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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, September 20, 2014


I am continually on the look out for a water pumps I can use inside at the water table.  I did find a hand held pump that I set out with the Duplo Ramp.  That pump worked well and provided children with many opportunities to explore how the pump worked and how to direct the water coming out of the pump.

I found a new pump this past weekend at Sears.  It is a siphon pump.  This pump takes water from the tub at the end of the table and pumps it back into the table through the attached hose.
The idea was for the children to be able to reverse transport water from the tub.  As often happens, children will transport so much of the water from the table into the tub that there is too little left in the water table to sustain play.  By reverse transporting, the water flows both ways and play is more sustainable.

Did the pump help with reverse transporting?  Not very well.

In the first place, the pump was tall.  It is three feet high off the ground so for many of the children it was head high or higher.  Even though I would encourage children to stand on the stool, it was still high.
Pictured above is a five-year-old trying to work the pump.  Even on the stool, the handle is head high.  Can you see him straining?  That was a second issue: the pump was too hard for the children to operate.  Actually the down stroke was doable.  It was the up stroke that was hard and it was the one pulling the water up into the pump and out the hose.  I thought this might be a good opportunity for the children to work together trying to pull the handle up, but it was just too hard even when a couple of children worked together.

In addition, there were a couple of other problems that I had to work through.  One was how to tape the pump securely so the it would not move when the children tried to pump.  I re-taped the pump every day for five days until I came up with a tape job that was secure.  I taped the pump to the tray and to the table and to the tub.
The second problem was the hose that carried the water out of the pump.  At first, I just let it loose because I wanted the children to be able to direct the water as it came out of the pump. The children did play with the hose, but it often got dropped onto the floor.  The result was a lot of water on the floor, actually too much water on the floor.  I tried many tape jobs on the hose, too, and finally settled on one that attached it to the table and to the support tray.

Why in the world would I write a post about something that did not work?

The reason is to give you a little insight into how I approach the building process.  For me it is not a once-and-done process.  I begin with an idea and I play with it in my head.  As I begin to build, I mess around* with the materials to see what works.  When the apparatus is completed, I have my own ideas what an apparatus will do.  At this point, I give it over to the children so they can mess around with it.  From my observations of the children working with the apparatus, I mess around with it anew.   I hope you can see where I am going with this.  My initial messing around gives way to their messing around which in turn provides me with new ideas for more messing around---and so the cycle continues.

In the case of the pump, I would say the whole process was not very successful.  That does not mean, I will totally give up on the idea of reverse transporting.  I will just have to do some more messing around.

P.S. I have to thank my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, for the idea for this post.  We talk daily and she helps me process what is going on with my practice.  She pointed out that many teachers have a set idea about what is to happen in the classroom.  Not only that, their practice is then built upon doing everything in their power to make that happen.  She sees my work as one of continued experimentation and play based on children's exploration and play as they interface with the invitations I set up in the classroom.   In other words, my practice looks a lot like the children's play.  For me that is high praise.

*I am adapting the term "messing around" from the writings of David Hawkins in which he talks about the way children learn through "messing about" with rich and varied materials.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


A Duplo Ramp is an apparatus that takes Duplo wall boards and attaches them to a frame.  The frame is supported and propped up on an incline by a wooden tray that spans the width of the table.

In the most recent setup, I added a planter tray inside the wooden tray to create a greater incline.

You can see how I made this apparatus here.  You can see how children set about exploring this apparatus here.

This year I added a hand pump to be used with the apparatus.  Before I show you how the children used the hand pump, I want to show you two other explorations the children came up with that are tangential to the play on the Duplo Ramp itself.  The first exploration has to do with the wooden tray and the second one has to do with a clear plastic tube, a loose part provisioned for play with this apparatus.

