Friday, 31 January 2014

Clay and two year olds

In the afternoons this term I will be having short sessions with each of the preschool groups in the atelier. Part of the reason is to allow all our different compentencies as teachers to be made available to all the children, partly so that all the teachers can see the projects that the children are involved in and also so that the children can be inspired by each group's project.

When I have a small group from Himlen or Molnet with me in the atelier I also include a few children from Vinden, on the understanding that they are there as observers and my priority is the children I am working with on their project. This is not so easy for the moment... as the children are not used to being observers... but I believe that it is a useful skill for the children to learn... to not always be the centre of attention but to enjoy the efforts and contributions of others.

Molnet have a HAND project this term... and to support that in the atelier I have brought out a big slab of white clay for the group to explore with the aim of them to experience this medium with their hands and also to strengthen hand and finger muscles to support future writing and drawing skills.

The below photos are the first documentation... the first small group that came to explore... the large black area is left blank as that is where I will put my observations of each child, the story of their first experience with a big slab of white clay.

A few observations I have written after the photos....






all of the children were a little hesitant of touching the slab of clay... it was untouched and maybe this was part of the reason (it will be interesting to see if this is the case with the next group which will continue with the same piece of clay). I placed my finger on the clay several times to encourage them to try. One child waited longer before trying herself, observing what the other' reactions were before braving to touch.

After a while I dug my finger in deeper. They also experimented with this. THEN after some time I pulled on a piece to extend it, but not break it off. The children looked and after that there was more experimentation, including breaking bit off.

The children continuously watched each other. When one child started rolling her bit into a ball the others started to do the same. When one started to make a tower, others helped to make it bigger. There was a lot of collaboration interspersed in the individual experimentation. The children were obviously learning from each other... and then giving themselves time to explore the clay before observing their friends again for more inspiration.

I took lots of photographs, explained why I was taking photographs - so that they could see their own clay story, they began to interact with me now and again, showing me things, but mostly they were fully absorbed with the clay and each other.

If a child made a hole another would fill it with their clay. There were no complaints, just curiousity. Stories began to appear as a bridge like shape was formed and small clay like shapes started to trot trot trot over the bridge... could this be Billy Goats Gruff? There was very little spoken, except for my voice now and again giving vocabulary to these two year olds actions... naming the parts of their hands that they were using - fingers, palm, thumbs; describing their actions... of course this enable the children to be inspired by each other, as they heard something that interested them they lifted their head, observed, located who it was referring to and then tried the action out for themselves.

They all ended up rolling... balls and snakes; they all made holes, the all hit the clay to make prints

One child kept taking a few paces away, standing and observing before returning... holding a handful of clay that she squeezed. Another child actively seeked the approval of her friends - showing them what she was doing. The third child was more quiet and experienced in a more solitary way. The fourth was totally engrossed in the clay and tried to experience it in as many ways as possible, using observations of others to extend his own experience.

It will be interesting to see when this group of children come back to the clay for their second experience. Will they be equally shy of the clay at the start? Will the collaborate more... as the exploration of the clay towards the end of the seesion contained much more collaboration than at the beginning of the session.?

It is all very interesting.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Two days of philosophy

So after two days of participating in a philosophy with children conference and philosophy workshops I sit here thinking about what is it that I have come away with...

Of course these are my first initial reflections.. but the biggest word for me was

pre-philosophy

I have realised that everything that we have been doing has not been "real" philosophy, even though it has been real for the children...  that MY work is to provide the children the tools to philosophise together. That my focus on listening skills - not just in the philosophy sessions but also the art sessions we have done to support the children's listening skills and understanding of limits have been a HUGE part of providing experiences for the children to gain hands-on practical skills that will allow them to partake in philosophical dialogues...

My job is also helping the children to start thinking as "we" instead of "me"... to become a community of learners, a community of enquiry where ideas are shared, opinions made and changed and values explored.

The children need to learn a self awareness, about how they learn best, as well as learning and respecting how others learn best.

The children need to learn how to stop and think before acting... this can be done through dialogue, but is also learned through daily interaction with the children.

The children need to learn about how others have feeling too, and about how their actions affect others for better or worse. In other words they need to develop their sense of empathy.

The children need to learn how to concentrate... not only on things that interest them but also on things that interest others... thus allowing them the opportunity to learn new things, develop new interests... just like sometimes you need to be brave and try a new food... unless you try it you don't know whether or not you are going to like it...

The children need to learn a whole range of social skills such as working in a group and making choices as to how they react to situations... by no means easy things to learn or master...

The children need to learn to communicate... they need a method of communication when they are pre-verbal, they need support in their early days of language development - to learn vocabulary, to learn to listen, to learn to take turns etc before they can start sharing ideas...

Philosophy is a process... and there are a lot of tools needed to be able to sit down together and be that community of enquirers that a philosophy session requires.

Of course it is NOT just the children that need to learn... it is a process for us adults... many of us that might not have been equipped with all of the many tools required to participate in a philosophical dialogue. We need to learn how to scaffold the dialogue so that it is the children's enquiring minds that are sharing ideas and learning together. We need to learn how to be in a position of power (in the sense that we are guiding the conversation within a framework) while still being open to the force of the enquiry... whether it is proceeding with speed or much more slowly than what you would like - to allow it to take the time it needs... it is learning how to balance and how to be a part of the collective thinking. This is especially important when most children look to the adult as having all the answers... here we are encouraging them to discover their OWN answers TOGETHER.

