Saturday, 26 November 2016

Re-defining play and education

In Swedish we have two words... utbildning and bildning... for education... bildning is similar to the German word Bildung as well...
its not that often that the English language lacks compared to the Swedish... but in this instance it really does...
sometimes bildning is translated as cultivate... but I feel a bit iffy about that too...
UTbildning is the word used for education in school... "ut" means out... as if it comes from one person and is transmitted to another... bildning is about learning and can be done as a self process...

The word bläckfisk is the Swedish word for squid... it is also the Swedish word for octopus and cuttlefish...

It might seem like a big jump to go from education to squid in this way... but bare with me... 
The word PLAY is complex... and similar to "bäckfisk" it does not have just one meaning...
There are many forms of play... free play, role play, adult-lead play, child-lead play, playing with words, playing sports, musical instruments, risky play., digital play.. etc etc etc

I feel all forms of play are important and that there needs to be space and time for all forms too... and that there is not necessarily a hierarchy of what sort of play is the most important, but that having a combination, a varied play diet is what is important.

We have to expand what we mean by play... what we mean by education and not be limited by it...

Swedish is limited in its "bläckfisk" as a word for three different species, as English is limited by the word education... 

The word maybe does not reflect the sort of learning we need in schools for the learning we need TODAY...

So its up to all of us to re-define play...
we also need to redefine education

are people seeing education only as academics?
from the Free Dictionary









If education is being mistaken in the sense of academical as "conforming to set rules and traditions; conventional" which I feel it often is with standardisations and testing... then what are we learning, and how useful is this really to us as a society stepping ever further into the future?

Is education different from learning?
Play and learning... play IS learning... learning is play. 
Is play non-learning ever? Is play only for play's sake... or is it that we don't know the value of the play and how it can impact the future?






These are areas I will be exploring more in the new year. I have four weeks more working as an early years teacher and director. Then I will be devoting 6-8 months to researching and writing a book... exploring ideas and finding a way to support teachers to explore ideas, explore their role as an educator and as a team... with their co-workers and the children.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Children with autism and sleep research...


My husband is starting up some research into the sleep routines of children with autism. Sleep is an essential part of learning... and also social interaction... if we are tired it is harder to react appropriately to a given situation... and as I see with my own son, who has autism, he is depleted of his energy reserves sometimes rapidly by things that would hardly bother others... this means that good sleep hygiene is even more essential for my son.

Here is a note from my husband, and a link... please, if you have the time, could you fill in the form, or send the link to parents you know with children on the autistic spectrum who you feel would like to participate. This first part is a world wide search for information that will act as a basis for further research.

Suzanne Axelsson... mother of three - one with the diagnosis autism/ADHD



Are you a parent of a child with autism and have 15 minutes to spare?

Karolinska Institutet is currently conducting a study to explore the complex relation between autistic traits and sleep quality. 
While we know that sleep is often affected in this group, the underlying mechanisms remains largely unknown. 
If you have a child that has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or have autistic traits, you can contribute to this research by filling out a questionnaire about your child and his/her sleep, taking approximately 15 minutes. You will not be asked to provide any identifying information such as name or date of birth, meaning that your answers will remain strictly anonymous and confidential. The data will be used for developing better interventions to improve sleep quality and day time functioning in children with autism. 
 
Simply click on this link to participate (https://survey.ki.se/Survey/4695/en) but please make sure that you have 15 minutes to spend as you only can access the questionnaire once. 
Thank you very much for your time, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions! 

Associate Prof. John Axelsson, 
Dept. Clinical Neuroscience
Karolinska Institutet 


Monday, 31 October 2016

T.E.A.C.H... my top five words...

Inspired and encouraged by Gillian Judson (@perfinker on twitter) I have thought about what my "teaching top 5" are. (see Gillians post here)

So basically using the word TEACH to inspire you to find words...

Of course I am sort of moving away from the word teach and moving to the word facilitate... as I am supporting the children's learning - but it could be fun to see if I could re-define teach for myself....

