ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Tom Bedard has spent his career working with the youngest of students at Homecroft Early Learning Center in St. Paul.
“Birth to five years old, I’ve worked with thousands of children,” he said.
He graduated with a degree in Childhood Psychology from the University of Minnesota and pursued Early Education, a field at the time not common for men.
“My mother would talk about how I had this temporary job until I got a real job, because what’s a young man in the 70s going to work with young kids all their life? But she didn’t know that within two weeks I was going to stay in this profession for the rest of my life,” Bedard said.
“Being a male in the field back in the 70s was quite a challenge because usually they were minimum wage jobs and it was always hard economically, but to stay in the field one has to be pretty dedicated,” Donald Sysyn, his supervisor, said.
That dedicated has lasted through the decades. He’s made a name for himself for his unique play spaces he designs, like a sand and water sensory table.
“It’s science for the kids because they’re figuring out what water does, what gravity does,” he said.
He’s also known for his out-of-the-box approach to teaching that encourages kids to get in the box, literally.
“Cardboard boxes and duct tape. Just give me a box and duct tape and it’s amazing what you can do,” he said.
“The unique thing about Tom is that he really does design his environment so that children have the optimum learning possible. Play is a child’s learning,” Sysyn said.
Bedard helps others create play spaces using a blog to explain how they’re built and even giving instructions for parents and other teachers.
It’s perhaps his way of passing his method on when his days in the classroom come to an end.
“I will miss the children immensely,” he said.
Bedard is not sure what he’ll do when he retires this year. It will be his time to explore, and to play.
“I have to figure out something else now, that’s a little disconcerting,” he said.
His blog has been so popular that he has presented workshops for parents and educators from Fargo to England, but they have to bring their own cardboard to the workshops.