Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Christmas art... on the light table


The five year olds were asked "What Colour is Christmas" and present reasons for why this colour was christmassy. 
Red, white, blue, yellow, green, gold and orange were all suggested and all had various reasons for why this was the colour of Christmas.

Together the children needed to choose the three colours they felt were the most Christmassy to create an artwork with... gold and red were the first two that were agreed upon... the third colour took more dialogue to reach a consensus.
White was excluded because there was not always snow at Christmas, not last year, and that not all countries around the world have snow, as it is summer in some places...
Pink suddenly made the table... mostly because they wanted to paint with it... and no argument for why it was a part of Christmas was made.
Orange and yellow were excluded based that only some baubles were of that colour and green was chosen as the third colour... the colour of Christmas trees.

The art was on the light table covered in plastic - that was wiped clean between the sessions... the children painted either individually or in pairs... they got to choose... and for as long as they wanted or until the paint no longer responded to their movements...

At the end the children had an opportunity to return and paint together as a large group.

Those who wanted to, could save one of their artworks on paper.

It is a fantastic way for the children to explore colour, enjoy a sensory experience, collaborate, enter dialogues with each other, create stories on the light table in the paint, make designs and then redesign... especially good for those children afraid of making mistakes as they could wipe clean and restart so many times.

I was so interested by the fact that when I asked the children if they could sing Christmas songs and draw at the same time it impacted WHAT they drew... they actually drew small Lucia figures with candles in their hair.
When I sang "I ett hus vid skogens slut" (In the house by the forest's edge) the children started to draw houses...
It really does show what power we have over the children... even without realising it.

The children enjoyed painting up their arms as much as mixing the colours, discovering the magic of creating patterns on the light table in the paint... the feel of the smooth paint as they glided fingers, hands even elbows and whole arms through the paint.

a wonderful way to explore Christmas and to create a Christmas artwork.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Re-defining play and education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

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






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

Monday, 21 November 2016

Children with autism and sleep research...


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

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

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



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

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

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


Monday, 31 October 2016

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

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

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

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

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


So why these words?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 24 October 2016

Changing direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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













Sunday, 2 October 2016

Professional Development of the Third Teacher. 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the preschool...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Friday, 30 September 2016

It's not supposed to be easy...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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







Candyland

the map of fairyland


Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Fourth International Fairy Tea Party...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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


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

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


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



Sunday, 18 September 2016

Professional Development of the Third Teacher. 5

This week I am going to write about space.

One of the things I have noticed by my trips to USA, Canada and Uk is the smallness of the space available to the children's play (indoors) compared to that here in Sweden.

Where I work right now has huge rooms... but in all the places I have worked here in Sweden there has been more space. It is the first thing I react to when visiting abroad... the space made available to play.

Sometimes rooms can be huge... but they are divided into so many small spaces that there is no BIG space for play... no huge area of floor space.

Now I feel there can be benefits of these smaller spaces... it can create a more peaceful/quiet play (at least on the surface) but it does not lend itself to big play... the children are compartmentalised - as is often their play... construction in one area, role play in another... small squares of play.
In big areas... with a large floor space, the room tends to say RUN... and that can have its downsides too in the midst of role-play and constructions etc...

and the question is what sort of play do we want... do we always want that peaceful play... or are we going to invite chaotic play too... I aim to write a post about this in the future...

So I always find it hard to try and find that balance that says... play big... without it saying play so big you disturb everyone else's play. After all we need to create a space where everyone feels they can play.

This is how our yellow room used to look... before we divided it up to create an atelier here... this room was supposed to be an area for quiet reading in one corner... and for drawing in another... and construction (my back was to the construction area)
Of course all that space meant that the children just wanted to run... and as we had a large empty room for that purpose we did not want this to happen in every room... we felt we needed to give the children options in their play diet.
As teachers we were failing to encourage the children to play without running here... so we needed to change the space... the third teacher needed to inform the children of other play options...

This is how the Yellow room looks now... the area to the left of this image... is the same area as the cushions on the image above this one... there is now a half wall dividing the space of the atelier from the rest of the room (between the two pillars... almost). It needed to be a half wall... as the setting is located in an old post office... and there are HUGE large windows onto the square and then lots of space going deep into the building without windows. So we have to work hard to allow natural light into all areas.

