Thursday, 28 February 2013

Bendaroos

its sort of coloured string covered in wax - and it can be bended and moulded into al sorts of shapes. Today was my first time ever working with this medium - I had picked it up during my trip back to the UK over Christmas. It not only attracted children, but several staff included. It was FUN - mustaches, spectacles, bracelets, as well as tiny flowers, shapes, things that swing - all sorts were being created. Great for fine motor skills.

There was a lots of laughter and sharing, but also a great deal of focus. Two and three year olds spending just about an hour sat at a table testing out this new medium. It felt slightly sticky in the hand - and the strands easily stuck together if you wanted them to. There was a booklet with ideas of what could be done, which the children really appreciated - even though it was beyond their capabilities.  I had a try at making the wand - and one of the children carefully inspected it afterwards - comparing it with the 2D image - it was approved, but only just!!

Twisting them together was popular with many of the children.
One of my colleagues brought out the beads - and this soon became another popular method of exploring these "bendaroos".
And when we were finished on of the children sorted them all into their colour groups again!


Check out bendaroos website for more information and inspiration

What colour is sad?

 We started our session at the huge mirror in the yellow room - with paper taped to the mirror at child height ready to capture our expressions. The children looked at themselves and I asked them "what do you see?"

"Love"

In a way it almost felt to good to be true - it felt like, if I was to tell someone else this, they would never believe me - luckily one of my colleagues walked past just at that moment - our eyes met, we smiled, recognising the moment.

After looking at ourselves, and checking out how we looked when we were angry and sad and happy - we got to drawing with a permanent black pen. As they drew I asked them
"How many eyes... how many noses... how many mouths" to support the children in the process of drawing a face, rather than simply allowing the pen to explore the paper. Two of the children had two noses - as they could see two nostrils in the mirror.

I asked what expression they had drawn - they had all drawn sad.

I asked what colour sad was - they decided it was red and brown but were unable to explain why. The explanation for angry being blue was "when you get angry you lose your brain, and that is why it is blue".

At this point I could see the children had talked enough and were eager to get going with the next stage. Painting. There was a little disappointment when they discovered that I supplied them with just red and brown paint - as they wanted a whole rainbow of colours - I carefully re-read their words that their drawings were "sad" and that they had described sad as red and brown. They accepted this and got busy dipping their brushes into the paint and transforming their drawings into "sad" works of art.


 When they were satisfied with their first emotion they asked if they could paint happy - which I was happy to supply the materials for. You can see in the below photo - two dot eyes, two dot nostrils and a happy mouth - and lots and lots of hair.

More colours were chosen for happy - pink, red, yellow, orange and green - not all had the same combinations though this time, and none of the had the time to share their thoughts about why these colours were happy...

 The liquid water colour would easily spill if you were not careful. This child (above) solved the problem of spillage, not by wiping up the mess, but by simply moving along the table...

 Once they were finished with happy I gave the children a chance to experiment with all the colours used during the day. Using liquid water colour and ready mixed tempera - to allow the opportunity to not only mix colours, but also mix textures.  It was also interesting to see how the children reacted to the opportunity just to mix and blend the colours - not to actually paint something. One child asked about ten times about "what am I going to paint?"
"Just experiment - mix, test, see what happens..."

the colours became more and more mixed until eventually they all became the same colour...

 After a while two of the children started to paint their hands - it started with finger nails and then progressed further and further up their arms. The water colours were dripping down (up?) their arms - and after a while they put their brushes down and explored the paint with their hands, and even their elbows...



One child absolutely did not want to get messy hands - and no matter how much the others explained how much fun it was and that it was worth trying, this child would just say "no. no. no" like it was the worst idea anyone could suggest. Instead this child's colours were being mixed with a cooking theme, ingredients being added from one hole to another to create new and "tasty" colours.

