Saturday, 21 October 2017

Original Learning

During the week there have been several threads of thinking going on in my head... several posts starting to grow... Metacognition and the Preschooler, Child of our Time but I have ended up with the idea of Original Learning taking priority in my thoughts and forcing its way into the written language.

A couple of years ago I attended a presentation about "Original Play" two words that Fred o. Donaldson has trademarked these words... and to be honest I don't think play should be trademarked - but this is something that he has chosen to do. You can look here on his website to find out more. And while I agree with a great deal of what he has written I still struggle with the idea of play belonging to one person... it is such an "adult" thing to do, to own and control something that should be free to all people... I also struggled with the mysticism he went on to share about being bitten through the hand by a wolf at play and that the magic of play meant that there was no mark left on his hand.

So when I write "Original Learning" here I am not writing this as an idea that is mine, but planting a seed that we can all share in the dialogue of, share responsibility in helping grow - as two words that can be a basis to understand education today and where we want it to go.

I feel very fortunate to know many people around the word that are engaged in children's learning through play, that are wanting to make change, that are against standardisation that are advocating children's rights to play and learn... hence the title ORIGINAL LEARNING - PLAY
Some of these people I have only met virtually, and yet have found a strong connection - and I am so grateful for this, as alone our voices are feeble, but together we can become loud enough to start a ripple effect that will get noticed and others will start to join in.

I would like to define Original Learning in this space as an organic manner of learning through observation, imitation, and practice through play... as babies will play and explore their hands their world, they will imitate and listen and experiment through ideas... they learn about causality, language, how their body works... and this goes on throughout life... we are continuously learning in this way but prioritise this learning less because we have been taught that learning happens in specific ways in schools in a set manner...

Processes of learning and the transfer of learning are central to understanding how people develop important competencies. Learning is important because no one is born with the ability to function competently as an adult in society. It is especially important to understand the kinds of learning experiences that lead to transfer, defined as the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts (e.g., Byrnes, 1996:74). Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school and home, and from school to workplace. Assumptions about transfer accompany the belief that it is better to broadly “educate” people than simply “train” them to perform particular tasks (e.g., Broudy, 1977). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School: Extended Edition Consensus Study Report
I see schools focussing on teaching rather than on learning, on preparing for tests rather than understanding of teaching to remember rather than the transference of learning from one problem to another. That the standardisation has meant that to prepare for tests the lesson planning and the resources too have become standardised - and also a multimillion industry (in whatever money you use...!!!) so there will be a resistance to changing the educational system if it means losing access to all that money.




In my news feed recently has been Dandelion Education ltd who have just won Nursery of the Year 2017, of Enabling Environments 2017 and Highly-Commended for Health and Well-Being 2017 ... what this early years setting has focussed on is play - is an outdoor preschool using nature to allow the children to explore, to strengthen their bodies and also P4C (Philosophy for Children) to strengthen their minds and their interactions with each other... and those of you who follow my blog regularly know philosophy and listening is something I have been passionate about... as well as outdoor learning, the voice of the child - well basically learning rather than teaching.
So I find it very encouraging that this early years setting has been given such fantastic recognition.

I am not an educator that believes in an outdoor only education as I believe not all children thrive in the outdoors - but there again their opening times are much shorter than those we have here in Sweden - they are also closed certain times/weeks of the year and during other school holidays have even shorter days. It is also for children from three years of age and upwards rather than from age one that we have here in Sweden... so there are quite some differences (plus the fact English winters are neither as long or as cold as the ones we have here in Sweden). But back to the being outside all the time... as a child the outdoors was much more overwhelming than a familiar indoor environment for me. Don't get me wrong I loved being outside and I was outdoors a large part of my childhood, but I also had a huge need for the indoors too...and I see the same in children I work with.
I think the need for all day outdoor early years settings these days derives from the fact that children are not outside themselves when they are with their families, and that settings are now needing to take over this responsibility. (Dandelion Education do give children the option to be inside). You can watch the below film to get an idea about the outdoor aspect of the setting.



If adults are focussing on a specific standardised form of teaching as being what constitutes learning then this outdoor exploration, this Original Learning is not being valued or truly understood as learning... and by adults, I mean parents and policy-makers - I have found that many teachers desire a change in the educational system to be able to teach the way children learn.

