Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The learning in a story

Today I worked for the last time with the advanced group. After playing and exploring the learning and then creating plans together they were given the challenge to read a wordless book and explore what ideas could be found for play and learning.

The group was divided into three groups... and the books used are

Flotsam by David Wiesner
Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith
Journey by Aaron Becker

There was 45 minutes to explore the books and discover the play and learning potential. The idea was to find as many as possible - to look closely at the images, at the ideas, at the details and to see how we could interest the children as well as follow their interests by providing materials and play/experiment/exploration opportunities.

The idea was to practice making plans, to be able to create play opportunities and to better understand the learning that happened within them... to not only increase their own knowledge of how play and learning walks hand in hand... but also to arm them with the knowledge they need to let parents know that play-based learning is real... that there is no such thing as just play - and just for laughs is no "just" thing either... as laughing is essential - to create safe relationship where there is trust, to create a relaxed atmosphere where a child can feel safe to learn and also laughter boosts the immune system, so keeping them healthier.

I was great to see how the educators used their knowledge of the play we had participated in the previous days - the play allowing them maybe to see details in the book that they would otherwise have missed...

and things like birds and flowers have become more of thing for many of the educators because of my fascination with them... I am continuously stopping to take photos... bird nerd that I am... no expert just love to watch and learn
myna birds watching the city of Jenin
At a later date, when my notes of this meeting are put into more oder... I will create the activity/play/learning plans that we came up with on this blog for all to take part in.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The story of a room...

Another short blog today, as the internet is being temperamental.

Today I have been sharing many images of preschool settings around the world with the educators here in Palestine... with the words do not try to copy this, that I am not expecting them to agree with what they see, or what I show is the right thing... merely that I show them many spaces designed in many ways... so that they can see the possibility of what can be done.
A learning space does not have a fixed look.

I talked about the importance of observing how the children use the space they have, are there areas that encourage the children to run and maybe crash into other children's play... and how can furniture help them create spaces where children cannot pick up speed... but at the same time being aware of providing a space and time for children to run freely.

I talked about being aware of colour... that it is not enough to choose bright colours just because it is thought children like them... that as educators we need to reflect on how colour affects the brain and affects the learning... colours that aid learning, that aid focus should be chosen, not colours and colour combinations that overwhelm, over-excite and overstimulate... sure these colourful moment can happen, but not for prolonged period of time.

I brought up how noise impacts children's learning... and if too loud impacts their hearing, and if really  loud (like it often is here) can actually cause permanent damage. We talked about how materials and furniture can be added to help absorb some of the sound, so that walls do not just bounce around and add to the problem.

I brought up the need for small spaces so that children have the opportunity to get away and be calm for a while, or engage in play with just a few other children. The need to bring the ceiling down in at least some areas so that the children can feel bigger, more powerful... many places here have high ceilings - very high ceilings... which is great for me as a tall person.

We talked about the availability of materials... how are they being displayed and how the room helps you as an educator to support the children in their play and learning - to be independent and capable.

We also talked about using the outdoors as a learning space, and the importance of being outside for full body play and learning.

The idea was to share lots of inspiration and thinking so that they reflect on the children, on what works... and of creating a learning space that is more Palestinian. Many spaces have Disney and Spongebob on the walls rather than taking advantage of the beautiful traditional Palestinian patterns to accent a room... also many of the learning materials are downloaded from the internet and tend to be incredibly American based... so I talked about the the dangers of a single story... that if their Palestinian children saw stories, films, and learning materials from only an American point of view, then this will become their inner story too... learning cards etc should not be blonde blue eyed children and police cars and buses and doctors of an American kind - but they should be images of how they look in Palestine.
In the same way Palestine is so much more than just fighting, guns and bombs - it is good food, beautiful nature, music, singing, stories, ancient history, embroidery, laughter, love and life like in any other country... they have many stories to tell...
and in this blog I tell the story of Palestine and early years teachers and play.
The room should be a Palestinian colleague - that can share about the world... but not an American colleague that forgets the story and beauty of what Palestine has to offer... even the educators here have been amazed at the photos of flowers and nature that I have been taking... they too have forgotten some of their nature story...