T - time
E - ears
A - awareness
C - co-researcher
H - hundred


So why these words?

TIME
For me this is a word that is so essential for learning... it takes time... it is always a process, and often society is in such a hurry for children to meet development milestones that they forget to trust the ability of the child... that the child is competent if given the time to try, to play, to explore, to fail and try again.

a post about TIME... but also reflecting on boredom - this seems relevant right now as i am seeing memes about children needing to be bored going round FB again... I really don't believe that children should be BORED... but maybe we as adults should not be afraid of children expressing this and letting the children find their own creativity to fill their time... often we do not give children enough TIME to learn how to fill it themselves, and have become dependant on adults...?!


EARS
Listening of course... if there had been an L in the word teach then it would have been listening... but I had to improvise and utilise the E - I mean we need to get creative as educators don't we?
There are many many blogposts to explore here about listening... the importance of us as adults to listen to the children, but also supporting the children to learn how to be good listeners to each other.
Philosophy dialogues with my preschoolers have been a great way to support listening... respectful listening, where the children learn to listen to understand rather than listen to answer... something we adults need to practice too...

here is a link to 50 posts I have written connected to listening

AWARENESS
of course as teachers we need to be aware of what is happening with the children, with the third teacher... of all the interactions going on - with each other, with the materials... so that we are better able to meet the children's learning and development needs... not just as individuals but also as a group. We live, play and work as a community... we need each other... so we also need to learn to be aware of each other's needs. Not just as an educator being aware of the needs of the children... but also the children being aware of each other's needs.

its not supposed to be easy - this is a recent post sharing how i strive to support the children to be a community of learners... it is not always the easiest route to take... meeting the needs of the individuals by doing individual art would be so much easier... but then they do not get the TIME or opportunity to practice collaboration, conflict resolution etc etc - they do not get the chance to become aware of how their actions can affect others, or how their reactions can affect others... it is a process that requires time and support.

CO-RESEARCHER
C was the hardest one to choose... there is creativity, critical thinking, competent child, community of learners, curiosity, communication, collaboration... in the end I chose co-researcher because it defines me as an educator not as a know all adult filling the child with information... but me as a person learning about learning... learning about the children as individuals and as a group, learning about my own capabilities...
I learn and find out together with the children... younger people also learning about learning, learning about the world, about each other, themselves, learning to trust me...
We research the world together...

this is a link to a post where I write that I am Malaguzzi inspired rather than Reggio inspired - it mentions about being a co-researcher... of learning WITH the children... not filling them with information.

HUNDRED
It had to be... didn't it... I did consider humour... as without joy there is no learning... but then felt that joyful learning could be one of the hundred...
The many different ways I need to listen to the children, to support there many different ways of learning, their many different ways of communicating their ideas...

This post explains more about the hundred languages and the fact that there then must be a hundred ways to listen...


So, there you have it... my T.E.A.C.H...
what would be your T.E.A.C.H. top five words?

Monday, 24 October 2016

Changing direction

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith...

and that is what i will be doing in 2017...

I have resigned from my position as director at Filosofiska preschool and have decided to spend time gathering material and writing a book... using this blog as a kind of springboard.

It certainly is daunting to leave the children and my colleagues... but I am also excited about the new learning possibilities.

I am hoping that I will be able to get the chance to travel and share inspiration, and learn from others too.

In January I will be returning to Jenin in Palestine to teach at a early years educator training course that the Freedom Theatre has started there... with the idea to introduce more play and more listening into children's learning environments. I plan to be there at Easter too, so that I can take my teenage daughter to experience (a glimpse of) life in a refugee camp.

In February I will be heading to my hometown of York, UK, and hope to set up some opportunity to present and visit some early years settings - we shall see what happens.

As for elsewhere... well I will just have to wait and see what the future holds for me...

As for the images in this post... well a few quotes that inspire me... a few of many quotes... There is much that inspires... much that makes me wonder... and many questions I seek the answer to... no doubt only to find more questions... but that is half the fun!