Drawing a face has taken a step forward - there was more focus on actual facial details this week. So I am wondering how often I should be doing a portrait session with these children - how often could I do this without spoiling their new interest in drawing faces? I guess it will just be a case of being observant - and allowing the children to guide me.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Raw thoughts on Philosophy

This evening my colleagues and I sat after work to discuss "philosophy" in order to try and find "our truth" - after all the preschool is called FILOSOFISKA - Philosphical - so we should all be aware of what this means - and how this influences the children we work with.

This first collective discussion was to gather thoughts, gather ideas - so what follows are a raw rambling of thoughts - from my memory and from five pages of notes made in Swedish, English and Swenglish - as during a discussion there is not only writing down of ideas from others, but also the trying to make sense of them - and I find, as good as my Swedish is getting, making sense of things still seems to happen in English...

At first it was just words...
values, ethics, social relationships, existential questions, awareness, reflections, searching/resistance

Slowly slowly more elaborate phrases and thoughts began to evolve...

... a philosophical question doesn't always lead to a philosophical dialogue...
... we need to make the world strange/new to be able to rediscover it...
...maybe children are natural philosophers because they are already trying to make sense of the world, unlike us adults who need to use a tool to peel off the layers of conformity so that we are able to see ideas and thoughts with fresh eyes and not be limited by our preconceived thoughts.

...children are systemising their world, trying to make sense of it, maybe in a similar way that a philosopher systemises their thoughts... as adults we have already systemised our thoughts and our way of looking at things (or maybe had that done for us by school) - that we need to work harder to be open to new thoughts and ideas than children...?

...all interesting conversations are not necessarily philosophical.

When entering a philosophical conversation with children (or anyone) the subject matter can often digress - those responsible for leading the discussion should make the participants aware of the change in subject matter and ask if this is where the dialogue should be taking them, or whether they should return to their original question...

... a desire to come as close to the truth as possible...
...to be open enough to be able change your own viewpoint...

...listening - it is an art - a skill, which needs to be learned in order to be able to philosophise.
...you need time to be able to listen to your own thoughts as well (why is it that children like to ask questions at bedtime after relaxing for a while - is it because they are avoiding falling asleep, or is it because they have had a chance to wind down and to begin to reflect?)

...adults are formatting - children are programming... does this work? How does this work? Do we support the children so they can self programme rather than the adults controlling the programming - so that we do not limit their creativity/potential

...important with follow-up questions - open questions - so that the children can deepen their thinking.

...can we adults be open enough for the children? Do we see things in specific ways, have hidden agendas, have specific outcomes which means we limit the children because we do not see, hear or understand their thought-processes?

... we need to understand "what do I really mean", to support the children to understand "what do I really mean" by asking follow-up questions - and also to support the process do we all mean the same things when using the same words - do we all understand them in the same way - eg what is poverty?

...it is not philosophical when you assume too much before starting, when you already have a complete picture in your head of what you are talking about...

...sometimes children DO want an answer so that they can understand, they have a right to this - not everything needs to be philosophical... and when they get their answers then they can reflect upon them - not just accept that this is the truth, but learn to question, to think and  to rely on themselves for finding the truth (this really made me think about why the Reggio Emilia Approach started - that the parents at the end of the second world war wanted their children to be able to find their own truth and not just accept the truth of a dictator ...)

...maybe some philosophical discussions last just a minute or two with young children...

...collect the children's questions...
...questions often pop up in connection with experiences...

Science V philosophy
they can go in and out of each other - maybe it depends on the follow up questions

instead of asking do you have a mummy, you can ask what is a mummy?
...need to be aware of how you ask the questions to avoid "yes/no" answers

...is it easier to reflect instead of philosophy? What is reflection?
...maybe reflection is to think about what has happened, the possibility to evaluate and re-evaluate, to be able to see things in a new light, to be enriched with vocabulary, reflection can be a good first step into a philosophical discussion...


Well there you have it - our raw thoughts. More thinking needed, but it has felt wonderful to talk about what philosophy with children is for us - trying to formulate out thoughts so that we can share them with others...
feels like a positive first step in the right direction
a step we will be making together with the children....

