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, March 19, 2017

Juneau

I was invited to Juneau, Alaska to be one of the featured speakers at their annual early childhood symposium.  Juneau is the capital of Alaska.  The population is a little over 30,000.  There are no roads in or out because it is surrounded by mountains that go on and on.  Here is a picture of the old downtown with Mount Juneau towering over the town.

I got to do a little sightseeing with the help of someone from Juneau involved in its early childhood organization (AEYC SE Alaska).  The highlight was walking two miles out to a glacier on a frozen lake and walking into a glacial ice cave.  I never knew glaciers were blue.

I was asked to do a building workshop and a couple of shorter presentations.  For me, the high point was the building workshop.  After I presented the participants with a generative framework for building, they could hardly wait to get started.
I am always impressed by the amount of cooperation, negotiation and accommodation that takes place in a workshop like this.   The ideas just seem to fly throughout the room both within building groups and between building groups.

Inevitably,  the participants create something unique and novel.  I think that is a function of the materials that are available and the unfolding of the social process of building.  Here are a just a couple of the novel things the participants built.

One group created a sand wheel from sturdy cardboard triangle pieces that were originally packing corners.  Besides the wheel, they had to come up with the axle.

Another group came up with a sliding incline.  They taped a inclined chute to a cardboard bracket they manufactured that slid up and down a sturdy cardboard tube.

One person even made a snake-like ramp by cutting pieces of paper towels tubes and taping them together.

The ideas are always inspiring to me.  Even more inspiring is watching someone who has never used a drill, pick it up and start drilling.  

I want to thank Joy Lyon, the executive director of SE Alaska AEYC, and her staff and board for letting me be part of their annual conference.  They are doing some great work for the children of SE Alaska and their enthusiasm is contagious.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sticks continued

Last week I wrote about how, over the years, there was a progression of sorts to how sticks were brought into the classroom and used at the sensory table.  At first, there were small sticks, rarely longer than 6 to 12 inches.  As time went on, I started bringing in big branches and even logs.  In the interest of safety, I would tape them down because I did not want them rolling off the table onto someone's foot.  Last week's post ended with the introduction of loose sticks that were tall and narrow and, more importantly, not tied down
For me that was a leap of faith because my mother drilled into me not to play with sticks because someone could get their eye poked out.  I have never stopped playing with sticks even though that dire warning has stayed with me to this day.

What I discovered was that the children handled the sticks with plenty of care and no one got hurt.  I was emboldened so I filled the table with sticks, branches and stumps---and none of them were taped down.  This is how the setup looked from one side...
And then from the other.

One of the things that changed was that the children started to examine the natural pieces of wood more carefully.





The sticks became tools with which to stir and pound.







Because they could move the sticks and branches, the children did.  They moved the wood around within the sensory table.

And outside the table.  This child took it upon himself to move every piece of wood he could lift out of the tables and onto the floor.  Why?  I suppose because he could.

Many of their operations with sticks, branches and stumps looked haphazard.  But were they?  The following video did show a child with some purpose.  He entered the video from the top with a wide branch.  He tentatively placed it on two branches that were already part of a balanced structure.  When he was sure his branch was balanced and would not fall, he stepped back and wiped his hands together like he has just done some hard work. 


Balancing branches from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Judging from his body language and without seeing his face, I think he was pretty pleased with what he had just accomplished.

For some children, the bigger branches and logs were used to test their strength.  In the video below the child lifted a big heavy maple log up onto the stump to roll it over the stump.  He first used the stump as a fulcrum to lift the log off the bottom of the table.  Then he lifted the log up every so slightly before balancing it on the stump.  The effort was palpable.  Once it was balanced on the stump, he re-positioned his hands so he could control the log as it rolled to the other side. 


Heavy lifting from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I would say this child was on the border between controlling the log and loosing control of the log.  Early in his endeavor, I moved in to help because I thought he would drop it on his finger.  Though I was close, I ended up not helping at all.  Instead, he shifted his hands and his body weight to keep the piece of maple log under control.  After he rolled the log to the other side, he brushed his hands together again, intimating that that was hard work and now it was done.

