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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

EXTRAODINARY OR ORDINARY?

Just a month ago, I wrote a piece about the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.  In that post, I said one of my goals this school year was to find the extraordinary in the children's everyday encounters with others and the materials.  After looking over my pictures just from the first week of class, I am seeing the extraordinary all the time.  Am I hallucinating or reading too much into the children's actions?  Here are just few examples.  You be the judge.

The context for the examples is the water table with the Pipes Embedded in Trays.   The apparatus has lots of holes for children to pour water into so the water exits at the ends of the pipes.

Instead of concentrating on the myriad of ways that children pour and catch the water through the apparatus, the examples focus on some of the children's novel uses of a common kitchen utensil: the turkey baster.
Children figure out very quickly how to transfer water from the table into the pipes using the baster.  However, if you think about it, you quickly realize it is a multi-step process that is not so intuitive.  The child has to put the tip of the baster in the water; keeping the tip in the water, he squeezes the bulb; still keeping the tip in the water, he lets go of the bulb to suck up water; he guides the baster to the desired hole and squeezes the bulb again to empty the baster into the pipe.

But what else can a child do with a baster?  He can try to fill it a different way.  For instance, he can try to pour water from a measuring cup into the tip of the baster.  
As adults who have worked with basters a lot, we know that doesn't work, right?

Filling the baster from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

As you can see, the child is able to get some water into the baster by pouring water into the small tip.  That takes persistence and a good deal of fine motor control.  The extraordinary part for me is: What makes him think of pouring water into the baster through the small tip in the first place?

Children learn very quickly that they can squirt water with the basters.  Surprisingly, though, they do not really squirt each other.  I suppose that is because there are plenty of constructive outlets---all the holes---for the children to target their squirting.  However, watch as one child figures out a new way to squirt with the baster.  She puts the baster in a hole in one of the pipes and squeezes.  Since the baster tip is pressed against the back of the pipe, water is forced out cracks in the baster's syringe.

Squirting wate with the baster from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Does she get anyone wet?  Yes, she does.  But there is not enough water spray to get the others too wet.  The extraordinary part for me is the surprise and delight of this child's discovery.

Sometimes, the actions of one child lead directly to the actions of another.  One child watches the child using the baster to squirt from the video above.  She wants to do it, too, so when that child leaves, she puts her baster in one of the holes and starts pumping the bulb.  Instead of squirting, though, she makes squishy sounds.  In the video below, that is the child on the right.

Make a joyful noise from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child on the left watches the child making the squishy noises and she, too, puts the tip of her baster in a hole---the hole where the original squirting play took place---and starts pumping the bulb.  Together, they make joyful, squishy noises.  The extraordinary part for me is the trajectory and transformation of simple play from one child to another.

Are these moments really extraordinary or just ordinary?  You be the judge.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

PIPES EMBEDDED IN TRAYS

Two years ago, I created an apparatus I called Pipes Embedded in Planter Trays.  I took two 3/4 inch PVC pipes and embedded them through the length of two planter trays.  The pipes ran horizontally through the two trays an inch above the bottom of the trays.
Holes were drilled in the top of the pipes.  The idea was that children would need to fill the trays over the top of the pipes for water to enter the pipes and flow out the ends into tubs next to the table.

With this configuration, the children spent much of their efforts just pouring water into the trays and catching the water exiting the pipes.



This year, I added four vertical pipes to the horizontal pipes.  The vertical pipes fed directly into the horizontal pipes.
I also added another horizontal pipe running the length of the trays over the top of the trays.  I drilled bigger holes in this horizontal pipe.

Did the change in the apparatus change the play of the children?  No and yes.



Children still poured water into the trays and experimented with various ways of catching---or not---the water flowing out of the pipe ends.







But on the whole, the children spent much less time trying to fill the trays.  Instead, they did more experimenting with putting water into the vertical pipes.




One of the consequences of pouring the water into the vertical pipes was that it was not always easy to tell where the water went once it entered the vertical pipe.
I asked the child pictured above "Where did the water go?"  He looked under the tray and without skipping a beat said: "Under nowhere."   