The view in the picture below is from underneath the Duplo Ramp.  What you see is a child who has discovered that there are small streams of water coming out of holes in the wooden tray.  In the foreground you can see one of the streams. The boy is on the other side of the table catching water in his bottle from the other stream.  (Without the holes, the water would overflow onto the floor because the tray extends beyond the table on each side.)
All the action is on top.  How did this child find these little streams?  It is one thing to see them, but it is another thing to incorporate them into play.  And you can see it is not so easy because the space he has to work in is small and cramped.  Children are masterful at finding these small spaces and features and adept at incorporating them in their operations.

In the second exploration, a child shows me what he has discovered.  He has figured out that if he drops a Duplo figure in the bottom of an open-ended clear tube, the figure rises to the top of the tube as the tube fills with water.  

Did you note the purpose is his actions?  He purposefully held the tube on a vertical keeping the bottom of the tube in the water so the Duplo figure stays in the tube.  He tells me: "So he [the Duplo figure] is like this."  That is his experimental set up.  Then he gradually submerges the tube so the water fills the tube from the bottom up carrying the Duplo figure along with it.  He states quite plainly: "The water went up." The experiment is complete and some new knowledge constructed.

I have been looking for a pump to use in the water table for years.  I found a hand pump in an unclaimed freight store.  I set it out as a loose part for the first time with the Duplo Ramp.  It was extremely inviting. For the most part, it took two people to operate.  One would do the pumping and one would direct where the water would go.  Watch.

How much more exciting can filling a friend's bottle be?   

The pump, in conjunction with the Duplo Ramp, fostered a lot of complex play scenarios.  One of the more intriguing scenarios unfolded as children experimented with directing the water that was being pumped.  Children did everything from fill various containers to directing water back down the Duplo Ramp. One thing they did not do is squirt each other.  In hindsight, I am surprised. Maybe there were enough constructive ways to direct the water that they did not think of squirting their friends.  (I highly doubt that, but it will have to do until a better theory emerges.)

This pump worked well, but at times the tubes would detach from the pump.  That created an opportunity for the children to "fix" it.  Watch the video to see how the children figure out that the pump is not working and how to make it work again.

As you saw at the end of the video, they were quite happy they fixed it and were able to squirt the water again.  

Whenever a new contraption is made available there is a lot of potential for conflict.  The pump is no exception.  For some reason, though, there was virtually no conflict over who got to use the pump.  The two videos you just saw are indicative of the children's interactions with each other and the pump.  In the last video, did you hear the child ask the child with the pump when was he going to get tired?  The reason he asked was because he was waiting for his turn.  Though the child responded that he was not going to get tired, he would eventually give the other boy a turn on the pump.

As a teacher, I do not use the term share and rarely regulate taking of turns. Rather, I see the children as generous and kind and willingly taking turns of their own accord.  How do they do that? One of the things I do do as a teacher is encourage the child who wants to use something to ask to use it when the child who has it is done. If a child knows another child is waiting, he will almost always pass it on when he decides he is done.  In this case, both children feel a sense of agency. More importantly, the child with the toy is given a chance to be generous and the child who wants the toy learns that by waiting, he can get it with little or no conflict.  

Oh, if we could only learn from the children.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Last year at this time I wrote a couple of posts about the pedagogy of listening from a chapter by the same name by Carlina Rinaldi in the Reggio book The Hundred Languages of Children, Third Edition.  As I start the school year, I am revisiting both the posts and the book.   And since I am part of a book study group looking at this exact chapter in The Hundred Languages of Children, I am not alone in learning some of the nuances of listening in the pedagogy of listening.

In both posts last year, one on being a good listener and one on important aspects of listening,  I came away with a lot of questions about what does it really mean to listen.  When I look over those questions, they are still relevant and have not been answered yet.  I can summarize the questions thus: Who do I choose to listen to? Why do I choose to listen? When do I choose to listen? and How do I choose to listen?

