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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

CONFLICT AT THE SENSORY TABLE - PART II

I did a presentation on sand and water tables at the Minnesota state early childhood conference two weeks ago.  The questions that surfaced during the presentation were good and have forced me to reflect on my practice.

The first question was: "How do I regulate play at the sensory table?"  The answer is that I do very little regulating of play at the sensory table.  A more detailed account of my thinking on this issue can be found on a post entitled: Self-Regulaton at the Sensory Table.


The second question was: "How do I handle conflict at the sensory table?"  When I thought about it, I thought the question had to be broken into two parts.  The first part has to do with prevention. Instead of calling it prevention, though, I think of it as setting the children up for success. Basically there are three components to this.  1) Create an intriguing space that allows the children to feel like agents in the play and exploration.  2) Before any intervention, listen and observe the children in their interactions and don't be afraid to allow some physical contact between the children.  3)  Encourage and recognize acts of kindness among the children.  To read more, go to last week's post: Conflict at the Sensory Table - Part I.  By setting the children up for success, conflict is greatly minimized.

Believe it or not, sometimes conflict still arises.  Looking back at previous posts, I actually found one that addressed part of the issue.  Again it arose from a question at a conference presentation about what do I do about children who hoard.  The gist of the post is that adults have this thing about asking---usually demanding---that children share.  The problem is that an adult using this language does not mean share. The adult is really asking the child to take turns.  What it sounds like to a child, though, is give the other child the thing he is playing with.  In other words, give it up.  Is it any wonder that children do not want to share?


The problem is not one of hoarding, but one of having some control over one's work.  If the child feels in control of his actions and his materials, he is perfectly willingly to be kind and generous to reasonable and courteous requests.   I am constantly amazed at how kind and generous they are given the chance.  The original post was entitled: Question from Conference about Hoarding.

There is one conflict I will always remember at the sensory table because of its intensity and because of the eventual solution.  Let me set the stage.  A child with limited English language is at the sensory table and has collected all the vehicles.  We will call him Greg, which is not his real name.  Several other children are asking to have a vehicle.  As the children become more insistent about wanting a vehicle, Greg becomes more protective of all the vehicles and even starts to scream when others try to get one.  The assistant teacher tries to mediate by asking Greg to share.  That does not work.  There is a teaching intern in the room and she also tries to get Greg to share.  Both the assistant and intern are very reasonable pointing out that Greg has so many vehicles and the others have none.

Things are now very loud and the situation is escalating.  I am in an adjacent area of the room with children working on an art project.  I ask the assistant to take over for me and I decide to have a go at resolving the conflict.  As I am walking over to the table, I have no idea what I am going to do because the things I usually try have already been tried by the assistant and the intern.  I would usually say to the children who wanted a truck to ask Greg for a truck.  I would then coach Greg saying so-and-so would like a truck and you have so many.  Which one do you think he could have?

As I get to the table, I see a boy with his arms wrapped desperately around all the vehicles ready to defend them with his life.  In a way, he looks like he is cornered and scared.  In a split second, I decide to organize the other children into a pouring and mixing activity.  When I do that, I position myself between Greg and the other children and we give Greg some room and forget about the vehicles for the moment.   What happened next astounded me.  Within a minute of starting this new activity, Greg came over to each of the children and gave them one of his vehicles.

I have thought about this conflict and its resolution often in the intervening years.  As the adult power figure, I could have made Greg give up a vehicle or two and he still would have had plenty. By not making him hand over vehicles, though, he felt less threatened and willingly gave away his vehicles on his own terms in a way we all appreciated.  We felt good and he felt good.

Conflicts in the classroom are inevitable.  For me and the children, they are learning opportunities. Some conflicts are more intense than others and need more adult intermediation.  In my experience, some conflicts do not get resolved and will live to surge another day.  One of the objectives always has to be to protect the more vulnerable and give them a voice in the solution. Even those who seem less vulnerable need to feel a part of a mutually beneficial solution.

There is no formula for resolving conflicts.  There is only respectful engagement from which we all learn to negotiate, accommodate, and cooperate.




Sunday, February 17, 2013

CONFLICT AT THE SENSORY TABLE - Part I

I did a presentation on sand and water tables at the Minnesota state early childhood conference a little over a week ago.  One of the questions that arose was: How do I regulate play at the sensory table?  My answer can be found on a post titled SELF-REGULATION AT THE SENSORY TABLE.

That question was followed up by another, related question:  How do I deal with conflicts at the table?  I said---a little too flippantly---that there are no conflicts at the sensory table.  Of course, that is not true, so what do I really do?

The first thing I do is set up the environment.  That means building the apparatus. What that does is create complex and intriguing spaces that invite many types of play and exploration.  That allows the children to be agents in their most important endeavor: transporting.  (See axiom #1 in the right-hand column.)  And since they can do it constructively in a variety of ways, they negotiate and accomodate with others with little or no prompts.  Take a look at the video below showing children interacting in a complex and intriguing space and pay special attention to the three boys at the beginning of the video who, without conflict, are essentially operating in the same space.

PLAYING IN THE BOXES from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Here is an example of three children taking from the same tray almost at the same time with no conflict. The spaces---and levels, in this instance---allow them to take from the same tray and transport to another space within the apparatus.

If I have not convinced you to this point, maybe a comment from a teacher who attended the presentation I did at the Wisconsin early childhood conference in the fall of 2011 may sway you.