Sunday, 2 October 2016

Professional Development of the Third Teacher. 6

This week I would like to return to the idea of making the preschool beautiful... or aesthetic...

This is something I struggle with a great deal at the place I work because we are still trying to create a learning aesthetic with a philosophical profile for the setting that was once a post office.

If I was to design a preschool from scratch... the floor plan would not look like the one I work with. BUT this old post office is the setting that I have to work with. This means I have to collaborate with this third teacher that I don't really get on with... and I didn't from my first meeting....

I remember when I was interviewed and being shown around the preschool this feeling deep within my body that the setting and me were not terribly compatible... the thing was, I loved the vision of the preschool, I loved the idea of using philosophy with the very young, the idea of learning something new with the children. So the approach, the philosophy convinced me that with time the setting and I would learn to get on with each other...

And yes, we get on these days... but it is not an easy relationship.
There have been many changes over the years... trying to make the rooms smaller (as they kept saying run run as fast as you can to all the children) and also working out how best to place our materials.
At times we have had TOO much stuff available for the children... making it impossible for the children, and us, to keep the space inviting ... as the messier it got the more the children seemed to move on and play elsewhere.

This could be easily seen when a teacher came and sorted the table tops and presented it in a manner that once again appealed... children flocked back to play.

So I find there is always this balance between what adults think is beautiful and orderly, what children think is beautiful and orderly (which can look like chaos) and to that place of real chaos that does not invite play...

I am not afraid of chaos... Matti Bergström (a brain researcher Finland/Sweden) said that creativity is born in chaos... he also talked about white play and black play... white play being teacher/adult controlled and "appropriate" while black play is chaotic play, more rough and tumble and deemed less appropriate...  I am going to be looking more into this next year... for the moment I don't have time to dive into this, and I feel it can wait... (as I am not so keen on the names for the play... a little too stereotype for me... and also I am not sure how much weight we should be putting on brain research from the 1980's and 1990's when this is an area that has really exploded knowledge wise in recent years...)

Back to the preschool...

The floors for me disturb me... but this is probably just a me thing... I am not one for grey floors... and I know they have been chosen so that they do not impose on the children... ie a relatively neutral colour... but for me it is not neutral, it is so loaded. I find the floors depressing.
I am one of those people that really needs wooden floors, or much lighter floors (or fake wood even) to lift the room. But this is my relationship with the floor.

We also have several rooms that do not have windows... and this is also a problem for me... I need daylight... especially in Sweden when in winter there are not many hours of daylight... This means we are unable to have a preschool where each age group has its own space/room... which group would want the windowless room? (if that was even allowed).
Also many rooms lead in to each other... this means that even if we had decided that each of the four groups had its own "classroom" only two of the groups would be able to get in and out without walking through another groups room. Not exactly optimal.

So we have had create a preschool where the whole preschool is available to all the children...
this means we have to have a schedule so that all groups get access to all areas without us disturbing each other... we can't all be in the atelier at the same time... or any of the other spaces... and since some of the rooms link on to each other without walls, we also need to take that into consideration when making plans... it is hard for children to focus in the atelier when others are playing a loud and interesting role-play on the other side of the shelving...

It has also meant that we have to think how we display materials, and how we tidy up... and how we as teachers have to have a level of control that we probably would not need if the groups were divided by age... small loose parts can present a choking hazard...

It also means that it can be hard for the older children to save their constructions when 1-2 year olds need to go round like Hulk smashing things and checking out gravity... both have needs that should be met...

So no, my third teacher and I do not see eye to eye... it does not let me be the educator I want to be... I have to compromise and be the best educator I can within my context... and that means keeping the children safe... and allowing all children the freedom to play... the 1 year olds right up to the five year olds... the quiet children, the noisy children - those who want to sit and build/draw, small world play... and those who want to run, dance, crash and have big theatrical role-play.
Its is a challenge to support the third teacher to meet all these needs... and as educators we have to be ever active in that process... sadly as yet, the third teacher is not fully competent on its own...