In Sweden, my room/learning space for the children should reflect our common Swedish story... with a window out to the world... always open to learn and to encompass, but never forgetting who we are. And sometimes who we are in a group is international and that should be reflected in the room too... not single story...

images taken 3 years ago at a center for young children here in Jenin...

Sunday, 18 March 2018

From play to learning...

So today here in Palestine, the advanced group has been reflecting on the play we have been doing all week with light and shadows and analysing it to discover what we have been learning... and with this knowledge we have written plans...

pointing out that these plans are not about how to make learning fun, but about allowing the educators to better understand the learning that occurs in play... so that when they offer play situations, or offer certain materials they have an understanding of the learning potential.
This means that the educator can better observe the children with an open mind... knowing that there can be many avenues of learning that the children might focus on, instead of having an agenda and steering the children into a specific form of learning.

Understanding the play... and combining this with their knowledge of the children - as individuals and as a group (through their observations over time) they can then make decisions that might allow certain learning areas a better chance than others...
for example
The light and shadow play might be used as a tool for helping children overcome their fear of the dark... then it might be a good idea to have small groups in order to adequately support the children to self regulate and learn to enjoy the joy of play even in the dark... OR it might be that there is a desire for the children to use their collaboration skills and negotiation skills... and therefore a larger group is used to expose the children to a possible social chaos - the educator supporting the children... the educator will also know how large this group should be to create a manageable chaos for the children to negotiate... learning will not happen if it becomes overwhelming.
Also what combination of materials are put out will affect what potential learning naturally occurs in the play... setting up things for shadow theatre is more likely to support language and literacy on a higher level than math... I say more likely, because children can often surprise us with what they learning.

We also took the time to explore how the play/learning could be extended - what extra materials could be added, how would different locations impact - introducing new facts, how would that impact the play... asking specific questions such as "Does light travel? How does it travel?" to get the children thinking on a more abstract level... and also to fuel the imagination... allowing the children to come up with their own theories and these theories being the basis of future learning, future experiments and future play possibilities...
it is important that we do not just have a series of amazing events that look cool online when shared, or that the parents will be impressed by... there needs to be time to reflect and to return to the same play in new ways... and also in the same way sometimes.  A series of cool events means the children just get to see the tip of the ice-berg all the time and not discover all that is hidden beneath the sea...
By thinking up a long list of possible extensions it allows the educator to be open to the possibility of any direction the children might take them. If during the introduction play of shadow and light the children show most fascination for making stories... then maybe a shadow theatre is the next step... if the children are more interested in how light works, then maybe reflections and sorting materials into opaque, translucent and transparent... if more interested in making the shadows large and small then maybe the opportunity to take in pens and start drawing around the shadows and measuring them... or checking how the sun creates larger shadows in the morning than at midday... this in turn will lead to new discoveries and new possible extensions...
And the time being open to the possibility of discovery new extensions, new materials and new possibilities to add to that list, so that in the future your planning resource becomes a better and richer support.

extending the learning... session 1 - light and shadow with torches and blocks and loose parts, free play. Session 2... with the instruction of creating scenes for a story - linking the shadow play to story telling, art and language. Session 3 introducing coloured light, mirrors and on a larger scale. Session 4 outside using natural light.
If I had more time I would allowed hands-on learning for some of the extensions they thought of... to see how they work in action.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Play play play - why I hold play-workshops

Today we played a lot... and I mean a lot...

And I know now, that I am not going to be able to upload the photos that I want to in order to write the post I want to right now about today... so I will write some other reflections instead...

About how we have reflected on the importance of joy rather than fun...
The idea is that we want to create a sense of joy within each child ... in their play and also in their learning - because then the learning will be genuine, rich, deep and more likely to be long-lasting...
Learning that is made fun (and then often called play) is not going to have the same effect - in a way its more like sugar... it gives you a high but the learning is not going to last as long.