I am continually trying, assessing, trying again and reflecting some more. As the children learn new skills I need to challenge them some more so I have to think and rethink. And as I learn I too need to challenge myself and not get too comfortable with what I am doing...

Today I heard that it should be like a small stone in your shoe... just irritating enough to not let you forget to make you keep thinking about it until you have resolved it one way or another... and then in goes a new stone... and...

I also heard that crisis is the beginning of learning/education... I interpreted this as we need to challenge the children (and ourselves) - push them out of their comfort zone so that they are confronted with something new to learn about themselves, about the world and about others. This I felt was in line with the stone in the shoe... when it comes to children (to all people really) you have to ensure that the stone is not too big, or too sharp because then it will prevent progress... it should JUST be enough remind you that you have this to learn/experience/deal with before you can really move on. If there is no stone then there is no reminder, and one can happily continue where you are... but there is no development.
Necessity is the mother of invention... so in this sense a crisis is the perfect situation for learning... but I do not think all crises are HUGE... like today when we werein the middle of a philosophical dialogue and you are thinking "what are they talking about, I am lost" and then suddenly you get it - your mind has been challenged and challenged and its busy puzzling things out that it never has had to reflect upon before... there is then the opportunity to learn something new.

I see how this way of supporting children in their learning, in their ability to think and be a part of a learning community has strong links with the Reggio Emilia Approach.

Now I want to research this even more... to find out more about the practical side of pre-philosophy so that I can support and inspire other teachers to use this fabulous tool. Philosophy.

I presented at the conference too... talking about the art of listening... and how we have supported children - preverbal and in the early years of the language development (1-4 years old) - to communicate with each other... to hone their philsophical skills...

here are some images from the presentationthat I did... I will be developing this presentation for when I go to Canada... and sharing MORE about our journey with philosophy with very young children.

circle of chairs... I told the journey we made to find a way to support the children to sit together and focus on the listening rather than focus on where do I end and where do you begin... this is where I sit and don't touch me etc etc etc

Elmer elephant - and listening practice - see post here
the talking rings.. giving the dialogue structure... the ones holding can talk (one for the teacher) and the one not holding should be ACTIVE LISTENERS


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Those interested in ECE - men and women!

One of the benefits of having a facebook page connected to my blog is the fact I can see the statistics in a very different way there... not just pageviews but also more details about the towns and countries and also what sex are interacting and seeing the blogs I write and the images and links I share from other great blogs etc..

Despite the fact that 54% of facebook are male users only 5% of those following my page are actually male...

Why is it that more women are interested in early childhood than men? OR is it that more women explore early childhood through facebook?

Is my page followed by ECE professionals or parents... and it that case does this reflect that it is still the mothers that are engaging in early childhood?

I am not the one to really bother about the statistics of my blog... its a bit of fun to see what people are interested in reading, how other facebook pages influence how many people read my blog... because that REALLY does seem to make a huge difference... and if THAT is the case how can we make ECE reach out to more males?

I would be interested to find out what others with blogs/facebook pages have for statistics... how big is that male percentage... are we all around 5% - or are some reaching out to more?

I HOPE that my blog is not something that just appeals to a female audience, but that it is something that is relevant for all that work with young children...

But just 5% men...


Work in ECE and light some inspirational fires...


Friday, 24 January 2014

The Together Painting

We have now been adding to the "Together" Painting for seven days and I am beginning to feel that this is is as much as the paper can deal with... and next week new paper should go up on the easel... with new colours.

I have experimented with the number of children, the number of colours and techniques available to the children...

I noticed that the sponges were popular as an idea and got some different children interested in coming to the easel BUT they did not keep the children at the easel for very long... once they had explored and experienced the sponges dab dab dabbing on the paper they put them down... there has been a definite preference for the paint brushes...

I have also noticed that for some of the children their concentration has really, and I mean REALLY grown. From just a few strokes in the beginning to now being at the easel for 10-15 minutes and interacting with friends, sharing colours, sharing the stories behind what they are painting. The TOGETHER painting really is bringing the children TOGETHER.

Today there were four colours available... meaning four children could work at the easel at the same time. This was no problem at all... there was no competetion for space, or colours... but co-operation and an openness.

Starting with just two children and very controlled in turn taking by me.. to now being totally free for the children to come and go and for there to be four children collaborating TOGETHER - in just seven days. It feels quite satisfying to handing some control of the atelier over to the children. As the children become more confident in their negotiations at the easel then it will be time to let them get the paints out themselves... this IS a group that needs adult interaction to help them. So I am in no hurry, I want them to learn how to swim before casting them out into the deep end! AND to have a whole heap of fun splashing in the shallow end as they discover their own compence!

As you see... this time there was a big interest in writing letters, and words... especially writing names - I put out the name labels so that she could be independant in her exploration of name writing rather than depedning on me... which I was happy to do, but when I realised that she wanted to write all the names it seemed better to give her the control and a method of how to find out how to spell things.

This is how the Together Painting started

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Painting with feathers...