Monday, 25 February 2013

Coloured rice on the light table

Today was the first day coloured rice was used with this group of children. I selected blue and green rice to give a water and ice feel, since this is what the children have been working with over a longer period of time. As expected, there was a great interest in the rice - it was something new. What does it do? How does it feel? What can I do with it - and I want to test it NOW!

There was not enough room for all the interested children around the light table -  so I quickly went and got more rice and another large box so that the RICE could be experienced. It was quite clear that it was not the light table that had a attracted the interest but the new medium. Yellow and orange rice were mixed together to offer another rice experience area.

The children at the light table did talk about water, and rain and the sea. After a while I introduced some plastic glasses in various sizes - which stimulated play around a food making theme. The children at the light table were 3-4 years old.

The children at the other rice experience area were 1-2 years old. These children concentrated more on filling and emptying and refilling the containers rather than on a specific role-play, which is understandable as there is less verbal language between them, but there was co-operation and communication.

It is important to give children a little time to be a bit "wild" with a new medium. They need to test it out and check out what it does and what can be done with it. There is also an initial buzz of excitement when experiencing something new - and this has to settle before the children can start to focus on experimenting in a more structured and thought out manner.

The children were allowed to make it rain, and while they were encouraged to keep the rice in the boxes there was no discouragement from being experimental.

And yes, there was rice all over the floor - but that is can be swept up!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Reflection...

We sat next to our love tree to reflect upon what we have done and to discover how we should continue with our love-tree project. The children each got a small booklet (made from a pice of A4 folded in half)
As I wrote down their words in my notebook they had the opportunity to make their own notes too.
All three children made prewriting marks as well as drawing people. So I  asked if I was correct to read from their notes that love was people. They said yes. They had already expressed an interest in painting again so I asked if they wanted to continue the love project by drawing people. A resounding yes came.
The children took it in turns to draw with a permanent marker. I wanted to give them the opportunity to support and comment on each other's process - which they did. They also asked me why they were starting painting with a pen. I explained that we were going to experiment with a new technique...
to create the water-colour style paint I simply thinned down ready-mix with water . The children were allowed to mix the colours on their paper as much as they wanted. The aim was for them to simply experience this technique - how paint will run if you load the brush with lots of liquid paint etc etc
a person and an airplane
a person who turned into a ghost
a person with teeth missing

I have had the opportunity to reflect myself and with one of my colleagues about how this project can continue. This little group is still forming and so a friendship theme feels important for their social development. We see that the children have an interest in painting - and now this new technique may allow a way to help the children think about friendship and about recognising emotions in others.

Next week the group will look at themselves in the mirror - expressing happy, sad, angry, scared etc - taking the time to recognise the emotions on themselves and on their friends. They will then choose one of these emotions to draw using the same technique above. Hopefully we will have the time and interest to create many new characters - that can become friends with each other. The aim is then for the children to work out who is friends with who from their artwork - and to explain why. Hopefully this will open up an opportunity to think philosophically about friendship and to deepen their understanding of it. The aim is that they can then reflect upon their own behaviour and how this can effect themselves and others... many complex things being woven into and these art sessions for 3-4 year olds. I am excited about how this will develop and where it is going to lead

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Do they understand?

Language is one of those tricky things - especially when a child talks a lot, it can be hard to see if a child has a language problem (not talking about speech - pronunciation etc).

At the moment we are going back to basics - learning our prepositions - on, under, in etc - as we have noticed during excursions that its been hard for some children to follow instructions (basic safety instructions) - as the children are new, it has taken a few weeks to work out that they are not being defiant but they are simply not comprehending what we are saying.

Sometimes I wonder if teachers/adults misread children - think they are being naughty when really they have not understood the instructions?

