Friday, 21 April 2017

Making waves...

Since returning to Sweden I have been thinking even more deeply about the work I am doing in Palestine. Sure it is about making changes - it is about the children - and about offering insights in alternative ways to interact with the learning child.

I believe that children are natural learners - and that my work is to support them in their learning journey. My job is not to teach them, to fill them with knowledge and to test what they remember, but to help them discover and understand the world around them... to be the person they want to be, to accept others and to reach their potential. I want them to work out how to learn everything they need to be able to pursue their dreams professionally and personally.

This version of the learning child is what I am bringing to Palestine.

What I have observed in my three visits is that there is a level of violence occurring in the education system that I feel hinders true learning.
This violence is something that the teachers have raised themselves... both in reflections of their own childhood and education, and also in their concern as the children hit each other.

Here are some quotes from my VERY first session with this group when exploring the good and the bad about their own education  (what helped them to learn and did not help them to learn)

 I didn't like the violence or the verbal abuse from the teachers...

didn't like class and teacher... the teacher had longs nails and pinched cheeks to punish – had to be quiet and not move or say anything

children got zero for misbehaving during an exam

My daughter is afraid to read and write... because of afraid of getting it wrong and being punished by the teacher...

Some are punished until they bleed.

This makes me feel sick to the stomach - the idea of using such punishment for children trying to learn is beyond my comprehension. But I have been determined to keep open and not to have judgement. This is a different culture... if I come with a tidal wave of change then this change will be met with resistance - defence walls put up to protect and explain... but if I come with understanding and the openness to listen to where these teachers are RIGHT NOW then maybe with small ripples we can make a lasting change together.
It is not just about me coming and making change... it is not me that is making the change... it is these women. These educators who have been raised by teachers who abuse... that is the version of teaching they have, which also means their version of the child is very different too.
These women need to make ripples of change if they are to support the parents in this process too... raising a child is the school and the home working together. Therefore there has to be an understanding of these processes.

During my last session with these educators the question of how to deal with all the children fighting with each other was raised. I felt like I had built a strong enough relationship with these women to point out that I had observed adults hitting children to correct them... and that I had also seen 4 -6 year olds hitting toddlers to "correct" them... not so much correcting them as what I saw was not so much a thing of right and wrong, but more an issue that the toddlers had not done what the older child wanted them to do... and really this is how children view adult behaviour... they get told off, or in this case hit if they do not do what the adult wants them to do... the child does not have the insight that this punishment is to help them learn between right and wrong, or to keep them safe.

I would say that every educator in the room used corporal punishment in varying degrees... they were very keen to explain that the hit did not hurt... and most of the hits I saw were light taps rather than violent smacks. We discussed what could be done instead... which is a big move, as in a dialogue during November with another educator from Sweden their response to physical punishment was "this is the only way".
They then asked me if I had ever hit a child.
I could honestly answer no... and then turned to my 16 year old daughter who was with me, and asked if I had ever hit her... to which she shook her head.
But I went on to say that I have felt the immense frustration of not having any more patience and my body wanting to lash out to stop the frustrating situation... but with singing I kept that under control... I sang a lot when my three children were all under 5... at first I thought I was singing to calm them down, but I realised that really, I was singing to calm myself down.

Later I went with one of the teachers into town together with her child... there was a moment where her child did not behave "correctly" as we were crossing a road... I saw the mothers arm go up to strike the child, then saw her take a deep breath, put her arm down, look at me and then say... "I didn't hit"... and the child self corrected without the need for being hit. It was a powerful moment.

From my Swedish perspective... a country that was first in the world to make hitting children illegal... this form of punishment is like child abuse.

BUT here to counter the story... to give it perspective...

When I told these teachers that Swedish preschools were open from 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 in the evening (although not all preschools need to be open for this length of time... only as long as parents needs are met... and children drop in between opening until 9:30am and then get picked up most often between 3pm and closing time)...
When they heard this they all sighed in amazement and comments about child abuse were made... for them not allowing children to be in their homes and with their families was equivalent to child abuse - for them such long days was abuse... that the children had to stay in the preschool environment instead of their homes.

This is something that pops up from time to time here in Sweden... but usually educators who talk about a child's right to be in their home are quickly silenced by the "we shouldn't make parents feel guilty by having to work" retort.
Which really isn't being a voice for the child... but merely an ointment to ease the minds of parents.
Many children thrive in preschool, many children would thrive better with shorter days, there are those children who would thrive better if they started later than1 years old. Some children fare better in preschool because their home environment is not the caring place it should be - and for these children preschool is a lifeline... but we should not offer preschool on the premise that children do not fare well at home.... most children having caring, loving parents that are providing a safe home for them to grow up in.
What I have noticed in my 24 years of working with preschools and schools here in Sweden is that there has been a shift... many parents suddenly now seem to feel they have to ask for permission to take their child out of preschool to spend family time with each other... and of course there is this thing that even when parents are at home with a younger sibling that, here in Stockholm, children can attend for 6 hours a day, which has just gone up to 12 hours a day (if they want). Where is society's belief in the family home? Also there is much research saying that children do not need more than 3 hours a day to improve their learning and social outcomes... the rest of Sweden offers 3 hours a day for children with younger siblings at home.
Maybe we should trust children when they show a need to be at home... where there are less children to interact with... as a mother of a child with autism/ADHD and another child in the process of getting a probable diagnosis being forced into this massive social interactions at a young age with the sensory overload that that entails and without being given toolkits to deal with that... then I have an understanding of these Palestinian women who were shocked a the long days... I was lucky enough to work part time when the children were small... and when I return to work in autumn I will most probably return to part time work again... putting family first - but as I said, I am lucky that we can afford that... but we DO manage our finances so that we can afford it.