In the afternoons this year I am meeting the children from the other groups in the atelier to work on their projects...
As you know The Wind (Vinden) group has started the project "Together on the Square", The Sky group (Himlen) has started a Bird project and The Cloud group (Molnet) has started a hand project.

Today three Himlen children came into the atelier with me (with some Vinden children curious to see what was goign on.. and this was also a part of the reason for me doing this... to allow our different projects to inspire each other. in our own projects..)..

As a first atelier experience with me the children got to paint with feathers... I put a bit of emphasis on the fact it was a feather and that feather come from birds... I asked what colour birds were so that we could use bird colours... but they looked with big eyes at the colours and I quickly realised that today was not so much about keeping everything birdlike, but to allow them to explore paint and colours with a feather...

They started with one colour and I soon added another colour (of their choice) so that they could mix the colours to create new ones... then as the paint started to disapear i asked if they would like a new colour...

The Vinden children watched, some kept asking to do things, and I explained that right now I was working with the Himlen children and they were welcome to watch this process or to go and play in the adjacent room... but that I was not clearing space or giving my time to them, and that they would have both time and space after snack which was just 20 minutes away... They accepted this after three times of trying to demand that I give my time to them... I think they found it unusual that I was not "theirs". They did watch and when two of the Himlen children finished they were able to use up the left over paint to experience feather painting themselves...

One child kept painting for five to ten minutes after snack had started. "Snack has started, would you like to go and eat snack now?" "No, I am not finished yet" It was during this time that she experimented with how much paint a feather could scoop up and drop onto the paper before spreading it out... And then she was satisfied and we washed hands and she went off to snack as i started to prepapre white circles so the the Vinden children could make snowflakes as they had requested earlier...



 (I translated MOST of the documentation and removed the children's names)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Inspiration ping pong

I love it when children are inspired by what we do, which can inspire more children and can then inspire me to meet their needs with an idea I had not yet had for this group yet!

One of the children wanted to take notes during the philosophy session - she had brought her own notebook and pen from home to do it.

I thought it was a great idea to support her budding interest in writing/mark-making, although i did wonder what the other children would make of it... and yes, they were VERY vocal about it - and was she ALLOWED to have that with her, where did it come from... and then they asked her can you buy me one too.

Seeing all the children interested in documenting I asked if they would all like an notebook for our project days to jot down ideas, thoughts and sketches. There were big nods - and so for next Monday I will have to find notebooks for the children...

I feel the notebooks will be better for the project days rather than the philosophy days as we ARE trying to work on listening skills and part of that, at the moment, is showing with our bodies that we are listening. ALTHOUGH it would be interesting to see if those who jot down what others are saying are then able to "read" back the notes... hmmm, will have to give that a try... as the jotting down might actually HELP the listening...


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Black and White

This piece of art was started to meet the needs of the children to feel the paint... to experience creativity with their whole bodies without the need of using paper after paper to meet the need of this feeling to physically experience art without the intentionality of creating SOMETHING except for the experience... that it is becoming something is just a biproduct of the process...


 It began with the word "Together" and the aim that this was a place for us to paint TOGETHER. A place to experiment with the paint and also to collaborate. Just one pot of white and one pot of black paint was put out - indicating only two at a time could paint. This was so that the children do not have to stress about there being enough space to create. The easel fits 4 children easily, but I wanted this to be a place of freedom from stress of "this is my area" and also by encouraging them to swap paint pots with each other also helped with the sense of collaboration. The children were told before hand that this would be a painting that would grow and grow and that it was OK to paint on top of somone elses work... as I would be taking photographs of what they were doing all the time... in the same way that it was OK to paint over my letters...
This first day it was necessary to write a list of who wanted to paint as there was so much anxiety amongst the children that they would not get the chance to paint... the list worked great... and once all the children had had a turn it was open for those who wanted to continue or have another go... this worked out very well, and the children had found their rhythm and were able to either play or paint as they wished.

 The next day it was open from the very start for those to paint who wished to... after rest time only three children wanted to be in the atelier, two on the easel and one creating art with loose parts (and informing me when I should take a photo of her process). After a while two more children entered the atelier and wanted to paint and hovered over the shoulders of the painters asking every 10 seconds, "when are you finished, I want a go"...
It took a few attempts to explain that these children had the right to explore and paint as long as they wished, and that when they were finished that they too would then have as long as they wished to paint... and that in the meantime they were welcome to watch with respect or to play elsewhere and that I would call them when there was a paint pot available... it eventually worked...

And once both these children had finished their princesses they put their paintbrushes down and went to tell their friends that they could paint now if they wished. the two children came immediately. One painted for 10 seconds and then her need for painting was met. The other painted for a long time having the whole easel for herself - she moved across the whole of the easel painting her and there with a purpose only she could understand. I filmed her creativity and have watched it and still I cannot see a pattern in what she is doing BUT it is quite clear that SHE has a clear purpose in her actions... During this phase one of the children that had painted a princess said "but now my princess is gone" and we talked about how I had taken photographs so that she would be able to see her princess again and also that her princess was STILL there... she was just hiding under the paint... this made her smile with an understanding that yes, her princess WAS still there.

