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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, October 18, 2014


I have built two types of dividers.  One type, a Cubicle Divider, divides the sensory table into cubicle-like spaces.

The most recent type, a Triangular Divider, partitions the table into triangular spaces.

I am left with the question: How does changing the configuration of the divider change the children's play and exploration?

Some of the operations, of course, stay the same.  In both configurations, there is a lot of transporting through the holes in the cardboard walls.
Another similarity is the degree of enhanced focus for the play within a divided space whether it is rectangular or triangular.  Is that the result of each space being enclosed by walls of cardboard, thus keeping out distractions?
The biggest difference in play, though, does not seem to come from the shape of the spaces. Rather, it comes from one feature particular to the Triangle Divider.  In dividing up the table into triangular spaces, a kind of reservoir, or totally enclosed space, is created.  You can see it in the square space labeled 4 in the picture below.
That square is accessed through spaces 2, 3, 5 and 6.  In all practicality, it is a common space. Children can pour the pellets into the space or scoop the pellets out of the space, but because it is enclosed on four sides, children cannot occupy it like they can the triangular spaces.

So how does that change the play?  It changes the play by creating more physical challenges. That is not so true for pouring into the reservoir, but it is true for scooping out of the reservoir.  I ended up with a lot of pictures of arms reaching through the windows to get at the pellets.  
You can see that it is a physical challenge by this boy's body position.   He has to bend down; reach through the hole; look through the hole to gauge his operation; and keep his balance by holding the divider with his left hand.  

In the picture above, the children have already spent a fair amount of time filling the reservoir. When the reservoir is low, this whole operation becomes that much more challenging.
Oh my, that is a good stretch.

There is an additional physical challenged fostered by the feature.  A child does not necessary have to go through one of the holes to get at the pellets.
As you can see, this child goes over the top.  That is possible for two reasons: 1) the apparatus is made from two-ply cardboard which is more rigid and 2) the triangular configuration makes the structure stronger.  Whether you think that this child's attempts to reach the pellets is good or not, he would have never had the chance for this physical challenge without this reservoir feature.

There is one more difference of note in the children's play between the two types of dividers.  With the original Cubicle Divider, there is more cross-barrier social interaction.  There is much more peeking through the windows and openings to see who is on the other side; there are more attempts to engage the other with games like peek-a-boo.

There is definitely social interaction with the Triangle Divider, too, but it seems to be different.  It tends to be more utilitarian in nature.  For instance, a group of children will enthusiastically fill the reservoir in a joint effort.

Why is there so little social interaction between the cardboard walls in the Triangle Divider?  Is the space too cramped to foster a boisterous game of peek-a-boo?  Does the greater number of windows and openings in the cardboard walls of the Cubicle Divider give license for children to engage each other more through the holes?  I do not know, but it is clear that the configurations promote some operations that are similar for each and some other operations that are unique to each.  Are the possibilities limitless?  Probably not, but the children in their interactions with the spaces will test the boundaries---or in this case, the cardboard walls---and create a multitude of responses that give multiple meaning to the spaces.  Wait, are we talking spatial literacy here?

Saturday, October 11, 2014


A little over a year ago, I wrote a post on Cardboard Dividers.  This apparatus is basically sheets of cardboard spliced together to partition the sand table.
In the version pictured above, the sand table is partitioned into six areas.  Note that there are openings in the cardboard partitions.  Those are there to foster transporting through barriers and to offer unique opportunities for intriguing social interaction.

This past summer, I was in the UK and the Netherlands for a total of 13 talks and workshops.  In one of  the workshops in the south of England, in Bournemouth, one of the participants came up with a new version of the Cardboard Divider apparatus.
This participant took four sheets of cardboard of roughly equal measurements.  She first spliced two together to make an X.  She did the same with the other two sheets and then taped the two X's together.  The result was an apparatus that was unique and creative and worth replicating.

When I say it is worth replicating, I mean I made a note by the picture that I wanted to replicate it in my sand table.  Before I show you the resulting apparatus, I would really like to take you through the process I used to build this new type of Cardboard Divider.  WARNING: We are about to enter the world of mathematics.

