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, February 17, 2018

Entry points for play

I was looking over my photos and videos from a water pump apparatus I set up a couple of years ago.  I wrote about it here and here.  I started to note all the entry points for play in this one apparatus. 

Kodo Kids has a pump works kit that I set up in my water table.  It comes with a pump that attaches to an aluminum tub.  It also includes various pipes and connectors.
There is no right or wrong way to put it together.  I set it up so the pipes traverse the length of my blue sensory table horizontally.  The end is supported by a crate so the water from the pump empties into the small, clear water table.  On top of the crate I inserted a large funnel.  To the large funnel, I attached a long, flexible tube so there would be a loop so the children could return the water to the pumping tub.

How many entry points for play did I find with this apparatus?  Too many to highlight in the post, but here are a few.  And maybe with a few surprises.

First and foremost, there is the pump.  When I take a closer look, I also see that a child has used part of the pump base over the aluminum tub as a platform to hold her bottle so she can work hands-free to fill it.  
Not only that, I can also see that a child has placed a funnel in one of the holes in that same base.   Instead of just pouring water into the tub, now the children use the funnel to direct the water through one of the base's holes.

To be clear, the pump turns out to be an entry point for play for more than one child at a time.  And now, the entry point becomes a lot more about cooperation and coordination of their movements to be successful at pumping.

A second entry point for play is the end of the pipe that empties into the small water table through the crate.  Below, a child is catching the water coming out of the pipe with an aluminum bowl.
When I take a closer look, I also see a child scooping water out of the small sensory table to fill the bottle he is holding in his left hand.  In addition, I see a green pail with water.  That pail expands and connects their play because these two children use it to empty their containers once they are filled.

To be clear again, the end of the pipe where the water comes out inside the crate can be an entry point for play for more than one child.  In the picture above, three children are using their bodies to negotiate taking turns to collect water.   There is actually no conflict even though there is no adult to line them up or encourage them to take turns.

A third entry point for play is the big funnel.   In the picture below, the child is figuring out where the water goes when he pours it into the red funnel.

To be clear yet again, the big red funnel can be an entry point for play for more than one child.  In the video below, three different children pour water into the big red funnel.  In addition, one child pours water into a blue funnel, a funnel he has placed into one of the top holes of the crate, thus creating his own entry point for play. 

Water and funnels from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What I find interesting in this video is the flow of play around a couple of focal points that bring children together in such close proximity. 

Looking at the whole apparatus, one can see that there are multiple entry points for play along the expanse of the apparatus.

Now imagine the table without the water pump apparatus.  How many entry points for play would there be?  


Saturday, February 10, 2018

The need to climb

Some of the apparatus I build actually invite children to climb.  Here is a good example of one.  I call it the piggy back incline.  Basically it is two long, narrow boxes combined to make one big inclined chute.  The boxes are taped together with holes on the inside of the top box (yellow outline) all emptying into the bottom box (orange outline).  A large TV box is used to support the combined structure.

Here is the same picture showing the holes into which the children pour the corn.  Holes 1-7 are cut in the top box and empty into the bottom box.  Hole 8 is the top end hole for the bottom box.  All the corn from those 8 holes ends up at the low end of the bottom box and empties into a tub next to the end of the table.  Hole 9 empties into the small clear sensory table through a long white cardboard tube.

If you understood all that you are a spatial genius.   If you want a little more detail on how I built this, you can go here.

Because this apparatus rises high above the table, I know it invites children to climb.  They are always exploring every level of an apparatus, so naturally they will play on the highest level afforded by the apparatus (see axiom #3 in the right-hand column of this blog). To that end, I set out stools for the children to use to reach the top of the apparatus. 

Some children need to see where they are pouring the corn.  For a child to see the topmost hole in this apparatus, he actually has to climb onto the lip of the table. 

That need to climb looks different for different children.  Some children are content to execute their maximum reach by stepping on the stool and pouring into a hole they can't even see.  Interestingly, though, they get plenty of feedback for their actions because they are able to see where the corn goes.

For some children, climbing is more than standing on their tiptoes and reaching as high as they can.  For some, climbing is a physical challenge to test their strength, coordination and balance in a problem they pose for themselves.  In one case with the piggyback inclines, the physical question is: Can I climb and balance on the lip of the table to pour the corn into the hole on the top of the structure?