 After a while the children all moved on to other things... there was not much paint left and with the weekend upon us I thought I would use it rather than waste it... I started to fill the paper with spirals singing the song "Lilla Snigel" (Little Snail) - it did not take long before the other paintbrush was picked up and more spirals were being painted and then I handed over my paintbrush to another child who also wanted to paint snails...
Once the paper was filled with snails then there was a new purpose to the painting... drawing lines to connect the snails which then devloped into making lines right across the paper...

video
 Here you can see a very short snippet of the movement of the art. There was a great deal of movement on both days, with song, dance and moving back and forth...

Here is the art at the end of day 2. Next week we will be continuing with it... but I have a feeling that there might not be a great deal of interest - as I am introducing clay next week to this group ... and they are VERY excited about the prospect... BUT I am also going to be introducing a third colour to the art... so one can never really know.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Thoughts based on a tragedy...


Marc Armitage linked the story of a three year old child that had died at her preschool entangled in a rope on the slide...here is the link and the comments from others about that link...
Here is a link to the story in The Guardian that Marc had linked and the same story as it continues in the York Press the local newspaper where it happened... it also happens to be my hometown. (York Press - more)

Marc then linked the story onto his personal FB page and there were yet more comments - but what struck me about the comments was the focus that teachers/adults are observing the children to prevent accidents and bullying.. but then Krister Svensson wrote something that really resonated with me... 


"Two small comments, after have been working with safety in preschools and schools for more than 30 years, in Sweden. Staff needs more and relevant education how to organize, both indoor and outdoor activities from as safety perspective. Secondly, I think it is time to stop repeating the mantra that children need to take risks for their development. There is no research that supports that position. I would like to suggest that we talk about children taking chances instead. Child development, in itself, strives for a positive outcome of an activity, not a negative.
However, we put children at risk, that they can’t, or have no reason, to calculate! This is the issue!"


  This comment was rebuked in the sense that taking chances/calculated risk is one and the same thing... this made me comment too... and here is my response...

"BUT semantics ARE important... they can change a whole mind set and how we meet the child... I like the idea of changing the word from risk to chance... the chance to succeed, the chance to learn... rather than the risk to fail...even though it is the same thing as the cup being half full or half empty there is an OBVIOUS attidtude difference... like the change in Reggio Emilia from the word that children can have special needs to having special rights... the right to the support they need...

As for the incident... well as someone that is from York but works in Sweden in preschools (and have observed preschools/nurseries in York) my gut reaction that this is a natural consequence of having too many boxes to tick... if you are spending so much time checking off boxes then you are not actually using that time to reflect on how the setting is being used and if there ARE areas of genuine risk... a hanging rope can be a wonderful thing... and there are many places that have them and use them and leave them daily without anyone considering them being a problem...


Yes, we do risk assessments here in Sweden but not on the scale that they are done in the UK which I felt made them something that was done by rote rather than with thought... maybe a very dangerous thing when there is a high number of staff that do not have the training and education to support them in their work...

I have worked at preschools here where I have felt frustration by colleagues who sit at the picnic table the whole time... for me it's not so much about being close to the children in case they might be at risk, or because I have to teach them or to direct their play... but so that I can listen and observe THEIR play - so that
I can learn more about the children... how THEY use the play equipment and how I can support the children in their continued development... this means I can appropriately challenge them... this can not be done from the picnic table...

BUT as we do not know the whole circumstances one cannot truly say that this is the norm at this preschool, of course... BUT it is a wake up call for all teachers... NOT that we should be guarding the children from "what if..." moments... not having to spend time "checking off boxes..." that says on paper that the preschool is safe without actually understanding or reflecting on what the questions to those boxes mean in practice...

maybe there should be more education on taking chances... on how we can support the children's development and their ability to make risk assessment... "is this a too big risk for me to take?" - I also think that so many parents lift up their children onto play equipment etc without thinking that they are never letting their children experience frustration or understand the risk/the chances that they are taking... which also means that children are more fearless and therefore in greater need of being protected by adults which means there is a negative spiral where children are made less competent because adults are so afraid of their child's frustration and that it makes them unhappy for a few moments... oh this could open a lots of questions and possibilties to reflect upon... hope they do open the right ones..."


 It really has got me thinking about risk/taking chances... and the reason why it can feel such a hard thing to do as a preschool teacher - and much easier to do at home... I really KNOW my children... I have been with two of them for 13 years and the other for soon 10 years... I have watched them grow and develop seven days a week and received feedback from their time at preschool and now school for the time I am not with them. I have encouraged them to take chances... chances based on my knowledge of them as individuals, their skills, their willingness to try things they might fail at, their agility, their motor skills, their ability to communicate their fear and anxiety and their joy!
At preschool I take care of considerably more children that I have known for a year of their 3-5 year old lives - I see them for part of the day for up to five days a week, and not the entire year... after summer I have to spend time again to catch up with where they are in their development and ensure that the learning, the play and the activities are based at the right level for all these unique individuals... which might mean that sometimes children are exposed to things that are just too easy and others it is a little beyond them... for no matter how hard we work at creating a curriculum to meet each child's individual needs, we simply do not have the adult child ratio of the typical Swedish family. It CAN mean that if we are busy meeting the needs of a child that has fallen down and hurt themselves that suddenly they are a group of children that are not under full observation for the time it takes for that child to recover... even if we do know WHERE they are they are NOT under that quality of observation that can guarentee that no accidents can happen..
having watched how the children had been sliding down safely, and knowing that this is a slide all the children were VERY familiar with, this was NOT the expected exit of the slide. My heart left my body for a while... even though I was VERY close there was no way that I could have prevented this... luckily the child laughed hystericall and repeated the flying exit three more times, despite me warning her that she would fly again.. BUT that turned out to be her aim... it still scared the living daylights out of me!

