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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.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


This year I am trying to share with the parents more of what goes on in my classroom.  I sent one group of parents a video of their children around the sensory table.  The video shows eight children each engaged in a task of their own choosing.  Understand that this is the second day of class and many of the children have not been in class together, nor have they ever played together.  Watch.

Around the water table from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This is what one mother wrote after she saw the video.  "It's remarkable to me that 8 children can play cooperatively at one activity!  They give each other enough personal space and focus on their own work while showing interest in what is going on with the neighbors."

I was intrigued that she used the phrase "enough personal space."  When I look at the how the children occupy the space in the video, I wonder how children measure personal space.  Here is a still picture from the video of one end of the table with five of the eight children.
How much personal space is there for each of them to operate in?  There is not very much considering any sideways movement easily brings them into contact with another child.  Besides lateral space, the children work in vertical spaces, too.
Interestingly the vertical spaces allow children to be in the same space only on different levels.  In the picture above, both boys bending down to get water from the tub at some point end up under the child using the baster in the pipe.  And in fact, there is a fair amount of body contact in the form of inadvertent nudges.  What does that say about children and their concept of personal space?

Here is another instance of three children working in very close quarters.   One child is pouring water into the top tray.  Another child is using the baster to squirt water into the lower tray.  And the third child is scooping water from the bottom of the table.
Does the personal space for children collapse when they work on different levels?  Why are they so accommodating to the other in such close quarters?

My favorite example of children's personal space---or lack thereof---comes from a video I took a couple of years ago.  It was included near the end of this post.  The two children in the video are classmates, but they rarely play together.  On this particular day, they find themselves in the same spot---literally.  They are both on the same stool working to put pellets down holes in the top of the box apparatus.

Close Encounters from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Most adults would not take kindly to the amount of uninvited contact between these two children.  Somebody working over my shoulder ON my back would be very hard for me to manage.  Conversely, no matter how much I wanted to get at a space, I could not reach over another with the full-body contact exhibited in the video.

How can these children do it with such ease and without conflict?  What does it say about children's idea of personal space?  Maybe more importantly, how often do we impose our idea of personal space on children by creating rules about how many children can be in a space?  Can we let go of our idea of personal space to give them the opportunity to negotiate their own personal spaces?  And, even more importantly, do we believe the children are capable of negotiating their own personal spaces?

I think the parent's words bear repeating.  "It's remarkable to me that 8 children can play cooperatively at one activity!  They give each other enough personal space and focus on their own work while showing interest in what is going on with the neighbors."

Looking at the video again, it looks like they manage their personal space so well that there is room for at least a couple more children at the table.

P.S.  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.  Please feel free to contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com

Saturday, September 26, 2015


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


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


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


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)

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Last week I wrote a post on a Worm Slide I built that I considered a failure.  To be clear, I was the one that thought it was a failure because the weight of the two plexiglass sheets, one on top of the other, was too much to last beyond one class.  I did not want to be re-taping after each class.
The children, on the other hand, had no problem with my perceived failure and inhabited it with their whole being.

I did not give up on the idea of making a Worm Slide using the plexiglass sheets. Instead of using two, though, I created a installation that used only one of the plexiglass sheets.  I still set up the plexiglass on a slant, but I used a different base which gave the apparatus slightly less of an incline.  That did not change the functionality of the Worm Slide, but there was less pull on the tape making it more secure, especially since I was only using one plexiglass sheet.

With this new iteration, I also added a clear plastic tube and white PVC pipe so children could transport the worms down more modest inclines, one of which was opaque, into the adjacent, clear water table.

The incline was not great enough for the two new tubes, so I used small, plastic manipulatives taped together to give the tubes a little more height on the base end.

Without any instructions, the children knew exactly what to do with the Worm Slide.  They put the worms in the channels and poured water to make the worms race down into the tub next to the table.  There were different ways to get the worms into the channels: children placed them in by hand and some poured them out of containers into the channels.  Of course, some children just dumped them right on top of the apparatus.  Watch.

