My photo
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, September 16, 2017

Simple toddler apparatus

One year, I worked with an infant/toddler teacher who wanted to try something new in her sensory table.  She brought in two boxes with which she wanted to build.  As we talked about possible orientations, she decided to put one box across the top of the table and one box vertically on the side of the table.

What she did next was so simple yet so creative.  With the understanding that toddlers like to put things in holes, she cut three holes in the top half of the vertical box; she cut one square hole and two slits, one oriented vertically and one horizontally.  Almost anything the children found in the table could be put in the square hole, but the two slits added a bit of a challenge to figure out what would fit through the slits and what would not.  She cut a big square hole in the box right below the middle.  She covered that with a clear sheet of plastic to make a window so the children could see the objects falling inside the box.
At the bottom of the vertical box, she cut a slit so the children could retrieve what had been put in the holes at the top.

On the other side of the vertical box, she cut a large slit so the children could take things from the sensory table and drop them into the vertical box. 
The first Axiom on the right hand side of this blog states that children need to transport what is in the table out of the table.  By setting the box next to the table, the toddlers could fulfill their need to  transport and do it constructively.
The second box she set over the table itself.  That was a bit tricky because it was one of those tables that was divided in two with channels in the middle.  She actually cut out the bottom of the box so when the children dropped something in one of the holes it fell back in the table.
She got creative with the holes in the top of this box.  She cut a circle to match the size of the juice lids.  She cut little squares to match the square manipulative pieces in the table.  She cut slits---again with different orientations---to match the width of the juice lids.  She also kept the small pieces of cardboard she cut out which also fit through the slits.  And she cut a a hole in the shape of a rectangle so any object in the table could fit through it.  

This toddler teacher used two boxes to create a multidimensional space to enhance play and exploration.  The different size holes on different levels allowed the children to experiment to see what fit where.  Most importantly, she always had one big hole in each box so a child could fit any of the objects she found in the table through that hole.  In essence, she created a nice balance between challenge and success for the toddlers trying to put things in the holes.  Also, by setting the vertical box on the side of the table, children were able to transport the objects out of the table in a constructive way instead of dumping them on the floor.

This teacher created a toddler apparatus with boxes and holes.   Boxes and holes, how simple is that? But through this simplicity, she created a complex invitation for the children to explore and play.  It's that simple!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bicylce box

The great thing about boxes is that they come in all shapes and sizes.   For example, take this box for a car-top bicycle rack.  It was long and wide but only only six inches deep.
I thought it would be too tall to set the long side on the vertical.  I considered making it a channel box by setting it on an incline.   I eventually decided to use the width of the box and set it up vertically in the middle of the table.

That did two things.  First, it divided the table into two separate spaces in which the children could operate.

Second, it allowed me to vertically embed cardboard tubes in the box.   That created holes into which the children could pour sand.  The sand would disappear, but then come out the bottom.
The box was longer than the table, so I cut notches to hold the box four inches above the bottom of the table because I wanted the sand to come out the bottom of the cardboard tubes and I wanted to create a space underneath the box for the children's play.   Besides holding the box above the table, those notches were important for another reason.  I was able to use them to securely tape the whole apparatus to the table.

Midweek, I changed the apparatus by adding another box with vertical chutes.  I actually embedded it partially over the top of the original apparatus.

The children now had more holes into which they could pour the sand.  In the picture below, the child in the yellow shirt poured sand in one of the chutes and watched it come out the bottom.   In other words, he had a theory what would happen to the sand when he poured it into the chute; he tested the theory; and he saw the results.
The child also exhibited important motor skills; he poured without looking.   So while he tested his theory, he was honing his proprioceptive skills.

I kept this apparatus up for two weeks.  The second week I replaced the sand with feed corn to offer a different sensory experience with the same apparatus.  Instead of writing about the different sensory experience, though, I want to show how one child used a small space he found to create his own operations.

In axiom #2 on the right hand column of this page, I state that children explore all the spaces in any given apparatus.   One child explored a space that was not even on my radar when I built the apparatus.  It was the space in-between the chutes on the top of the inserted box.