Adding the vertical pipes definitely changed the children's focus of play and exploration.  It changed from filling the bottom of the trays and catching water out the ends of the pipes to putting water and basters into the top of the vertical pipes.  Was the appeal the size of the holes of the vertical pipes?  Was the attraction the new working levels created by the tops of the vertical pipes?  Was the enticement the added challenge to figure out the path of the water when poured into the vertical pipes?

This school year, I am experimenting with my modus operandi.  For as long as I can remember, I changed the apparatus in my sensory table every week.  This year, I will experiment with leaving the apparatus up for two weeks.  There are two reasons for the change.  First, I want to be able to offer some of my documentation back to the children and the parents for their input.  Secondly, I want to see if I can answer some of the questions I raise for myself after looking at my initial documentation.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

EMERGENT LISTENING

Two years ago, I wrote a couple of pieces on listening.  One was called: Thanks for Being a Good Listener.  I had just read "The Pedagogy of Listening" by Carlina Rinaldi in the third edition of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation.  The gist of the post was that listening in the classroom is not unidirectional with the children doing all the listening.  Rather it is multidirectional with the adults and children in the classroom engaged in multiple reciprocal listening exchanges.

I followed that up with a post called: Being a Good Listener Part II.  In that post, I echoed three points by Rinaldi:  1) Children have ideas that they want to express; 2) By listening to them, we give value to their ideas; and 3) By listening to them, we show we care and, as a consequence, we help forge strong emotional bonds with the children.

Last year, I wrote a piece called: Listening Again.  There I found an example from an older video in which you could hear me talking throughout the video.  I gave directions, gave encouragement and narrated what was going on.  It was meant to be a example of what listening is not.

This year I did not think I would write about listening, but I read a book this summer entitled: Listening to Children: Being and becoming by Bronwyn Davies, a professional fellow at Melbourne University in Australia.  The book has got me thinking about listening yet again.

This is not a how-to book.  It is more of a philosophical book that challenges us to rethink our idea of school which is usually "…seen as a place of discipline and control…dedicated to reproduction of knowledge and the production of predetermined outcomes…"  (p. xii)  She wants us to think of school as a community "…not so much a place, or a finite group of people, but a way of mattering, a way of engaging with the world, and of reconfiguring that world as a place where self and other matter, and make a difference, to each other and with each other." (p. 12)

I understand the idea of school as a place of discipline and control because for many years in my career as a teacher it was my agenda in the classroom.  I am not sure I have wrapped my head completely around the idea of making a place where we matter individually and collectively.  Why? Because I am not sure how to figure out what matters.

For the author, an important part of that answer is emergent listening.  Emergent listening is listening in the moment of the encounter.  The encounter is not simply a meeting or a dialogue.  It is a space created by the interaction and the context in which "Listening is not just to oneself and the other, but to the intensities of forces working on us and through us." (p. 35)

If you are still with me, let me see if I can show you---from my understanding of the concept---a few examples of emergent listening. The first example shows two boys playing together at the sand table.  To understand the context, this was one of our first classes of the year. As you watch, you will see an amazing amount of cooperation by these two boys, especially considering this was the first time these two played together.  (The video quality is not so good because it was taken several years ago.)

Dumping the bucket from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

They started with a common task: pouring sand in a bucket next to the table.  As one child began to pick up the pail, the other one recognized what the other was doing and coordinated his moves so eventually they were both doing the same thing again: pouring one big bucket into another big bucket.  It was essentially a dance in which the children were improvising and coordinating their moves.  They were creating a space of encounter in which they were listening to each other on a level that had very few words.  The space was created moment by moment and could not be predicted.

The next example is a bit different because the child was listening to her own actions and the effect of those actions.  To understand what was happening in the video, there are a few aspects of the context that need some explanation.  The water she was pouring contained dish soap so bubbles formed through a lot of agitation.  The funnel the child was pouring water into emptied into a PVC pipe.  Someone had plugged the PVC pipe so it was filling up with water.  These, in essence, are some of the "intensity of forces" the child was working with.