What we want is slow learning - that the children have time to process it, they have time to explore it, they have time to see it from other perspectives and share ideas with others... they have time to repeat and test out theories they have already tried and add new ideas to it in order to see what happens...
If learning is made fun then there is more likely to be an agenda... less likely for the learning to happen in multiple ways, less likely for the children to discover new perspectives... less likely to come to a new conclusion than the one the teacher has already thought up...

The workshops I hold for educators are designed to get the teachers thinking on many levels... not just exploring play, but also exploring what it is like to collaborate with others like children do (in large numbers) - explore what it is like to have free range of materials and what to do with them... and then some activities are designed to be done in a specific way. Various forms of communication are given space to be used... hence the first activity was done in silence, so that they communicated with body language.
Some items are only given to one educators... as a test of how does it feel when not all get to try...
so it is an exploration of emotions as well.
Of course there is time to talk about all of this, reflect and return to the activity...

For instance today was the third time one of the groups worked with shadows and light... each time I have added something new... either new material or a new thought/direction... each time they have discovered something new about what they thought they had already fully explored.

It is so important that we as educators play with materials... explore how they work, how they interact with other materials, their relationship with other materials and the world around us - what learning can be found within this play. But it is equally important to do this with others and to reflect together with others... as alone we see with just our own perspective... but together we see so much more...

Original learning is for adults too... not just children...

I so long to share images from the workshop... but I realise this will be best done when i return home, as the on-off on-off internet makes it so hard to upload photos on my blog.

I guess it is about patience

light and shadows... and how different coloured lights make different coloured shadows... more about this in an up and coming post

bringing the sunlight in... in the end it took four mirrors to bend the sunlight to find me...

Friday, 16 March 2018

How I ended up in Palestine

I have been asked on several occasions how I ended up in Palestine... the journey has been shared, but over a period of three years... so maybe not so easy to track it down.

So I thought I would make things a little easier, and give a short story about how I come to be sitting in a refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine, right now... and for the next five days. I have been here for a week almost.

At the end of 2014 one of my work colleagues at Filosofiska (where I worked then) had connections with the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and suggested a collaboration. The owner of the preschool, at the time, was interested in spreading his passion for improving education globally and so applications for funds were made to The Swedish Institute, so we could make a trip to Jenin to investigate the current state of preschools and schools, and how best we could be of help...
we had two ideas - first - setting up a preschool which was play-based and where the children were empowered in their learning and
second - to work with a preschool in existence to work with a more play based approach and not the academic, strict approach that was visible in many settings -  this is partly due to how they have always done it, and partly because of parental pressure to make their children school ready.

In January 2015 I came to Palestine for the first time and visited many settings. I was impressed by the passion the educators have to give their children the best start possible... but of course there were things that were harder to deal with - the way play was being interpreted (in other words they were making learning fun - through race competitions and other means - rather than seeing and valuing the learning that happens in play). I could see that children were being controlled through physical punishment in many/most of the places I saw - not hard hits, but small taps (for the most part - but there were stories that horrified me) - and this did not sit with me well. BUT at the same time I am coming to another culture and I need to listen to the whys - not just impose my views of childhood...

I held a couple of workshops for one of the settings and also a presentation about play for educators... it was clear during and after the presentation  (especially of the images of children jumping in puddles in my presentation) that I had shared more than what many of the teachers were willing to listen to.
This is why it is SO important to listen first... and to introduce what the learner is ready for and challenge thinking appropriately. For children it is often about social/cognitive maturation and also physical maturation that makes it appropriate or not... with adults culture and history (both communal and personal) plays a huge role too - maybe a pivotal role.

In April a small party of educators and others from the Freedom Theatre came to Stockholm to visit  various settings to be inspired about how another way of preschools could be... I also held two workshops... one inside exploring loose-parts and play... and a second outdoor workshop.

After these preliminary visits it became clear that the best option to move forward was a third option... to start a course for educators in Jenin.

So once again funds were sought after and The Swedish Institute were again backing the project.
At this point the owner of Filosofiska dropped out of the project and I have continued as a private person donating my time.