The rooms are still large... and still afford the children the space to play big... but there is not the same amount of running any more. (and yes we are outside 1-3 hours a day - depending on activity, weather etc - when it is well below zero the very young don't move enough to keep them warm).

In my post about Empty Spaces(from my visit to Iceland as part of Play Iceland) I wrote about how space was created by not having lots of things on shelves... there was space for the children's imaginations.

This is something that we have utilised in this year's arrangement of the rooms... as I described in the first of this series, we wanted to re-look at the third teacher... to see how the children played... so we took away the toys and just left loose part...
So far this has been working well... the children have filled their time with play, and there has not been any longing for the lego or other toys... something we hoped would happen, but were not sure if it would.

Creating space for children's play.
It requires floor space... carefully considered... not too big, not too small... and then think about how play areas can be combined... role-play and construction are always two areas we have close together so the children can mix the materials...

We now have documented the space for a second week.
I have decided not to look at them yet... waiting to see them at the end of the collection period.

The Lead up to The International Fairy Tea Party 2016

Time flies by... pun intended with my fairy wings!!

The equinox will be upon us during this week... that time of year where no matter where you are on this planet of ours we all have the same number of daylight hours...
It is by no accident that the fairy tea party is held during this week.
Around the world there are many differences... cultural, religious and also what resources we have access to... even how much play children have access to...

So the fairy tea party is about celebrating play... it is about celebrating imagination and creativity... and it is about doing this despite all of our differences on a day that unites us with daylight hours...

As of now there are over 70 celebrations that will occur around the world... USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Germany, Bermuda, Pakistan, Australia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, The Bahamas, Spain, Egypt, South Africa and others... all will celebrate in their own unique way...

This is a chance for adults to immerse themselves in the world of imagination together with the children... to play.
For some this can be a challenge. Pretend play does not always come easy to everyone.

the magic of finding a leaf with a message on it... I told the children that I could not read it, as it seemed to be written in some other language, maybe fairy language... and asked if they could translate it... they could... and their imaginations kicked in big time... amazing wonderful translations about shy fairies, and how noisy we were and how we could get to fairyland
What I have found with fairies is that it allows children and adults to mix reality and imagination... to explore many areas... this year my preschoolers have been looking for evidence of fairies... a scientific approach... looking for clues and analysing them...

I held a workshop in Ontario... held by York Region Nature Collaborative with the aim to enable the educators to see the forest from a new perspective. The educators were sent out with the task to find evidence that fairies existed... they were then to present this at a dialogue circle and to decide together which piece of evidence could prove that fairies existed.
There were many wonderful ideas presented... a rich imagination of possibilities...
There was also a consensus that they had indeed been given a new perspective of the forest ( I had not revealed that this was my aim)... this did not surprise me at all as it is what I have observed with my preschoolers over the last four years..
Looking for fairies has allowed them to see things they would have missed... they see small details... they have used their imagination... and we have also learned a great deal about nature.

The children also have learned about taking care of nature... not just for the animals but for the fairies too...

bags filled with rubbish that we had collected in the forest.

I have also seen how it has been a great way to challenge gender stereotypes... that fairies are not just cutesie pink things... but can be warrior fairies, sea fairies, with wings, man fairies, baby fairies, scary fairies... with wings without wings, pretty, cute, ugly, old, skinny, beautiful, fat, mean, kind... there are so many different kinds of fairies...

During the last week my group of 5 year olds ordered a series of c.20 images of fairies from most fairy like to least fairy like... my motives are not just to see about gender and how the children think, but also to see their aesthetic and understand that... to allow them to explore the terms more, less, most, least, as well as to work on their reasoning.
At first some of the children had difficulties distinguishing between most beautiful and most fairy-like... so we talked about whether beautiful and being a fairy was the same thing... it was not according to the children... so we could move on... and after that there was a greater freedom of how the fairies were being placed.
In the end three fairies we placed as MOST fairy like
see the image below... where you see the top four most like a fairy

