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, August 19, 2017

Boxes in boxes

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like cardboard boxes.  For me, when you have multiple boxes, there is no end as to how they can be configured.  I made the following apparatus from four cardboard boxes.  
I constructed this "boxes in boxes" apparatus using a large box (#1) as the base. In one corner of the base, I completely embedded a square-topped box(#2).  I partially embedded another relatively large box(#3) on a vertical into the base box.  To complete the apparatus, I added a narrow channel box(#4) on top of the base that continued on through box #3.

Here are the four boxes before I started to build the apparatus.  They are all different sizes and shapes.

I first embedded and taped box #2 inside one corner of the base box.  I set box #3 on the vertical and decided to partially embed it inside the base box.  Why did I embed this box only partially into the base?  My thought was to leave a little more space on top of box #1 to offer more area for the children to play on that level.   I left the portion of box #3 facing out completely open so the children could have easy access into that box.


I next set the channel box (#4) on top of the base box.  Since it was as long as the base box, I cut a hole in box #3 so it ran through box #3.  For structural integrity, I added a cardboard wall (#5) inside the opening of the base box underneath the channel box.  I also left the flap on the base box so I could tape it down to the table for stability.


Here is a view from the other side of the apparatus.  I cut all the flaps but the bottom flap to give the children a big space in which to operate inside that box.  I left the bottom flap on because, like on the other side, I wanted to tape it down to the table for stability. Because box #3 is on the vertical, it is higher than the base box.  And since the channel box(#4) rests on the base box on the outside, it almost seems like it hangs in the air on the inside of box #3.

One of the more interesting spaces for the children in this apparatus was the square-top box embedded in the corner of the base box.  Because children like to fill containers, this box offered them a container that they could fill.
The reason that is significant is that it gave the children foundational experiences with volume.  As the children added corn to the box, the level continued to rise until it was full.  And with a full box, they tested how far they could bury their hands in the box.

This apparatus offered children a complex variety of spaces on multiple levels for their operations.  Please note that the boxes could have been put together in any number of ways.  On the day I built it, this is how it came together.   

If you build, I would encourage you to think inside, outside and around the boxes.  Creating rich spaces for the children to explore lays the foundation for learning not only in math but in all the domains.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Big box inside the table

I always joke that you can pretty much guess what I just bought by looking at the apparatus in the sensory table.  However, that it is not a joke.  Here is a case in point that I have never written about.  Eleven years ago, I bought a big plastic deck box.   After putting together the plastic deck box, I brought its empty cardboard box into school to see what I could make for the sensory table.  As it turned out, the box fit into the table lengthwise.

The big deck box slid into the table to a depth of about 4 inches.  To give the deck box stability, I embedded it in a another plain cardboard box that spanned the width of the table.  I set it in the middle of this second box so there would be equal access to the table on both sides.   There ended up to be space underneath the white box almost like it was floating a couple of inches off the bottom of the table.
By embedding the white box in the other cardboard box, I created some intriguing spaces that were narrow and deep on both sides of the white box.  The apparatus ended up looking like it had wings on each side of the white box.  Children poured corn into the top openings and they accessed the corn at the bottom of the table through the large window cut in the brown box.  Because I cut a similar window hole in the white box directly across from the window hole in the brown box, children also accessed the corn that accumulated at the bottom of the white box. 

As the children accessed the corn in the bottom of the white box, they found a hole in the bottom of the white box that emptied into the bottom of the table.  If a child wanted to, she could stretch through three holes and three segmented spaces to scoop the corn from the bottom of the table.  I would think that would qualify as a wonderful exercise in spatial literacy.
So all the corn would not accumulate in the confines of the brown box, I needed to cut a hole in the brown box at the bottom as an outlet for the corn.  

I cut a lot of big windows in this apparatus.  Whether the children were on the sides or the ends of the apparatus, there were clear sight lines through the apparatus giving them different perspectives.  Not only did they encounter different perspectives through the holes, they also gained some fundamental experiences with depth perception.

After a week, I added cardboard tubes set on an incline on each side of the apparatus.  The tubes emptied into a storage bin at the end of the table.
I also cut out "windows" in the tubes so the children could catch a glimpse of the corn sliding down the tube.

