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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.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I used to set up a swamp every fall in my sensory table with leaves, water, and plastic bugs.  In 2011, I added big sticks and a log.  That became Swamp II.   Since that time, I have not written about creating a swamp.  I felt it was time to bring back the swamp to infuse some new elements from nature into the classroom.  For Swamp III, I brought in stumps, logs, big sticks, rocks, and leaves.
To the natural elements, I added realistic plastic bugs, beetles, frogs, and snakes.  The swamp was not complete, though, until I added the water.

Children approached the swamp in many different ways.  Some children dug right in and others used the tools and implements to explore what was in the table. 

The child below used tongs to handle a plastic brown snake she plucked out of the swamp.

The children lifted and held the logs and sticks much like they would have if they were to find them in the woods or on the beach. They got to feel their weight and texture.   

One child experimented with balancing the logs and sticks on each other using the small table as a base.

Another child went so far as to take all the logs and sticks he could lift out of the table and pile them on the floor.
These logs and sticks were all different; they were not uniform in shape, size, or weight.  Handling each one was a different exercise in strength and balance.  There was also an aural component as the child dropped the stump onto the pile and hit the other pieces of wood on the pile. 

Another child even tried to lift the second heaviest piece out of the table.  It was a maple log that was quite heavy.  Watch.

I was terribly conflicted when I made this video.  I knew the log was heavy, too heavy for him to lift it safely out of the table.   I was afraid he would loose control of it and it would drop on his leg or foot. On the other hand, I wanted to see if he could measure his own strength accurately.  About midway through the video, the camera frame rose so I lost part of the action.  That was because I needed to move in closer in case I would have to help.  In the end, he decided for himself that the log was too heavy to lift.  Instead, he rolled it over the stump to the other side of the table.  In doing so, he took care that he never lost control of the log as it rolled.  Not only did he demonstrate that he could measure his own strength, but he demonstrated that he could control this heavy log to the end of his operation.   

Just think of all the things that could have happened in this episode.  I ask you now: Was it too dangerous for the classroom? Was the risk worth the benefit?

From the dangerous to the prosaic. Children scooped the water and leaves to make their own concoction.  One group took to calling the swamp water "toilet water."  You can imagine the silliness that ensued around this potty talk.

The plastic animals provided some children with an avenue for role playing.  The child pictured below animated the family of frogs she collected on the stump.

In essence, this is a science table.  Not the kind of science table that is a display for the children to look at.  No, this is a science table for the children to actively engage in exploration.  It is true that it is a contrived space that is a poor imitation of nature, but the children are still able to conduct personal investigations in the spirit of science in which content and process are inseparable. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015


In the March 1994 issue of the Child Care Information Exchange, Loris Malaguzzi wrote:
"We need to produce situations in which children learn by themselves,
in which children can take advantage of their own
knowledge and resources autonomously... (p. 54)"

In a recent piece from the Bing Nursery School at Stanford, Colin Johnson wrote:
"...through the lens of inquiry—of valuing internal, cognitive interactions 
with materials—playing with water is the perfect foundation for scientific thinking 
because it increases children’s tendency to spend more time 
noticing, wondering and exploring."

I want to share a video with you that illustrates both of these points.  I took the video as I watched a child explore one section of a recent apparatus: Trash Bin II.  
The section the child explores in the video is the bin on the left with the funnels and black hoses.

The hoses drop into the bin from the funnels; exit about midway down the bin; and are strapped around the outside of the bin.  
Because the paths of the hoses are partially hidden within the apparatus, a child has to do some research to understand how the apparatus works.

The video shows one child at the sensory table.  There were many more earlier, but this child has been at the table for at least 30 minutes trying to figure out where the water comes out when he pours it into each and every tube and funnel.  

As the video starts, he is looking at the water trickling out the black hose near the bottom of the right side of the left bin.

He scoops some water in his plastic measuring cup from the table to pour into the beige funnel.  In the process of pouring he says: "Watch this one come out."

He is already anticipating where it will come out, so when he pours, he immediately looks to his right to the bottom of the bin on that side.

He steps off his stool and crouches down to watch the water come out of the hose.

At this point, something amazing happens, he starts to trace the paths of the two hoses with his eyes and his hands.   He first traces the hose that has the water coming out.  He realizes that there is a second hose.  He points up at the black funnel and says that it goes around here... 

