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, February 28, 2015

HORIZONTAL TUBES IN BOXES

There are three main orientations I think about when I am about to build.  You can see them on the right-hand column of the blog.  For the current apparatus, I decided to set cardboard tubes horizontally through two boxes.
This was harder to do than it looks.  The biggest challenge for me was lining up the holes to make the tubes as level as possible.  I did an initial hole on one side of one box and then measured where the hole was and then used those measurements to make a hole on the other side of the box.  The second box was a different size, so I had to do it all over again.  Since there were four tubes that meant I had to repeat the process a total of four times.  By the fourth tube I was tired and was not as concerned about how level the tube was.  The fact is I may have made it harder than it looks,  My colleague, who sews, told me I should have made a pattern.  I will tuck that tidbit away for the next time.

The tubes extend beyond both ends of the blue sensory table.  To catch the pellets coming out of the tubes, I set up a smaller, clear sensory table on one end and a big blue tub on the other.  That way, I was able to add more levels to the apparatus.  All but one end of one tube is notched to give the children easy pouring access into the tubes.
The two larger tubes on the bottom also have cut-aways and holes to increase access and viewing for the children.

Below is a picture of the shelves with the provisions for this apparatus.  Note that there are extra tubes and homemade plungers of various sizes and lengths.
The plungers are jar lids screwed onto dowels.  Many of the dowels I use are old broom or shovel handles.

This apparatus creates a lot of spaces for children to explore. There are spaces the children can look into and there are spaces they can reach into.





There are spaces between and under and there are spaces that are between and over.




Not only do the children explore any and all the the spaces, they also author operations that are particular to this apparatus and the provisions.  Let's look at just a couple having to do with the plungers.

The first operation is one that you might expect: a child pushes the pellets through the tube with a plunger.

Pushing the pellets through the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did you notice the reaction of the child on the other end?  At first, it looks like he moves to catch the pellets but, in the end, he helps the first child unstick the plunger head that was caught on the end of the tube.

After working with the plunger in and out of the cardboard tube, this child noticed that he could see his actions in the mirror.  He showed the greatest interest in motion of the plunger on the other end of the tube.
In other words, he was referencing his actions remotely.

Children not only author a given operation, but often times they fabricate the reverse operation. Instead of pushing the pellets through the tubes, a child will scrape them out.

Pulling the pellets out with the plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was impressed with how purposeful and fluid she was in her actions.

I will leave you with one final video.  To understand the video you need to know that I am part of the action.  Besides filming, I am on the opposite end of the tube from the child.  I also have a plunger and I am pushing it through the same tube as this child.  Watch his reactions to this little game we have created.

plunger game from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I have said many times that after I build an apparatus, I give it over to the children to make it their own. I guess that is not entirely true because, as you can see, I sometimes play, too.  Why should the children have all the fun?


Saturday, February 21, 2015

SUDS PAINTING

What is one of the messiest invitations you set up at the sensory table?  For me, Suds Painting has to be one of the messiest.  Just take a look at this picture from December of 2007.
You can see suds paint up to this child's elbows and covering every cup, pot and jello mold in the table.

I used to set this provocation up every year.  For some unknown reason, I had not set it up since 2011, so I decided to set it up this year.  When I set it up, though, there were a few changes.  In the table, I set up the new Channel Board I built earlier this year.
As you can see, I used a wooden tray that spans the width of the table to prop the channel board on an incline.  The incline is purposeful so suds flow down the channel.  Watch as this child pumps suds onto the incline.  When he has to reposition the dispenser so he can continue to pump suds, he stops briefly to focus on the suds flowing down the channel.  It is a nice little a-ha moment.


From this same video, you can see another change to the provocation this year: I supplied foaming soap dispensers so the children could create their own suds more easily.  When the children first arrived at the setup, paint and suds were already mixed together in separate paint pots so they could start mixing in other containers right away.

Before long, though, they were adding their own suds to the pots.

In years past, the children have spent a lot of time painting loose objects like pots and pans.  This year, the channel board setup became an important object to paint.  That included the top, the sides, the bottom and even the tray.
Since I grew up in the 60s, I can't help but think the best word to describe this painting creation is psychedelic.