I thought I had created a lot of intriguing spaces that the children accessed through all the different windows.   To tell you the truth, I did not even count the space on top of the apparatus.  Even though I did not count it, the children did.  Below, they used the top of the white box as a shelf to hold all their full containers.
 When I look at this last picture, I can't help but think that the children did an admirable job of using the space on top of the white box so all their full containers fit, even the spoons which are laid across a couple of the holes on top.   Now that is some good math.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Minnow nets

I often times liked to include different size minnow nets on the shelf next to the sensory table with the other hodgepodge and doohickies.   In the picture below, I set out two different size nets, the smaller set was green and the larger set had white netting.
I first used the minnow nets with a worm slide apparatus.  The idea behind the nets was to provide implements for the children to catch the worms coming out the tubes or pipes.   Using nets was much different than catching the worms with other containers.  For instance, the net did not hold water like other containers and the worms always ended up at the bottom of the net.   The two pictures below illustrate those differences.

In the following video, the children scoop the plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) into their nets.  One child seems to be directing the play by urging the two other children playing with her to hurry and catch the worms before they get away.

We need to catch the worms from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The nets were perfect implements for catching the worms because water flowed through the tiny holes of the nets but the worms did not.  However, because the nets were so flaccid, getting the worms out of the nets proved to be tricky.

How to get the worms out of the minnow net from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the child could not simply turn the net over to dump out the worms, he tried to dislodge the worms by hitting the net against the side of the table and then against the side of the tub.  He used a little more force each time he tried extricate the worms   On the third try, he accidentally hits the head of the minnow net against the side of the table which somehow allowed all the worms to fly out of the net to his great surprise and delight.

I also found that the minnow nets worked well water beads.  In the video below, a child uses a minnow net to transport water beads into a clear plastic tube.

Transporting water beads with a minnow net from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

That was one full minnow net.  What is interesting is that the child figured out how to empty his minnow net by using one hand to push up the net from the bottom.  That was important because that allowed him to get almost all the beads into the tube.

I also set out the minnow nets with some dry medium, too.  With the Jurassic sand, the nets became like  wispy sieves.  With corn, the nets became supple containers. 

Before I finish this post, I want to go back to the worms and catching worms with the net.  One child created a new worm catching tool using a bottle and the small green minnow net.

New worm catching tool from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child found a bottle that he could wedge into the minnow net so the bottle would not fall out if he tipped it upside down.  Using his new tool, he was able to scoop both water and worm to transport it around the table.

Where did the child come up with the idea to make a new tool?  Was his first thought: I wonder if I can put this bottle in the net.  When he did that, did he know he made a tool?  Was the tool only realized once he tried to use it as a new type of scoop?  Was there pleasure in the making of the tool?  Was there pleasure in the using of the tool?  I do not know the answers to those questions.  Maybe a better question is: What implements or materials make for a rich mix of paraphernalia to foster creative exploration to discover new possibilities for play?   For me, one of the implements is surely a minnow net.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Boxes in boxes first edition

While I was looking over pictures I took when I first started building things for the sensory table, I found some that depict the first edition of boxes in boxes.  The pictures are over 25 years old.  I remember making this apparatus because my first yellow sand table was so small.  It measured all of 2' x 2' and stood only a few inches off the ground.   I really wanted to expand the table to increase its capacity.  To that end, I taped a box to the side of the yellow table.  This box was almost as big as the table so I was able to practically double the size of the sand table.  In addition, I set up another box so it rested on the lip of the yellow table on two sides.  On one side, it simply hung over the table.  On the other side, it was embedded in the box taped to the side of the table.  
In essence, I created an apparatus that more than doubled the working space for children at the sand table.  Not only that, I also increased the number of levels they could work on.  See #2 under Elements and Orientations and #3 under Axioms on the right hand column of this blog. 

With this construction, I also created some unique spaces in which the children could operate.  There was the space underneath the horizontal box over the yellow table.  There was the space inside the horizontal box.

There was also the space inside the box next to the table.  That space was different because it was surrounded by high cardboard walls and accessed through deep openings cut in the sides of the box.  That space was also intriguing because the horizontal box encroached into the volume of that box and the encroachment created new spaces underneath and on both sides.

This was an open design in which the children could access the spaces in multiple ways.  They could go over the top or work though the holes cut in the side and on the end.
In the picture above, a child even used the corner of the horizontal box to support his container as he worked with the sand.