...as he continues tracing the second hose with his hands and his eyes.
Here is the video clip.

The child is not talking to me.  He is verbalizing his thoughts as he is executing them.  This child is constructing knowledge right before our very eyes.  He is learning by himself through internal, cognitive interactions with the materials.  Or, does his external, physical interactions with the materials usher in the internal, cognitive interactions with the materials?  Or, is there an interplay between the two that can't---or shouldn't---be separated?  Or, does one augment the other in an intricate dance.  In any case, his thinking is clearly visible in the movie clip .

I showed the video to the child's parents.  They realized very quickly what their child was doing and were duly impressed.  That is all the more true because whenever they would ask him what he did in school, he would basically say nothing.  The parents now have a different picture of their child at school.  They now have a picture of him as a competent scientist.

I will be taking a week off from my blog.  I will be at the NAEYC national conference in Orlando this next week.  If you are interested in hearing about building apparatus in and around the sensory table, I am on the docket for 8:00 Thursday morning.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Why am I never satisfied with keeping an apparatus the same?  Part of the reason is because when I observe how children use an apparatus, their explorations yield new questions.  The Trash Bin apparatus is a good example.  Below is the first iteration.
Two trash bins are placed upside down in the sensory table.  One trash bin has a large hole in the middle and the other has black hoses woven through it.  Funnels are connected to the hoses at the top of the bin.  A clear plastic tube on a slant connects the two bins.

Two different observations of the children's play spawned two different questions .  The first observation actually came from play with a previous multiple tray apparatus, 
What I noticed from this apparatus is that children were attracted to water dropping from a height, in this case, the water falling out of the tube into the tray below.

The second observation was the seemingly lack of interest in the big hole in the middle of the one trash bin.  To me it looked so inviting, but the children were more interested in the funnels, hoses and tubes.

From those observations these two questions emerged.  1)What would happen to the children's play if I increased the height of the drop?  2)Would the hole be more inviting if I raised the elevation of the hole so it would be at eye level for the children?   To answer my questions, I disconnected the two trash bins by removing the clear plastic tube.  I turned the trash bin with the hole around and placed it on a planter tray that spanned the width of the table. 
I cut the clear tube in half and reinserted one half into the trash bin so it would empty---at height---into a tub next to the table.

There were changes made in the second trash bin, too.  The other half of the clear tube was inserted back into the bin so that the end emptied into a tub at the end of the table.  After the hoses exited the bin, they were wrapped around the trash bin itself.  They were held in place with zip ties looped around the hoses and tightened to the bin from the inside.
Here is a view from inside the bin.  You can see the clear plastic tube; the black hoses entering and exiting the bin; and three ends of the zip ties wrapped around the hoses on the outside of the bin holding them tightly in place.

 The result of the modification became Trash Bin Apparatus II

Did the modifications change the children's play?  Yes they did.  Play in the big hole increased, but not by much.  The big change in play and exploration happened with the clear tubes that extended beyond the table.  

One of the big attractions was to plug the tubes to see what happens.   In the video below, the child pours water into the tube that is plugged with a bottle.  The video starts with him pouring and then stepping back to see what he has done.  His smile is telling.  At first he has to concentrate to make sure he gets the water in the tube.  Before long, though, he can pour into the tube without looking so he can watch the water accumulate in the bottle and tube in real time.  Watch.

This is a good illustration of Axiom #6 in the right hand column of this blog, namely: Children will try to stop or redirect the flow of any medium in the table for any given apparatus.

That, of course, was stopping the flow of water.  Below is a very inventive---and wet---example of redirecting the flow.  This operation involves two children.  One child pours while the other redirects the flow of water using a long, narrow funnel.  As the one child pours and the water races down the tube, the other child gets doused because the water splashes against the funnel spraying the child holding the funnel.  As the child who is doing the pouring points out, though, some water does end up in a second tube via the funnel.  Watch. 

What did I learn from modifying the Trash Bin apparatus?  I learned that what I thought was the most salient feature of the apparatus---the big hole in the middle---was not the most salient for the children.   Rather, the children seemed to gravitate toward the features that allowed them to explore in such a way as to set things in motion and see the consequences of their actions.  


