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.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

MY CLASSROOM PHOTO OF THE YEAR

I take thousands of pictures in the classroom every year.  The ones you see are almost exclusively from the sensory table.  My pick for classroom photo of the year is a shot in a different area of my classroom.  It is an area of the room that most people would not consider a place of play and exploration.  The area encompasses green steps, a ledge, and the windows.
The ledge is three feet off the ground and a foot wide and accessed via the steps.  The children have appropriated this space for their own purposes.  Last year, I moved the color blocks to the windows so the children could look out to see the world in different colors if they so desired.

Now that you understand the space, here is my favorite classroom picture of the year.   I call it: Vestige of Play.
Are you surprised there are no children in the picture?  There are no children, but this picture reveals a  trace of something created by two children in the morning class.  The trace is rendered more impressive with the effects of the afternoon sun.

Like any good picture, there is a story.  The story begins with a serendipitous moment and weaves a continuing thread that actually lasts a couple of days.

It is cleanup time.  Two boys have been building with the color blocks on the ledge.  For cleanup, I ask them to put the color blocks back in the window.  Up until this point, the color blocks have resided in the lower window. One of the boys, who was not too thrilled about putting away the blocks, finally relents. But instead of putting the blocks in the lower window, he starts putting them in the higher window. He gives me a sideways glance as if to say: "If I am going to put them away, I will put them a way my way."  I just tell him: 'That works."  With no further prodding, they willingly stack the blocks in the higher windows.

This is what it looked like when they were done.  It was impressive, but when I came back in the afternoon, the sun had worked some magic to make it a stunning sight---and my classroom photo of the year.

The blocks were still in the window for the next class period the following day.  Two different boys asked about it.  They promptly took the color blocks down.  I did tell them that they had to take from the top.  After taking all the color blocks out of the window, they started to build again.
You notice they are not trying to make the edges line up with each other.  Rather, this is an exercise in free-form balancing of the blocks.

On the third day, another child noticed the blocks stacked in the two upper windows.  He set about stacking all the color blocks in one window.
Did you notice he is on his tippy toes on the bottom window ledge?  He is balancing the blocks while balancing himself.  That is quite a balancing act.  

During the next class, this window was taken down by some other children.  This all happened over the course of one week in the late fall.  The stairs, the ledge and the window are still open for play but have yielded to some other pursuits.

There is a second place photo of the year; it comes from the same area in the same week. Notice there are vents on the ledge.  Those are the blowers that circulate air in the room.   A child climbed up the steps to look out the window.  The blowers are blowing her hair and the color blocks are casting colored shadows all over her.  I call this picture: Color Me Free.

I am taking a week off from blogging.  I want to thank you all for a great year.  Come back again next year to see what is cooking at the sensory table.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

EXPLORING THE VERTICAL TUBES WITH ROPES

Whenever I present to others on the work I do at the sensory table, I am always asked: "Do you let the children build?"  I got a version of that question recently from Serious About Play on Facebook.  The question was: " How do you inspire invention at your sand and water table?  I used to get defensive when I was asked these questions because I consider myself a play advocate who values the children constructing their own knowledge both physically and cognitively.

I will admit that when I first started writing this blog, it was mainly a platform for me to share the things I build at the sensory table.   However, the more I document and the more I write, the more important it is form me to also show how children explore the apparatus.

Let's take some concrete examples from the latest apparatus: Tall Cardboard Tubes and Rope

Let's start with the rope.  The child in the video wants to see how long the blue rope is.  To do that, he pulls the rope hand-over-hand until he reaches the cabinets.  At that point, he turns sideways which actually makes it more difficult for him to find the rope as he crosses his body with his arm and hand to grab the rope each time.  Finally, he reaches his self-selected goal and pulls the rope taut.

How long is the rope? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There is a simple beauty in that little bit of exploration.  And besides, he has created a way to take a measure of the rope.

The space was provisioned with carabiners, S-hooks and pails so the children could hook things onto the rope.  They certainly did that, but they did it in ways I did not expect.  In the video below, the child first scoops from a pail hanging from a S-hook and a carabiner.  Notice that he has to steady the pail in order to spoon the pellets.  He then decides to dump the pellets back into the table. He has to pull the whole pail back over the table. He uses both hands, but then he places his left arm under the pail and his right hand on the lip to tip the pail.   As he finishes emptying the bucket, he gently releases the bucket to swing back into place almost as if he is anticipating the subsequent motion.

Swinging pail from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

We have never had swinging pails in the classroom yet this child is quite adept at working with such a configuration.   Why is that?

I would say the tall vertical tubes were the focal point of most of the activity.  That included the bottom of the tube.  Watch the following video to see the child is using a stick to extract pellets from the bottom of the tube.  She uses her hand near the end but then goes back to using the stick.

Scraping pellets with a stick from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Not only is this child showing persistence in her actions, but she has also created her own tool to realize those actions.

Many children would pour pellets down the top of the tube.   In the picture below, the child is both pouring pellets into the top of the tube and he has stuck his hand in one of the holes to feel the pellets fall on his hand as they travel down the tube.
This child has created a new sensory experience for himself by completing a cycle of pouring pellets through the top hole of the tube and then sticking his hand in a hole lower on the tube so he can feel the falling pellets he has just poured.  

My biggest surprise was that the apparatus became a climber.  
That should not have surprised me, though.  This a vertical structure so why wouldn't the children explore it vertically?  Besides, if you are pouring pellets into the top of the tube, wouldn't you want to see where they go?   