One aspect of listening is more clear to me after much discussion and thought.  Namely, to listen, I have to be quiet myself.  I found an old video from the classroom that I think is a good example of me not listening.  Three children, all young three's, are at the water table and one of them has figured out how to make the water stop and go in a fountain apparatus.  Watch and listen :-)

Plugging the Fountain from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There was really no reason for me to tell Finn to put his finger in the hole again because he was going to do it anyway.  Neither did I have to keep encouraging him to stop the water coming out of the fountain.  At one point Finn yells across the table to Caleb for him to put his finger in the hole. He does not really want Caleb to do it, but is announcing that he is going to do it, but he is using my words.  And again, I did not need to ask him if he could make it go again. I was not listening. I was trying to direct him when I really did not need to.  My voice in this video is just a distraction. If you take my voice out, one can really listen and observe what the children are doing.

In this particular video my encouragement and questions did not change the children's exploration. I can imagine, though, that my questions, narration and encouragement can affect the trajectory of the children's play and exploration.  Is that so bad?  I do not know, but my constant interjections may send a subtle message that I doubt some of the children's competencies.

In the classroom, why do I always feel like I need to ask a question or narrate or interpret or encourage?  There may be a time for that, but I am beginning to think that I need to be more quiet to truly be able to listen.

p.s. I recently came across a TED talk by Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist from Scotland. She says her sole purpose in life is to teach people how to listen. She says to do that, we first need to listen to ourselves.  She goes on to say that we need to be resonating chambers. And that we must stop the judgements because they get in the way of our listening.  Listening is contextual, fluid and full of uncertainty.  (That sounds exactly like an early childhood classroom.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014


In the right-hand column of this blog under Axioms of Sensorimotor Play, axiom #5 talks about holes.  It states that children are compelled to put things in holes.  There is also a corollary to this axiom, namely that the children will find every hole no matter how big or how small.  I would like to add a second corollary to axiom #5, namely that children will modify the holes whenever possible. The Platform and Flexible Gutter Tube apparatus offers a nice example of this corollary.

A child approaches this apparatus by first pouring water into the top hole to see where it goes.
Once a child figures out the water comes out of the bottom hole, he may try to fill containers remotely. As you can see in the photo above, the child has figured out how to fill containers at the end of the tube in the smaller water table.  Remote filling, how is that for a concept?

If a friend is nearby, he can even fill her container remotely.
I guess with remote filling you get remote cooperation.

Up to this point, the children have only utilized the existing holes.  So what are some of the ways they modify holes?

One of the ways is to augment the holes.  That can be done by putting a tube in the hole and then pouring down the tube (on the left).  Or that can be done by putting a funnel in the hole and then pouring down the funnel (on the right).  In either case, they have changed the original hole.

Remember what the corollary says about holes in an apparatus?  Children will find all of them. Well not only will they find all the holes, but they will modify all the holes, too.  We saw how they modified the holes at the top, now let's look at how they modify the holes at the bottom.  Since the tubes are flexible, the children  easily modify the holes by changing the positions of the holes. For example, they may lift up the end.
By lifting the bottom hole up, water starts to collect in the tube.  The result is that the weight of the water makes the tube bow in the middle where the tube is not supported. With hole up, suds and water accumulate until soap suds start coming out of both ends.  The reverse operation, namely pushing the hole back down after the water fills the tube, has a dramatic effect.  Watch the video below to see exactly what I mean.

We did it, dude! from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There are a couple of things to note in the video.  The children have modified the holes on both ends of the tube. You can see the effect with the suds welling up out of the top hole under the funnel. Also, as the water starts to come out of the bottom hole, one of the children quickly changes the position of the hole so the water comes rushing out.  As he pushes the end of the tube down, he yells: "Yeah---overflow!"  He also states: "I knew we could do it, dude."

The children also modify these bottom holes in other ways.  If they can find the right container, they can completely block the bottom hole.
And believe me, they search for the right container to plug the hole.  In this case it was a plastic measuring cup.  You know what plugging the hole leads to?  