What could a child possibly do with such a little space?  Well, he used a scoop to carefully pile corn into that space.  
That was not as straight forward as it looks, though, because he had to look around the top of the chutes so he lost sight of his arm and hand as he completed his actions.  As it turned out, this child was also honing his proprioceptive skills.

Once he piled the corn, he used both arms to reach around the chutes and simply feel the corn with his fingers.

Finally, he took a bowl from the table and placed it in that found space.  It fit quite nicely.  He filled the bowl with corn and again reached around the chutes to bury his fingers in the corn.

I was amazed as I watched this child use this small space as he created his actions and challenges.  Why was this space so attractive to the child in the first place?  Why did the sequence of his actions and challenges in this small space unfold the way it did?  Is there even a why or is there just the doing. 

Maybe it is like the building process for me.  I may start with an idea that is informed by the shape of the box, but only when I start to physically work on the construction does it become reality.  And along the way, I make decisions that affect the final outcome.  It is rarely a linear process in which I know what the final construction will look like.  The doing is the creating.  Given the time, space and materials, this is exactly what the children do all the time.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Horizontal channels-toddler version

Thirty years ago when I was first employed by the a public school district to work in a family education program, I was hired as an infant/toddler teacher.  Within a few years when there were cutbacks in our program and we had to consolidate rooms, I was a teacher in a birth-to-five room.  I actually cut my "building-apparatus" teeth for the sensory table with these groups that had the youngest children.  When I moved to mixed-age groups (3 to 5's), I would sometimes still adapt an apparatus for the younger children in the infant/toddler room.  One of those adaptations was a yearly staple in my classroom called  horizontal channels.

Here is what the adaptation of this apparatus looked like for the infant/toddler room.

I first set a wooden board on top of the toddler sensory table to support the apparatus.  The board was longer than the table so the box I used fit nicely on top.

I used strips of cardboard to make walls for the channels.  I used a separate strip that was taped to each of those strips to hold the channels in place.

I attached a cardboard chute to the end of the channel apparatus.  So the chute would keep its shape, I used a cardboard strip taped across its width.

This is what the apparatus looked like from the side.  I set up the chute on one end of the channel apparatus to empty into a white washtub.  I had to adjust the washtub's height otherwise the tub would not rest on the floor.  I adjusted the height by taping a plastic tray underneath the washtub. 

In the picture below, the toddlers are working on three different levels.  They are working with cracked corn in the channels, on the chute and in the tub at the bottom of the chute. 

Why would I even entertain the idea of building apparatus at the sensory table for toddlers?   For the very same reason I built apparatus for the preschool children.  Interesting and intriguing spaces encourage unique types of play and exploration that fuel the fire for all subsequent learning.  Put another way, play and exploration is a generative process that nourishes more play and exploration, which are both vital staples for all children.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Boxes in boxes

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like cardboard boxes.  For me, when you have multiple boxes, there is no end as to how they can be configured.  I made the following apparatus from four cardboard boxes.  
I constructed this "boxes in boxes" apparatus using a large box (#1) as the base. In one corner of the base, I completely embedded a square-topped box(#2).  I partially embedded another relatively large box(#3) on a vertical into the base box.  To complete the apparatus, I added a narrow channel box(#4) on top of the base that continued on through box #3.

Here are the four boxes before I started to build the apparatus.  They are all different sizes and shapes.

I first embedded and taped box #2 inside one corner of the base box.  I set box #3 on the vertical and decided to partially embed it inside the base box.  Why did I embed this box only partially into the base?  My thought was to leave a little more space on top of box #1 to offer more area for the children to play on that level.   I left the portion of box #3 facing out completely open so the children could have easy access into that box.


I next set the channel box (#4) on top of the base box.  Since it was as long as the base box, I cut a hole in box #3 so it ran through box #3.  For structural integrity, I added a cardboard wall (#5) inside the opening of the base box underneath the channel box.  I also left the flap on the base box so I could tape it down to the table for stability.


Here is a view from the other side of the apparatus.  I cut all the flaps but the bottom flap to give the children a big space in which to operate inside that box.  I left the bottom flap on because, like on the other side, I wanted to tape it down to the table for stability. Because box #3 is on the vertical, it is higher than the base box.  And since the channel box(#4) rests on the base box on the outside, it almost seems like it hangs in the air on the inside of box #3.