Of course accidents WILL happen, and as we have seen in York, tragic accidents can happen too. What we need to do is to empower children to learn how to use equipment properly and to be aware of the risks... if we are always micromanaging their risk then what are the chances of them comprehending it themselves?

If so many parents are more focussed on ensuring their child is HAPPY at the play-space/playground than allowing them to take the opportunity to climb up on what is appropriate for their own devlopment ... or to take the time to allow the child to experience a little fear and verbally guide them back down rather than lifting them down and hugging the learning opportunity away...

PARENTS have the BEST opportunity to give this gift of taking chances and learning risk assessment, realising fears and knowing when to listen to them... and therefore allow their child to be competent. The longer we focus on their constant state of happiness the more the children will be dependant on us and the more we put children at risk...

I have seen it over the years at ALL of the preschool I have ever worked at here in Stockholm - how children are delivered to preschool in pushchairs up until the age of five... then the parents expect us to go on excursions with this group of children who have no idea of how to walk, no idea about road safety (as they are chauffeured everywhere) and have absolutely no idea about pavement etiquette and safety (they will try and walk through people - and the number of times I have to call out "lamp-post lamp-post watch out for the lamp-post" - well put it this way if I was paid 10kronor for every time I said it I would be VERY VERY rich now!!)

Ellen and I have talked about taking up the idea of risk/risk assessment with the parents of the children in our care... to find out what THEY think about all of this. To find out what kind of expectations they have of the care that we give the children... is it OK with them that they get the odd scratch and bruise from accidents and conflicts with friends (as risk assessment must also be social - how far can you push a person before they retaliate?...and HOW will they retaliate?) - where is the line for too much risk?

I am one for taking chances rather than risk so that the children can obtain a healthy ability to make risk assessments... I think its why Krister Svensson's word resonated with me so much... 
The thing is, even with calculated risk, there is always the chance of miscalculation... and I think that is important to remember... so that when things don't go to plan we are not fast with our fingers pointing out failure of reasonable care...

My daughter fractured both her arms last year (in two different months) ice-skating... does this mean I need to stop her from skating to prevent that risk... for two consecutive years my other daughter flipped on her ski's resulting in head injuries... the second one taking three months to fully recover and two rather stressful visits to hospital when things were not quite as they should have been..... does this mean that we should prevent her from ski-ing again. My son slipped on the snow and ice when playing and resulted in a cut just above his eye, does this mean snow is too dangerous to play in?

Of course we have to be sensible about all this... not to ignore patterns for obvious risk... but also not to be over protective either... it is no easy balance to find in a preschool setting... I find it personally a struggle to find that balance between giving the children freedom to take chances and my own desire to wrap them in cotton wool and keep them safe from harm and hurt... I also hate feeling mean when I say, no I won't lift you up, but i can show you haw it can be done... but the reward IS the joy and pride of the children when the success is their own...

There is sadness indeed when a child dies, any child, in any situation. And tragic accidents make many questions rise to the surface... which can be a very good thing... as long as we answer them with reason and not emotion...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

the atelier working WITH me again...

After feeling the frustration of the atelier not working with me earlier this week I went back in there to see how I could make a few small changes so that the atleier was meeting the children's needs and therefore working with me again and not against me...

On the easel I put one GREAT big paper and just two colours out... black and white. I also wrote the word TOGETHER on the paper (but in Swedish of course) as a symbol that this is something that does not belong to one person but to all of us, and that we should all collaborate.
this is at the start of the painting... it is now a wonderful mix of black greys and white


On the table I set up the pippette painting for two at a time...

more science art
There was a heated discussion during afternoon snack about who should start and how many painting they were going to do, and will there be time for everyone... and it felt stressful for all of the children... and me!!!

So a list was made with all the names on both lists of the children who wanted to partake in the activity - the other's were free to choose to do an activity with the looseparts in the atelier or in the adjacent room on the light table... as well as small world play in there.

This list worked wonderfully... and once everyone had a turn I let it be open for anyone who wanted to... there was no longer a desperate stress to ensure that they got a turn as everyone found a rhythm in their play... either watching others and sharing the experience, or playing in the adjacent room. The children were calmer and were able to focus on the creative experience rather than on the need to ensure that they were first and no-one was doing more than them...

I read a blog the other day Acorn School in Ontario about competition which really resonated with me... especially the bit about it being something we, as adults, often see as behaviour, and the children experience as a feeling. Being first or best at something makes them feel good!

So I have thinned down the beads etc in the atelier... not just because of my wish for intentionality that I wrote about in my post the other day but also to take away the feeling of stress that the children might experience... stress of too many things to choose from and the feeling of having chosen the wrong thing (so then it's better to take too much of everything just to make sure)... only two pots of paints so that there was no stress about having enough space to paint and competing for room... there was plenty of space to feel good about their creativity (and so good they painted and danced at the same time).
And the list of course took the feeling of stress that the other's would not let them have a turn so that they could get on with their play and creativity and not just focus on asking me "when can I have a turn" - despite the fact they know I will always let them know that it is not me they should be asking but their friend... there IS an adult dependancy...