I then worked from Stockholm helping to set up and form the curriculum for the course and came to Jenin in January 2017 and April 2017 to hold workshops, and lessons about play, child development, neuroscience's impact on pedagogy, various pedagogical approaches, the third teacher  - looking at how the space can help the teachers and children in the learning process (most/all settings have big images of Disney and Spongebob plastered on the walls... I have learned this is a requirement to be able to have a license to run a preschool here... the idea behind is that it makes it obvious this space is for children... obvious for whom I wonder... but that is a whole other post)... I also held outdoor workshops, loose-part workshops and a huge focus on exploring the learning IN play.
It has been about listening to who there educators are, their stories and their needs and changing the course to meet them.
So basically I prepare for these sessions by reading widely, bringing lots of materials, collecting lots of images - and being prepared to use the bits that are needed... so when I am not with the educators I am preparing for them. It is intense.
I have also done presentations and learning dialogues via skype... this is something that is best done after meeting them because then we have established a relationship and we have a mutual trust that is so essential for learning.

In August 2017 the educators came to Stockholm for an intensive two weeks of visiting settings doing workshops as well as meeting people from the library for children, the teacher training college and first aid training.
I know that many of the settings have a lot of children and small indoor spaces... so there was a two day focus on outdoor learning... so that the educators could really immerse themselves in the potential of the outdoors and that learning really does not mean sitting at a desk.

Now there are two parallel courses. One for last year's cohort - to advance their thinking - 6 of the educators have the time and means to continue... and I have based this course on their need to help the parents understand the learning value of play, as this seemed to be the greatest obstacle. So we are doing hands on play sessions and breaking them down into areas of learning afterwards... Then we make plans... so work out a play idea/activity and again write in the plan the learning, the aims, the materials needed, the time and also how the activity could be extended at the time and in the future.

The other group I am starting in the same way as last year... with an introduction to play, neuroscience (to understand the child's reactions and learning) and to loose parts... giving value to things that they never thought to give value to - allowing them to see the world with a new perspective.
Because once you start seeing things in a new way you can go on yourself to make discoveries.

Why am I involved?
Well I am no rich person, so I cannot simply donate money to help others... but I can donate time and energy.
I also think that we cannot just feel sorry for situations in other countries... we need to be active about them if we are truly to make a difference (and it does not have to be in another country).
I feel coming here is appreciated by the women I collaborate and interact with here. My focus is always on listening and a democratic learning/classroom where i define democratic as equality, respect, giving others value, feeling value yourself and participation and responsibility... all of this makes freedom. By working together we can be free together.

These are people that do not feel free... and they are in a situation that is complicated in so many ways. What we want is to support the children to not just accept their status quo, to think creatively, with respect and empathy and are able to come up with sustainable solutions in the future that will benefit all.

That is why I come. Yes it sound rather over-ambitious. But I believe that peace is worth making a stand for - or in my case, worth making a journey for and sharing what I know.

Just as in Reggio Emilia the mothers wanted the children to have the power and belief that they could make the future a better place - so is the case here.

me recharging my solar energy...
it has become a bit of a joke here that I will stand in the sun and soak up a few rays while everyone else sits in the shade...
but I know when I return I have a few more months of winter before such warmth will hit my skin... for instance right now in Stockholm it is -9°C while I have a glorious  20 °C- with 28 predicted in a few days!!!
And a rare moment with my sleeves rolled up... they are down when there are men around.
photo by Suzan Wasfi

I was asked the following
 I wonder if you could share more about the process of understanding others' cultures (or maybe you already have and I missed it). You said it's important to listen...what, then, do you do when a teacher in another culture expresses a perspective with which you profoundly disagree? How do you move forward toward a shared understanding that benefits children?
At first I thought I would write a new post about it... but then thought it might be best to simply add it to this post, so that when others read this post and wondered the same thing... then they could easily find the answer

what I found is that first you have to build trust before you can start to question each other about things you profoundly disagree about... because then you know that this questioning, this discussion, comes from a place of understanding, a place of working together to make it better for the children and NOT from a place that I know better than you and you should do as I say...

it also means that you have to be open about what they are going to say... to ask more questions to understand, to share what you have learned and observed through your own experiences...

