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, August 31, 2013

THANKS FOR BEING A GOOD LISTENER

This summer I read a chapter in the third edition of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation that blew me away.  The chapter was called: "The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia" by Carlina Rinaldi.  This chapter has forced me to ask serious questions about what it means to listen in the classroom.

According to Rinaldi, listening is a reciprocal endeavor in which the outcome in the "listening context" is not predetermined.  It means participants suspend judgement and are willing to change their point of view after hearing the other's ideas or thoughts.  Participants must not be so invested in their own point of view that their only purpose is to sway the other to his or her way of thinking. That means when I am listening to you, I am not just going through the motions so I can figure out a way to bring you on board to my way of thinking.  My ultimate purpose is not to convince you that my way of thinking is right; in dialogue, I am willing to try to understand your ideas by asking questions first rather than immediately responding with my thoughts.  In fact, we may continue to disagree, but in true listening exchanges, we come to appreciate each other's point of view. Rinaldi states: "To be open to others means to have the courage to come into this room and say, 'I hope to be different when I leave, not necessarily because I agree with you but because your thoughts have made me think differently.'" (p. 236).
  
So what does that mean for listening in the classroom?  It is not simply to talk at the children and expect them to listen.  In fact, that type of listening shows little respect for the children's competencies and simply asks them to be obedient, to be "a good listener."   If it is indeed reciprocal, then I need to engage in dialogue with the children as they search for meaning in their thoughts and in their actions.  My job is not to give them the answers, but to question, challenge, and accept their ideas.  By doing so, I show respect for their capacity to make sense of their world.  By the way, listening does not happen exclusively on the verbal plane.  Just as there are many languages or ways for children to express themselves, there should be many ways to listen and show we are listening.  Some of that comes in the form of documentation because by documenting the children's work, the children feel we value their thoughts and "...we give value to them as unique individuals who are saying something important; they feel how important they are to us." (p. 242)

When I look over my documentation for an example of listening, it is not so clear to me.  I offer the following video as a possible example.  It first appeared in a post from April 2011 called Horizontal Channels and the Infectiousness of Play.  The video starts with one boy vigorously rolling his car back and forth over the sand.  As he does that, one-by-one the children at the table around him notice and quickly join in until there is a crescendo of joyful activity and sound.

Infectiousness of Play from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Does this represent the children listening to each other or simply following another child's lead? There is really no overt reflection on the part of the children.  Is that an important part of listening?

As you can see, I am still left with questions.  Here are a few more.

     *What does reciprocal listening look like?
     *Can this type of listening be both active and passive?
     *How does a teacher foster or encourage reciprocal listening throughout the classroom?
     *Especially in the non-vebal realm, what are some of the different forms of reciprocal listening?
     *Does there have to be a connection/relationship before participants can listen to each other?
     *Do you need common ground for reciprocal listening?

As the new school year begins, I will look for ways to listen to the children and to show them I am listening.  I will also look for ways children are already listening to themselves and to each other. And hopefully, we can discover multiple ways to dialogue and reflect on each other's thoughts and actions. If we are able to do that, we will build a learning community as we construct our knowledge of the world and of each other.

As a teacher I can't tell you how many times I have said to the children: "Thanks for being a good listener."  My colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, who has visited Reggio Emilia several times, pointed out that this teacher phrase is essentially praising the children for being obedient.  (How would you feel if someone asks you: "Are you being a good listener?")  Since I am not looking for obedience, I will discard this teacher phrase.  What will I replace it with? Maybe I don't need to replace it; being a good listener is what I need to do.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

RUMINATIONS ON INCLINES

Many years ago, a mom brought in the packing corners from a refrigerator box.  The packing corners were v-shaped and very sturdy---they did, after all, have to protect the corners of the refrigerator.  She asked me if I could use them.  I am never one to turn down a donation, especially if it means recycling or reusing something.  The truth be told, though, I did not know what I would do with them other than set them up somehow at the sensory table.

Now let me give you a little idea about how my mind works.  After looking at the packing corners for a week, a childhood memory popped into my head.  When I was five or so, my parents remodeled the bathroom in our house.  As part of the remodeling, the bathroom floor was raised about two inches creating a small ramp from the bathroom floor to the hallway floor.  I used that little ramp for rolling cars and marbles down for hours on end.

Because of that memory, I decided to tape the packing corners together and set them on an incline.  It was a very simple arrangement.  I did not know how the children would use it.  Silly me, there was no need to worry because they knew exactly what to do with the inclines just like I did so many years ago with a small incline.

But how did they know what to do?  And why was I fascinated so many years ago by a small incline?  Was it a sense of agency of setting things in motion and seeing what happens?  