I remember a development talk with Michael's teacher who complained that Michael never helped to tidy up (he was 6 then). I asked what was said/done to initiate tidy up time - "Everybody tidy up" was the phrase used. A smile spread across my face - I bet Michael felt sorry for the child called Everybody who had to tidy up all the time. I suggested to the teacher that she should approach Michael and let him know it was tidy up time, since his name was not Everybody, he probably would not have even heard the instruction that followed "everybody". A week later I was told that Michael was good at tidying up. At his preschool a chime bar had been used to signal tidy-up time - so there had never been name confusion there.

Many more children than you think have problems with more than one instruction at one time - so if a child goes to the cloakroom but does not get dressed - it could be due to the fact that all the child had registered was "Go to the cloakroom". For Michael it was impossible at bed time - "put on your pyjamas and then brush your teeth" his arms would flail and he would scream "I can't do everything at once". He simply could not comprehend that we were asking him to start with pyjamas and THEN brush his teeth. We ended up doing a chart where he got to draw four pictures - toothbrush, story-time, pyjamas and toilet - and he could glue the small pictures in any order he wanted on some card. This helped SO much to structure his evenings - he could look at his chart and know what was next to do - he also felt in control of his bedtime ritual too, which helped the process as well.

When he gets really angry or sad he can not remember what happened - this means it can be tricky to talk through what has happened. So when a child says "I don't know, or I can't rem
ember" it could genuinely be for that reason and pushing a child to talk more about the situation will not help.

Social play relies on language - yes, children manage quite well using body language - but when they do have a spoken language but are not using it effectively it can cause problems through misunderstanding and misreading the situation.

At Täppan Preschool in Stockholm each department has a language house/tent where the children can sit inside and talk about all sort of things, whatever they want, or within the project. The teachers write down their words, and are better able to see how the children's language develops and how best they can support the continued development.
Hmm, I think I need to return to language again - learn some more and share my findings...

Monday, 18 February 2013

What happened to play?

I have been talking with my 12 year old daughters about school breaks and what they do then - it turns out that they don't do much as most of their friends play games on their i-phones or are watching the latest installment of some TV series. My girls do not have i-phones which means they get to WATCH others play.

I remember when I was that age - well between 10 and 14 there was an awful lot of playing going on a break time. (There was plenty of play before that time too!!)

Very often we role-played together - instead of watching TV programmes we acted them out, developing the story-line to suit our thought processes. In my early teens break time was consumed by running around the school with walkie talkies in teams looking for clues we planted for each other and trying to catch each other for more clues (although I have no memory of what it was we were looking for) - the school was big and had many ways around it so the walkie talkies made it easier to collaborate to catch the other team. We had come up with the game ourselves and defined the rules ourselves. It was also great that we had a long lunch break - over an hour. My girls get 40 minutes break including the time they need to eat (once a week they get 55 minutes) - this is not enough to allow them to develop their play together.

Right now my son is sitting with his arms crossed and his bottom lip pouting - "what! you got such a long break - that's not fair - I want a long break too". His lunch break is 50 minutes including eating time.

Michael plays at break time - building, role play, bug hunting, exploring - football is not popular as he feels that the boys that are good at football don't care about passing to everyone and only care about winning - this makes it boring "as even my own team take the ball away from me". In Michael's class the mobile phones are handed in at the start of the day - they are in "mobile daycare" as my daughters say. They wish there was a mobile daycare for all the i-phones in their class too.

Is it because Michael is younger that there is more play during his break time? - or is it due to the mobile phones limiting the play? or maybe even that the breaks are too short?

How detrimental is it that my 12 year olds do not have access to the play that I had as a child? Should I be worried for their future? If children are glued to their phones during school, what do they do in their free-time? When are they playing? Are they playing? What do we mean by playing?

Sure, we might need to redefine what play is - for me this blog is a kind of play - my brain gets to play with thoughts and ideas. But often our image of child's play is that of children interacting with each other, with nature, with their toys, with art - child's play feels creative, free, natural. I think this is why there is often the feeling that computers, nintendos, i-phones and the likes do not feel like "real play" because they are designed and made by adults, to be played in a certain way - and there is certainly not a natural feel about them... do we need to redefine play? Or do we reclaim play?