So what ripples of change can these Palestinian educators make here in Stockholm when they visit? Because I doubt there are few in Sweden who would consider long days in preschool as child abuse... but this is exactly how these teachers reacted when they heard about the long days Swedish preschoolers (and school children... as the go to fritids, after school activity club) have here in Stockholm. These women did not see smacking gently their children as abuse... in the way that many people here in Sweden would see it...
So we have much to learn from each other... to see and hear the voice of the child.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Forest School in Palestine

The day we had a forest school training in Jenin, was a blistering hot day... 30 something degrees celsius. Its almost hard to imagine now that I have returned to a wintery Sweden, with cold winds and snow flurries.

Really it was not an optimal day for the first time learning in the forest... but with the attitude of there is no bad weather only bad clothing we ventured into nature. I was grateful that being British from Sweden I could take one of my layers off and just be in a T-shirt, but all of the women on the forest training course needed to be fully covered... I of course covered up as soon as we left the forest out of respect for the women I am working with... but t-shirt and thin loose cardigan in that heat was hot and sweaty! One of the women had a body-warmer on, and I asked how she could cope wearing that... her answer was "I don't want to get sick"... as there is a belief that getting cold makes you sick... and if there is a belief that you can get cold when it is 30°C outside then this is something that the educators need to help parents address so that they have the freedom to explore outside in nature regardless of the weather.

At the end of the week we reflected together on what the most important area of learning had been for them... (we had been learning about the Third Teacher for most of the week)... many of them took up learning outside.
Not only had they discovered that all learning could happen outside, it also gave them more space and freedom to explore, it made it easier for them to combine learning and play together.
Earlier in the week we had talked about the third teacher... which areas were their personal favourites and which were not... but also for the educators to ask their children about the third teacher... which rooms did they like the most and why?
Just about ALL of the educators reported that the children did not like sitting at tables learning lessons, writing was a specific area the children brought up as not being liked... while the areas of free play (which was mostly outside) was liked... despite the teachers concerns that this area was not always the safest and was the place where most accidents happened.

So forest school... or nature school... outdoor classroom... however you would like to define it, seemed like the perfect way to support the educators and children to find learning through play... to learn their alphabet and writing in a place and in a manner they would enjoy.

I Have already planned a 2 days forest school training when they come to Sweden , this was a short 2 hour session to whet their appetite for outdoor learning and play.

Of course the session started with a picnic... as this tends to be the traditional way of exploring the outside I discovered during the reflection time... when they have been to the forest before it has usually been together with parents as a picnic - so seen as an outing rather than a pedagogical opportunity through play... here is one of the reflections from the course...

"Forest school... complete holistic learning... they can learn math, science, art, language, recycling, history - it is a school in the forest... you can treat the forest as a classroom and can create different areas... you can also use the kindergarten outside area as the mini forest school."

Another of the educators said...

went to the forest... usually they walk and play only... but now they use nature to help them learn while playing... write your names and being outside it helps their learning abilities.  

another talked about how the outdoor learning had impacted her own setting...

I had problem with lack of space and with the idea of outdoor playroom I was happy to create this perfect place where there is room for the children... the tree, the air flowing and the atmosphere and the children like it very much. I designed it as a Palestinian traditional place, to create this space with tradition... and now I wants to use it for lego too... getting more ideas... the parents of the children also like it.

So back to the day of forest school training...
once we had eaten we got going...
We started off talking about how can we help the children if they got lost... so that they did not just wander aimlessly, but kept still until they were found.
We talked about making a friend with a tree. Hugging a tree to feel comfort. That with a friend then being lost can feel less scary. Also if you are hugging that one tree then you are not moving further away and can be found faster.
We talked about how the children can make things in threes to let people know where they are - the trees in Jenin had very high branches... but the trees in Sweden have much lower branches... and this is good to be under when the weather is cold, as it is a way of keeping warm.
So a row of three sticks, or a row of three stones could be a good marker on the ground. Things in the pocket, or flowers or leaves could be hung in the branches to decorate the tree, but also as a sign to help searchers find the lost child. Being active can help the child keep warm (if it is cold) but also being active helps time go by faster too, and helps reduce stress if the child feels worried about being lost. All of these things can be done in the form of play with the children when they visit the forest or nature area... making things in threes, maybe even making mandalas if there are lots of materials on the ground, or writing your name with natural materials. Even tree hugging can be fun...

