Saturday, 29 June 2013

What is beauty anyway...?

This photograph had got me thinking deeper about something that has been simmering for a while... in fact the whole album by Svane Frode of the Adventure Playground FORCKI in Berlin is filled with images of a different kind of beauty... 
I totally get the whole idea of wanting to make children's play and learning spaces beautiful - but from whose perspective are we making them beautiful - are we making them beautiful in the eyes of the child or in the eyes of the adults
I like organisation in a preschool setting - it helps the children know where things are when they need/want them - especially when there are many sharing the same space there is a need to have a place for everything otherwise so much time would be spent looking for things rather than playing... BUT one could argue it could also open up opportunities to find and discover new things... (but having said that I have to admit that I get really irritated when shops change their layout and when they re-position products so that we "discover" new things - I always feel that if I want to start exploring then I will - I don't need someone else to "explore" for me... but suggestions - like posters on the wall, (documentation in preschools) can encourage to discover or rediscover  items/play).

 " Beauty is a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of    pleasure or satisfaction." Wikipedia

 I think we need to focus on the words pleasure or satisfaction - children have obviously been part of the creation in the above photograph - there will be the pleasure and satisfaction of creating the construction, making a booby-trap at the entrance and a method of climbing onto the roof - they will stand back and admire their work - there is obvious beauty in that. BUT at first glance I have to admit I saw a mess... it was first by taking a step from my adult perceptions of beauty I could see the real beauty of this image...

As a child tidying up was NEVER a priority in my life... my own children at home do not have that priority either - their rooms are chaotic - but show their play, their interests and the beauty of their lives - and once a week they need to sort the floor space at least so we can vacuum clean - and every once in a while we work together to sort out their rooms...

I remember as a child I LOVED when we did the BIG CLEAN UP (well maybe not that bit so much - although it was a chance for rediscovery) - but the short time afterwards when everything had its place - all the surfaces and floor were clear and ready for play - it was like having a new room - but it never lasted long - the play took over and chaos reigned once again...

In a way that is how I see myself as a teacher... supplying children with the space to play - the space to learn - and yes they need to learn about responsibility of putting things away so they can find them, and about cooperation and helping - but I still feel that it is my work to ensure the environment supports their play...

... and this is where it becomes tricky - how beautiful does it have to be? And what kind of beautiful? Its is like the word play - when we have started using the word work to give children's play status - but its PLAY and should have status and value (work and play, elevating the status of play)... the same I feel is for beauty - how children view it should have the same value as how adults view it... 

...and providing children with settings that are deemed beautiful from an adult perspective with the aim that we value children so much that we are creating these "wonderful" spaces,  is really not giving children value - in a way it is reducing them further - as we are not listening to the children, we are not taking the time to see beauty through their eyes... 

I have yet to meet a child that does not spread out their toys, coating enormous spaces in their play (I have lego scars on my feet to remind me) - so why are so many spaces for children being created looking almost sterile?

As the environment is the third teacher according to the Reggio Emilia Approach we need to really think about what the layout of the setting is telling the children... does it say "we listen to you" or is it saying "we know what you need"? (and I do think design needs to contain elements of both - but the child does need to feel heard... "listened to" means we hear all the children's voices... all their languages)

mud kitchens are also beautiful - and come in many forms - but so much play, so much pleasure and so much satisfaction = beauty

I am not simply going to give up on what I think is beautiful - but I do think its worth considering children's view of beauty when we are designing places of play and learning... it needs to be a mix - as its a learning space for both adults and children and therefore does need to meet the needs of all involved (as well as including lots of practical details that just make life simpler ie more time for play...)


what really got me started thinking about beauty and how differently children perceive beauty is when I was collecting pine cones with the children during spring... Of course I was just collecting the "beautiful" ones - the whole ones with symmetry and a few quirky ones - the children were collecting any old cone (from my perspective) - ones that were eaten by squirrels, ones that were damp and half mushed... we put them together and we counted them and we talked about which ones we wanted to take back to the preschool ... (OK OK I was secretly hoping that just the whole beautiful ones would make it back) - but no - the children had their own agenda - they were filled with pleasure and satisfaction by the cones they had collected - their cones were beautiful, so all the cones were brought back to the preschool.  
We create artwork with half eaten cones in our loose-play - BEAUTIFUL artwork ... and while I sit and wonder at the children using these half eaten cones - they are perfectly satisfied and look at me with gleaming faces, proud of their creations - and so I glow with a new sense of beauty... awakened to all the new potentials... and grateful that I work with children so I can learn more and more about what the world is REALLY about...
This is just an initial reaction post... I want to dig deeper into beauty... 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Making mud inspired art...

it started with used cooled coffee grinds, red, yellow, green black and brown paint
and the idea was to have a "mud-play" with the paint. This was to be the background for our International Mud Day sign.
It certainly was messy like mud - and the coffee grinds added a great texture
the children loved making patterns with their fingers...
which was quite magical in places where there was still traces of original colour that had absorbed into the paper before it all got mixed into brown...
the finished sign - the words were painted before it was fully dry - to add a sort of mixing-mess look...
It dried well and it had a great structure and an almost sandpaper like feel to it.
the sign in the window today as we celebrated International Mud Day one day early so we could play with mud with our preschoolers.