I have begun to wonder if the apparatus I built for the sensory table---even from the beginning---can be considered a loose part and be informed by Simon Nicholson Theory of Loose Parts.   His theory states: 
          "In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the
            possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of
            variables in it."

Can the spaces, levels and holes I created when I built the apparatus be considered variables for the purposes of his theory?  

I come about this question from a couple of different angles.  The first is in relation to what I usually see as examples of indoor loose part constructions on the internet.   Much of what I see has a definite artsy quality to it.  I am thinking of pictures I have seen of jewels, sticks, rocks, scarves, mirrors, etc. that are usually arranged symmetrically with an eye for aesthetics.    Not only are these beautiful constructions, they also fulfill another important part of Nicholson's theory, namely, that is important for children to construct the environment so it becomes more meaningful to them.

The second angle follows from the first and it always comes up when I do workshops.  People ask me if I include the children in the building process.  I have never had a good answer for that question other than to say: "No.  That is my creative outlet.  And doesn't everyone need a creative outlet?"  

So not only are my cardboard and duct tape constructions not beautiful, children are not part of the building process.  Have I just answered my own question?   On the other hand, even though the children do not do the actual building, they do make the apparatus their own through their play and exploration.   Is there a place in the theory of loose parts for a static object such as a boxes in boxes apparatus with its affordances as the variables that are only realized through the children's explorations of those affordances?  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tube through wardrobe box on an incline

In the spring of 2013, I wrote a piece about an apparatus made from a wardrobe box.  Moving companies have them for boxing up closets without having to take the clothes off hangers.  I set the box on an incline and cut a big hole on the high end of the box and big holes on both sides of the box.  I cut a slit at the bottom of the box so the corn the children poured into the box would drop out into the blue bin next to the table.
I propped the box on an incline using a planter tray in a wooden tray that spanned the width of the table.  I taped the box down at the points where the box made contact with the trays and the lip of the table.  In the picture, it might look like the child leaning into the box at the top just might bring the whole thing down, but it was taped down well enough to pass the child-pulling-down-on-it test.  You can find the original post here.

Throughout my career, I changed the apparatus in the sensory table religiously every week.  Sometimes that meant I modified an existing apparatus.  The wardrobe box on an incline was such a case.  I simply added a clear plastic tube that ran the length of the box on the bottom.

What I expected children to do was to pour the corn down the clear plastic tube.  As predicted, they did and as they did, they closely watched how the corn slid down the tube.

If someone was pouring up top, then another child at the bottom would catch the corn coming out of the tube.  Again, as predicted, a child would inevitably catch the corn coming out of the bottom of the tube.  However, since the children could not see each other, there were challenges in synchronizing the pouring and catching of the corn.  

Catching the corn from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This  was actually a nice bit of cooperation, communication and persistence.  The child at the bottom wanted to fill his cup completely.  He only caught a few kernels from the first corn that was dropped down the tube.  The second time, the child up top poured more corn down the tube, but the child on the bottom was out of position to catch all the corn he wanted.  The child on the bottom asked the child on top for a big scoop.  When the child up top poured this time, the child at the bottom was ready.  To his delight, he was able to fill his cup.

The children quickly figured out that the metal cup fit nicely over the clear plastic tube which allowed them to plug it.  See the corollary to Axiom #6 on the right hand column of this blog:  whenever possible, the children will completely block the flow of a medium.

Once they figured out that they could block the tube, a whole new set of operations emerged.  One of them was to fill the tube with the corn and whatever else would fit down the tube.   Early in the week, someone forced something into the tube that eventually got stuck in the tube.  I found a couple of sticks and offered them to the children so they could push the the object out the bottom of the tube.  I decided to leave the sticks in the area for further play.   As the children filled the tube, they started to use the sticks to jam the corn in the tube.

Jamming corn in the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did the children decide to try to push the corn further down the tube?  How did the children know they could use the sticks to that end?   They seemed to have had a plan and were already accomplished "jammers."  Did you see how close the boy's stick came to the girl's head when he was jamming?  Was the productive use of the sticks worth the risk?  What do you think?

When the plug was pulled and the corn emptied out of the tube, one of the children put a stick down the tube.  That created a problem: how to get the stick out.  The child tried to pull it out at the bottom but it kept hitting the bin so he could not get it out.