Saturday, October 31, 2015


This school this year, we got new recycling bins.  That left us with a dilemma: What do we do with the plastic trash bins---two of them---we had been using for recycling?  They were perfectly good, but nobody needed them.  I offered to take them thinking I might be able to make something out of them.  My initial idea was to set them in the table upside down with tubes running in and out of them.  When I looked over my stash of tubes and hoses, something started to take shape.
Well over 10 years ago, a parent brought in a wired-reinforced tube made from strong flexible plastic.  The tube was large in terms of diameter, but short.  I could never seem to find a use for it.  I saw the tube and I saw the width of the trash bin and I saw it was a good match.  I also added a clear plastic tube that ran through the waste basket on a slant.  All this was done by simply using duct tape and a utility knife.

In part, the hole in the middle of the apparatus was a provocation with space.  How would the children react to a big hole where there should be no hole?  How would they explore this unusual space? 

In addition, children could pour water into the top of the trash bin through a hole cut in the top.  The question was:  Where did it go?

Children thought that the water dropped down into the big tube.  However, when they looked, the water did not fall or even drip into the big tube.  If they looked closely enough, though, they could see the water flowing around the outside of the big tube.

That was one trash bin, but there were two.  The second bin ended up to have the hoses running in and out of it.  The black hoses were attached to funnels at the top and then the hoses were woven inside the basket and exited at different points.
The clear, plastic tube also got embedded in the second waste basket.  It connected the two trash bins and connected children in play across the two bins.  In the picture above, one child poured water into the clear plastic tube on the high end and the other child caught it on the lower end.  Interestingly, one child did not need to see what the other child was doing to be connected in play.

There was a little trick to how the water came out of the black hoses because of how they were woven through the trash bin.  When water was poured into the black funnel, it exited through the hose closest the beige funnel.
I have to admit that I even fooled myself.  Two days after I had set this apparatus up, I kept pouring water into the beige funnel and looking for the water to come out into the black tub.  I even got a little worried that I had woven it in such a way as to produce a kink in the line.  Then I realized that the water poured into the beige bucket was set up to empty back into the table.

I dare say that the play fostered by the trash bin apparatus was anything but rubbish.

If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Orlalndo in November, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Thursday morning from 8:00-9:30.   Any readers of the blog who want to share stories or chat, I would love to find a time to meet.  Please feel free to contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com

Sunday, October 25, 2015


In an earlier post this year, I said I wanted to leave each new apparatus up for two weeks instead of the usual one week.  One of the reasons I wanted to do that was to share some of the documentation with the parents and the children from the first week to get their input as to what was transpiring at the sensory table.  Let me describe a couple of my initial attempts to share the documentation with the parents and the children.

The apparatus I left up for two weeks was the  Multiple Trays with Water.
Besides the apparatus there were the provisions which I call Hodgepodge and Doohickies.
You will notice there is an assortment of measuring cups, funnels, bottles, pots and pans and basters.

The first video I shared with a parent shows the child trying to get some water from a bottle into a baster.  I ask the mother to look at the video because I was intrigued with his operation.  I also wondered where he got the idea for his actions.  Watch.

Filling the baster from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was intrigued by his actions because it looked like a scientist using a syringe to get liquid out of a bottle.  I asked his mother what she thought.  She wrote:   

"I'm not exactly sure what H. was thinking, except that he may be modeling some things I may do in the kitchen at home??  That is my only thought.  I commonly make his sister's own yogurt pouches (instead of the store bought kind) and he always watches me transfer the yogurt into the pouch, which can kind of be messy and at the same time tricky.  However, I do not own a turkey baster!  The closest thing we have is oral syringes for children's Tylenol."  

She did say later that his actions reminded her of how she gets the Tylenol out of the bottle using a syringe.

The second video I shared with a parent shows a child with a heaping container of suds that he says will explode in five minutes.  He also says we have to place it lower in the tray.  Watch.

It is going to explode from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Again, I was intrigued with where his ideas might have originated.  I thought the pot full of bubbles looked like an explosion.  When mom looked at it with her son, she wrote:

"I showed it to W. and he said the bubbles had exploded onto his apron before and so he knew they were exploding bubbles. That is why he said he needed to put them down low - so they wouldn't explode up on to his face. This is very typical play for W. - I am guessing he is also thinking about volcanoes as his aunt was recently in Iceland and came back with stories of the volcanoes there. He is very interested in fireworks and anything to do with fire."

When I talked to her in class she also divulged that earlier this year a big house on the block burned down and that seems to have made a big impression on him.