Stripping the preschool of most of the toys and just leaving natural loose parts has been a great way for the third teacher to gain some autonomy... it has been working... and we have things like buttons etc that we can take down from high shelves to work with the children when we sit with them... 1-5 yr olds all play with the buttons... and yes... bright colourful plastic buttons... I am not against plastic or bright colours... I do look for plastic that is not harmful. Afterall we want a sustainable environment - but not a monotone one. Colour needs to exist... the children need to be exposed to all sorts of materials... not just natural ones.




Friday, 30 September 2016

It's not supposed to be easy...

With this group that I am working with right now (a group of 5 year olds) the easy option in the atelier this week would have been to give each child a piece of paper and let them get creative with their own ideas about creating backgrounds for the film we are making together.

This though I did not feel would be beneficial for the children in the long run... partly because they have long afternoons to do individual art work if they please and partly because this group really needs to work on their collaboration skills.

I knew that by asking the children to work together that the experience would not be a purely positive experience... for the children or myself... but I also knew that they were capable of this... with support... and yes they needed quite a bit of support.

We decided that two backgrounds could be created... a map of "fairyland" and also an image of "candyland". The children could decide themselves which group they went into...

Five children chose Candyland and three chose to do the map... Both groups were given pictures and maps to inspire them in their drawing... different kinds of candyland representations (so that they could see that there is not one way to draw it) and various kinds of maps... from real to pretend fairyland maps...

I gave both groups one large piece of paper and two pencils... letting them know that they needed to collaborate... they needed to talk about what they were going to draw, how, who and also what side of the paper was going to be the bottom and which would be the top...

The map group chatted and got going quite quickly, taking turns with the pencils...

The candyland group did not start off as well... Two of the children picked up the pencils and started drawing... another child pointed out... "but we have not agreed yet as to what we are doing". The two children continued to draw... the other three children repeatedly pointed out that they needed to talk first to no avail...

I stepped in... and asked the two drawing children if they had heard the others... yes, the had. I asked why they chose not to answer... they did not know... I asked what they were drawing and if it was a part of the plan they had made together... both said they were drawing a castle ( ie two castles). I asked if it was the plan to have two castles... they finally put their pens down, as they did not know.
I pointed out that they needed to talk and make plans together...

The five children all started to talk at the same time...
I then decided to record what was being said... and for 7 minutes I documented what happened.

It was clear that it was hard for the two children with pencils in their hands to listen to the other children... as they repeatedly picked up their pencils and started to draw again.
Since I felt it was the LISTENING that was the most important process of this session I removed the pencils and paper pointing out that I had observed that they were making it hard for them to listen to the others...

The ensuing discussion needed a great deal of scaffolding from me. I kept asking questions to enable the children to expand on what they were saying. And also to question their need to police others...
they kept citing rules all the time... like "you are not allowed to whisper"... so I challenged them and asked why are you not allowed to whisper... and they did not know...

These rules without an understanding of why they are there was not helping these children to communicate with each other... especially as they are those kind of rules that all children are going to break without thinking about it, but love to police others when they break them. It does not create a positive atmosphere... it does not create a community of learners.

The group made their plans... I used my computer to help them with the idea of size and perspective... so that they would be able to fit all their ideas onto the paper...
I also made the decision to re-introduce only one pencil... this group was not yet ready for two pencils at a time... they needed all their focus on practising turn taking and listening to what is going on. It might have made the process longer but this was the process that they needed most time with.

The castle was drawn first... it was to be the biggest building on the paper... despite talking and reminding each other about this, the children found that all the building were the same size. The aim was to make the castle easy to spot by its size... (like the image of the Royal Palace in the Old Town of Stockholm I showed them). The did make some adjustments to make the building slightly smaller. For me it was important that they tried to keep to the plan that they had made TOGETHER.

The map group discovered, with a little help, that the map (which they had drawn as a picture with houses etc) did not have one bottom and one top of the picture. They had made the decision to get drawing and decide afterwards which would be top and which would be bottom. In this process they learned that it is much harder to make that decision afterwards sometimes... This had been a part of their plan... they had made this decision together... and they learned from it. Sometimes it is better to make such decisions before you get started.