Here we are collected as a group... some just off the shot... but you see a spot of tree hugging going on. We played a game where everyone chose their own special tree friend and gave it a hug... usually I would take the time with children to ask them about the tree, why that one? and then take a photo of the child with the tree, so that they had a memory of it... and also to see if they would choose the same tree next time we were in the forest.
Then it was time to swap trees... usually I would play this for a while with enough trees for everyone... so that they children have fun just swapping trees and running through the forest. But as time was short we went directly to the part where one tree was taken out of action... usually I take my tree or my colleagues tree out of action... then there is one person without a tree... this person has to find a tree during the change... which results in a new person is without a tree. No one can take the same tree as they have just been with. But you can return to the same tree again, just that each time a change must be made.
This is lots of fun... and the adults were laughing and running just as much as with children.

Once we were on the verge of getting too hot, we stopped for some water and then I showed them that with simple materials in the forest you can create and explore many things...
wire, rope, string, clay, magnifying glasses, pens and paper etc... each material I would explain how it could be used in a variety of ways, and how that learning could be brought back to the setting to be explored in a new way there, thus deepening their learning.

Here you can see the educators making nature prints. With this being self hardening we talked about how it could be brought back to the classroom and how the children could paint them... or have them as a paring game... the cone and the clay print... could they match the right cone with the right print?
The prints and cones could then be examined... what kind of cone was it, from what sort of tree... the play and exploration becoming the kindling for their learning.

There was time to explore the materials that is already found in the forest... and since  writing had been brought up as a problem area for motivating the children the educators got to write their names using nature... some made small pieces of art work, some tried many different materials to find out which one worked best to create their name... and others felt inspired to write their name big, small and with many different materials... some chose to write with "my" alphabet while most chose to write their names in Arabic...
What was important was for me as trainer to take an interest in what they were doing. They were all very keen to show what they have done - which does not surprise me so much since they have all been educated in a system that is very teacher down. They are breaking with this mould... I have great admiration for them learning how to support children's learning rather than teaching down when they have never been given the opportunity to experience this themselves during their own childhoods. Social traditions are different, and we need to have respect... we cannot come in like a tidal wave of change (and I feel that these teachers would love to be able to do that) - we need to be more of a ripple of change... so that the changes are understood, they are not met with resistance and that they are far reaching without crashing and destroying a beautiful culture... The culture is important... making changes within a culture to support learning without disrespect is something this group of ours is striving towards.

At the end of the session we played another game... it is a game of collaboration, a game of listening... the fox game!

It can be played like we did with two teams, or many teams, each competing to silently get to the "food" first ( a rock, or some other marker in the forest)... you need to be silent so the food does not run away.
if someone in the fox group makes a noise, the head (the person at the front of the line) then goes to the back and becomes the tail... this slows down the progress of the fox.

As the educators noticed it was tricky on the crunchy dry grass as it made a lot of noise... if  this game  was played in the same place after rain, then the grass would be softer and not so noisy.
The children can think about how/where to play the game without making a noise with their bodies, feet or mouths... like we did... on the road instead it was much easier...

Another way to play the game is to see how far the children can get working as ONE fox. All the children in one long line. MARK on the ground where the head starts... then in absolute silence the children must try to get as far as possible... no sound at all... otherwise they will wake the monster in the forest (or whatever story you would like to tell... or no story is needed).
Each child can be the head ONLY ONCE... so if there are 15 children then there are only 15 times a noise can be made... then a mark is made in the ground again where the head is.
The children measure the distance between the first mark and the second mark... how far have they been able to get? They have to think HOW to measure....
Then they start at the first mark again... and try once more... do they get further or not? They measure the second attempt and then do the math... how much shorter were they than last time, or how much longer were they?
WHY did it go better, or go worse? Can they think of strategies to make it even better?

The idea of stepping stones was made during the session... maybe the children will think of more ideas?

The game also helps the children to be quiet and hear the forest, it helps with concentration and also with teamwork/collaboration skills

Based on my observations of this forest school training session I will make sure the next two sessions in Sweden will be relevant and build on what we have learned, what I have learned about the needs of these educators over the last ten days and also what I have observed the needs of the children are.

I am very much looking forward to continuing the outdoor education.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

where I live (Palestine)

When I was with the educators last January I left them with a stuffed toy moose... this moose was to visit all the schools and preschools and the children were to tell the moose all about their city of Jenin and what they knew of Palestine.

The purpose of this exercise was to encourage the teachers to find out what the children already know, and how they understand a subject/topic, and from that be able to provide experiences, books and research opportunities for the children to deepen their learning or to discover new perspectives and new information.

The educators told me about what their children had said about Jenin and Palestine. What I found really interesting was that it was pretty much the same sort of things that children I have worked with in Stockholm have said about their city and country.

For young children their city is not a place as much as a series of relationships. Their relationship with their home, often the best place in a city because their parents are there. Relationships with others - educators and friends, relationships with play spaces, many children talked about the "playlands" that can be found in and around Jenin. These are not playgrounds but more like the indoor playlands that can be found in Sweden... these ones here have inflatable castles, trampolines and rides.

The children also talked about shoes, food... not so much talking about the shops, but the things that can be bought in the shops... just as I have heard the youngest children in Stockholm recount to me.

The educators here in Jenin and myself marvelled at this new understanding we had of children. That despite the miles, despite the cultural and lingual differences these children of Stockholm and these children of Jenin viewed their city with the same perspective.

We are now putting a book together about Jenin and Palestine... using the children's words and perspective as well as those of the teachers... many of them have been displaced from their homes and have found themselves here in Jenin.