One of the more interesting spaces for the children in this apparatus was the square-top box embedded in the corner of the base box.  Because children like to fill containers, this box offered them a container that they could fill.
The reason that is significant is that it gave the children foundational experiences with volume.  As the children added corn to the box, the level continued to rise until it was full.  And with a full box, they tested how far they could bury their hands in the box.

This apparatus offered children a complex variety of spaces on multiple levels for their operations.  Please note that the boxes could have been put together in any number of ways.  On the day I built it, this is how it came together.   

If you build, I would encourage you to think inside, outside and around the boxes.  Creating rich spaces for the children to explore lays the foundation for learning not only in math but in all the domains.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Big box inside the table

I always joke that you can pretty much guess what I just bought by looking at the apparatus in the sensory table.  However, that it is not a joke.  Here is a case in point that I have never written about.  Eleven years ago, I bought a big plastic deck box.   After putting together the plastic deck box, I brought its empty cardboard box into school to see what I could make for the sensory table.  As it turned out, the box fit into the table lengthwise.

The big deck box slid into the table to a depth of about 4 inches.  To give the deck box stability, I embedded it in a another plain cardboard box that spanned the width of the table.  I set it in the middle of this second box so there would be equal access to the table on both sides.   There ended up to be space underneath the white box almost like it was floating a couple of inches off the bottom of the table.
By embedding the white box in the other cardboard box, I created some intriguing spaces that were narrow and deep on both sides of the white box.  The apparatus ended up looking like it had wings on each side of the white box.  Children poured corn into the top openings and they accessed the corn at the bottom of the table through the large window cut in the brown box.  Because I cut a similar window hole in the white box directly across from the window hole in the brown box, children also accessed the corn that accumulated at the bottom of the white box. 

As the children accessed the corn in the bottom of the white box, they found a hole in the bottom of the white box that emptied into the bottom of the table.  If a child wanted to, she could stretch through three holes and three segmented spaces to scoop the corn from the bottom of the table.  I would think that would qualify as a wonderful exercise in spatial literacy.
So all the corn would not accumulate in the confines of the brown box, I needed to cut a hole in the brown box at the bottom as an outlet for the corn.  

I cut a lot of big windows in this apparatus.  Whether the children were on the sides or the ends of the apparatus, there were clear sight lines through the apparatus giving them different perspectives.  Not only did they encounter different perspectives through the holes, they also gained some fundamental experiences with depth perception.

After a week, I added cardboard tubes set on an incline on each side of the apparatus.  The tubes emptied into a storage bin at the end of the table.
I also cut out "windows" in the tubes so the children could catch a glimpse of the corn sliding down the tube.

I thought I had created a lot of intriguing spaces that the children accessed through all the different windows.   To tell you the truth, I did not even count the space on top of the apparatus.  Even though I did not count it, the children did.  Below, they used the top of the white box as a shelf to hold all their full containers.
When I look at this last picture, I can't help but think that the children did an admirable job of using the space on top of the white box so all their full containers fit, even the spoons which are laid across a couple of the holes on top.   Now that is some good math.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Minnow nets

I often times liked to include different size minnow nets on the shelf next to the sensory table with the other hodgepodge and doohickies.   In the picture below, I set out two different size nets, the smaller set was green and the larger set had white netting.
I first used the minnow nets with a worm slide apparatus.  The idea behind the nets was to provide implements for the children to catch the worms coming out the tubes or pipes.   Using nets was much different than catching the worms with other containers.  For instance, the net did not hold water like other containers and the worms always ended up at the bottom of the net.   The two pictures below illustrate those differences.

In the following video, the children scoop the plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) into their nets.  One child seems to be directing the play by urging the two other children playing with her to hurry and catch the worms before they get away.

We need to catch the worms from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The nets were perfect implements for catching the worms because water flowed through the tiny holes of the nets but the worms did not.  However, because the nets were so flaccid, getting the worms out of the nets proved to be tricky.

How to get the worms out of the minnow net from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the child could not simply turn the net over to dump out the worms, he tried to dislodge the worms by hitting the net against the side of the table and then against the side of the tub.  He used a little more force each time he tried extricate the worms   On the third try, he accidentally hits the head of the minnow net against the side of the table which somehow allowed all the worms to fly out of the net to his great surprise and delight.