I put out a box of oil pastels to colour in their background pictures... the idea again is for them to share and to collaborate with each other. There was plenty of colours, so this part went very smoothly. Although for the candyland background it was a bit more tricky as so many hands colouring in at the same time caused some space issues which they needed to have patience with... and some reminders of being patient.

When they had filled all the colour they needed a blue wash was used to fill the paper with colour... it added a bit of magic to the process as of course the oil pastels repelled the water of the thin, watery blue paint.


Yes, it would have been so much easier to have let them do their own thing... eight versions of the map/candyland... the children might have been happier... I would probably not have felt the frustration and need to exercise lots of patience ... but that would have been rather shortsighted. This group need to be exposed to activities that allow them to practice their listening skills, their negotiation skills, their planning skills, their conflict resolution skills, their talking with each other with respect skills, their understanding of rules...
all of this we need to continue working on in many different ways... so that my role as facilitator becomes less and less as the children are more practiced in these skills and can manage on their own.







Candyland

the map of fairyland


Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Fourth International Fairy Tea Party...

The International Fairy Tea party has been something rather magical for me...

It started 4 years ago when I saw a photograph of a shoe that had been turned into art by children... and I had incorrectly read that it was a fairy house (that was on the next image)... but it got my imagination going... could a fairy town be created by turning shoes and boots into fairy houses?

Then I started thinking bigger... could it be possible to link up with other children around the world... that we use our imaginations and play together - but in our different ways and in our different locations.

I am one of those people who strives for equality... I want a fair world, where everyone is equally and fairy treated... not that we get exactly the same amount of everything... but that we have the right to have our needs met.

I am also a person that has a "save the world" complex... yes I know that I am just one person, just one drop in the great ocean of people and ideas... but I feel that I still need to do my part... cause a ripple... and see what becomes of it...

The International Fairy Tea Party I felt should be held on a day where we all had something in common no matter where we are in the world... and the equinox gives us that... we all have 12 hours of daylight no matter where we find ourselves on the planet.

The ripple of the fairy tea party started small in 2013... with just over 50 celebrations in Europe, North America and Australasia... this year there have been at least 111 celebrations - and Asia and Africa have joined in...

The point of the celebration is to allow adults the chance to step into the world of play and imagination... to be able to see the world with a new perspective... a chance to look at nature in a new way... a chance to see play first and the learning that happens within it...

Anyway, here are some images from the celebration I took part of this year...

While the children sang together at the preschool myself and another colleague took all our fairy equipment to the nearby patch of forest and set up everything, ready for the children to come.

When they arrived we stood in a large circle and grape wands were handed out... to the great joy of the children. We then informed the children of what activities were available and where in the forest they could find them.

Closest to the circle was bubbles and fairy music... for fairy dancing and imagination.
I took several films of the party, and the music sounds absolutely fantastic in the background... sadly I cannot share these films... as I do not share images of the children's faces here on my blog (except for my own children... and one or two where the parents have specifically asked me to share)

Two more activities were face-painting and wand-making. Both fairy close to each other and right where the forest meets the little opening where the dance was being held.
This year instead of the children painting their own faces they could have their face painted for them...

Wands were made my winding wool around sticks they found in the forest.



Under the hanging tree was the Fairy Tea... cups of fairy tea served with a small owl cookie (fruit leather for those children who are sugar free). A place to practice pouring, taking turns, chatting with each other about everything that was happening....



Potion making is always a popular activity, lots of jars, bottles of coloured water, berries and other natural materials to create potions with...


Magical painting - plastic hung between two trees, with the light pouring through it - greens, blues and yellows to paint with...  I shared a film in facebook from the reverse side of the plastic, where you could just see the paintbrush moving across the surface.

Later we moved the plastic into the opening where the sun was stronger so that the children could make shadow dances and stories...


All in all there was plenty for the children to experience and to immerse themselves in imagination. The play was rich, deep and joyful...