Since he could not get it out through the bottom, he started pushing it back up the tube.  When he did that, he asked the girl if she could reach it.  The first time he asked, he did not get a response.  He re-positioned his body in an attempt to talk around the box instead of through it.  The second time he asked, she heard and took a look down the tube to see what he wanted her to reach.

I want you to reach it from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The girl could not reach it, so the boy found a long-handled paint brush to push the stick further up the tube.  What a nice bit of tool making to extend his reach!  When he did that, the stick actually touched the girl's fingers.  She still insisted that she could not quite reach it. 

I can't quite reach it from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Eventually, she grabbed it and pulled it out of the tube.  After looking at the video, I think she could have reached the stick sooner, but she was teasing her companion just a little bit.  Just look at her smile at the end of the video. 

I can't even begin to deconstruct the images in this post because the play and exploration is so complex.  The images are snapshots in time; I can see what is happening in those images, but my understanding of what children are thinking is only partial.  I essentially miss all that happens before and after and in between the captured images, which undoubtedly is important to understanding the action.

I am not saying we should not try to deconstruct the images because how else will we know on some level the children and their thoughts.  However, at some point, I  just want to relish the gestalt of the ebb and flow of the children actions around the box with the tube, the corn and the sticks.  For me, the whole breadth of the action is greater than the sum of its parts.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trays in a box

I like big boxes and I like trays.  A few years ago, I decided to combine a big box with some trays.  What I got was a crazy looking contraption that fostered a lot of exploration of the spaces that were created by combining the box and the trays in a rather unique way.
I inserted two trays inside the table to form the base of the structure and hold it above the table.  I taped these trays to the table and the box to the these trays.  I embedded one tray completely through the middle of the box.  On another level. I partially embedded two trays in the box on each side.  These two trays floating out from each side offered a structure which seemed to have an odd balance.   

Here is a view from the other side.  Note the holes on the top of the apparatus.  I cut those directly above each of the trays.  I also cut holes in the bottom of the box over the support trays so the corn would not collect in the bottom of the box.
In essence, I created an apparatus with lots of intriguing spaces to explore on several levels.   Spaces that were over, under, around and through.  You can read more about how the children explored all those spaces here and here.

Since I have already written about how the children operated in the spaces created by the trays in the boxes, I want to explore how the children used the clear plastic tube that was wedged between two trays and emptied into the big blue bin next to the table.

Specifically, I want to explore the sounds the children created and experienced as they worked with the tube and the corn.   In other words, the aural nature of their experience.  In the first example, four children created a virtual cacophony.   Listen to hear how many different sounds the children produced while using the corn and the tube for their operations.

Filling the tube from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

In 15 seconds, there was the sound of the child scooping corn in his measuring cup and pouring down the tube.  There was the sound of the corn rushing out of the tube when the child unplugged the full tube.  There was the sound of the corn piling into the yellow pail as one of the children caught the corn exiting the tube.  And finally, there was the sound of the child drumming on the tube with his plastic spoon.  There was some verbal communication, but I was struck by how much of the sound and communication was nonverbal.

I want to contrast that cacophony with the sound of a child dropping individual pieces of corn down the tube so they hit a pie tin propped up in the bin at the bottom of the tube.

Pie tin from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This child was pleased with his discovery of how the individual kernels of corn hit the pie tin and made a unique sound.  He did ask me if I was ready because he wanted to share his discovery with me.  But again, his operation and communication were essentially nonverbal. 

Sound also played a really important part in this last clip.  A child had been catching corn from the tube with his little metal pot.  The piling of the corn into his pot had a distinctive sound.  All of a sudden, he heard a solid clink in his pot when I dropped a wooden ring down the tube.  Watch his surprise and delight.

A little joke from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I could have told him that I was going to drop the ring down the tube and to listen to the difference.  But no, for me it was kind of a joke.  You can tell by his laugh that he understood it completely.   Now even the joke was nonverbal.