I also found that the minnow nets worked well water beads.  In the video below, a child uses a minnow net to transport water beads into a clear plastic tube.

Transporting water beads with a minnow net from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

That was one full minnow net.  What is interesting is that the child figured out how to empty his minnow net by using one hand to push up the net from the bottom.  That was important because that allowed him to get almost all the beads into the tube.

I also set out the minnow nets with some dry medium, too.  With the Jurassic sand, the nets became like  wispy sieves.  With corn, the nets became supple containers. 

Before I finish this post, I want to go back to the worms and catching worms with the net.  One child created a new worm catching tool using a bottle and the small green minnow net.

New worm catching tool from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child found a bottle that he could wedge into the minnow net so the bottle would not fall out if he tipped it upside down.  Using his new tool, he was able to scoop both water and worm to transport it around the table.

Where did the child come up with the idea to make a new tool?  Was his first thought: I wonder if I can put this bottle in the net.  When he did that, did he know he made a tool?  Was the tool only realized once he tried to use it as a new type of scoop?  Was there pleasure in the making of the tool?  Was there pleasure in the using of the tool?  I do not know the answers to those questions.  Maybe a better question is: What implements or materials make for a rich mix of paraphernalia to foster creative exploration to discover new possibilities for play?   For me, one of the implements is surely a minnow net.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Boxes in boxes first edition

While I was looking over pictures I took when I first started building things for the sensory table, I found some that depict the first edition of boxes in boxes.  The pictures are over 25 years old.  I remember making this apparatus because my first yellow sand table was so small.  It measured all of 2' x 2' and stood only a few inches off the ground.   I really wanted to expand the table to increase its capacity.  To that end, I taped a box to the side of the yellow table.  This box was almost as big as the table so I was able to practically double the size of the sand table.  In addition, I set up another box so it rested on the lip of the yellow table on two sides.  On one side, it simply hung over the table.  On the other side, it was embedded in the box taped to the side of the table.  
In essence, I created an apparatus that more than doubled the working space for children at the sand table.  Not only that, I also increased the number of levels they could work on.  See #2 under Elements and Orientations and #3 under Axioms on the right hand column of this blog. 

With this construction, I also created some unique spaces in which the children could operate.  There was the space underneath the horizontal box over the yellow table.  There was the space inside the horizontal box.

There was also the space inside the box next to the table.  That space was different because it was surrounded by high cardboard walls and accessed through deep openings cut in the sides of the box.  That space was also intriguing because the horizontal box encroached into the volume of that box and the encroachment created new spaces underneath and on both sides.

This was an open design in which the children could access the spaces in multiple ways.  They could go over the top or work though the holes cut in the side and on the end.
In the picture above, a child even used the corner of the horizontal box to support his container as he worked with the sand.

I have begun to wonder if the apparatus I built for the sensory table---even from the beginning---can be considered a loose part and be informed by Simon Nicholson Theory of Loose Parts.   His theory states: 
          "In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the
            possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of
            variables in it."

Can the spaces, levels and holes I created when I built the apparatus be considered variables for the purposes of his theory?  

I come about this question from a couple of different angles.  The first is in relation to what I usually see as examples of indoor loose part constructions on the internet.   Much of what I see has a definite artsy quality to it.  I am thinking of pictures I have seen of jewels, sticks, rocks, scarves, mirrors, etc. that are usually arranged symmetrically with an eye for aesthetics.    Not only are these beautiful constructions, they also fulfill another important part of Nicholson's theory, namely, that is important for children to construct the environment so it becomes more meaningful to them.

The second angle follows from the first and it always comes up when I do workshops.  People ask me if I include the children in the building process.  I have never had a good answer for that question other than to say: "No.  That is my creative outlet.  And doesn't everyone need a creative outlet?"  

So not only are my cardboard and duct tape constructions not beautiful, children are not part of the building process.  Have I just answered my own question?   On the other hand, even though the children do not do the actual building, they do make the apparatus their own through their play and exploration.   Is there a place in the theory of loose parts for a static object such as a boxes in boxes apparatus with its affordances as the variables that are only realized through the children's explorations of those affordances?  

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.