As you see two of the most fairy like are male fairies... I had not really expected this... but I knew my group enough to feel that male fairies would be in the top ten... in fact male fairies were spread out amongst the line of fairies...
My aim is to normalise everything... that male fairies are just as normal as female fairies, that old is as normal as young, that fat is as normal as thin... and that beauty is not just one kind.
Exploring fairies in this way empowers the children to accept differences.
It also empowers girls... in the sense that vey often fairies are seen as a girl thing... and therefore not at all suitable for boys... but I have found boys just as interested with the magic, with the flying, with the imagination, with the search for is this real, as the girls... it opens up a new world for the boys too.
Suddenly fairies is not just about pink... where often the phrase pink stinks is used as a girlie thing as if we should avoid it.
I believe we should embrace it... celebrate it, empower it... so that it is available for boys and girls.

here is the line of fairy images... the least like a fairy is a skeleton... because it is dead... because it might not be real... and the next least is a girl dressed up as a fairy, that many thought was beautiful, but came to the conclusion that it was not a real fairy.


My group of 3-4 year olds have often made decisions as to which (of 4 images) was most like a fairy based on "it is beautiful". I did this exercise three times with them over the last 3 weeks... each time different images... the last one being a focus on scary or ugly fairies. Even then the fairy they chose as the most fairy like was often because it was "beautiful".
When I asked what they meant by "beautiful" I was given the answer... "beautiful is that what I like"
Which opens up a whole new way of understanding children's concept of beauty...
I am now eager to explore...
is it beautiful because they like it
or do they like it because it is beautiful?
I am leaning towards the first option, due to how the children have been reacting to the images... But will stay open to see what happens...

This coming Friday we will celebrate... and the weather looks like it will be on our side... and we will be out in the forest... with wand making, potion making, painting on a plastic easel between trees, dancing, drinking fairy tea, fairy face painting (we let the children paint themselves)...

If you want to join in the fun and imagination... and a way to explore the world in a new way... what is real, what is pretend
"It is real by pretend" one of my children once said...
Then join up by using this link
International Fairy Tea Party
and sign up by writing your name (setting name, school name, family name or fairy tea party name) and your location... it is enough with the town, street etc is not necessary... then I will add you to the fairy map...
Then after you have celebrated please add a photo or two of your celebration... if you do not want to share images of your children, then please share an image of the set up or the aftermath... this is so that children can look at the images afterwards and se similarities and differences in their play around the world... it allows the children to come closer to other children in the world...

Of course I realise that a Friday might not be the best day for everyone... so if Thursday or Saturday is a better day, then please do play and imagine then instead... the idea is we share our play during the week of the equinox.








Sunday, 11 September 2016

Professional Development of the Third Teacher. 4

This last week we have started to collect data on how our space is being used.
The information will then be analysed in many different ways to support us in our development of the third teacher...

Of course this is a little extra... and we have not bee totally efficient at collecting the data... we are not in the habit of doing it...

So instead of two weeks, we will collect for three weeks... and see this incomplete first week as a test run...
Only two complete days were completed. Two partial day and one day without any data collection. But it has been a week with staff illness... so this could have affected the outcome of data collection efficiency. The children should always come first.

This is a floor plan of the preschool - it also includes a small amount of space that is not ours for play, but an entrance hall for us AND the boxing club that is above us...
But basically the idea is that four times a day... at specific times (times we have talked about as "problem" times... as in what are the children doing where are the staff kind of thing) - so writing up our times is of no benefit for anyone else... they are specific to our context...
If you are to do something similar then it is important to evaluate what times of the day do we need to learn more about?

At each time one person goes around the preschool and writes up where the children and teachers are - it takes about 5 minutes to complete.

The idea is that we can then analyse where the children and teachers are... by age, by gender by group... as all the times chosen are times when all the children in the preschool have access to the whole setting (and not times when we are working/playing in our groups - which is between 9 and 12).

We can see if any areas are frequented by certain children... is it because it is too noisy, or not interesting enough... or maybe we are not present there as teachers enough.

We want to be able to provide experiences for all the children in all areas, regardless of gender, age or personality type etc.

We can also see if any area is more popular than another... are there enough educators in that area?

Since we have not yet finished collecting the data yet, I cannot make a comment about how I think it will go... as I want to remain as open as possible to the results. Although of course that is almost impossible to do. I do not feel like we have a problem with the fact that boys or girls dominate a specific area, or that the youngest children do not have access to the whole preschool... but I do want to be open to the fact that this data collection could tell me there is a problem...