At the end of the week we should have created a small book that will not only share the children's thoughts (that I will be able to share with children and educators in Stockholm when I return) but also with more information for the children here in Jenin to discover about their own country.

Since the teachers marvelled at the young children's ability to see the beauty, even within the refugee camp, the book will focus on the beauty of this land.

view from my home from home window.

up on the mountain overlooking Jenin... the refugee camp if the part closest to the hill, with the water tanks on the roofs and the buildings much closer together

at this time of year it is beautiful and green... and the smell of orange blossom is amazing... I wish these photos could share aroma! Although these are olive trees!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Before and after... (Palestine)

Today we have continued discussing the third teacher, to create spaces for learning and playing - not a space for learning and a space for playing.
In this process we have discussed gender issues, play-learning balance and children's competence/ability to choose their play/learning. Many rich valuable dialogues, that at times it was tempting to go off topic and explore them more!

In the afternoon we  changed the learning/play space for the preschool at The Freedom Theatre.
here are the before and after photos...

As you can see we made quite some changes... and we did not need to buy anything. I had brought some materials and a box from Sweden with me that could be used here... the rest was things that were already found at the preschool. The idea was to experiment with what we already have... that change can be made with no need of cost.
That we question why we do what we do, to think how will this arrangement of the preschool support the children's learning and play... here the focus was on bringing play and learning into all areas and not to have the separated. To allow the children more freedom to choose their activities and the opportunity to be independent in taking materials themselves. There was a focus on creating a reading and storytelling corner... to allow the educators and children to continue with the storytelling that they have learned previously on the course (Theatre/role play with Agneta Regell and stories and philosophy with Sue Lyle).
We also took things down from the walls - many things... things that told us that the teachers cared about the children and wanted the children to be happy... to be replaced in time with things the children have made, or documentation about what the children have been doing... so that the rooms shares with all visitors what the children are learning.

In the coming months I will be leading a course about documentation...

Here are some more photos of the preschool now waiting for the children...

story telling area... with books to read and also figures for the children to recreate the stories and make their own stories up

an art studio area has now been brought into the room... this is completely new to the room. It will be interesting to see how this works. 
As with all processes it is now important to observe the children. Will they use the room as the teachers expect? Will there need to be changes made quickly... after all we do not know how they will react to having paint freely available to them now... and how will they manage with the carpet... is there a need to have plastic on the floor in the art area... or to move the art area outside so that spills are easy to clean?
Always, always, we end up with more questions... but this is a good thing, it means we can continue to learn.
I am excited to hear how the children react.
And it was wonderful to see all the educators work together to create this learning space. The idea is that they continue to help each other in the near future, so that with their combined ideas they can offer all their children new and inspired learning spaces.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Freedom (Palestine)

It has been an interesting day...

My first day with the teachers for this session... where we started to talk about the third teacher... and the freedom for children to use the space...

Then I went out with two of the teachers for a chat over drinks (lemon and mint juice... it is just sooo yummy) and we talked about children, Palestine, occupation and what is FREEDOM.

I return to my home from home, to discover that back in Stockholm there has been a terrorist attack. And for a few hours there was the stress of not being able to reach my husband and not knowing... I assumed that he would not have been in the area of the attack... but you never know... and then there was the not knowing if he could get home to my son, who was there alone.

it is at times like this when you can appreciate facebook as an amazing connection tool... I asked for help and there were many offers, and my daughters' friend cycled over to make sure he was not alone and so that he could get some dinner.
My husband IS safe... he just didn't think about letting us know. So we stressed and worried and shed the odd tear, worked out creative ways of getting in touch with each other... Jenin, Palestine, Lysekil (just north of Gothenburg) and Stockholm - all my children I could get in touch with... just not my husband - but stress  was for nothing... but I am thankful for friends. Really thankful.

BUT back to freedom.

We explored FREEDOM together... we challenged ourselves to define it in one word (we had used many many to try and define it)


These were the words that we chose.
Freedom is to live life
Freedom is to be yourself, to be who you are
Freedom is to have choices

My grandfather once told me that the biggest threat to FREEDOM is fear... and I have to agree.. when we are afraid we stop making choices, we are not strong enough to be we you really are (or to support others)... you are not really living your life.
Also people who are afraid take choices away from others to make themselves feel safer. This can be the freedom of speech, the freedom of movement... as is witnessed here in Palestine. There is much fear... and yet today I am safer here in Palestine than in central Stockholm!
The people I meet here and not people I am afraid of. They are people just like me, with hopes and dreams, who want to express themselves, their love, their joy, their life... as we do. They want to have the freedom to choose. They are generous, brave people. They are looking for ways to provide a better life for their children... a life of peace, a life of freedom... a freedom to be themselves, a freedom to choose the life they live... a freedom to choose their home.

This is something we all want for our children.
For me this is something that I strive for as an educator.
To give children the freedom to reach their potential.
To set up a room to give them the freedom to explore.
To give time to have the freedom to play.
To give them the freedom to make friends and interact with others.
The freedom to learn.
NOT to be filled with information in an adult down education system.

My head is ready to explode. There is so much going on and so much I want to express, but I am still struggling to find the words.