Balancing on the lip of the table from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This video is an excellent example of a child who really needs to test---even challenge---her physical abilities.  A perfectly reasonable and responsible teacher can look at her stepping high off the ground and balancing on the 3" lip of the table and see a situation that puts the child in danger of falling.  I will never dismiss that possibility, nor take it lightly.  What I choose to see is the body mechanics of how she is climbing.  For instance, as she bends down to pick up the pail of corn, she does so slowly all the while gripping the box with her left hand.  When she stands straight up and her left hand lets go of the box so she can hold the pail with both hands to pour, she places her left elbow against the box for balance.  She uses her torso against the box to balance in the act of pouring her corn in the hole. When she climbs down, she again grips the box with her left hand.   All those body mechanics tell me she is capable of this challenge, a personal challenge that is genuine because she has created it herself.

I contend that children need to climb.  It may be easy to provide that experience outside or in a large muscle room.  So what happens when a child shows a need to climb in the classroom?  How do we plan for that?  Some children are easy because their climbing is done by standing on their tiptoes.  Others have a greater need that can be satisfied with stools or steps.  But what do we do for the children who need more of a challenge, who need to create their own challenges? 

To be clear, I am not advocating that you should be as comfortable as I am with children climbing on the table.  Everyone has to know their own comfort level.  I worked with other adults in my classroom who were not comfortable with the children climbing so high.  I would always tell them that if they were monitoring that area, it was up to them to decide their own comfort level.  If they were not comfortable with children climbing on the table, they were to own it and set their own limits.  Over time what I saw was that co-workers were willing to push their own limits of what was acceptable after watching me and watching how capable the children were in managing their own risks. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

New toy

On my computer, I have over 35,000 photos and videos.  Not all of those are from the classroom, but I would make a rough guess that over 25,000 of them are.  However, before digital, there was film photography.  I have saved all the negatives of the pictures I took in the classroom.  Since I started taking pictures more than 28 years ago, I had a lot of photos to which I really had no access.

Not anymore!  I bought a scanner that makes digital pictures from the negatives and transfers them to an SD card.  I use the card, then, to upload the images to my computer.  It is not an expensive scanner so the color is a bit off, but I am happy to have access to all those old photos.

Here is the first picture I scanned.  This is an apparatus I built back in 2000 using chewing tobacco dispensers.   Yes, chewing tobacco dispensers.  By the year 2000, I had already been building apparatus for 12 years.  By then, parents were always on the lookout for interesting objects to offer for a new building project.  One parent worked in a gas station/convenience store where they sold chewing tobacco.  He saved two dispensers and offered them to me as a challenge to see what I could build.
I taped one of the dispenses on top of a box and the second one to the side of the same box directly below the top dispenser.  I taped a piece of cardboard at the bottom end of the top dispenser to create a flap that directed the sand into the bottom dispenser.  I covered the tobacco signage for both of the dispensers with a sheet of mirror plastic.

In essence, these were ready made chutes into which the children could dump their sand and then try to figure out where it went.  They could actually fill the bottom dispenser if they poured enough sand down the chutes.

There was more to this apparatus than the dispensers.  A second, small box was taped behind the top dispenser.  I installed that box such that it hung over a second sand table.  
It was a simple addition, but it added a connection between the two sand tables, a connection that allowed the children to move the sand into the clear sand table from a height over a moveable flap. In addition, since the clear sand table was on legs, there was another level for the children to work on.  (See axiom #3 on the right-hand column of the blog.)

Not only are levels important for children to begin to understand space, but multiple levels offer multiple entry points to explore the setup. 
Multiple entry points, in turn, increase the number of children who can engage in play and exploration at any one time. 

I said that the color was a little off.  What I found is that with some simple tools in iPhoto, I could manipulate the colors to make them look almost right.  The picture on the left is the one I transferred from the scanner.  The picture on the right is the one I adjusted for exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature and tint.

It is a bit slow and involved to recover old photos, but now I have a new toy to play with and I am thrilled at the prospect of re-discovering old creations.   And it is always a plus when play and work are synonymous.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Making sense

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I retired from working in the classroom in June 2016.  For over 35 years I was an early childhood educator teaching thousands of children from infants to preschoolers with diverse backgrounds and abilities.  One of the things I am able to do in retirement is read more in the field of early childhood than ever before.  What that allows me to do is to reflect on my past practice.

One of the books I have just read is Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia by Vea Vecchi.  This a book in which she reflects on her past practice as an atelierista.  On page 148, this is what she says:
          "I would say gaiety and surprise are the feelings that have perhaps most
          accompanied my work with children.  For thirty years, when I set foot inside
          the scoula comunale dell'infanzia Diana, I experienced the strong sensation of
          stepping into a parallel world, with special rules, atmospheres and ways of thinking."