The children filled the tube so full that there was enough water pressure to pop the plug.  The children so eloquently characterize the effect: "Bam---bam-ba-bam!"  Were they representing verbally the force of the water pushing the measuring cup out the end?  And did you see the child thrust his fist into the top hole?  Was he representing physically the force pushing the cup out the end?

One of the more unique ways to alter the bottom hole is to change the aperture of the hole.  How does a child do that?  He does that by placing a funnel over the end of the tube.
By placing the funnel over the end of the tube, this child changes the size of the hole and subsequently, how the water flows out of the tube..  How ingenious is that?

Are the axioms and corollaries simply a reflection of children's agency around the sensory table? I am not sure, but when I listen to their pronouncements such as "I knew we could do it, dude," and "Bam---bam-ba-bam," I can feel the agency in their words.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Let's Do That Again

Last year, I built a platform out of PVC pipe and a black plastic sheet.  I drilled holes in the sheet and then attached it to the PVC frame.  I used it as an Oobleck Platform.

This year, I re-purposed the platform.  After placing it in the table and making sure it was secure by taping it to PVC pipes that span the width of the table, I taped flexible gutter extender tubes to the frame and the table. (Gutter extenders are used at the ends of gutters to carry water further away from a building.  They are flexible and expand. I will just call them gutter tubes or tubes for the duration of this post.)

I offer you a short video of one child as he first approaches this apparatus.  As he walks around, he turns to me to ask where does the water go and where does it comes out.  As you watch the video, you will see that he actually knows and knows how to figure it out.

Checking it out from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Couldn't you just see the wheels turning in his head?  As he examined the apparatus, you could see and hear him form theories---with his eyes, his hands and his whole body.

The combination of platform and gutter tubes really makes for an interesting contraption that the children know how to exploit to the fullest.

One of the features of the platform is that it creates a comfortable space above the table on which the children can work much like how we as adults work on a kitchen counter or workbench.
It ends up to be a great space to fill and hold containers.   That can be important especially if you want or need to fill multiple containers.

Another nice feature of the platform is that when water is poured over the top, it looks, feels and sounds like rain.

Rain from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

It is telling that the child reaches under to feel the "rain" as it slows down.

As you can see, water was put in the table; dish soap was added to the water.  The gutter tubes have many pleats.  Not only do they allow the tube to expand, but these pleats also agitate the soapy water flowing through it creating suds, glorious suds.

One of the most common operations the children  do as they pour water into the tube is to constantly check the level of the sudsy water---on both ends.

The fun really begins when they start filling the tube to the max. Since the tube is flexible, the weight of the water naturally distends the tube in the middle so it dips down into the blue table. When the water fills the tube to capacity, suds come out both ends and eventually the water drains out of the lower end of the tube.  Watch the "Wow" moment as this happens.

Let's do that again from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Now that was fun.  And think about what these two children are experiencing in terms of agency and mutual collaboration it what can clearly be seen as a self-directed science experiment. How in the world can you measure that?  Why in the world would you want to?   The best evaluation is the one beautifully given by the child at the end when she says: "Let's do that again."

Saturday, August 16, 2014


This past week I was asked to do a workshop in Indiana for a program that serves school age children before and after school.   I found presenting to a school age staff an interesting request because I have been working exclusively with children birth to five for over 36 years.  It is true that when older children visit my room, one of the main areas they frequent is the sensory table.

The workshop request came from the executive administrator of the program.  She had heard me talk at the national NAEYC conference a couple of years ago.  She knew my view of children and she knew I like to construct with cardboard and duct tape.  She was looking for a way to get the staff interested in promoting the construction of contraptions by the school age children in their program.  

When my contact made the request, she specifically alluded to Caine's Arcade and thought the staff could possibly try their hands at making arcade games much like Caine did in his father's auto parts store in East Los Angeles.  I saw Caine's Arcade over a year ago, so I knew what she was talking about.  To prepare for the workshop, I revisited the short movie.