Over the last few years I have been giving myself development challenges instead of new year resolutions... the first year I started doing this I chose
LISTENING... to learn how to listen, to understand what is listening

this lead to

PLAY FOR PEACE... because if we were listening to each other the play became more peaceful... not conflict free, but with the ability to resolve disagreements in a peaceful manner.

this lead to this years' challenge

THE DEMOCRATIC PRESCHOOL/CLASS... in the sense that we are all valued participants, that we can collaborate and make decisions where we ALL can be safe, all can learn and we are all valued for who we are.

I think this is all leading towards freedom... ?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Messing about with glitter (Palestine)

Today I visited the Freedom Theatre's preschool/kindergarten to observe (and to drop off a huge pile of rain-boots, rain-trousers and rain-jackets that friends and family have donated in Sweden ... now it is just to wait until these sunny hot days turn into rain so they can use them and splash in puddles).

When I first arrived the children were busy making tabouleh... a delicious local salad, that we took out with us on our afternoon excursion the forest on the mountain.

Later in the morning they were looking at the number 8
I am not sure why, but the activity was that one of the teachers drew a figure of eight large enough and in such a way so that it could be coloured in.

The children were given glue sticks and glitter to add colour to their number. Every child had the number eight with eight small flowers drawn around it.

The children sat at the tables doing their numbers, concentrated, using their fingers to take pinches of glitter to sprinkle on the glued areas. Each child had a small plate of glitter.

Afterwards one of the children started to play with the left over glitter... trying to scoop it up and put it back onto the plate/lid then pour it out, make marks in it, scoop it up into a small container to then pour into the lid/plate again. A sensory process, a fine motor skill activity, mark making, learning about volume, gravity etc etc.

This play intrigued me more than the filling in of the number eight. It gave me the chance to see what this child was interested in... this means I could start thinking about what other possible activities I could offer, or materials that I could make available, or experiences that I could expose the child to... to build on this experience, so that I can learn what aspect interests the child most... is it the texture, is it filling and emptying things, is it making marks and tracks? or is there a need for all of these aspects?

Glitter is one of those hate/love things... I know so many educators who really hate the way glitter gets everywhere... I also have a son who is glitterphobic - but I LOVE glitter, but find it is nearly always used in a restrictive manner.
One of my favourite glitter moments was when I threw a handful of the stuff in the air above the children (who wanted to be there) and watched them dance as the "fairy dust" landed on them... the floor had a gentle dusting of glitter and the children spent the next hour wiping their hands on the floor to pile up the glitter, to pick up and throw in the air again... or rub on their clothes or hair to give themselves some added sparkle.

Messing about with glitter... maybe not for everybody... but this was the highlight of my day!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Return to Jenin

I have just one more day before setting off back to Jenin to continue with the course for teachers in the refugee camp. This is one of the many ways that The Freedom Theatre contributes to the community living in the refugee camp - training teachers to bring more play, listening and peaceful classrooms in a place that is far from peaceful... neither the memories or the current day lives are filled with the harmony and hope that children, all ages,  should experience. In fact one of the families of the children I played with last time at the preschool had their home turned over in the middle of the night as the Israeli Army did one of their raids... of course, they found nothing but distraught young preschooler aged children and their parents. This is a reality, thankfully, that is not mine, and most of you reading this will not have this reality either.

It does make it hard to pitch an inspirational course - how do you meet their reality when I can have no true understanding of it... I can empathise of course... but my reality allows me the time and luxury of being able to experiment with ideas that seldom require taking care of traumatised children because their homes have been raided, or a close relative killed (for many different reasons) etc... as I wrote last time I was there... even sleep is disturbed on an almost nightly basis with the sounds of gunfire, either as a threatening noise or to celebrate a wedding or a prison release...

I need to listen. Listen to their story. To try and understand and to respond to that... so that we have a meaningful dialogue together... that together we can allow the play and learning in their centres to be more child-centred ... that there is more democracy in the classroom in the sense that the children are active participants in their learning. This is something that has never been afforded to the teachers in their childhood... Last time I listened to their stories - of the good and bad of schools and it saddened me how much physical and psychological violence occurred in schools - the teachers being the ones children feared... of course those teachers that showed compassion... that is where it was the easiest to learn.

The coming 1.5 weeks there will be a focus on the third teacher... exploring how the classroom can be like a colleague to the teachers, working together to enable the children's learning, to allow them to be independent and to increase active participation.
I will also take them out on a forest school training day as a follow up to their day where they went out into the forest with a biologist to learn about the nature that surrounds them.

I will be sharing my journey and experience again, as I did last time.
This time I am taking 4 suitcases with me (my daughter is also coming with me) - one suitcase is filled with our clothes... the rest are filled with resources for the course, but mostly rubber boots and raintrousers and rainjackets that friends and family here in Stockholm have kindly donated.
Last time I was in Jenin I saw that the children did not have the right gear... and there is that lovely Swedish rhyming saying "Ingen dålig väder bara dåliga kläder" There is no bad weather only bad clothes. This time when there are puddles the children will be able to jump and splash in them as much as they want... with the right clothes on it doesn't matter if it rains... outdoor play is STILL fun.. maybe even more fun!