I was fortunate enough to see your presentation at the WECA conference last fall and you have completely changed my approach to sensory tables! My sensory table (in a small space) now incorporates an elevated bin, a floor bin, and a five gallon bucket. I've started building outside of the table with boxes, tubes, and copious amounts of duct tape. It has drastically improved my classroom! I no longer limit the number of students playing there and it always works great with very little arguing and lots of teamwork. I will be taking the idea of branches since they have been having so much fun building with plastic tubes!

The second thing I do is make sure I am not misinterpreting instances of physical or verbal contact between children as conflict.  I wait, observe, and try to read the children's faces and body language. Watch the video below to see what I mean.  Children are transferring pellets from a section of the table partitioned by Cardboard Dividers.  The boy in orange will give the boy in stripes a couple of body shoves.  


I watched and waited during this little incident to see if it would escalate.  It never did.  In the process, these children were learning about negotiating space, which is not always done verbally, but can also happen physically.  I do not subscribe to the rule I often hear in early childhood classrooms that children need to keep their  hands and bodies to themselves.  At this age, children are all about hand and body contact.   They learn to regulate their contact in real time in real contexts.  If I try to micro-manage all the physical contact that happens in the room, the children would not learn and I would drive myself crazy.

The third thing I do is to encourage and recognize Act of Kindness.  How is that done?  When I see a child needs help, I will ask another child if he can help him.   In the video below, I have asked the bigger child to help the younger child get the spoon out of the table.  He readily complies and even says: "Here you go."  The other child does not have much language, but his nonverbal reaction sure says thank you.  



Also, when I see a child being generous to another child, I make sure I let her know that what she did was very kind.  In the picture below, one child gives another child a water bead the second child has been coveting.  I made sure to tell the giver that it was really kind of her to find---and then to give---the coveted water bead the to other child.


With those three things, 95% of contact and interaction around the table is a non-starter in terms of conflict. 

So what about the other 5%?  That is Part II for next week's post.





Sunday, February 10, 2013

CONFERENCE THANK YOU

I would like to thank the 50+ who attended my presentation on sand and water tables at the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children annual state conference on Saturday. There was not a lot of time for questions; I tend have way too much material to present.  If you have lingering questions, please feel free to contact me with any of your questions.

Whenever I do a conference, I am always asked about how do I regulate children's behavior at the sensory table.  The answer may surprise you, but I do very little actual regulating at the sensory table.  I set up the apparatus---that is my creative outlet---and then I turn it over to the children, who do a very good job of self-regulating their own behavior.  If you want to learn more about my views on this topic, check out my post from October 13, 2011 entitled: SELF-REGULATION AT THE SENSORY TABLE.

When I was preparing the presentation this time, I had one goal in mind.  That was to inspire attendees to build on their own.  Though I presented many different apparatus and continue to post the new apparatus I build on this blog, those are just examples.  Copy if you want.  Someone said that is the highest form of flattery.  I think that if you build on your own ideas with the materials you have available using the framework of elements and dimensions featured on the right-hand column of this blog, you will be pleasantly surprised at your own capabilities.  Not only that, but you will also be pleased at how the children respond to your efforts.  What do you say to children who tell you they can't do something?  I would guess it would be something like: "Give it a try."  Or maybe: "I know you can do it.  Just try."

Let me give you just one example of something a colleague built using materials she had available.
The colleague works in an infant/toddler room.  She duct taped plastic baskets together and provided various lids so the children could insert them into the holes.  This does not look like anything I have ever built.  However, it does two things that line up with the framework on the right-hand column, namely: levels are created by stacking the baskets and plenty of holes are provided for play and exploration.

Build it and they will come.  You will be tempted to play yourself, but make sure you take time to step back to observe the flow of play.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

SNOW TUBES

I must be in a tube phase.  My last two posts included tubes. (Here and here.) This post is also about tubes in the sensory table.  This time, though, the tubes are combined with a new medium: snow.

For those of you who do not know, it snows in Minnesota in the winter.  Once or twice during the season, I will bring snow inside into the sensory table for the children to experience sans coats and mittens.  For playing in the snow, I provide the usual set of hodgepodge and doohickies.  This year I added various tubes to the mix of items on hand for the children to use.

There were the narrower, flexible tubes.  Besides children filling the narrow tubes with snow, the tubes became machines.  In the picture below, the tube is a vacuum to vacuum up the snow.

There were also the larger, less flexible tubes.  Those tubes were easier to fill with snow because they had a larger diameter.  Not only that, but because of their larger diameter, they were also good for accommodating other tubes.  In the picture below, the girl has inserted a smaller tube into the bigger black tube.  The result is that the snow in the tube is now pushed out the other end. That was an unexpected outcome for this child.

By far, the choice tubes were the clear, plexiglass tubes.  The children gladly filled them up with little or no prompting.  The great part of this operation was that they could easily measure their progress.

These filled tubes created columns of snow.  Notice that I have set up a wooden tray that spans the table as a platform on which to work above the sensory table.

Children often removed the tube resulting in a free-standing column of snow.  It often toppled right away, but even the fleeting column was a stunner for the children.

One child discovered that if he tipped the tube back and forth with some snow in it, the snow would slide from one end of the tube to the other.  Watch.



When I saw this child tipping the snow in the tube back and forth, I thought he was experiencing the weight shift as the snow went from one end of the tube to the other.  It was not until I tried it myself that I understood what else he was experiencing.  As the snow slid from one end of the tube to the other, the snow forced air---cold air, at that---out one side and then the other.  It totally surprised me.  Maybe that is why the child is smiling so much in the video.

What do you get with tubes as loose parts with snow?  Snow tubes, versatile contrivances rich in potential---and maybe a surprise or two.