As Ellen is still on holiday I have had a substitutes in to help - and it has been interesting to see how the children walk past me to go and ask the substitute for help... they know full well that I will only help if they have tried first themselves and if it is something too fiddly/hard for a friend to help with... as I get the children to help each other as much as possible. I see my job as making myself un-needed - in the atelier also... but right now I need to give the children a good foundation on how the atelier can be used, how the materials and resources in the atelier can be used before I can give them the freedom to "reign" in there.

you have to love experiments... we wanted to see what would happen if we put a dry absorbant paper next to, and touching two finished pipette artworks... so fun to watch the colours travel and meet and mix.

Pipette




Plenty of science happening in the atelier... with the very simple means..

small pipettes
absorbant paper
jars of water with the insides of old felt tip pens that had stopped working (a great way to get that last colour out)

The children learned about expelling the air from the pipette and how the coloured water would then climb up the pipette instead of air... and that you could move the pipette without it dripping until you squeezed it. There was no testing out tiny drips... it was all about full on squeezing...

We then watched the liquid move across the absorbant paper as it soaked up - which edge would it come to first... how did the colours mix, and how much water could the paper hold without dripping - or finding a small pool under it...?

This was a very popular activity for sure - and the children enjoyed watching the process as much as participating...

... and of course this offers a great opportunity for developing fine motor skills...

you can see the inside core of the old pens in the jars of coloured water... I save all the pens, so I can top up the colours when needed...
my favourite bit of this photo is seeing how the child observing has her head bent down low so she can watch how the colour comes out of the pipette
experimenting to see how it works...
they got very wet as squirting was fun... there was a long line to try this out... and as I was introducing this material on a busy and chaotic afternoon to find collaborate focus I did not want them to be all doing it at the same time, I wanted them to watch each other and observe and interact... each child got  to create two squirt art pieces... the first to see what happens and how it feels like and the second to have a go with more awareness. When I set this up tomorrow it will be availabe for several children at the same time (just need to find some more trays...)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

More lights in the bath

There HAD to be another bath tonight... we had to experiment a little more...and this time we had bubbles... but as Michael has sensitive skin it was bubbling bathsalts that don't make a THICK bubbling mass, but a thin layer of white foam... which actually turned out perfectly... Michael soon discovered that he could create shadows under the bubbles with his hands...

We also used the rotary handwhisk to make the bubbles - with different depths and angles to see what would be the best method for creating bubbles and foam... it turned out I had the speed and coordination to get a good froth on...!! And popping bubbles make such a great sund too! The bath salts were blue so it gave a blue hint to the water, which also added to the effect...

And of course when there are bubbles no bath would not be complete without a bubble beard!


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Too much of a good thing...

After a week of the atelier working together with me... and the children developing their wire skills I added some more things to the wire table in order to deepen the experience and challenge the children as to what can be done... I am also busy messing about with the wire and seeing what can be created too.. which is having positive effects, but also a require help as sometimes little fingers are not so strong (and ometimes they are stronger than they first realise).

BUT I soon realised that there was TOO much... in my enthusiasm I had put out too many new choices at one go and suddenly the children had forgetten their intentionality and it was back to experience and consumption - they just seemed to want to use as many beads and as much wire as possible because it was there not knowing WHY or what they were going to do.
lots of new coloured wire, beads and wire cutters... which lead to a self portrait by a child...

I took many (many) deep breaths and tried to explain that yes they make take the beads they need... but what is is exactly they are doing...?

I want to create situations where the children can just experience the art and experiment with the process... but I also want the children to develop an awareness... an awareness of what they are doing, and awareness of the resources they are using, and awareness of the impact on the world when they use resouces - the environment, financial and the amount of time that went into the process of making and delivering (at the various stages) the materials to make and sell the resources...

The children were quite shocked about paper when I said that paper costs money... "but it comes from trees" - so I had to explain that we pay the person that cuts down the trees, the person that transports the trees to the paper factory, the people who work at the paper factory, the person who transports the paper to the shop and the people working in the shop... this came as a BIG surprise - especially as there is a tendency to pick up paper, scribble a little on it for the sensation and then dump it to pick up another to scribble on...

I sat down with one child who was doing that ... and asked her what DID she want to draw... a man was her answer. So I sat with her and talked her through stage by stage until she had created a person.. literally every single line needed support, "you need a head, what shape is a head... look at my head, is my head a straight line? yes, it's a circle, can you try to draw a circle?Where are my eyes? What shape are they... etc" She did want to draw the body around the head, despite talking about where the body was... the need for the pen to flow was huge...
When she was finished she wrinkled her nose and said it was ugly... but I let her know how proud I was that she had concentrated so hard to create her man... and that with practice her people would become easier draw...

We have scrap paper for messing about drawing and cutting... where there is not the need to be quite so intentional... but I feel that in the atelier there HAS to be a respect for the materials that we are using. This is not a room filled with toys... this is a room filled with tools. Sure we can be playful with them, and sure the experiences will be playful... BUT not all play is fun... play can be filled with frustration... and this is part of the process, an essential part of the process where the children can learn or work out new techniques...