For me, this makes a lot of sense.  I would echo her words and say that my experience of being with children always felt like entering another world, a world in which the children were constantly creating their own ways of thinking; a world in which they were making sense of the world around them

I would like to play with this idea at the sensory table.  To do that, I will use documentation of a couple of children playing at an apparatus from 2013.  The apparatus is a big wardrobe box that I installed over the sensory table on the horizontal.
The are multiple holes cut in the apparatus on top, on the ends, on the sides and in the bottom.  One of the bottom holes empties into a blue tub next to the table.   There is another hole in the bottom of the box that is evident from a picture showing the other side of the apparatus.
This hole opens up over the sensory table itself.  Children can scoop corn either from the ends of the sensory table or through that hole in the box.

The first example of a child creating his own sense of this apparatus finds a child using a dump truck to dump the corn into the hole on the bottom of the apparatus over the sensory table.  He would say that he was dumping it into the pit.
This was the first time in my experience that a child used the word "pit."  It is a very simple word but a sophisticated concept.  I was curious if he really understood the meaning of that word so I asked his mother.  She told me that the grandfather was always telling stories about working in the open pit mines on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.  Yes, he understood the word.  That blew me away because that told me he was making a connection between the stories he heard from his grandfather and his play at the sensory table. 

One of the ways children make sense of their play and explorations is by making connections with their other life experiences.  Sometimes they are ordinary and sometimes quite profound.

The second example of a child making sense of this apparatus is a child dropping a clear plastic tube through the hole in the top of the apparatus.  He drops the tube through the top hole.  It hits the bottom of the box and bounces up before falling through the bottom hole into the blue tub. 

Tube fun from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I am not sure why this child takes such great delight in dropping the tube through the hole.  One reason may be that the tube takes an unpredictable, bouncy trajectory to get through the box.  Maybe it has to do with the gaiety and surprise that Vea talked about, this time from the child's perspective. In any case, it is an action he repeated over and over again, each time smiling and laughing.

I am not sure this example is one of making connections.  In fact, this play seems to make no sense other than the pleasure derived from dropping the tube in the hole, watching it fall and retrieving it to do it again.  But then I go back to what Vea says about children creating their own way of thinking.  Do I have to understand his actions or is it enough to value and respect it as a window into this child's thinking?

Sometimes as adults we talk about children being silly as if what they are doing makes no sense.  Maybe we miss or discount those silly episodes too easily.  It is easy to privilege the profound moments when children make connections between what they are doing and their life experiences.  It is a bit harder to appreciate those silly moments and see them as as children's thinking, as children making sense of their world.

Am I making any sense?


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Perspective taking

I just finished reading a book by Vea Vecchi called Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia.  I was struck by something she said about seeing things from different points of view.  On page 143 she states:

          I think analyzing the same object from different points of view is a lovely, intelligent 
         game and also represents and ethical attitude towards awareness of plurality of ways
         of seeing the same problem.

In other words, for children to be able to see and understand different points of view they need experiences in perspective taking.  Since Vea is an atelierista, her examples naturally emphasize children working out different points of view through various forms of representation.

I would like to play with the same idea of perspective taking at the sensory table.  To do that, I will use documentation from 2012 around an apparatus called Big Box on Top.
I acquired a large box and decided to place it over the table.  I cut big openings on two sides of the box.  I cut notches in the bottom panels of the box so I could slip the box over the lip of the table on two sides.  That allowed me to securely fasten the box to the table.  I embedded cardboard tubes of various lengths through the box.

With this apparatus there are a multitude of ways children can experience different perspectives.    From the outside of the box, they can pour and watch the corn go down a cardboard tube.

Or they can take the opposite perspective by catching or blocking the corn coming down the cardboard tube.

For a little bit different perspective, the children can reach into the box to pour and see where the corn goes.

By wedging her head inside the box, another child is able to gain yet a different perspective.  She can see the corn flowing in the tube through a hole cut in the tube.

If possible, children will always ask what does it feel like to be totally under the box inside the table and how does that change the experience of transporting the corn out of the table into a bucket.

Or, what does it feel like to inhabit the space under the box inside the table with others? 
It is certainly imperative to understand where your body ends and another person's body begins in this tight of space.

Here is an example of perspective taking that is a little more complex.  One child is in the table under the box and the other child is outside the box.  The child inside pushes corn through a horizontal tube.  The other child reaches in to grab what the other is pushing through.  Neither can see the other, but they can feel each other's actions through the tube.
The complexity arises because they know where each other is but they cannot see each other.  As a consequence, they have to interpret the actions of the other strictly through verbal cues and nonverbal cues to understand where the corn comes from and where it goes.  In essence, to complete their actions they need to begin to grasp the other's perspective without even seeing what the other is actually doing.