As I was packing the jackets I discovered a present in one of the pockets... a screwed up tissue, a hairband and some stones! Essentials for any preschooler pocket!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Play-spaces and PLAY

I have just read
"Why do architects dictate children's play so stringently?"
and it made me react....

I feel it's not so much the playspace design... but he adults surrounding the play-space that are not allowing children to explore it on their own terms...

I see children having amazing play in play-spaces... not using them as" Victorian" training gyms but real creative play that is original in how they use the equipment... Since the article states 
Playgrounds are still modelled on Victorian notions of character-building gymnastic exertion
it also states

"How often have you seen a child scolded for attempting to climb up the ramp of a playground slide, rather than descending demurely down it? Take a second glance at the objects in most playgrounds and you'll clock the extent to which they are totally prescriptive, designed to be used in a single way: a roundabout for spinning on, a swing for swinging on."

Which brings me back to my original statement, it is not about the design but about the adults that are with the children at the play-space who are unable to use their imaginations and can only see a "totally prescriptive, designed to be used in a single way" equipment. In my observations of children they have NO problem exploring the equipment in many different ways as longs as adults step back and give them space.

I have been visiting play-spaces and photographing them and observing how they are used for many years now - and seriously it is not the design that is the biggest problem, it is that there are too many adults in the play-space... it has been conquered by adults and their perception of play... Rarely do I visit a play-space where children greatly outnumber the adults... and ONLY once have I visited a play-space here in Stockholm where I have been the only adult while there are children there that are not with me... 
Weekends are the worst when parents come out en masse with their children... I have been to play spaces where there are more adults than children...!!!

Also parents are way too interested in their children being happy and seem afraid of frustration or maybe unable to distinguish frustration from sad... and therefore lift up their children and help them too much and therefore further feeding the children that they can do things before they are ready... taking away their sense of own personal achievement and the need for cheap thrills... and also taking away from the children how to learn to deal with frustration - a very important life skill.

Rules in play-spaces need to happen, but they don't have to be traditional rules e.g. up the steps and down the slide ("correct" use of equipment) - but rules that allow all to play; and the play is not exclusive where just one or two children dominate a slide as they use it for both up and down, making it impossible for others to use it... because then it is not about going up the slide is wrong, it is about not sharing the slide with others, or even being aware that others want to use it and are waiting...

 Children often need scaffolding when it comes to their social play, and discussing potential play-space rules can help with that... making sure that there is time for all the children to go up the ramp, ensuring there is no danger but still allowing for the element of risk, so the children can learn risk management...
Children sort of need to fall when they are small, to learn the consequences when the falls are small, their bodies heal fast and the risk for serious injury is small... both my daughters have fractured their arms... once while balancing on a log and fell off, the other while ice-skating, and then a week after the pot was taken off she slipped on the ice while walking home from school and fractured her other arm, one daughter has been concussed while skiing and vaulting (by accident) landing on her head... my son has a scar above his left eye from slipping on ice in the school yard...
accidents happen... my children have learnt from them... they have also learned that they heal. I have not made my children stop skiing, skating or playing because there is a risk 

Risks don't have to be about getting hurt... they can be about getting cold and wet... like this film shows of a girl playing the ice, going through the ice and the COLD water goes into her boots... you hear me laugh saying "I told you there was a risk of getting wet"... My job as educator, as a parent is to inform my children of the risks and then to let them make their own decision (if it is a danger then I intervene as an adult) but  experiencing risk allows them to understand that I am not just saying things for the sake of it... stuff REALLY can happen, and they get to feel HOW that happens and decide for the future whether that risk is worth taking again, or whether they want to learn new skills to avoid the risk all together...


I agree with the article... we really do not give children the space or freedom to play, really play in their own way. Too many are not empowering children to choose their own play... it is a kind of play dictatorship where adults have decided how and what play looks like. If we are to have democratic learning in preschools and schools then WE should be learning about play from the children... and harnessing that play-power to fuel the learning.
If we fail to understand their play, if we as adults are dictating their play how are we ever going to create a democratic classroom? How are we ever going to truly make learning meaningful... we have missed an essential link.

 I really feel that people have a too black and white approach when it comes to play-spaces it is so much more nuanced than that... what we NEED to look at is our own personal attitudes to the play-space... are we limited by our imaginations? Why are those one way to use equipment rules being imposed? How many of you have had a dialogue with the children about rules in the play-space, why they are there, what rules actually exist, are there written down anywhere that you go up the steps down the ramp? If not, why do so many adhere to this rule? What rules would the children have for the play-space and why?
have you ever taken a piece of equipment and challenged the children "how many different ways can you use this" - it is SO amazing to see... from hopscotches to climbing frames, to slides, to play-houses... give it a go... as it will expand your mind too...

Below are some images of risky play, challenging the children on how they see play equipment (breaking the mould of a prescribed way of using play-spaces), giving space for children to become competent users of the equipment on their own, and allowing children to freely explore on their own terms...

how many different ways can we play on a bench...

how many different ways can the children play on a fence...

how many different ways can you play on steps?

how many different ways can you get up... also we did not help the children up... they learned to help each other... we were always close to hand to make sure nothing was dangerous, or that frustration got to the point of feeling hopeless... encouragement was always freely and gladly given... and the children got good at doing that too!

making informed decisions... you will get wet if you fall on the waterlogged ice... it might give you a bruise if you fall hard. AND if you get wet you will start feeling cold... they had a great time, and they learned that getting wet in such cold weather means you really feel the cold... nice to have warm clothes to change int when getting back to preschool.

houses are not just for playing inside...

here the children are exploring how many different ways they can use the hop-scotch

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Slippers in school!