Anyway... just about all the extra things have been put away and just the tiny beads and the hama beads remain with the original wires... due to there being TOO much choice and also due to the fact another child had just returned from her Christmas holiday - and for her the process had hopped over a whole step (or two) - so reducing the choices will allow EVERYONE to be a part of the process from the beginning...


It's a process...

waterproof lights

Today my order for waterproof battery run lights arrived and we had to put them to the test...
So bathtime was in the dark today for full exploration... swirling the water and blowing bubbles to see how it created patterns both on the water and on the wall and ceiling. Designing patterns and faces on the bottom of the bath... and putting them in a box to change the effect... bathtime took a lot longer than usual for sure!!

I bought them as I want to to not only experiment with them under water - but also out in the snow... to create snow houses and other creations with the lights inside to make them glow... I can hardly wait to get started and to share them... good job that it's due to snow some more at the end of the week... the snow we have at the moment is a little too powdery... and now my mind wonders about putting them inside ice-sculptures... hmm - now that could be done without waiting for more snow...

these are the white ones... rather tempted to get UV ones!!!!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Teacher Collaboration...

In Sweden, working as a preschool teacher, is not an isolated job - we always work as a team... most of the time I have worked in a team of three working in a preschool with other groups/departments with three pedagogues ... at the moment we are seven working together - Ellen and myself working with the eleven 3-4 year olds (turning 4-5 this year) and then there are two groups with 1-2 year olds, one with 2 pedagogues and 10 children and one with 14 children and 3 pedagogues... there is a preschool teacher in each group...
When I worked in groups of three at other places there have been various group sizes... in one place we were two teachers and one assistant with twelve 1-2 year olds, and other groups have had 19 children and one teacher and two assistants, sometimes the assistants are trained sometimes they are not.. sometimes we get support teachers for the group so that we have a better system to scaffold those children with a greater need for adult interactions for one reason or another (which means we are then four pedagogues - and rarely is the support teacher trained - but that is a whole different discussion).

What I have noticed is that in many preschools I have worked in, and read about, in groups I participate in on facebook, is that time for collaboration is not always easy AND when there is time how that collaboration is formed has not always been either clear or meaningful...

I have worked at places where each monthly meeting has grinded on the same issues of keeping the entrance hall swept clean and who is washing dishes etc... and there has been little time dedicated to discussing pedagogical matter, shared values etc etc - the whole pedagogical development of the setting has not been important as it felt more like a collection of individuals struggling to define the rules of who does what...

My first real challenging and meaningful collaborations (on a regular basis) was when I worked at a preschool with a pedagogista... and one with passion.. Soledad Quiroz ensured that the regular times we met to discuss various development areas of the preschool (with a member from each of the five departments of the preschool) the discussion were meanigful. These meetings were structured - we received a paper before hand with a series of questions based on what was both relevant in the preschool's development and also on the previous week's discussion - or on how discussion in the other development groups could deepen our understanding... allowing ideas from various development areas to inspire each other... as no idea is isolated.

The fact that Soledad was with all the groups and could provoke thought in all of them allowed her to ensure that each group could maintain a connection with each other despite each being allowed to explore their own areas... we had the chance to grow and explore... not only the questions but the wording of the questions. It was allowed to challenge each other's ideas. It was a time of enormous growth... not just growth in my own ideas but also in the understanding that collaboration could be on this level if it was expected and constantly challenged. There NEEDS to be a driving engine that makes sure that the RIGHT questions are posed to the right people...

It is just like our work with children - the idea of a provocation is to challenge the children in their own thinking and allow us to see what the children are thinking too. BUT we would never place out a provocation that was too far beyond the ability of the children, because that would not encourage the children to grow but make them feel small... in the same way those who work to present provocations for the teachers - to get them to think deeper, to challenge their perception of what they thought they understood, to encourage teachers to find common ground and also to understand their differences... this requires an understanding of the teachers working together and individually, it requires observation so that the provocations are pitched right - to extend the learning/teaching practice but not to reduce them to feeling this kind of collaboration is out of reach. Soledad was able to do this... and yes there were times I would wrinkle my nose when I saw those questions... but during the meetings where we entered dialogues based on our thoughts triggered by those questions... it all became clear as to WHY those questions had been selected...

I also think that we are not supposed to feel comfortable all the time... if we are to move forward we have to take the risk of being wrong... we have to take the risk of sharing an idea or a thought that is ridiculous or won't work in order to challenge the status quo. Maybe the idea won't work, but the essence of the idea can inspire one that WILL. Daring to make mistakes is not easy.



Of course the immortality does not necessarily have to be you as a person... but the idea itself... that by sharing what you have learned, what you have experienced, by sharing ideas and inspiration can be the spark that ignites an idea and understanding in others. And if these people share their experiences with others from this ignition then the idea will continue...

I remember sharing ideas with a museum in 1997 when I worked as a volunteer for three weeks at the education department there... I still see the ideas I ignited there... developed further - and probably with no idea where they originated from... but I know, and that is my immortality - being allowed to see things continuing that I have contributed to. It is an amazing feeling. I also think that getting older there is less need to lay claim to what is mine... my ideas, my inspiration... well when you look at it honestly, they are all inspired from and by others in one way or another... so guarding my ideas as MINE is not that helpful.