As I mentioned above, I struggle with the physical and mental punishment that is dealt out (in any form). In my first trip in January 2017 as part of this course I made the decision not to bring it up. I made the decision to focus on the positive things that I could share that would make a difference... for the educators and the children - and also talk about brain research, trauma etc - as a kind of seed planting for the future.
At the end of the second visit in April I was asked the question by the educators if I had any ideas how I could help them stop the children from hitting each other... I felt this was the perfect time - I answered that I did not think it helped that they saw and experienced adults hitting children... their answer is "we do not hit hard" and "it is so they learn right from wrong". I answered that children will try to emulate this strategy... they will make judgements about their peers behaviour and hit to "correct them" (I actually witnessed that happening - one 2 year old was doing something the she should not... a five year old went over and spanked her and said "la" - no). Some children will interpret that they are being hit because the adult does not like what they are doing... so they will hit other children when they do something the child does not like... which will result in them getting hit back... a vicious circle.
They asked me if I ever hit my children... I answered truthfully, no. My daughter was in the room and she was able to confirm this... they sat amazed, as they perceived my daughter as a well mannered, intelligent human... and she managed to be this way without ever being hit.
After the session I went into town with one of the educators, my daughter and her daughter. Her daughter has a brain defect that has impacted her development - she needs constant care, and despite being 8 years old has not developed a verbal language to communicate. When we were in town the child started to walk out into the road, which would have been dangerous, the mother raised her hand to correct her by hitting, remembered what I had said, put her hand down and then observed how her daughter self corrected, got back onto the path - all without the need of being physically reprimanded. It was a powerful moment for the mother and myself... as the mother came to me... and said "did you see, I did not hit and she learned anyway".
It was pivotal for me. Trying to find that balance of listening and sharing... of understanding and struggling with a behaviour I profoundly disagree with... as I think any form of physical or psychological abuse/punishment/reprimanding does not benefit the child... or the educator/parent and child relationship.
I am quite sure that if I hit my adult students every time they misbehaved  or got things wrong it would not improve the learning, it would not improve the trust and it would not improve a playful and joyful atmosphere. it is more likely to create resentment, distrust fear and the energy would then be on that rather than on the learning... it might have made a quieter classroom/workshop, it might have meant they came on time, or took shorter breaks... but it would have meant the learning was less genuine... all I was doing was creating space for me to speak... not a space for learning.

I do not think it is easy. We always want a quick fix. But it is seldom going to work that way.
If I had been in a room where a child was being physically hurt or psychologically abused I am not sure what I would have done... what I saw was gentle taps (which is still physical punishment... I think sometimes their signs of love... pinching cheeks was harsher) - but I heard stories from the past and the present about children who are hurt to the point there was blood or a bruise. None of the educators I have collaborated with felt this was in anyway acceptable. But I heard of stories of preschooler being hit by rulers on the hand for not going to the toilet properly etc... of being reprimanded for not sitting and doing the work... (BUT that is a form of abuse that happens in other countries too... forcing far too young children into academics - I would equally struggle in some kindergartens in USA for that reason).

So I listen to understand. I build trust. I plant seeds of knowledge and research without directly targeting the problem - so that when the time is right - (in a way when it is developmentally appropriate) we can raise the issue to discuss it openly, fairly and with respect.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Illustrating learning and play

Today will just be a brief post... because I have been busy all day and I need to rest... but I promised myself a post a day... even if it was just a short one.

Yesterday I wrote a children's story based in Jenin with the idea of introducing magic, imagination and also points of learning...

I read the story today to the advanced group and then with their shadow playing skills from Tuesday they were asked to illustrate the story in six scenes.
First they needed to agree on which scenes from the story should be illustrated, and then each chose a scene.