I recently read an article by the BBC about slippers in school and the benefits they have on learning...
you can read it  here

Living and working in Sweden taking shoes off in schools is the norm... in fact it is rare to have schools where shoes are kept on... especially in the younger years...

Never once has it been explained to me that it would improve learning... it was always about the cleaning bill... and noise... which yes can affect learning to some extent.

Working with preschoolers I am on the floor a great deal... so a no shoe policy is great... it keeps the floor cleaner, the work surface... in much the same way you would not want shoes on the table. It also means that if your fingers get stepped on in the construction area, or any area of the preschool, they are not getting crushed by the hard soles of shoes.

The following points were lifted in the text as benefits:-
  • Children seem to behave gentler and bullying is reduced
  • Noise is reduced
  • It's more hygienic - carpets are cleaner and reduced wear and tear on furniture.
  • Children are more willing to sit on floors and soft furnishings creating more space for collaboration, presentation, role play
  • Teachers do not end up in conflict about the "right kind" of shoes

When I look for Swedish sources about slippers to see if the same benefits can be found here in Sweden, the noise and cleanliness can be easily found.
I found one text about bullying and better behaviour, BUT the article was also very clear to explain that the slippers were not the direct cause of this but all the other actions the school and teachers had put into place of which slipper wearing was a small part...

I have observed quite a few schools during my 20 something years of living in Sweden... and I would never have put together the fact that wearing slippers help children behave better... in fact if that IS the case I have some serious concerns about children and youth in Sweden... what would their behaviour be like if they were wearing shoes instead? The noise and social interactions in classrooms and between lessons is not subdued or calmer than that of British schools... in fact I would say that classrooms are noisier here than the classrooms I have observed in UK etc.
The children in the majority of classrooms I have observed in Stockholm, and worked in/with have a large number of children that constantly talk and disregard what the teacher is saying... there is a constant noise - hardly the calmness for learning... not that it should be deathly quiet... but maybe their should be pauses in the chattering in order to listen... not only to the teachers but also the other children in the class. Not one of them is wearing shoes. Not one of them thinks that not wearing shoes makes the school more homely.

Surely if there is competition about the right kind of shoes there will be the same developing about the right kind of slippers... what are in and what are not... unless there is a school uniform on slippers... of course here in Sweden there are no uniforms whatsoever... so is that the cause of bullying? I hardly think it is the cause... I am sure that situations can arise... but it is not the freedom to wear what you want or what you can afford, or the difference between shoes and slippers that is going to reduce the bullying... it is how children learn to listen and respect each other... and also how the adults learn to listen and respect the children, and each other too... the dialogue between school and home in order to see the whole child and to support them in their learning journey... social and cognitive...

Not once I have I felt that schools are calmer in Sweden due to the lack of outdoor shoes...
I do appreciate the fact that there are no puddles in the classroom/preschool - as melting snow leaves the footwear that is designed for minus degrees... I mean who WANTS to spend an entire day with big chunky boots on that are designed for minus degrees when they are indoors... feet will get too hot, the body will not be able to get comfortable... and those winter boots get put on in October and usually come off in late March if you are lucky, usually sometime in April.... that is 6-7 months of the year with footwear that is not designed for warm indoor environments... so of course slippers or sock feet are much better...
The downside being during a fire drill, or real fire... having to leave the warmth of the school and line up outside in the meeting places in nothing but slippers (or sock feet) in the well below freezing conditions!! Its cold! I have seen children cry from the cold... and real fire escapes means you can't stop by to put on their boots on the way out... Luckily fire drills etc seldom happen.

I know for a fact that some children get bullied by having their outdoor shoes taken and dumped in the middle of the playground... my own son has had that happen to him (plus a series of other bullying behaviours directed towards him... he no longer attends that school, as the school, despite not wearing outdoor shoes were not capable of curbing the behaviour towards my son... for a week or so at a time, but not real genuine solving of the social situation).
My daughters have told me about the behaviours of the older children in schools... of the fights that happened on the corridors, the body shaming, the stereotypical name calling - all by children without shoes...

Wearing slippers is NOT the answer... but it can be a small part of making life softer... the REAL work comes in the interactions between the people... the children and the adults. Id making the choice to wear slippers part of the dialogue between colleagues where they are reflecting on the children and their communication with their environment, with their peers and with the teachers? or is it just a decision that is made... slippers =better behaviour=better learning?

Nope, I struggle with the whole reduced bullying and conflicts... its not what i have seen... it does reduce the noise of shoes in the classroom, but not the noise of desks, chairs, and voices... I also think that the preschool is kept cleaner... which makes play much more pleasant when it is on the floor... and also the economics of it... less time, less money, and also less wear and tear.