It is part of why this blog was created... to share ideas and processes. To offer inspiration... to challenge thoughts... my own too. To be a part of a collaboration.

It is why I have been active in groups and twitter chats etc - to connect with others who think differently from me... BUT share the same vision that children have the right to learning on THEIR terms... they have the right to play, to imagination, to meaningful interactions... to be seen and heard and valued for who they are right now.

I love the fact that I am not just one nation... I am British in Sweden - I see and feel the values of these two cultures. My English language has opened up the ease of connecting with many others internationally... this evening I will be participating in #ReggioPLC first international twitterchat. And I am super excited about this international collaboration... the possibility to challenge my thoughts with a new perspective.

PLC stands for Professional Learning Community - and the ReggioPLC is a place to hone our Reggio Emilia Approach philosophy... to share ideas and collaborate with each other.

My work at Filosofiska Preschool has allowed yet another way to collaborate with each other.. using PHILOSOPHY as a tool of communication. This means we use the structure of a philosophical dialogue to allow us to explore the meanings of words and values... to gain better insights into each other as colleagues, to move our thinking forward and deeper. It ensures that the dialogues remain focused and do not wander easily into general chit chat. It is not just a tool to communicate with children... but it is an excellent tool to communicate with each other... to encourage EVERYONE to share ideas and musings and also to challenge these ideas and musings... the framework of the philosophical dialogue in a way is like a safety net... we can understand that it is the subject we are discussing - not each other...
It is the development of the preschool that we are working towards... and the development of our professional roles. This is not easy... as no-one wants to feel that their way of interacting with the children is wrong... but that is what is so wonderful about philosophy - that it allows you to dig deeper in your own values, to question them, to listen to others and take the pieces that can complete your own value mosaic, shedding ones that you feel no longer fit.

Teacher collaboration is not always easy. It is something that needs to be worked on, and takes time to fine tune so that it IS meaningful.
It requires finding time, finding structure, finding the drive and finding the glue that binds the collaboration together...
WHAT is it that you are collaborating together on? There needs to be a purpose for it to be meaningful - for everyone to gather round and share their experiences and knowledge...


This will be the first post on teacher collaboration... after the twitter chat tonight, I will no doubt have new and more enlightened thoughts about what and how teacher collaboration works and is effective...
I am also interested in exploring teacher collaboration with other services so that all children are included, regardless of disibaility or diagnosis... and also collaborations with school and the transition children make from preschool learning which is based on the children to school learning which is based more on school tradition...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Just another day...

After playing outside in the morning at a nearby playspace with a ship climbing frame in it - and several of the children using their winter hats to cover one eye to transform themselves into pirates, the afternoon was filled with creative activities in the atelier...

using beads and googly eyes to create art...

and tidying up can invlove a spot of role-play...
beads and wire. The interesting part had been in the morning I had been question about the suitablity of this material for young children... and here is a two year old busy concentrating. As yet all of the children who have worked with wire have shown great respect for the material... BUT the are not left to their own devices - I do let them know that they need to be careful because the ends can feel sharp - and they explore the feel of the ends with respect - there are four places set at the table - and they respect that four children at a time can work with wire...
the afternoon produced enough wire sculptures to start a wire exhibition. The key word for the wire session was "problem solver" - one child was struggling and wanted me to fix it... I said she had a problem and needed to be a problem solver... she looked at the wire again, and she tried something and it worked - "Look", I said, "you have fixed the problem". there was pride and the rest of the session was "I have a problem, how am I going to solve it... hmm, let me try this... no...hmmm... oh this works... I am a problem solver"

happiness is when the atelier is used the way I hoped it would be. The children took down materials from various shelves and started to create...

a theatre no less - the children involved - all from one to four children at various times (all 3 yr olds). There was lots of singing as the theatre "performed".

 It was definitely wonderful to see the atelier being used in the way I had hoped - it means that the third teacher and I are speaking the same language to the children. The adjacent room (the orange room) was a hive of activity too, with role-play, building, small-world play - all completely freely - as it is not ALL in plain view, BUT I can hear what is going on in the room (and to hear the wonderful positive play). This does allow the children a freedom in their play - they know where I am, they know they are safe - and they can immerse themselves in their play. It was the 3-4 year olds in this room - the age the room is designed for...

Monday, 6 January 2014

Through the Eyes of the Child... part 2

Sometimes amazing things happen... and these things happen because of amazing people!
I had an idea which a shared... but others have helped take it to a whole new level...
Laura Painter, Pre-School Phase Leader at Ghyll Royd School has been bouncing ideas with me - and lucky for me her husband Simon Painter works with IT - Simon likes to make things; Lego, wood, electronics and web applications are some of his favourite building blocks. His day job is looking after the network infrastructure for a FTSE 100 company but that's not as fun as tinkering with JavaScript. - Or a Raspberry Pi.

And lucky for this project, he has been building a website so that information can be shared and also when the time is right - for people to register their interest and also to download their photos ... on the day that will be decided later on as we fine tune the project...

The project will be focussing on CHILDREN taking photographs of what is important in their day... and opportunity for the adults around them to gain an insight in what their children like/feel is important - and why...

I will go into more details on the website blog at Through the Eyes of the Child

So why not pop over every now and again ... and see how it is progressing...