Was I, and my friends, unusual to be playing for so long?
Or is 12 the new 16 when you are just to "cool" to play?


 I want to reclaim play,  for my children - to give them the time, the space and the opportunities to play. I want them to keep in touch with their inner-child.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Love Tree

it started with a discussion about LOVE - what is it? The children came to the conclusion it was a tree -  oranges, stars, butterflies and hearts grew in the trees. Love is pink, green, blue, red, yellow and purple. They saw their footprints and handprints in the snow as traces of love.
 During the last week we have tried to piece together the children's thoughts about love - to allow the tree to grow - and hopefully over time the tree will continue to grow. In a way this is a kind of philosophical artwork - not just the discussion about "what is love" but also that the artwork will continue to stimulate the children's thoughts and musings about love and friendship.
the children had seen their own footprints as traces of love in the snow - so I wanted to capture this in our artwork. Painting the soles of their boots with daddy-coloured paint and walking on paper was our first step to creating the tree. The colour we mixed together - yellow with a hint of red - and the children said the first attempt at making daddy colour was right (I wonder if they will be so easily pleased in the future when they get used to experimenting - I was certainly surprised that the first attempt was satisfactory - but there again maybe it WAS the exact shade they were after)
I soon saw that the prints were going on top of each other - so that when I added a little more paint to the pot I slightly altered the shade - it was still acceptable. It made it easier to see the individual footprints. The children laughed a great deal at the experience - the sort of laugh that as a teacher makes you aware that the children are excited and thrilled to be doing this - that they were sharing a new experience together.
The group was divided into two - the 2 year olds were in a group exploring ice and gross motor skills, and the 3-4 year olds continued with the love tree. Creating the oranges was the next step. We had blood-oranges at preschool so I thought we would experiment first to see if we could make prints without paint first. And it certainly worked.

we then tried using blue paint to dip the orange halves in to create patterns


full exploration of the oranges occurred. Since this is a new group of children, and for many I get the feeling that this is a new approach to learning and experiencing I quickly saw that the children did not want to make prints, but to explore - so I talked with them about if it was OK for me to make the orange prints for the tree so that they could concentrate on experiencing the materials. They thought this was a good idea. As you see they smeared, squeezed and turned the fruit almost inside-out. They smelled it and inspected how the fruit looked afterwards - and how the blue paint turned to purple (another LOVE colour) as the red juice mixed with it!
in the same session as the oranges we also stamped with butterflies. They quickly filled a page with butterflies so that they could then get on with experimenting with the butterfly shaped sponges.
it did not take long before they abandoned the sponges and started testing hand painting. The prints did not last long either as the next goal was to fill the entire paper with paint. There was a little competition between them as to how fast they could fill the paper.



they wanted to continue experimenting with colour - the butterflies had been pink, yellow, red and yellow (love colours - but also one that would not create brown - as even though I wanted to offer an experimental experience I also was after a product too - the product of the children's thoughts about love). The children wanted to try out blue - so I said maybe we could change the yellow for the blue to see what would happen - this they thought was a good idea - and they were aware of the shift to a more purple colour once I encouraged them to see it - BUT their focus was not at all in the colour but on filling the paper and feeling the paint.

I asked them what would happen if they used their fingernails on the paper - and there was excitement when they saw patterns on their paper. But again this was just a little detour in their mission of the day - the sponges came back into action and smoothed over the patterns to ensure there was no white paper showing anywhere. 

The next day we worked on the hearts and stars part of the tree. Using heart scouring sponges (to stimulate the fingers - a different feeling the the previous day's sponges) and cookie cutter for the stars. Having witnessed the previous days spreading and wiping of the butterfly sponges I was expecting the hearts to be the more popular tool - but I was wrong - the stars were the most popular.

This time we used green, blue, yellow and white paint.

for both the hearts and the stars - there were more heart prints this time as the children seemed more capable to make prints - maybe as a result of having been allowed to experiment the previous day so fully.

yet again the multi-coloured paint trays became works of art in themselves.

and then paper was no longer required. The children only wanted to experience the paint on their hands - laughing at the farting noises it made as they squeezed it and admiring how far up their arms they could spread the cool paint.