The cloakroom, where the is a shoe line... no outdoor shoes after this point. Children put their outdoor shoes on the rack under their peg/cubbie. Parents take off their shoes or put on shoe covers before bringing their child in... teachers take off their outdoor shoes and put on their slipper too! Here the floor gets wet and dirty so we have the tools to sweep or dry the messes during the day. The big silver/white cupboard to the left is the drying cupboards... essential to dry off wet outdoor clothes and sometimes waterlogged boots and shoes.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Uppsala - som lovade.

hej alla som kom igår för att lyssna på mig i Uppsala!
Här är en liten post för att dela lite mer information... bilder, bokförslag samt länkar (längst ner)

här på min blog finns det massor som handla om att lyssna, olika projekt för ateljén, filosofi med barn, det kompetenta barn osv osv...

om att kommunicera - här är en post om hur vi kan lyssna, kommunicera med barn som är ickeverbal, eller kommunicera bättre med någon av sina andra "99 språk"

Jackson Pollock - mer information om att utforska känslor med konst.

dansa på regnbåge - att leka metasamtalet

fotografi - jag har använt fotografi som ett språk att kommunicera - barnen dela sina idéer genom att ta bilder, samt utforska sina idéer vidare.  Det finns fler bloggposts om hur man kan arbeta med fotografi och barnens tankar om man kolla på "Through the Eyes of the Child" länk på sidan.

TEDTalks - 7 TEDtalks som handlar om lyssnande... verkligen intressant.

Hur man sitta för att lyssna

Filosofi i förskolan - mina tankar om filosofi i förskolan... med länkar till olika posts som jag har skrivit.

Nu lite länkar till andra som arbeta med filosofi med barn... jag pratade inte så mycket om filosofi - eftersom när jag jobbade med det jag insåg att först måste vi alla kunna lyssna, sedan kunde man börja med filosofi.. men det finns lite olika sätt att göra filosofi - P4C (Philosophy for Children), PwC (Philosophy with Children), Sokratisk samtal osv... vissa kör hård med sina metoder (jag har träffat en hel del utbildare i filosofi för/med barn osv) och såg hur vissa av mina kollegor blev rädd att börja kör filosofiska samtal med barnen eftersom dom var rädda att göra fel... vissa kursledare var mycket bestämde hur man skulle göra rätt och påpekade fel. Jag har tagit en mer Reggio Emilia inställning.. och blandad ihop olika dela av alla så att det passade barngruppen, samt jag blev bekväm med det också. Man måste bara våga att testa, gör en massa fel som man kan lära sig en massa nyttiga saker från och utveckla som barnen... det finns ett ord på engelska "evolve" som känns mer passande för lärande... barnens och vår egna. Det känns som man ta det i sin egen takt och evolvera istället för utveckla - som känns som det är en rakt linje som går uppåt dvs blir bättre och bättre (betyder det att vuxna är bättre än barn för att dom är mer utvecklad??? (Dagens random tanke).

Sara Stanley  P4C  Sara har stannat hemma hos mig också i en vecka där vi hann prata mycket... hon hade en mer lyhörd förhållningssätt till P4C än Bo Malmhester och Beate Børresen har - som har varit lärorikt att lyssna på och samtala med men hade en bestämd rätt/fel inställning till filosofi som var svårt att anpassa till förskolan (enligt mig och mina kollegor) - deras bok "Låt Barnen Filosofera" (Liber, 2004) är mycket värd att läsa - man få bra tips.

Thomas E Wartenberg Big Ideas for Little Kids... länken går direkt till den del av hans hemsida som jag tycker mest om... böcker... man kan hitta här många böcker och han har redan listat ut möjliga frågor kring det som man kan ställa till barnen för att fundera på den på ett djupare sätt.

Ann S. Pihlgren detta är en länka för att läsa om Sokratiska samtal.. eller eftertänksam dialoger. Hon har en bok som heter Sokratiska Samtal i undervisningen (Studentlitteratur, 2010). Boken fungera för förskolan och skolan

P4C - SAPERE - lite mer information
Philosophy Foundation - Peter Worley - han har skrivit många böcker inklusive "The if Machine" (Continuum, 2011). Han är rätt så aktiv i facebook P4C grupper men verka har en mer blandad approach och har till och från ifrågesatt p4c som metod (då är han et slag hjälte för mig... att ifrågesätta... yeah!) Han fick en hel del kritik för det, det är alltid svårt att ifrågesätta metoder - kolla på skolsystemet, många ser att den inte fungera för ALLA som det borde men det är motstånd för att göra om det.

en annan bok man kan kolla på är Doverborg/Pramling Samulesson "Att förstå barns tankar: Metodik för barnintervjuer" (Liber, 2011)

Nu tror jag att det finns tillräckligt mycket för att kommer igån med egna tankar funderingar och testa antingen filosofiska samtal, eller eftertänksam dialoger - och kommer igång med att stödja barnen att lyssna på varandra mer.

För alla som vill har sagokortbilder... lägg en kommentar här med detta bloggpost... och lämna din e-mail samt namn på förskola, så kan jag skicka bilderna till er... jag kommer inte publicera kommentar med e-mail adresser, så allting blir privat.
Imorgon kommer jag skriver en post om sagokort igen och flera sätt man kan använda dom... för tillfället kan ni kolla på detta... Story Cards/ Sagokort