As the children continued to play with the inclines, they taught me a couple of things.  One of the first things they taught me was that an incline can connect children in their operations.  Below is a picture of two children connected by the incline.  The boy is pouring sand down and the girl is catching it at the bottom.  
This play actually had a trajectory because the boy kept pouring more sand down faster.  The result was that the force of the sand was so great that it knocked the bowl right out of the girl's hand.  You want to know how these two reacted to this joint venture?  With great delight.

Not only do an inclines connect children in play, they also create a continuum of levels.  That is important because children can enter play at any level along the continuum.  Below you see a picture of four children, each at a different level on the continuum of the incline.  They are creating a cascade of pellets by each taking turns blocking the pellets as they flow down the incline.  
That takes a fair amount of cooperation and coordination, but all made possible by the continuum. Do they know it is a continuum?  I don't think so, but because of their play, we can see the continuum of levels quite clearly.

They taught me one final thing about the incline: there is great joy in rolling things down the incline.


Play with the incline does not get much better than this?  Feel the joy!   







Saturday, August 17, 2013

RUMINATIONS ON BOX TOWERS

Several years ago, we got a new fan for the office area.  It came in a tall, vertical box.  My first thought was to set it up in the sensory table on the vertical; I envisioned a Box Tower.  To give it stability, I embedded it in a low, rectangular box.  To give the children something to do, I cut holes in the top, on the sides, and on the bottom of the box.


When I finished building the Box Tower, I thought: What in the world are the children going to do with this thing? To me it looked pretty boring.

So what did the children do with the it?  Well, they put sand in the holes that were higher on the apparatus and dug sand out of the holes on the bottom.  They also put objects in the higher holes and retrieved them from the bottom holes.

Big whoop, right?  Actually it was a big deal for the children.  It was at this point that I began to see that holes were important to children.  They were so important they fostered Axiom 5 in the right-hand column of the blog.  Namely, children are compelled by their very nature to put things in holes.

So what is it about holes that compels children to put stuff in them---and take stuff out of them?  I have two theories.  The first one is that holes for children are magical.  If you drop something down a hole, it disappears.  (This type of magic is especially true for the younger children.)

If you dig in a hole, you are sure to find something.

Things disappearing and reappearing fits the definition of magic pretty well for young children.  If that is not magic, then what is?

My second theory is that children animate the holes; through the the children's imagination the holes take on a life of their own.  For the Box Tower, what that usually means is that the apparatus is a machine and by putting stuff in the holes, the children can make anything they want.  The only limit is their imagination---which is not very limiting.  I wanted to record some of their fabrications, so I put large sheets of paper on the wall next to the Box Tower to record what they said.  Below is a picture of those recording sheets.
As you can see the list is quite imaginative.  By putting sand in the holes of the Box Tower, they make everything from pancakes to dog food; chocolate pie to a berry pot.  (At other times they made cement, popcorn, and even smoothies.)  Not only that, they came up with many different ingredients---some real and some not so real---such as chocolate chips, milk, and  "oint," a special kind of sugar.  Oh, and don't forget the secret and special ingredients---which may fall under the rubric of more advanced magic.

From this example, you can see that children animate the holes the same way they animate any inanimate object.  People, animals, and cars come alive in children's minds and hands.   So do holes.  As adults, most of us have lost that ability to animate the inanimate the way we did as children.  The point is that children make the holes come alive because they can---and in ways only they understand.   It is best to join them for the ride.

Do you have any theories about why children like to put things in---or take things out---of holes?


Saturday, August 10, 2013

RUMINATIONS ON CARDBOARD DIVIDERS

"That's my shovel, give it back."

"Don't take my pail."

"Teacher, she took all the sand and won't let me have any."

Does that sound like something you might hear at the sand table?  It is those types of pleadings that got me thinking: Is there a way to divide the sand table to eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of squabbles?  At the time, I had a very small sand table that was three feet by three feet and only stood a foot off the ground. How does one partition a table that small?  With cardboard.


Using a big enough box, cut out two sides so you have two sheets of cardboard.  Trim the sheets so they match the length and width of the table.







Cut slits halfway up each piece in the middle, one slit cut from the bottom and one from the top (picture on the left). Now slide the two pieces together to make four areas (picture on the right).





The whole thing is then secured into the table with duct tape.  The seams are also taped to give the dividers more stability.
If you notice there are holes cut in the cardboard.  I did that on purpose. Although I wanted to cut down on the squabbles, I did not want to eliminate social interaction.

What was the result of installing dividers in the table?  It really did eliminate some of the conflict. In fact, the spaces created by the cardboard dividers seemed to enhance the children's focus when they are operating in their own little cubicles.  (Working in cubicles, is that a life skill?)

It did not prevent the hoarding.