Since I started the first post on sticks, I have been thinking a lot about how the children handled the sticks, branches, logs and stumps.  More specifically, I was wondering how the children managed the wood pieces so well in the closed-in area of the sand and water table.

Children are attracted to sticks.  I could forbid their use in the classroom by simply not bringing them into the classroom.  Or I could offer the sticks as play things to the children so they can learn to use them for constructive pursuits of their own making.   To do that, they need the time and the agency to explore the possibilities of sticks within the social and physical context of the classroom and, in this case, the sensory table. However, that does not mean anything goes because, as the teacher, I am part of that context and my role is to know the children well enough that I can intervene when something looks too dangerous.  That said, I do not remember intervening even once with the sticks.  Maybe we had already built a play culture in the sensory area that precluded the probability of dangerous play with sticks.  Is that possible?

Let me leave you with a picture of my grandson dragging a stick that is twice his size along the Mississippi River.  He is also holding a shorter stick in his other hand.
Sticks are important to children.  I do not know why.  I do know they do increase their imprint on the world: sticks allow children to reach farther and higher.  Since they are so important maybe we should not forbid them, but figure out a context in which the children learn to use them constructively---even inside.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sticks

I started introducing sticks into the classroom at the sensory table at least 25 years ago.  At first, the sticks were small.
Many of the sticks I used in the classroom I had collected on my walks down by the Mississippi River with my own children.  

In the classroom, the children had no trouble figuring out what to do with the sticks.  For instance, in the sand, they would "plant" them to make miniature landscapes.

Or make sculptures by piling and balancing them on top of one another.  This child told me this was his house and wanted to make sure I saw it.

One child even took a stick, stuck it in the sand and added a tree knot over the end to make his own microphone.

Gradually I started to introduce larger sticks.  Actually, it might be more accurate to call them branches.  
Since I was not sure how the children would handle these bigger branches, I taped them down to the table so they could not be moved.  In the picture above, the two longer branches were taped to the lip of the table with black duct tape.  There was a smaller branch with three arms that I did not tape down.  It was an experiment to see how the children would handle a bigger, loose piece.

I went so far as to bring a log into the classroom.  This, too, I decided to tape down; I did not want it dropping on someone's foot.

About the same time I set up the log in the sensory table, I was walking down by the river and found some long narrow sticks.  What caught my eye was that some animal---a muskrat?---had chewed them down and ate much of the bark.  I gathered a bunch of the sticks and set them in a bin next to the sensory table.

In a way, this was a leap of faith on my part.  I was introducing long narrow sticks knowing that they would increase the children's personal space beyond what they were used to in the classroom.  These sticks were as tall, if not taller, than they were and when they handled them, what would happen?  Would they swing them around and hit someone?  Would they poke themselves?  Would they use them as swords?  What kind of mayhem would ensue?

So what happened?  There was no swinging or poking or even sword fighting.  Instead, the children found ways to manipulate the sticks and build with them.  Below is an example of one such episode.  One child is using the sticks to build bridges across the sensory table.


The child was being quite mindful of how he was handling the sticks.  He was even aware of the child on the other side of the table and asked him to move so he could put down more bridges.

I eventually cut up all those sticks into smaller pieces and ended up with a basket full of sticks measuring 3 to 6 inches.   When people saw these little sticks, they were impressed and thought I had worked very hard to make the marks with a knife.  No, those were marks made by an animal feeding on the bark. 

These sticks became a permanent fixture in my classroom.  They continued to be used in the sensory table with various apparatus.  However, their permanent residence was in the housekeeping area.  This was the time I got rid of the plastic food and started using more open-ended and natural materials in that area of the classroom.


Believe it or not, I am not done with the classroom experiments with sticks, but it will have to wait until next week.    Will the dreaded mayhem finally ensue?