A few handprints were made - but not many at all - the paper was not required - this was body art.

the tree is starting to grow in our window - the footprints have been cut out to create the trunk and branches of the tree, and the hearts, stars, orange and butterfly prints have all been cut out and added. We have also been drawing around the children's hands and cutting them out. For one child it was an amazing experience - she just could not believe that she was holding a pair of her own hands cut out from paper - she laughed and squealed with delight (for me it was an amazing experience to witness - pure joy and wonderment) The reason for hand "leaves" is based on the children making handprints in the snow as signs of love - and it is orange because they discussed that love was daddy-coloured - which turned out to be orange (maybe I will find out one day why orange is daddy coloured - but my suspicions are that it was simply due to the fact that when I asked more about daddy-colour one of the children had an orange pen in her hand)  
 (oh, and in the background you can see one of the snow piles that we like to play on!!)

a detail of the tree. Of course there will be more things added - I am hoping that it stimulates more discussion about what is love - why they have chosen the things that they did, hopefully their thoughts will deepen and expand - and as they do the tree will continue to grow with their thoughts. There are more thoughts we still have left to add - one child has said her cuddly cat is love, as is dance, and all of them have mentioned their family - so how these thoughts are to artistically created I am not sure yet - its a case of observing the children and seeing how their thoughts and their developmental needs can be woven together to create an activity to stimulate and emulate at the same time...

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

I got documented

There was a role reversal today.

I was sat at the table with the last few children of the day playing with play-dough, until there was just one child left and we had a wonderful role-play interaction with the play-dough with snakes and snails - oh and lots of lots of glitter - we took out the red glitter and sprinkled it like a spice over the play-dough and then rolled it into the dough! We also had access to rolling pins, coloured match-sticks (just the stick bits of course) as well as cookie cutters.

The four year old rolled out some dough and then used a match stick to create a circle in the smooth surface. I was inspired - I thanked her for her great idea and rolled out some dough too and started to make pictures by making small dots with the match sticks. Then I experimented with the cookie cutters - can small triangles be cut out by using just part of it, can we make patterns by pressing only lightly. My young friend tested out similar things.

When I was finished the child asked me if she could use my camera "we need to take photos of your artwork". So she borrowed the camera and took several photos, including the art left behind by 2 year old of a hedgehog. This is my big nikon camera - with zoom and everything - so she has to work out how to gently press the button and then hold it until there is focus and then the camera takes the shot. She needs and understanding of the technology. She also tested out the zoom. Luckily the camera is quite light for its size. I had the strap around my neck - and she came in and used the camera, so the photo session also offered a closeness and requires that I listen and feel her moves and desires so that I do not hinder her in any way - maybe not optimal but it worked well in this one to one session. The most difficult part was using the view-finder. She found it very small and had trouble seeing through it. We solved the problem by my holding my hand gently over the eye that was not being used so that she could choose the subject of the photo through the viewfinder.

Its kind of funny to have the tables turned and for a child to want to document what I have been doing - but it also makes it all feel worth while. Here is a child who VALUES her work being photographed and her words written down - and this felt like her way of saying what you have done is important to me. But also shows an awareness of what we do - that we observe, take photos, write down their words and then produce documents for the children to look at. Really, I should be more surprised by the fact that not more children have asked to document what they and we are doing....

this one got named "troll"

experimenting 

the use of the zoom

sprinkling glitter

snail detail!

part of the snail family

the rolling pins!

hedgehog - the idea to make a hedgehog came from the fact I needed a  positive way to stop the play-dough going into the mouth. I have noticed that many of our young one and two year olds are very interested in testing out their fine-motor skills - so I placed the photo and some sticks next to his dough - and put one stick into the dough. This was the second time of making a hedgehog - he made one, then pulled out all the spines and then started again...