There is an aural component to every apparatus and every medium.  By stepping back and listening, I get a better understanding of how children can learn to discriminate sounds.  Words are important but so are sounds without words.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Flex tube in a bucket

Here is an oldie but goodie.  I built the flex tube in a bucket over 20 years ago by taping an aluminum tube into a five-gallon bucket.
The aluminum tube was left over from the tubing I used to vent a new water heater I installed back then.  I originally thought I would incorporate it in a box structure but I eyed the bucket first and viola!  I propped the tube in the bucket by wedging it between the handle and the bucket.  Then I taped the whole thing together with lots of duct tape.
To make it more inviting to pour into, I added a funnel at the top.  Also, by taping the funnel to the top, I was able to cover any sharp edges at the top of the aluminum tube.

In one way, it worked just as planned: the children could pour the sand in the funnel and they could manipulate the tube by bending it.  However, before too long I realized the design flaw: when the tube was bent , the sand would get stuck in the bend which made the apparatus unstable.  Subsequently, I taped a stick to the aluminum tube to restrict how much the children could bend the tube.
If you look closely, you can see how I did the taping for this project.   I first taped the tube with horizontal strips that held it to the side of the bucket.  I tucked the horizontal strips of tape slightly behind the tube to hold the tube snug against the bucket.  Next, I used vertical strips secured over the lip of the bucket to reinforce the horizontal strips.  I taped the tube so it was six inches from the bottom of the pail otherwise sand would build up in the tube.  I taped the stick at the bottom and the top to the bucket and then wound tape around the tube and the stick to make the tube more rigid.

I never used this as a stand-alone piece.  Instead, I used it as an additional bucket into which the children could transport.  To understand why transporting is important, see axiom #1 on the right hand column of the blog.  To get even a better understanding of why transporting into pails is important, read my second-ever post from 2010 here.

Since it was a stand-alone piece, I would use in combination with other apparatus.  I could easily set it up with water apparatus either outdoors or indoors.

The flex tube in a bucket worked just as well with sand. 

People have often asked me for ideas for sand and water play without a sand and water table.  This could pass for one of those ideas.  Add a few more buckets or tubs and the children will transport to their hearts content. 

The quality of the pictures was not so good because I had to take digital pictures of prints that are over 20 years old.  The apparatus lasted for at least three years.  However, I never recreated this apparatus after I started taking digital pictures.  Why?  I am not sure because I did use the aluminum tubing again in apparatus when I was taking digital pictures, but never in the same way. 

What that tells me is that I used my documentation early on simply as a means of recording what I built with snippets of children playing at the apparatus.  I did not use the documentation to think about what I built and how children used it.  I am glad the images are still around for me to reflect on now, but some of the riches of how children thought with the apparatus are gone. 

Just an end note:  I will be one of the presenters for the Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.  The conference begins in a few days on July 10th.  With the virtual conference, you will be able to access the conference any time you want and as many times as you want.  You can check out the lineup and the topics here.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Playing in the rain

We watch our grandchildren a few times each month.  Over the last month, we have watched them twice while it was raining.  The first time it rained, I got out an apparatus called Pipes embedded in planter trays that I have been storing in my garage.  I built the apparatus for school a few years ago.  For the apparatus to work, the children have to fill the trays over the top of the pipes for water to spill into the holes on the top of the pipes.  Once the water spills into the pipes, the water exits the pipes at the end of the table.

For my two granddaughters, I simply propped the apparatus on the summer swimming pool and a couple of storage tubs.  We would take turns filling the trays and catching the water coming out the ends of the pipes.

The older of the two granddaughters used a funnel backwards to direct the water from the pipe into the black pail on the ground.  How is that for fashioning her own tool to direct the water where she wants it to go?

The younger one ended up at the sand table---a snow saucer containing sand that sat on top of a little lawn table. She kept piling the sand up saying she was making a mountain.  Her sister ended up joining her. 
Was my toddler granddaughter using the wet sand to represent the mountains she had just experienced on a family trip to Colorado?   Are you getting the idea that my grandchildren are above average?

Two weeks later, the older granddaughter and my grandson were over and it happened to be raining again.  Instead of bringing out any apparatus, we set up funnels and cups over the sewer grate in the alley behind the house.

I wanted to create a little greater flow into the grate so I bought out a snow shovel and started pushing the water to the grate.  Well, shoveling water became a thing.  My two grandchildren went in the garage to get their little "water" shovels. 

I also brought out flexible plastic tubes.  I thought we might be able to direct the water coming down the alley into the grate.  That did not work.  Instead, the children inserted the tubes as far as they could into the grate.  