I did make one request for this type of exploration: I asked the children not to step into the table itself.   In response to my request, one child created a path across one corner of the table using stools.  She steps on the stools on one side of the table and then onto the lip on that same side. She steps over the corner of the table onto the lip on the other side before stepping down onto the stools on that side.


The stools, of course, make it easier for her to step up on the lip of the table and subsequently pour pellets down the top of the tube.  Maybe the "stool pathway" is a natural extension of that exploration.

Did you see the boy step in the table?  After putting one foot in the table, he quickly readjusts his body and his foot so he is not stepping in the table..  As you saw, his purpose was to also cross the table and he figured out a way to do it by avoiding stepping outright into the table. He did not have to but he had internalized my request and figuratively and physically balanced his actions to comply and still complete his own undertaking: crossing over the table.

I am not as defensive as I used to be when people ask me if I let the children build.  As you can see, the apparatus I build are invitations to the children to explore.   Those invitations allow the children to bring all their capabilities and capacities to bear in order for them to make sense of the structure, the space, the provisions and each other.  And so often the understanding they author is astonishing. 

P.S.  I do have to say that children do build with many of the loose parts they discover at the sensory table.
OK, maybe I am still a little defensive.

  







Saturday, December 7, 2013

TRACKING AN IDEA FROM INCEPTION TO OUTCOME

I have never mapped out how an idea is realized.  That is because it is not always clear to me how it all comes together.   However, with Tall Cardboard Tubes with Rope---the latest apparatus--I have a clear, yet convoluted, view of how this apparatus came to fruition.

The seed for the idea was planted by a post back in June 2011 by Juliet Robertson at Creative Star Learning.  She wrote a piece called A rope trail for everyone.  Juliet's posts often jettison me back to my childhood when I was outside everyday, often down by the Mississippi River.  In our play, we used many of the things Juliet writes about.  The post on ropes hit a cord---pun intended--so I resolved to build an apparatus indoors at the sensory table for ropes.  

I forgot about the idea, but in December of 2011, Juliet again wrote about using ropes.  This post was called Reflections on ropes.  In that post, Juliet writes: "There is something about rope that just makes it fun and appealing to children of all ages. The more I use it, the more I learn about its potential, particularly for group and cooperative work."   At that point, I redoubled my resolve to make a rope apparatus for the sensory table.

In Juliet's posts, the trees were the anchors for the ropes.  Since I could not bring trees inside, I imagined building a framework over and around the table.  Attached to the framework on two sides and the top would be panels with holes. I thought the side panels would be 18 to 24 inches taller than the height of the table so the top panel would be higher than the table itself creating a space under the structure for play.  The panels with holes would be the anchors through which the children would pull and tug the rope.  Here is a crude drawing of how I envisioned the apparatus.
There was one problem that kept bothering me: how to make it strong enough to withstand the tugs and pulls of children on the rope.

In the winter of 2012, I was in a large hardware store.  I was attracted to pieces of pegboard that were on sale.  I thought these would make the perfect panel for an apparatus for ropes.  The existing holes in the pegboard offered the opportunity I was looking for in a panel.  I bought several pegboard panels---they were on sale, after all.  

The pegboard sat in the basement for a couple of months taunting me to build the apparatus.  I have found that to build anything, I need to start the building process, otherwise doubts keep popping up about the feasibility of the construction.  Even knowing that, I still could not get over the nagging problem of how to make it strong enough.

In the meantime, I remembered an apparatus I had built in October 2012 that was a platform on which the children could mix and pour.  The apparatus was called Aksel's tray.
This was basically a large wooden tray set between two sensory tables that allowed the children to mix and pour hands-free on a comfortable level.

Remembering the tray, I wondered if I could set up a piece of pegboard over the table as a platform to the children to work on.  Thus, the Pegboard platform was born.

At this point, the pegboard had already dropped out of contention for building an apparatus for ropes because the actual breakthrough I needed to envision the rope apparatus came a month or so earlier after I made an apparatus called Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  
The actual "aha" moment came when I was drilling the holes in the horizontal tubes.  It occurred to me that if these long tubes with holes were set on the vertical around the table, they would constitute "trees" and serve as anchors for the ropes.  There was only one problem.  I had a viable idea but I did not have the materials because I had used the long cardboard tubes I had on hand for the Vertical Boxes with Horizontal Tubes.  

In June of this year, just as the school year was ending, I got The Ideal Gift.  The ideal gift was a small cardboard tube given to me by a student.  At about the same time, a colleague brought me several large cardboard tubes.  Those larger tubes provided me with just what I needed to to build the rope apparatus: long and sturdy cardboard tubes.  More than two years after the seed was planted the apparatus was built.

If you are a detail person and checked the dates for the posts I have mentioned leading up to the realization of the rope apparatus, you will notice that the dates actually jump back and forth.   That is how my mind works.  The pegboard platform actually happened after I figured out that placing the tubes on the vertical would work for the rope apparatus.  Because I no longer needed the pegboard for the rope apparatus, it was freed up to be used in another apparatus, the pegboard platform.  But I would not have had one without the other.  Does that make any sense?

Make no mistake about it; building things for the sensory table is a chance for me to play.   Not only do I think it is vitally important for children to play in the classroom, but I think adults need to play, too.  I was telling a parent a couple of weeks ago that the sensory table is my playground and when I am done building, I turn it over to the children to use as their playground.  One of the children heard me and took me to task saying that the sensory table was too small to be a playground.   I stand corrected.  It is my play space that then becomes the children's play space.    

This post is an experiment of sorts.  Instead of giving an idea for you to play with, I tried to show you how I played with an idea.  It was fun for me, but I have no idea if was of any value to you.  If you feel so inclined, let me know either way and I will be the wiser.