Worm Slide from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The first four seconds of this video was like a ballet.  Almost simultaneously, three different children worked inches apart on their own operations. The other 15 seconds is more ballet and a study in subtle gestures.

Someone figured out that the tops of the channels were a good place to line up the worms. Once each channel had a worm, she poured sequentially.

The children also used the tubes for their operations.  A child would pour worms and water down the tube and the child at the other end would catch.  It happened that sometimes the child on the catching end was not expecting to catch. What fun!  Watch.

Connected in playUntitled from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

There were at least two captivating aspects to this video.  The first was the unconscious motor planning it took for the child with the coffee can to get it out of the table so he could pour the water down the tube.  His movements were fluid: the can was lifted out of the water with two hands; his right hand went over the top of the tube; he pulled the can over the tube and out of the table with his right hand; and the left hand went immediately to support the can as he moved it to the tube. The second was how quickly the girl's exclamation went from one of vexation to one of delight. They were connected in play at that very instant.  Did they know it?

In one class, the PVC pipe came loose from the lip of the small water table.  It did not stop play, but created an invitation for a different kind of transporting and filling.  
 Oh, am I glad I keep that 5 Gallon Pail next to the table at all times.

Their imagination was fluid and they made use of all the materials at their disposal.  Another example of that fluid imagination was when one child combined two unrelated objects to make a new, unconventional scoop.

New tool from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

By taking two very ordinary objects---a minnow net and a empty container---this child has done something extraordinary.  He has created a new tool for retrieving the worms and the water without having to get his hands wet.

When children have the time and space to do their own thing without adult instruction or interruption, the ordinary easily morphs into the extraordinary.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Early in my career, I did a little dumpster diving.  Heck, that is how I got the plywood pieces for my first loft.  I hardly dumpster dive anymore, mainly because parents and colleagues know I build installations for the sensory table, so they are always bringing me all manner of usable scrap material. The last time I did dumpster dive was a couple of years ago when I was walking by a greenhouse that was going out of business.  I was intrigued by double-wall, clear plexiglass sheets in the dumpster.  I was intrigued enough to retrieve them.
What piqued my interest the most were the long, narrow channels.  In my mind, I thought they would make a great water apparatus.

Fast forward to this year.  After looking at the plexiglass for over two years, I finally decided what to do with them.  Make a Worm Slide.  I have made a couple of different Worm Slides.  One used long, narrow pvc pipes.

That was back in 2007.  A couple of years ago, I revived the Worm Slide and added clear plastic tubing woven through a hole in the crate that served as the base of the apparatus.

Why do I call these apparatuses Worm Slides?  Because I add plastic fishing worms or lures to the table for the children to put into the pipes or tubes.  Then, they flush them down by pouring water into those same pipes or tubes.  I'm always on the lookout for lures on sale at the end of the fishing season.

To make a new Worm Slide out of one of the plexiglas sheets, I first had to clean out the channels.  They were dirty to begin with, but with two more years of sitting outside, they were a mess.  How do you get spider webs out of a long, narrow tube.?  I used a rag and a long, narrow metal rod as a plunger and they cleaned up nicely.

I wanted to provide easier access to the narrow channels, so I cut 2 - 4" off the top of each channel.

I decided to lay one plexiglass sheet on top of the other in hopes of creating a cascade as the children poured the water into the channels.

There was one big problem with this configuration.  The two plexiglass sheets were too heavy together to keep stable on the slant.  The tape held for one class period, but I could tell that it was not going to last the week.  And besides, because the two sheets were clear, there was no discernible effect with the two sheets on top of each other.

I took the apparatus apart right after class.  Fortunately, I had a helper who was willing to plunge into the pvc frame to collect all the worms.
This is a perfect example of Axiom #2 in the righthand column of the blog which states that children will explore all space in any given apparatus no matter how big or how small.  I actually think that the task of retrieving the worms from inside the space created by the frame added a challenge that sustained the collecting until every worm was accounted for.

I consider this configuration of a Worm Slide a failure.  I recently read a quote from a scientist in which he basically said that science lives on failures.  Without failures, we are not compelled to find more and different solutions.

To be continued...