I sent a set of two pictures to a third mother.  Her daughter had brought her dolly to school.  At some point in the afternoon, she decided to wash her baby in the sensory table.

I wondered whether the bubbles had attracted her attention so she could give her baby a bath.  Or maybe the trays and container created an ideal spot for baby washing.

This is what mom wrote in response when I asked her why she thought L. was washing her baby.  She wrote:

"We talked a bit about the day she brought her baby to school and she definitely remembered! She said she was washing her baby because she was really dirty. When I asked how she got so dirty she explained that she had been playing in the mud :). 

I have a few thoughts about it as well. First, it is important to know that that day was one of many in recent weeks in which she cared for that baby almost constantly throughout the day--she made sure her baby was fed, had clean diapers, and took naps. She would make sure to take care of her baby before she ate her own meals or got into bed for her own bedtime. I believe that this baby allowed her to experience her every day events in new ways. By helping her baby at home and out on our errands she was reinventing those experiences for herself. I would hear her talking to her baby, explaining where we were going and what we were doing. So when she saw the water in the sensory table at school I think she used the baby to interact with it in a new way and extend her own understanding of how the sensory table can be used."

After sharing the reflections with parents and getting their responses, I was reminded of something I read in a book this summer called: Dancing with Reggio Emilia: metaphors of quality, by Stefania Gamminuti.  In the book, she relayed a conversation she had with one of the teachers at Reggio Emilia about what to tell the parents about a child's day in school.  She turned it into a question: What image of the child does the parent wish to have?  And from the teacher's perspective: What image of the child are you going to offer to the parent? (p. 95).

I think I offered these three parents an image of their children that was unique, positive and intriguing.  I offered the images to see if they could give me more insight into the children's operations around the sensory table.  What I got back were rich narratives that added to my understanding of their children.  The children seemed to be taking their own unique experiences and combining them with the materials and setup to process those experiences and make new meaning from themselves. 

I am glad I shared.

If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Orlalndo in November, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Thursday morning from 8:00-9:30.   Any readers of the blog who want to share stories or chat, I would love to find a time to meet.  Please feel free to contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com


Saturday, October 17, 2015


At the sensory table, planter trays have been a staple in my classroom for many years.  However, this is the first year I set up a multiple tray apparatus to be used with water.

Holes were punched in the bottom of the trays so water would not collect in the trays, but drop into trays or tubs placed under the holes.  The focus of play was pouring water into the trays and catching the water dropping from the holes in the trays.

I kept the apparatus up for two weeks, but the second week I added a PVC pipe and a wired tube.

By adding the pipe and the tube, did the children change the focus of their play? There was still a lot of pouring into the trays and of catching the water trickling out of the trays...

but I do have a lot more of pictures of the children using the pipe and tube than simply using the trays.   

Here is an example: One group brought over the little dinosaurs from the manipulatives and set up a dinosaur "water slide."
The picture shows the girl just letting go of the dinosaur so it can speed its way down the pipe.

The tube attracted a lot of attention, too.  It was short and higher above the table so children had a more dynamic view when tracking the flow of water coming out of the tube.

Did the children change the focus of their play or did I change the focus of my documentation?  Another possibility is that the children added another focus to their play while my attention was only centered on what was different the second week the apparatus was up.

In comparing my documentation, though, I did find one operation that was essentially the same, but looks completely different from one week to the next because of the affordances of the two setups. The first week the child pours and catches the water through the bottom of the tray.  He is using a clear bottle to pour and a baster to catch.  He has to use a lot of fine motor coordination to catch the water.

The second week, a child pours water into one end of the tube with a metal measuring cup and then quickly reaches with a small metal pot to catch the water coming out the end.  There is some fine motor work here, too, but her undertaking really relies more on large motor coordination.  There is a lot of stretching to pour and stretching to catch.

These two children are essentially making sense of the world with the same question: If I pour the water in here, can I catch it coming out at the bottom?  The question and answer both require the body and mind together to physically form and complete an idea.  The idea takes shape in real time as the children interact with the materials and the setup.

No matter what the setup, learning about the physical world is a serious endeavor.  Children, given the time and space, will ace the test every time.  And we must not forget, inherent in that quest there is bound to be great joy---and an ample dose of silliness.

If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Orlalndo in November, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Thursday morning from 8:00-9:30, so we will see who are the early birds.   Any readers of the blog who want to chat, I would love to find a time to meet and exchange ideas.  Please feel free to contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com