When the children painted the channel board, there was not so much mixing because, as you can see, the colors remained fairly true to the original colors in the pots.  That was the exception, though, because there was an awful lot of mixing.  This year, there were even a couple of self-declared "professional mixers." The video below begins with the child declaring that she and her friend are professional mixers. She goes on to say: "We love to mix something.  We always get our hands dirty, so we can mix."  

On this particular day, mixing was serious for this child.  You can see it in the vigor with which she stirs and you can hear it in the excitement in her voice.  She stayed with suds painting for almost an hour. When her mom came back after class, the child told her that, for the first time ever, she did not even stop to eat snack.  Did I say she was serious?

I started this post by saying this is one of the messiest invitations I set up at the sensory table. Just to prove it, here is a short video of two children asking each other if they want a "wash-off." The first child uses a soapy brush on the other's forearm.  The second child reciprocates by putting clean suds on the first child's forearm. 


In the process of "cleaning" themselves, they are also making up their own word: "wash-off".  A "wash-off" with a paint brush full of painty suds is only possible in a child's world.  Many adults just see a mess.  This particular adult, however, sees a glorious mess created with the time, space and agency to bask in the productive joy of their own making. 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS

I never really know what to expect when I run a session that is billed as a building workshop. There are always plenty of raw materials like cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and duct tape; there are simple tools like utility knives and saws.  And I introduce the building framework that I use when I build (see the righthand column of this blog). Since it is an open-ended process, though, there is no way to know what the participants will build.  All the materials, the tools and the ideas I present have no meaning until participants turn the inert into inertia by going through the building process themselves.

In a recent conference building session, I came away with the following reflections.

BABY STEPS
Start with a simple construction.  If you are relatively knew to the building process, do not begin with your masterpiece.  Some of the most dynamic apparatus I have built are also the simplest.  How about a tube through a box?
This is very simple, but still poses some decisions and challenges.  The decisions begin with the orientation of the tube: will it be on an incline, vertical or horizontal?  Challenges include how to make the holes so the tube actually goes through and how do you tape around the circular tube to make it stay put inside the box.

BE WILLING TO MAKE CHANGES AS YOU GO ALONG
In this particular workshop, one group wanted to cut the cardboard tube lengthwise to create two half tubes.  
This is doable, but hard given allotted time and the tools that were on hand.  This group was not afraid to change the plan midway through the process.  They cut the tube, but only four inches in and created a notch in the tube.  (The notch is valuable because it allows better pouring access for the children.)

THERE IS EXCITEMENT IN BUILDING IN A ROOM OF BUILDERS
The hum and the buzz is electrifying.  To be sure, it is not a competition, but a place and a time to experiment and to share insights.

NEGOTIATE AND ACCOMMODATE
I overheard one person tell another building partner: "Oh, is that what you meant?  I thought you meant…"
Sounds to me like they were practicing a skill that we ask children to engage in all the time.  

WHAT WILL THE CHILDREN DO WITH IT?
When asked about how the children will use the apparatus, some flat out said they did not know. Eureka!  We may have some idea how the children might use the apparatus, but ceding control to the children once the apparatus is done is what it is all about. 
The next step is to observe how the children use the apparatus.  When I observe, I learn about how the children make meaning out of the contraption and, in the process, get other ideas for extending learning invitations for the children.

CREATIVITY
We all want it.  We all got it.  Creativity is an interesting phenomenon.  It is not inert and can only be realized in action.  So why don't we see it in ourselves?  Everything that participants built in this session was created, thus creative.

So what stops us from creating?  Are we afraid that we are not creative enough?  Jeanne, from Museum Notes, alludes to one quality that is needed when she talks about an 'experimental mindset.'  One of the features includes not knowing the outcome, but willing to engage in the process.  Another feature of the mindset is to be open in that process so you can be "... alert to fortuitous accidents and unintended consequences–and make good use of both."  

As adults, our experimental mindset is not as fluid nor as flexible as that of a child so we need to work at it a little harder.   The effort to enter into that mindset is well worth it, though, because it is the portal into the child's mind.