The first thing I needed to do was to measure the dimensions of my table.  My table is 46" long and 21.5" wide.  I drew a diagram with the dimensions of the table.  Next, I added the X's in the table.  I saw that when I did that I had the lengths for two sides of a triangle.  All I had to do was figure out the length of the third side of the triangle so I would know the length of each sheet of cardboard I would need.
The side I needed to know is in red.  It is the longest side and is called the hypotenuse.  This looked a lot like a high school geometry problem.  I searched using the phrase: "finding the third side of a triangle." Google promptly provided the Pythagorean Theorem.  You can see the theorem in the notes above.  The "c" in the equation is the hypotenuse.  The squaring and adding of numbers was easy, but I could not remember how to find the square root.  When I Googled that, the first suggestion was to use the calculator on a smart phone.  I laughed.  The second suggestion was to estimate.  And that is what I did.  The answer I ended up with was 31.5"  You can see from the notes that it is not exact, but it looked so close I was pretty sure it would work. And besides, cardboard can be bent or modified easily; it is very forgiving.

I now knew I needed four sheets of cardboard that were 31.5" long.   The height was not critical, but I did want them to be at least 24" so they would rise above the table at least 15." (My table is 9" deep.) It just so happened my neighbor bought some big posters and was willing to share his boxes with me.

I cut out the sheets to size and then cut slits in the middle of each.  Each slit was cut halfway up the sheet.

When I got to school, I spliced the sheets together to come up with two X's.  Before doing much taping, I had to see if they really fit.  To my great delight, they did.

You should have felt like there was a lot of math in this post.  It should not have felt like high school geometry, though, because this was a real life problem.  Though the children were not part of the building, they are still part of the math.  How often do you think children get to work in triangular spaces?

I do not know who the early years practitioner was at Tops Nursery in Bournemouth, but if you are reading this blog, I would like to thank you for the inspiration.

I am so glad inspiration is a two-way street with some worthwhile twists and turns---and even some nice angles.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Last week's post was about a Channel Board, which is an incline installation that is divided into three channels with each channel having its own surface.  When water is poured down the channels, the children see how water flows over the different surfaces.

For this week's apparatus, I repurposed the Channel Board.  I removed the rubber mat from one of the channels, but left the DRICORE squares in the other.  The Channel Board then became the base for a wavy mirror that I had made for the classroom over 25 years ago.  The result was a Channel Board with a Funhouse Mirror.

Here is the frame for the funhouse mirror.  The frame is 12" wide and 32" long.  There are cross braces to give the frame stability and strength. The braces are flush with the top of the frame to also give the mirror more strength and stability

I painted the frame red with a high gloss paint.  I then attached the frame to the Channel Board by screwing the cross pieces into the boards that form the inside channels.  When the frame was attached, I screwed the mirror onto the frame.  The mirror is a plastic mirror sheet no thicker than tagboard that is duct taped to 1/4" flexible plastic piece.  The tagboard-thin mirror sheet does not have enough body strength to be used by itself, thus the plastic backing.
The side panels were added last.  They are made from the same black plastic as the base of the Channel Board.  The sharp corners were easily rounded using a utility knife.  The seams for the panels were caulked with bathroom caulk.

This is still a Channel Board because there are channels for the water to flow down.  And the channels still have different surfaces.  Now, however, the channels have added dimensional components.  The channels can now be categorized as above, on the side, below and through. That makes pouring and catching the water more intriguing.

One of the most captivating features of this apparatus is how the reflected images change when water is poured over the funhouse mirror surface.  Watch the reaction of the child who is looking at herself in the mirror as other children pour water.

Because the video is taken from a different angle than her perspective, I am not sure what she sees.  She is clearly happy and fascinated.  Part of the fascination has to come from the changing image as the rate of water flow slows and her image becomes more clear.  And part of it has to come from seeing her image through the rippling water.

I do not have a good understanding of the physics part of what she is experiencing.  I have a better understanding of some other operations that emerged from children exploring this apparatus.  One of those operations was simply rubbing the smooth, wet surface of the mirror with hands.  Watch. 

