A dynamic forum focused on the experience of childhood and the process of learning

Reflection: Enter Encounter Engage The Reggio-InspiredNetwork of Minnesota 9th Annual Conference by Tom Dodd

22 Jan 2021 1:42 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

“Children build knowledge of the world with their bodies. Their actions precede and follow one another in an unfolding process in which children continually create new actions. So many of those actions are non-verbal. Because mind andbody are one, those actions are imprinted in the brain kinesthetically and lay thegroundwork for later thought.”   -Tom Bedard 


I did not grow up with plans to be an early childhood educator. The thought never even crossed my mind until I was 30, so anything I have learned has not come from a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s. All my knowledge has come from the three-, four-, and five-year-olds that I am lucky enough to spend my days with as well as information I have acquired from books and blogs by play-based educators and any others who share my pure joy and passion for the field.

One of the magical aspects of our senses is that they are universal, they cross language barriers and completely disregard race or gender. The conference featured Tom Bedard, who creates wonderful and thought-provoking experiences in sensory tables for his students. He does not hold preconceived notions. The installations are there for children (and adults) to learn, problem-solve, socialize and have fun! As I watched the videos in his presentation I could imagine the learning taking place as his students explored the oobleck dripping down through the pegboard and the sense of wonder when things disappeared into the hidden compartments.

3,000 sense receptors in each fingertip!

As we observe our students’ learning we often think about what they are seeing, what they are hearing or even what they are tasting or smelling. When reflecting on myself I know that more often than not I forget about touch! And when I say that, I am saying that I am forgetting the experience of 3,000 sense receptors in each finger, that’s 30,000 sense receptors at the very tips of our hands. As adults, we have lived with these receptors for decades and have grown to take them for granted, whereas the children we are teaching have only lived with this experience for a few short years or some only months. Take a moment and imagine how it would feel to experience thousands of grains of sand cascading over your hands for the first time or if the feeling of water flowing between your fingers was a complete unknown. Better still, collect a cup of sand and a cup of water, close your eyes, hold your hands out and ask someone to surprise you by pouring one of them over your hands. That feeling is the beginning of fluid dynamics and solid mechanics, something which, when studied, can take you into what I think is one of the most interesting areas of science.

Tom Bedard explained that building varied sensory table apparatus is his creative outlet.  I would love to invite children from my class to help brainstorm, collaborate, design and build with their peers, teachers and even parents, to come up with their very own sensory experiences that we could all explore together. We miss details when we become too involved, instead of quietly observing and noticing clues such as - the interest in gravity from crashing down blocks or curiosity about water that appears from the student who waters the plants each day. From moments like these we can elaborate our sensory tables, in collaboration with our children, to ensure that we can all explore together, growing the many languages of children.


Tom Dodd grew up in the North of England and after studying sustainable engineering and working for eight years ineconomic development as an architectural, planning, and design consultant, he moved to Grand Rapids, Michiganwhere his career changed paths completely. He has spent the last three years at Grand Rapids Early DiscoveryCenter, a Reggio Emilia inspired early childhood school, as a teacher, and a few months ago took on the role of pedagogista.

All content and articles may be used for educational purposes with proper citation (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License).

Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota is a 501(c)3 non-profit located at 525 Pelham Blvd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55104 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software