International Mud Day - Filosofiska Förskola/Preschool

Giant from Euro Academy checking out the sweet smelling flowers ... he has been on a round the world trip visiting Australia before us. Allwoing the preschoolers in Australia, USA and Sweden to get to know a little more about each other. Svea the moose started her trip with the children at Euro Academy - now she is with Melanie and her children in Australia - and soon they will all be returning home to tell their adventures...

the set up - before the children came out. We had the mud-play right on the square -  passers by stopped to look and ask what was going on - and were reminded of their days as children playing with mud.

Filosofiska

Our sign for International Mud Day - a separate post will be coming if you are interested in finding out how we made this... 

a turned over fruitbox with 2 black circles painted on was just right for a mud kitchen on the move...
water water water - mud play for these 1-3 year olds was VERY much about the water...
some children were not at all interested in mud play - but water play really interested them. There was a continuous queue for water top ups...
in the beginning most children were rather careful, using spoons to touch the mud - but after a while they got into the  rhythm of using their hands... that it was OK to get messy...
PLENTY of transferring mud from one container to another - and it was quite clear that some children had a very clear plan of what they were doing...
pouring pouring, back and forth
filling

testing
and there was lots of cooking...
picking up mud with tongs was quite the challenge

mixing to just the right consistency

sharing recipes...

collecting equipment - to ensure the perfect mud-pie outcome...
making mud chocolate balls

with plenty of sprinkles - (coloured rice and lentils)

they almost look good enough to eat

rolling in the "sprinkle mix"

using a chocolate box to create patterns - perfect for little hands to squish...
anyone for eggs?

or a plateful of soup?
why not climb in? But no-one was prepared to go in bare-foot this time...
adding flowers to the recipe

the stove top was also great to practice jumping skills

and every once in a while there was an opportunity to explore by yourself while the others busied themselves with mud ball juggling, or water the flowers on the square, or chasing teachers with muddy hands with the biggest smiles on their faces....

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

learning at the light table

sometimes things just don't go as planned - next to the light table a put a whole load of boxes filled with a variety of sparkly and transparent items... and I challenged the children to create a pattern together... it was obviously too much of a challenge - as their whole focus was on possessing as many jewels as possible
talking with them just wasn't working - they were too busy ensuring no-one took from their pile to actually focus on my words - so I just started on creating a pattern of my own in the hope it would inspire...
it worked - one of the three children stopped focussing on hoarding and watched me - and then started on her own - what was interesting was that we destroyed my pattern to make room for hers... but she replicated it exactly
I started to take lots of photographs of the process, from different angles - the others stopped hoarding and started to watch
and then started creating patterns of their own... "Suzanne, Suzanne, come and take a photo of my flower..."

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Over time

in late April we started visiting the "Snail Park" so called because of the number of snails we have found there... we have watched how over time it has become green and then even greener - and how the plants have grown

it was easy to find snails because there was not so much greenery

and then there was an explosion of colour and height - it was suddenly transformed into a jungle from one week to the next

the pathways became narrow, almost overgrown, and too courage to brave them...

we could find different colours here there and everywhere


and yet the remarkable thing is... that our ever changing jungle - our million discoveries, all our new adventures happen in this little green space between the underground station and the centre where Filosofiska Preschool lies. How amazing nature is, that over time can tell us new stories, share new plants, new bugs and inspire new games...


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Looking forward to midsummer celebrations

 Midsummer will be celebrated all over Sweden this coming Friday (the Friday closest to the summer solstice) - here is a picture story of how my family celebrates - taken last summer... We are lucky as this happens in a small community where we have our forest house on the same land where my husband's parents live - there are meadows, there is the forest, there is the lake and there are enough people (when guests are invited) to make a great celebration... it really reminds me of something from Astrid Lindgren's Bullerby (Noisy Village)


the day starts with picking flowers to decorate the midsummer pole - but of course that is not the only thing that is picked


finding wild strawberries takes priority!


we make crowns of flowers - using both wild flowers and bought flowers


there is dancing around the midsummer pole - many different songs

and a lot of laughter

a detail of the midsummer pole - it is a pole with a bar across with two circles hanging from either side of the bar.
lots of opportunities to find insects and frogs and toads - and to show off finds (although not mixing frogs and insects...)
after the singing and cake eating it is time to play games - a series of challenges - this one for example - how many strikes to get the nail all the way in...?
can you stack the rocks to the specified height - one for children and one for adults - there was a piece os wood to help measure...
always fun when you totally challenge how high you can go and it eventually falls down...

counting how many blocks are inside the box

And of course there is midsummer food - sill (pickled herring and other flavoured herring and a whole variety of them, new potatoes, prawn mix and salmon mix... but salmon usually features somewhere...
playing in the water as the evening comes
taking it easy in the dipping sun with some food grilled at the water's edge
watching the sun dip, but not go down... it never gets truly dark - for 24 hour daylight you have to go further north than Stockholm