Once they put the tubes all the way into the grate, they started pulling them out as fast as they could.  Why?  Maybe because pulling the tubes through the grate created a ripping sound or maybe because...?

I also brought out long PVC pipes.  I dropped them down into the grate to see how far they would go in.  They went halfway in before hitting bottom.  When I pulled them out, the two grandkids worked very hard to reinsert the pipes back into the grate.  Once they had reinserted the pipes in the grate, I decided to slide the flexible tubes over the pipes.   They immediately made up their own game of launching the tubes from the pipes.

Launching the tubes from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Because the pipes were so high, I had to keep replacing the tubes over the pipes.  I did not mind because there were too many good things going on, not the least of which were my grandchildren helping each other out and cheering each other on.

Both days we got soaking wet even though we had on our rain jackets and boots.  We did not care because we were so absorbed in our play.  The play was not built around toys to be bought.  It emerged spontaneously in our interactions with each other and the materials.   I can't forget the part rain played in our play because the rain made our entire world one big water table.

Just a end note:  I will be one of the presenters for the Fairy Dust 2017 Virtual Summer Conference.  The conference begins in a few days on July 10th.  With the virtual conference, you will be able to access the conference any time you want and as many times as you want.  You can check out the lineup and the topics here.

One final end note:  I will be presenting a version of the this presentation at the NAEYC national conference.  I recently learned that my presentation has been chosen as one of the ten featured presentations for the national conference in November.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

More thinking

Last week I wrote that the sensory table is a rich space for thinking for both me and the children.  I used examples of my thinking and children's thinking around an apparatus that I made from of a large box that I installed over the sensory table in such a way as to form two wide inclines.  I installed a box tower in the middle to support the inclines and make them stable.

I had a hard time writing that post because I tried to capture the thinking process in expansive terms to make it seem rich.  However, in writing the post, I made it sound like there was a linear progression between my thinking and the children's thinking.  That was not the case because our thinking processes were more like a dance in which the steps were not coordinated but still connected. The connection points were junctures in which all of us, both individually and collectively, made decisions about what our next non-choreographed steps would be.  At each juncture, there were multiple possibilities. To try to make it sound like one thing led to another did not do justice to our thinking.

I would like to try again to illustrate that the sensory table is a rich thinking space, but this time in a less linear way.  The thinking revolves around a tool I made for another apparatus.  It is a homemade plunger that I made by screwing a cap from a jar onto an end of a dowel.  (Dowels are expensive, so I re-purposed a shovel handle.)

Since I wanted to offer the plungers to the children for play with this apparatus, I needed to create an invitation as part of the apparatus.  To that end, I embedded two horizontal tubes: a cardboard tube and a white PVC pipe.  This was one of those juncture points for me.  What tubes do I use?  How long should they be?   Where should I position them in the apparatus?  Each decision would have changed the decisions the children could have and would have made.  Since I wanted the children to explore the apparatus with the plungers, one decision was dictated to me; namely, the diameter of the tubes had to match or be slightly greater than the diameter of the plungers.  That way the children could push the sand through the tubes with the homemade plungers, which they did.

The new invitation now created a juncture point for the children: what would they do with the plungers besides using them to push sand through the tubes?

Here are a couple of things two children came up with while working on opposite sides of the PVC pipe.  The child with the red hair inserted his plunger into the pipe.  The child in the stripes was about to insert his plunger into the hole when he saw a plunger coming from the other side.  The child in the stripes reached up and grabbed the end of the plunger.  He pulled it out of the other child's hand and right out of the pipe.

Where did the plunger go? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child with the red hair was quite baffled because he did not know what happened to his plunger.  He looked inside the pipe to see if it was there.  It was gone!  What was he going to do now?  He looked for his plunger on the other side of the table.  He found it almost immediately because the child in the stripes had already dropped it back into the table.  After retrieving his plunger, the redhead went back up on the stool to re-insert the plunger in the pipe.  This time he held it tight and slid it back and forth inside the pipe.  

Making noise with the homemade plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did he slide the plunger back and forth in the pipe because he thought it might disappear again?  I do not know, but he did seem to be pleased with the new noise (music?) he was making with his actions.  And that was reason enough to continue doing it.