Once a person gets over the WOW of what this nine-year-old created, there are a few important lessons from the phenomenon.

One lesson is that no one does this alone.  Sure, Caine built all the arcade games himself, but it would never have become a phenomenon without the filmmaker who played Caine's arcade game. Because he saw the genius of Caine, he wanted to tell what he thought was a compelling story. Though we are not privy to the actual making of the film, credits at the end tell the story of collaboration.  In addition, it only becomes a compelling story if it resonates with others, which it did.  (Can you imagine what would have happened to the arcade and Caine if the filmmaker had not come along?)

Another lesson is the power of a child's imagination.  Caine's first game was created using a small basketball hoop he got at a fast food restaurant.  He taped it to a box and made a paper ball for shooting.  If someone won at one of the arcade games, Caine would go inside the box and push out tickets because that is where tickets come from when a person wins at an arcade game. Caine did not create whiz-bang games that were colorful and had lights.  He was recreating the arcade games with cardboard boxes and tape and the whiz-bang was in his head.  Not only do children build and create like Caine, but the power of their imagination fills in all the unpolished edges of the action to make it something special that adults sometimes have a hard time recognizing.

Yet another lesson is that a compelling story is inspirational.  That is clearly seen in Caine's Arcade Chapter 2  which contains a segment that shows children sending Caine videos of their arcade creations and thanking him for the inspiration.

There may even be one final lesson: there is creativity in all of us.  I saw it last Monday in the workshop.  There were six groups and no two constructions were the same.  One was a spaceship with a stirring wheel that turned.  One was a robot. One was a tree. One was a full blown engineering project to move marbles down tubes. One was an arcade game. And one was a town complete with an underground tube.

I want to thank Dr. Sandra Duncan for inviting me to work with her staff.  If you believe that the classroom environment contributes to children's learning and overall wellbeing, I urge you to check out a book she co-authored called Inspiring Spaces for Young Children.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


For the past couple of weeks, I have written about play around a particular apparatus at the sensory table called Computer Box with Cardboard Tubes.  The first post dealt with how many children can play at the table at one time, in other words, capacity.

The second post talked about how children often create their own physical challenges---even at the sensory table.

For this post, I would like to tell you about a game created by the children when a child who is not part of the regular class enters the room and begins to play with others.

It begins with the child a little apprehensive about coming into the classroom because he does not know the children.  On the other hand, he is excited to spend the morning because he is familiar with the classroom and the adults in the classroom because he was in one of our classes last year.

What he does first is to go to the sensory table and set himself at the end of the longer of two tubes. He is content to kneel there and catch the pellets tumbling down the tube.  A plastic car is sent down the tube.  He is surprised and delighted at the same time.  Another child picks up on the surprise and delight and continues the game by gathering cars and sending them down the tube.

These two are now engaged in a game that can be called "Surprise Down the Tube."  It happens spontaneously.  It would not have happened without the apparatus.  More importantly, it would not have happened without the visiting child and his reaction of surprise and delight to a car landing in his cup instead of pellets.  And it would not have happened without the child in the red shoes reading the visiting child's cues of joy.  And it would not have happened without the child in the red shoes wanting to partake of that joy and to create more.

The beauty of the game is that it is attractive to others and easy for them to join in the fun.

This is a simple game: pellets down the tube with a car or two interspersed.  Though it is simple, it is also very complex because the variables are numerous.  For instance: What can cause one child to react to a surprise in such a way as to draw others into the action?  Is it his tone of voice; is it the genuine expression of delight?  How is a child able to pick up on another child's cues so the game continues and evolves to the point where others are partaking in the original surprise and joy?  At many points, the game could have ended, but it continued and expanded to include others.

Though it is such a great game, it can never be duplicated, nor can you buy it in the store or from a catalogue. This game is unique to the physical and human context of this particular day.  From this perspective, there is no limit to how many games can and will be created.  Let the games begin--- and begin again and again each and every day.