This is a true sensory experience.  Children gather so much information about the world through their hands.  In fact, when something is attractive to a child, he has a hard time keeping his hands off the desired object.  Rubbing the mirror, feeling how smooth it is, and then having the water poured over his hands is the child's way of collecting a little bit of knowledge of the world through his hands.

Though this Channel Board is more elaborate because of the funhouse mirror, some of the simplest operations must not be overlooked.  Below is a video of a child simply catching the water with a pink cup as it flows off the mirror surface.  Pay attention to her reaction at the end.

Was that a laugh of satisfaction having caught the water in a relatively fast stream of water flowing down the channel?  Or was it simply a laugh of wonderment and joy?

It took me over 25 years to figure out how to incorporate the funhouse mirror into water play at the sensory table.  It was not until I remade a lighter Channel Board that I saw a way to make it part of an apparatus.  In fact, if you were around me as I built this, you might have heard a little chuckle of satisfaction and joy.  Can you tell that the building process is play for me?  I saw a comment not long ago in reference to this blog and the building process.  The person said: build it and it will happen.  I encourage you to play and to build things.  Some joy and laughter may ensue from the children---and maybe even from you.  Again, build it and it will happen.


Sunday, September 28, 2014


Back in October 2012, I wrote a post about an apparatus I call the Channel Board.  
The Channel Board is a flat board (18" wide and 36" long) divided into three channels.  2"x 4" pieces of wood are screwed to the board through the bottom to form the channels.  Each channel is rigged with a different surface so when the children pour water down, they see how water flows over different surfaces.

One of the big issues with this apparatus was that it was very heavy and hard to keep securely taped down.  This past week I remade this apparatus using lighter materials.   I took a sheet of black plastic and used screws to attach 1"x 2" pre-finished molding to form the channels.

To give the plastic sheet extra strength so it would not bow in the middle, I made a frame out of 3/4" PVC pipe.  I first screwed the strips of wood from the back onto the sheet of black plastic.

 I then screwed the frame onto the black plastic sheet.

The first apparatus had bubble wrap, plastic drainage pipe and rubber matting.  I wanted to try something else this time around.  In one end channel, I screwed in several DRICORE squares used for leveling floors. They are plastic squares that measure 5"x 5" with little nubs all in a row.  
I actually bought these squares several years ago thinking I would use them someday for an apparatus at the sensory table.  And finally---voila!

In the other end channel, I attached rubber matting.  I used carpet transition pieces on both ends to hold it down and in place.  The rubber matting is purposefully attached with the ribs perpendicular to the channel walls so there is a ripple effect to the water flow.  
I used rubbing matting before, but this time I glued pieces of pipe underneath so that there would be bumps for this version of the apparatus.  You get a better view of the bumps under the rubber mat with a side view.
This view also shows how a planter tray is used to create the incline for the apparatus.  

I did not purposefully leave the middle channel clear.  I glued rocks to the middle channel with liquid nails.  You cannot see the rocks because one of the first undertakings of the children was to see if they could remove the rocks.  As is very apparent, they were successful.

Even though I was disappointed to see the rocks removed, it actually led to a lot of good experimentation in the middle channel.  For instance, the children discovered there was a dramatic effect to the water rushing down the middle channel, especially compared to the water flowing down the  two end channels.  Watch as sheets of water rush down the center channel.

Did you see at the end the child placing the car in the channel?  He releases it just as he pours the water with his other hand?  Is he trying to make the car go faster by purposefully placing it in the stream of water?  There had to be a certain amount of thrill to see the water zoom down the channel.  Is that feeling intensified when a car is added to the flow?

Contrast that episode with an episode of a child rolling a motorcycle down the channel with the rubber matting and the bumps.

Herein lies the beauty of this apparatus.  It provides children with a chance to experiment with flow over different surfaces.  The flow can be with water, cars or other objects.   Not only are there endless possibilities for the children to experiment, but there are endless possibilities for the builder to experiment and be creative with equipping the channels with different surfaces. 

What would you like to see in the channels?  Now go try it.

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.)