Video Source: Tom Bedard’s Blog
A terrific article on the MenTeach website profiles preschool teacher Tom Bedard, a.k.a. “a sort of preschool MacGyver (that classic television character who made extraordinary things out of ordinary objects).”
“I go through the hardware stores and think, ‘Huh! What can I use this for?’” Bedard, a 65 year-old resident of St. Paul, Minn., says in the article. “I’m known for my sand and water tables. I build in and around the tables to make them unique spaces for the kids to play and learn.
One water table is “a wondrous contraption” that’s actually “two tables fashioned into one long one and stacked with accessories like swimming noodles and coffee filters.”
As he approached retirement, Bedard reflected on his career in early education.
“I thought I would get a science degree,” Bedard says. “But, my first semester, calculus and physics didn’t go so well. I started taking psychology classes instead and really liked them.”
“I had been a tennis instructor in my former life,” he says. “I’d be the one to do the kids’ classes. No one else wanted to, but I found I had an affinity for working with kids.”
“I think they’re better learners,” he says. “First of all, they’re very busy, always moving. If you set up a structure to keep them moving, they’re great learners.”
Bedard earned a “degree in child psychology (later, he earned his master’s degree in early childhood education).”
He got a job at a child care center.
“‘Coming out of college, I remember saying, ‘I won’t take less than $4 an hour,’” he says. “I got offered a job that made $3.64 an hour, with the idea that within six months it would be $4 an hour. And it was.”
His parents told friends that this work was only temporary, until he got the proverbial “real job.”
“It was very touching, though, my mother actually did come around: In 2009, when I was up for Teacher of the Year here in Minnesota — the first time an early childhood teacher was a finalist — she was very proud.”
When he needed more money to support his family, Bedard became a center director, but eventually he went back to teaching — and he saw the need for better water tables.
“One of the first big changes I did was put in cardboard dividers,” he says. “It divided the table into four little compartments. The reason I did it was the squabbling. I partitioned the table, but I didn’t cut off social play. I cut windows into the cardboard for that. What surprised me was while it cut down on squabbling, it also enhanced the social play in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”
In his retirement, Bedard will continue to serve “on the board of directors of the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC) and the Minnesota School-Age Care Alliance (MnSACA).”
To read a first-person account by Bedard, click here.
His blog, aptly titled “Sand and Water Tables,” is for “early childhood teachers looking for ways to expand and enrich play and learning in and around their sand and water tables with easy-to-make, low-cost apparatus. It may also be of interest for anyone who appreciates children’s messy play.”
The blog features pictures and videos of Bedard’s creations and how they’re used by children.
Not every project turned out the way Bedard intended. A water table that he added mud to (instead of water) failed to create the cascading effect he sought. All was not lost, however. The children transformed part of the table into a dinosaur ladder. And Bedard learned a lesson that could serve all early educators well: “No matter what my original idea may be, the children will do with it what they will.”