Look what I did! from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She was quite pleased with herself to see what she could author with her actions.  As she poured water into the funnel, the PVC was so full that the bubbles rose out of another funnel.  For her, it became more than a pouring activity.  It became her creation because she was listening with her whole being in the moment to something she could not have imagined before.

Another example is video of a child who traced her hand to make a handprint.  That activity is done all the time in preschools, but not the way she did it. The child got down on the floor and traced her hand in the sand that had spilled on the floor from the sand table.

Handprint from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What were the "intensity of forces" flowing through this child to combine the spilled sand on the floor with the operation of tracing her hand?  I venture to say that the author would call this a fleeting moment that leaves a trace of an idea not previously thinkable. (p. 5)

Up to this point, the examples of emergent listening have been videos.  Can a single picture capture emergent listening?  I like to think this one can.
I took this picture from across the room not knowing what the children were doing.  I did know that in the absence of an adult, they were creating their own space of encounter in which each child was doing his or her own thing in relationship with the others.  I know they were acutely aware of each other and what each other was doing and that knowledge affected their moment-to-moment actions and interactions.  I know their encounter was building a portion of our community, a place that was always emergent in which a multiplicity of possibilities for thinking and doing coexisted. (p. 6)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

EXTRAORDINARY IN THE ORDINARY

For the past year or so, I have been fascinated by the ordinary life of the classroom.   I would step back to assay the flow in the room. Who played with whom?  Who led?  Who followed? Who watched? What spaces did they occupy? How did they inhabit those spaces?  How did they move throughout the room? How did they intersected with others in their play? What objects did they chose to play with?  How did they use those objects?

Why had I become so interested in the ordinary?  I found a rationale in a book I read this summer called  Dancing with Reggio Emilia: metaphors of quality, by Stefania Gamminuti, an Australian educator who turned her dissertation into a book about how she came to understand the life of the children, teachers and parents in the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  As someone who has never visited Reggio Emilia, this book gave me the clearest picture of what it means to be Reggio-inspired.  By using metaphors, all of which are anchored by pedagogical documentation, Stefania lays out her understanding of the underlying values that inform the practice of teaching and learning in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Here is an example:

"Pedagogical documentation speaks of gestures of hope,
 possibility, and imaginations, enabling a shared sense of belonging
to a community of learners/dreamers and building a new
culture of childhood.  As such, documentation can be viewed 
metaphorically as a narrative of possibility." (p. 312)

Chapter Four, which is entitled "The Value of Rich Normality: The Extraordinary in the Ordinary," offered me justification for my interest in the ordinary.  I understand it this way.  The ordinary is the context for the extraordinary. You do not plan for the extraordinary.  It emerges out of the "everyday encounters with materials, situations and tools which are not extraordinary in themselves…" (p. 84).

The video below taken more than five years ago is an example of the extraordinary arising from the ordinary.  The child, who had been putting sand down a long incline chute, discovered that he could roll objects down the chute.  Each time he rolled something new down the chute, he squealed with glee as he watched what he set in motion.

Joy from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The incline was a cardboard packing corner from a refrigerator box.  The objects he found in the table to roll down the incline were comprised of a metal measuring cup, a yellow plastic bowl and red plastic container bottom.  Those were pretty normal materials.  From those simple materials, though, this child created his own physics experiment.  

Another example of the extraordinary emerging from the ordinary can be seen in my post from last January called Classroom Photo of the Year.  I called the photo The Wondrous in the Everyday.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, a child experimented with making balancing structures from the some of the most ordinary materials in the classroom.  As the picture shows, his focus was complete as he tried to balance an old plastic measuring cup on a cardboard tube that was placed inside a plastic coffee can.  

Everyday in the classroom, even the mundane is transformed into something marvelous in the child's eyes.

As the school year begins anew, my goal is to embrace the ordinary life and flow in the classroom so I can "…wonder alongside children at the precious in the small, the meaningful in the invisible, the rich in the everyday and normal."(p. 100)