In the video below, a similar scenario plays out.  A child is pouring corn into a tube from inside the box and the child on the outside is catching it.  As the video starts out, the child on the outside of the box uses a blue scoop to catch the corn.  When the corn stops coming, he transfers the corn into the tube to his right so it drops back into the box.  At the same time he is doing that, he anticipates that more corn is going to come out of the tube from inside the box so he uses his left hand to block any corn that comes out.  And indeed it does.  After emptying his blue scoop in the cardboard tube, he adeptly re-positions the scoop replacing his left hand to begin the process all over again.

How does this child know that more corn is coming?  Where does he think the corn goes when he pours it in the tube to his right?  Does he think the corn coming out is the corn he returns to the box?  There is a reciprocity in play here that forces the child to understand the actions of another.

Perspective taking is essential to understanding others---and ourselves.  And as the two examples above point out, perspective taking is not static.  Rather, it is dynamic.  It is constantly changing because either we are moving or the objects are moving or both are moving at the same time.  Perspective taking requires initiation, reciprocity and imagination.  And therein lies the richness of perspective taking in all domains.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Classroom picture of the year.

For the past four years, I have posted "my classroom picture of the year."  Since I am no longer in the classroom, I technically do not have a classroom in which to take photos of children playing and exploring.  However,  whenever I am out and about, I focus on young children and their play and sometimes I take pictures of moments that peek my curiosity.  In that way, I consider the world my classroom, so I feel fine in keeping the title for this blogpost. 

I was lucky enough to take a trip to Vietnam in late October.  I was there to visit a friend I have known for over 60 years.  It was a very good visit and my friend and his wife were extremely gracious hosts.  We spent a lot of time walking around the city of Hanoi.  This year, my picture of the year was taken on a busy sidewalk in the downtown district of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Walking with my friends, we came upon a small child in a cardboard box.  (Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I appreciate a good cardboard box.)   She had taken off her sandals and climbed inside the box making herself quite at home. 

Older children use boxes to create imaginary worlds.  I think this child was too young to imagine the box as anything other than a container for her body.  I say that because she wiggled around in the box playing with the flaps.  It was as if she was measuring the inside of the box with her body.  And the measurements varied as she manipulated the flaps.

(Is it any wonder that the cardboard box was inducted into Toy Hall of Fame in 2005?  "The strength, light weight, and easy availability that make cardboard boxes successful with industry have made them endlessly adaptable by children for creative play.")

In a way, the box served as a refuge for the child because all the people passing by had to walk around the child without disturbing her play.  However, this young child appropriated the box in a way that became more than a refuge.  It was an apparatus that she explored and manipulated to her heart's content.  It was a toy in the true sense of the word.  I would even go so far as to say it was more than a toy.  For this child, it became an entire playground on a busy sidewalk.

With that, I give you my classroom picture of the year for 2017: a beautiful child in a cardboard box on a busy sidewalk in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oldie but goodie

Early in my building career, I constructed an apparatus using a small toddler water table, two five-gallon pails, two crates and two PVC pipes.  My sensory area was small---4' x 4'---and I wanted to expand it a bit with easy-to-find materials.  I cut one of the PVC pipes in half.  I taped it to the table and to the handle of the five-gallon bucket on the floor so the water would flow down into the bucket.  I set up the second PVC going the opposite way, from a five-gallon bucket back into the table.  This second pipe had a cutaway at the bottom.  To be able to pour water back into the table, I stacked two crates on top of each other for height and placed the second five-gallon bucket inside the top crate. 

I could have reversed the ends of this second pipe so the cutaway was on the high end making it easier for the children to pour water into the pipe.  Instead, I left it at the bottom and I inserted an empty plastic paint bottle that was cut to catch the water and direct it down the pipe.

 Empty quart tempera paint bottle

I cut the top of the bottle completely off.  Next, I cut away half the bottom of the bottle.  That allowed me to insert the uncut portion of the bottle into the pipe and tape it inside the pipe.
This little contraption allowed the children to pour water down the pipe more easily with less spillage.  Once the bottle was taped into the pipe, it was was strong enough to hold its shape.

I put little toy bath boats in the table and it was not long before the children figured out how to make them slide down the pipe. 
Essentially they figured out that pouring water behind the boat carried it down the pipe out into the pail.  They were experiencing first hand the power of hydraulic flow.  

These pictures were taken 28 years ago with film that had to be developed.  As a consequence, I have very few pictures to work from.  Here is my favorite.
What I appreciate about this picture is that it shows one of the children immersing his arm in the bucket of water.  He had a ball in his left hand and was probably fishing for another one.   So often adults regulate the depth of water that children can experience and it is usually quite shallow.  By allowing for different depths at this simple setup, children used their hands and arms to experience appreciable depth---at least up to the elbow.