Whenever I observe children interacting with an apparatus, I am always surprised with the operations they dream up.  For instance, in the picture below the child is playing in two different spaces partitioned by the cardboard.  In fact, he is using the divider as a part of  his operation.
The child is transferring sand from one space to the next using the cut out window.  What motivated him to do that?  An OT person might say this is a good example of crossing the midline.  The child is also working on body awareness because he is not following his right arm with his eyes, but is using proprioception to know what his right arm is doing.  But what is it about this apparatus that encouraged this type of operation?

Sometimes it is easy to see that the child is the agent for the interplay between materials and the apparatus.  That agency is sometimes quite imaginative and quite practical.  For example, the photo below shows that a child has figured out he can hang the measuring cups by their handles on the divider so he can fill them hand-free.
But how exactly did this child come up with this idea?  Would you have thought of this?  I sure didn't.  Now that a child has taught me, though, I can pass it on as a provocation for others.

Do the dividers foster more solo play or more social play?  Look closely at the picture below. There are four children working in for four spaces with one child, cup in hand, waiting in the wings. How much of the play is individual and how much is in concert with others?  I am not exactly sure. I do know the boy in purple and yellow on the right end is filling the container through the window for the boy in orange who is contentedly watching his friend's actions.   Interestingly, the boy doing the pouring cannot see where the container is and how much more is needed to fill the container. He is essentially relying on the boy in orange for direction. Now that is a sophisticated endeavor.
When I look at the other two children in the middle spaces, their play seems more individual, although I can't imagine they do not know someone is on the other side of their actions.  They are just not as synchronized in their actions.

One the biggest surprises for me with this apparatus was that it prompted the age-old game of peek-a-boo.  What an excellent surprise to see who was on the other side.
Often times that game can get quite animated and even physical and can involve more than two children.

I started out to make a simple apparatus to partition the sensory table to cut down on the squabbles.    Once the children got ahold of it, though, it became dynamic.  Part of that was because of the spaces it created, but the biggest part was what the children did in, around, and through those spaces. The apparatus was not so dynamic as the children who played with its potential to spawn unique types of play.  And for some reason, the squabbles were pretty much a thing of the past.  Not bad for a couple of pieces of cardboard.



Saturday, August 3, 2013

WET SHOES AND SPATIAL LITERACY

Last week I wrote Ruminations on a Tray.  It was an introduction to a simple construction of a wooden tray that spanned the width of the sand and water table.  I built it to prevent water dripping down smocks into shoes because when children are first learning to pour they either miss or overfill their containers which they usually hold against their chest.  I thought if I could provide a play zone that allowed the children to pour hands-free there would be no more wet shoes.

Believe it or not, there are still plenty of wet shoes because many children still choose to hold the cups against their chest as they pour. 

So what do wet shoes have to do with spatial literacy?  Not much to tell the truth, but by building an apparatus to prevent wet shoes, I began to see children navigate through the spaces created by the apparatus with focus and facility.  In fact, the levels seem to serve as an invitation for them to create transfers of stuff between multiple levels.  

The more I observed children, the more they demonstrated what master investigators of space they are  as they experience the different spaces created by the different levels.  There are at least three different ways children explore space with levels.

First, they can experience the same vertical space on different levels at the same time.  In the picture below, the girl in the stripes is working in the same space as the child in the blue, just up a level or two. Another way to say that is they are working on the same vertical plane.
If you look closely at the hood of the boy in blue, you can see there may be a disadvantage to experiencing the same vertical space on a lower level.  

Second, they can experience the same horizontal space on the same level at the same time.  The two girls below are working on the opposite sides of the same tray.  That is to say, they are operating in the same horizontal space or same horizontal plane.
These two children are both burying their hands and arms in the corn.  At this point, neither has recognized what the other is doing.  All of a sudden their hands touch under the corn.  They both look up and across at each other immediately understanding what just happened.  It was one of those priceless moments that brought a smile to each of their faces.  

Third, the children can actually play on the same level in the same space at the same time.  The picture below shows three children scooping corn from the top tray.   However, the children do not operate on that top level exclusively.  Rather, they take the corn from the top and then transport it to a different level on which they are doing their own thing.  Think of the top tray as a common well from which each is drawing corn.   
Can you imagine the amount of accommodation and negotiation---verbal and non-verbal---that the children exercise when working along side each other like this?   Since they are in the same space, they are practically on top of each other.  I especially appreciate the where-with-all of the girl, who happens to be the littlest and who has to stand on a stool to reach over and through the boys to get her corn. 

Is all this work with levels the children's natural inclination to develop some spatial literacy?  They are certainly learning about how their body works in complex spaces with levels, but are they also laying the groundwork for important spacial knowledge needed to navigate their future world? Such things as location, distance to objects and people, relationships within spaces, ???  I like to believe there is much more going on than just messing around.  Your thoughts?