So by the end of September we will be able to start analysing the data... I am very much looking forward to that.

it might be that this is not the best way to collect data... but that is something we will learn in the process. We might learn that the time span is too short... and that we need to do a longer study. Thisis all part of OUR learning journey as educators - so that we can become better at adapting the indoor environment to meet the needs of the children... their need to play, their need to learn, their need to explore, their need to interact with the setting, each other, themselves and the world... as well as with us...



Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Rhythm of Learning

I have been thinking over the last week or so about how we use philosophy in our work with preschoolers...  the philosophy that we are doing NEEDS to be meaningful, needs to be a part of what we are doing and not a stand alone thing... a space/time for the children to learn to think deeper, reflect as a community, learn to ask each other questions, and challenge in a respectful way... not to learn how to have a philosophical dialogue...

Over the years working at Filosofiska I have been testing out different ways of being philosophical with the children... not learning about Plato, Socrates etc... but more of a sustained shared thinking. There is a structure to support the dialogue, it's a framework to support the children to learn to listen to each other, also to challenge each other's thinking in a respectful way, and to become more precise in explaining your own theories and ideas to others...



the fact that I am Malaguzzi inspired means that I want to explore being philosophical with the children in many different ways... through all our learning and expressive languages. Its also needs to be done with joy and should be a meaningful part of our experience together at preschool.

For some reason there can be an apprehension about "doing" philosophy with children... and maybe it is that word "doing"... the idea that it can be done right or done wrong... and there are methods out there that are VERY specific in how you should be doing philosophy with children... eg Socratic Dialogue method and P4C (Philosophy for Children) - and even within these two methods there seem to be different schools of thought... I have done quite a few courses over the years with various amazing educators, as well as meeting others to talk about philosophy with children... I have seen that there can be quite an enormous span between how one person has interpreted Matthew Lipman and how another person has interpreted it.. 

For me, as a pedagogue inspired by Malaguzzi, I like to take the bits that suit me, the children and my context and mash them together with my own thoughts and theories to create something unique and appropriate to my preschoolers... this means that it is an ever evolving process... as I learn more, not only from research and methods, but also from the children, with the children and about myself....

But that problem about not doing it right... how to get over it?
Well the more that I have reflected over it the more I realise it is about letting go... about daring to test, daring to be wrong and learning from mistakes... it's not about learning through theory (even though that is important) as theory can only take you so far... you have to learn by doing... through practice and reflection and tweaking and more practice.



Its all about daring to communicate with the children, about being ONE with them, about learning to really listen, to reflect on how you ask questions, on your own tone of voice, on your choice of words, on how invested you are in the subject... the willingness to learn more about yourself... and not just do things for the children...
I think when you work WITH children there is always a sense of abandon... you have to accept a different rhythm and learn to dance and sing and express yourself to that... and there are many rhythms to learn... the individual ones and the group one, the project one and the collegial one... and I feel there are too many that are always marching to their own rhythm and not prepared to move to another... if you know what I mean... there are plenty of educators .. that will feel the rhythm and can move to it... its just within most preschools I have ever worked (and schools) there has been a bigger percentage of adults that are not prepared to truly let go..
This does not mean that I am not aware of the power that I hold as an adult in the group... being aware of it helps me to make sure I do not abuse it. Its is about balance... about listening to the many rhythms, being aware of my own rhythm and then creating a musical score... an album... where all these rhythms can feature.



I do not strive to be a friend to my preschoolers (or students when I worked in school) but to be their educator... and to be good at that... to be what they need me to be to be able to learn... yes supportive, but not as a friend, as an educator... I need to be able to direct the music to create a kind of harmony... I need to be able to listen to the children, to the setting, to the learning and ensure that all voices, all rhythms are being heard... not just by me, but by each other too, and also by the parents and society.

I have been reflecting on Play for Peace all year. I feel that using philosophy with children as a natural part of their play and learning gives them the tools to truly listen to each other which makes their play deeper and more meaningful... and also gives the ability to resolve their differences in respectful ways...
Of course children are children/people and things get heated sometimes... but the philosophy with children sessions also enable me as the educator to be better at listening to what is really going on, and to be able to intervene with questions and support, as a facilitator that allows the children to find the answers, rather than coming in as the "all-knowing adult".

I look forward to keep on evolving as an educator.