At this point, I need to shift the focus to another feature of the apparatus.  I attached a long cardboard tube to the box tower.  That decision created another juncture point for me.  How long should the tube be?  How and where do I tape it down?  I made the decision to only attach the top of the cardboard tube and not the bottom.  I thought by attaching it only to the box tower on the top, the children would have license to direct the sand within the apparatus.

This invitation was juncture for the children.  My imagination is not good enough to guess all the possible operations the children could have come up with, but here are a couple of real ones.  The children found a cardboard chute that fit inside the cardboard tube.  They used it to fill a green plastic coffee can a child positioned over the bottom of the tube.

A chute in the tube filling the can from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

An interesting thing happened when the child tried to remove the coffee can from the tube.  Because he had to lift the tube up to remove the can from the bottom of the tube, he spilled sand onto the bottom of the apparatus.  The very act of spilling created another juncture point for two children who were standing around with the homemade plungers.  These two children saw this as an opportunity to jump into action.  They used the plungers to shovel the sand into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.

How did we get back to the plungers?  In other words, how did the plungers go from being a tool to push sand through the tubes; to an obstruction to be removed from the pipe; to an instrument for making noise; and finally, to a shovel of sorts?  There is certainly no way to draw a straight line connecting those transformations.  Rather, it happened in the context in which I was able to realize my thoughts in my head and with my hands and the children were able to realize their thoughts through individual and group actions in real time.   What makes this a rich space for thinking is the multitude of possibilities for individual and collective agency that constantly emerge with each new action/thought.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A rich space for thinking

In 2014, I built an apparatus I called the Box Peak.   I removed one side of a big narrow box and set it up over the sensory table in such a way as to create two large, open inclines. 
To make the whole structure stable, I embedded a box tower that supported the middle of the structure.   
I built it so children could experience pouring sand down a wide incline.  I had done other big inclines, but not this wide and not this open.  I cut a hole in the bottom of each incline for the sand to exit through the bottom of the apparatus and drop into tubs resting on the floor underneath the holes.  However, the holes I fashioned were much smaller than the width of the incline adding an additional challenge for the children to direct the sand into the holes.  

The reason I want to revisit this apparatus is because I want to demonstrate how the sensory table is a thinking space for both me and the children.   I have already offered my initial thoughts on the apparatus.  After watching the children engage with the space and materials, I decided to change the apparatus.  On one side of the apparatus, I installed a cardboard box that formed a chute for directing the sand into the hole at the bottom.
I cut two holes in the top of the chute, but purposefully kept its closed nature in contrast to the openness of the large box incline.   The closed nature of the chute also added an extra challenge for the children to track the sand traveling through the chute.  I also wanted to provided a second path for the children to pour the sand through the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.  The child in the video below illustrates the two paths quite nicely.

Putting sand in the hole two different ways from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

She seemed very methodical in her operations.  She filled the pink cup two times.  The first time she poured the sand directly into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.  The second time she poured the sand indirectly into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus because the sand had to first travel down and out the chute.

Next, I added a horizontal chute onto the top of the apparatus.  Much like the inclined chute, I cut holes on the top at the two ends.  One hole emptied into the box tower and the other one emptied into the top of the inclined chute.
My idea was to have the children figure out the path of the sand from the top of the apparatus to the bottom of the apparatus, again adding an extra challenge for the children to track the sand going through two chutes.

Once they had figured out the path of the sand, they came up with their own self-appointed task: to modify the path of the sand.  One child found a clear plastic tube and inserted it through the hole in the bottom of the apparatus up into the inclined chute. 

When they were satisfied that the tube captured the sand coming down the chute and directed it through the hole at the bottom of the apparatus, it was time for another change in their thinking.  What would happen if the tube rested in the sand at the bottom of the tub next to the sand table?

That led to a more articulated joint endeavor: filling the tube with sand through their modified path.   
Using that one loose part and the affordances of the set up, the children changed the apparatus to fit their own evolving ideas.

My thinking begins with an idea of something I would like to build.  Once the apparatus is built, I turn it over to the children for their thinking.  Their thinking is doing; it is playing with ideas that surface in their actions.  Once I observe how the children think in this space, then I come up with new ideas that I try to realize.  Then it is the children's turn again, and so the thinking continues.  There is not script.  Ideas bounce around that emerge from our actions with others and with the materials and the setup.   In other words, this is a rich space for thinking for me and the children.