I provided materials for them to choose and they explored light and shadows again to create the illustrations, which we then took photos of.

Afterwards we explored the learning... but also how this one story could offer months and months of exploration... I helped them break down each scene into science and geography explorations... into philosophical inquiries, into art projects and biological investigations - as well as language and literacy and math... we basically had the curriculum covered...

It is always so much fun to see how much learning and play can be found in a story - and my illustrating the story they found further learning and play  potential.

It is unlikely you will be able to work out "our" story from these images... but maybe you could make another story?

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The story of a stone...

Today's session was my second with the educators from the introduction course...
it started with a look at child development with a focus on neuroscience... learning about the brain and how we can be better educators by understanding how the brain works, reacts and learns. This is especially important for children that are more exposed to trauma... I used the book "The Whole Brain Child" by Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson as a basis for exploring this area... and also Alison Gopnik will be shared as a TEDtalk in the group we have on facebook where we can reflect and share more. Translating always means that time is as never as long as you want it to share as much as you want... so the group is a great way to extend the learning and reflection. The learning is not just when we meet in the group, but whenever they have time to go to the group and reflect on the resources I share there... including Stuart Shanker's website about self-regulating. Another great tool for them to use in their work with children here in Palestine.

of course when talking about brain research, about stress and about trauma then their own stories fill the room... stories of 16 year olds being in prison for 3 months and when they left their skin was marked with cigarette burns and their soul marked by the need not to be touched... she recounted the story of how a soldier started to harass her physically and her reaction was to bite to protect herself - the next thing she remembered is waking up in hospital connected to tubes and machines.
We cried together.
These are stories beyond my comprehension... a top student who made the mistake of running at the wrong time... in a way it reminds me of the stories from the USA - of Black Lives Matter and the young black males told not to run from the police for the risk of being shot.

it makes me think that we, who work as educators, have so much power... power to let these things continue as they are... or the power to help make change by encouraging the children to listen, to value each other, to respect and also to have the courage to do the right thing.

if you are also interested in learning more about self regulation you can check out site out by pressing this link

The Alison Gopnik talk you can see here - this will be with arabic text... but you can easily change the text to whatever language you speak of the many they have on offer... there are also transcripts available.

Each educator was asked to bring three stones... and also to talk about why they had selected these stones... stones are a powerful symbol in Palestine and this was made obvious by the fact that several commented that they are not the type that have stones or pick up stones  as stones are thrown in resistance - during the Infitadas - I was told during the first one the men would write their names on the stones that they threw at the soldiers...
One educators told the story of her stone that came from the school yard of her primary school and served as a reminder of that first day when she did not recognise her name being called out... the reason being that during the first infitada when she was a very young child she had become separated from her family and was taken in by another family who gave her a different name - 2 months later she was reunited with her family and they continued with this new name (I assume to help deal with the trauma)... but the school called out her birth name and this is why she did not recognise it.
Many stones were collected because they reminded of the sea, of times with the family... of precious moments... some were collected last minute and we laughed together. Some were collected with suspicion - why on earth is she making us collect stones...

Why on earth indeed...
Firstly I want the educators to see things around them in a new way... stones have the potential to be used in so many different ways and to provide learning and play opportunities.
Secondly... for them to realise you do not have to spend lots of money to offer a good learning/play experience
thirdly... because it is time to reclaim the stone and give it a positive reputation and not just the single story of "weapon"

(listen to this TEDtalk about the dangers of the single story)

After playing and exploring learning potential of stones, and adding other materials (and I scaffolded by asking questions and encouraging new ways of thinking) the teachers were pleased with this new learning material (not new to all the educators though).

here are a few photos from today's session
well... after not succeeding with photos at all last night... I have managed to share one right now...

It is important to listen to everybody's story - to understand where each person comes from, their history and how they base their present and plan their future. When supporting learning listening to the stories are essential to understand how they learn... regardless of the learner being an adult or a child. We need to listen with an open heart, with respect and with empathy. Only then do we have the chance to prevent the danger of the single story... to be open to all the stories that are on offer...