During the last year I have visited a variety of early years settings across the area and what I have noticed is that in many of these places there has been a focus on the teaching in the sense of school book training rather than Original Learning - and while those children have been picking up information and stuffing knowledge into their backpacks they are struggling with communication, with positive interactions, with self-regulation and their executive functions... all of these I find children learn through play.
The Swedish preschool curriculum is in the process of changing again with even more focus on the "teaching" which both excites me and frightens me... as I meet up with many amazing educators that understand how children learn and react to this and offer the children the chance to explore the whole curriculum - but I have also met plenty of teachers that are proficient in teaching but are not open to the children's learning - so I fear that subjects will be taught in a non-meaningful way that gains a great deal of adult approval - because it is product based rather than process based.
I also see preschools that have far too many children in their space... and they have resolved this by the children having to be outside or inside at set times... for me this is not responding to the children... Dandelion Education Ltd has an indoor area that can be used but tends not to be... but having to be inside or outside at set times to manage the number of children in the space at a time is not listening to the way children learn... or what their bodies need... I have seen children who need to be outside to play in the BIG manner their bodies want to explore... but it is not their turn to be outside... and vice versa children who have to be outside because its not their turn to be inside yet. For me this is not creating a positive relationship with the environment around them and also we are not listening to the children's needs and how they need to learn right now to make sense of the world.

Also if we are viewing "learning" as a school sort of learning - behind desks, learning how to write, read and remembering facts then we are not valuing other forms of learning - and I can understand why there is a reaction to preschools in Sweden having a pedagogical environment for the whole day... since we are legally open for 12 hours a day every day of the year except for national holidays (which are DAYS not weeks) and four planning days a year.
But if pedagogical is interpreted as Original Learning then we are doing that all the time... it is not about lessons, it is about creating interactions with people, with materials, with nature, with the indoors, with time, with themselves that allow the children to learn naturally and at their own pace. It is about creating space and time for the children to use their imaginations so that the learning from one situation can be transferred to another...

This brings me back to why I chose the words Interaction Imagination as my blog name... as I find them so essential for children to learn... they are most certainly essential for Original Learning.

When it comes to play I am not just talking about free play and child lead play... but a vast range of play types and experiences... I want to offer children a 100 languages of play if not many many more!
This means adults are allowed to be a part of this play... but just like a healthy diet we should not have too much of one food type I feel it is the same with play... we need a healthy play diet. If adults are controlling play too much then children are not getting to explore all their other play languages... children need space and time to be able to explore their other play languages. They require adults to trust them too - they also need to be able to trust in adults - there needs to be a need for mutual trust for children to engage in risky play that does not expose them to danger or fatalities... and adults need to trust in the competence of children.

Original Learning.
This is a post to open a dialogue...
There are plenty of us that want to make changes to the educational system... but what are we going to change it to... let's see if we can put those ideas into words so we can disseminate our ideas to an ever wider audience... to create that ripple that will eventually make a difference...


how do you want to learn... how do you want to teach?




The up and coming posts - Metacognition and the preschooler and Child of our Time will continue these discussions... keep posted.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Board of Children

I have just started a project with Gästrikevatten  (Gästrike Water Authority) in Gävle (north of Stockholm) to start up a board of children (barnstyrelse) as a way to learn more about how children learn and how they can be informed about water issues.

Instead of adults thinking they know best about how to teach children abut water this will be a collaboration with 10 children aged between 8 and 12 living in the town of Gävle, the suburbs and neighbouring villages all serviced by Gästrikevatten.

The aim is to have a mix of ages, a mix of genders, a mix of where the children live and go to school, a mix of children with confidence and children that seemed a little shy, a mix of children who seemed to know a lot and children know little but are curious to find out more. At the same time trying to create a mix that will create a positive space for interactions... a space where all children can take space, where there will be mutual respect and also where the children feel competent...

The idea is that I will  present challenges and questions like a piece of gravel in their shoe... just big enough that they will notice, but not too big that it overwhelms and hinders progress... but not too small that they don't notice it at all and its all just too comfortable and no progress is made.
Through activities and philosophical dialogues the board of children will explore ideas relating to water, with the aim to try and find out optimal ways of sharing this information with others...
During the dialogues we will discover what we need to learn more about... and we will turn to experts to find out more so that the children can make informed decisions. The activities will be designed so that the children can gain hands on experiences, not only about water but also about ways we learn.

We will be exploring ideas about what is a board of children, what is learning, what is teaching, what water issues are important for us to inform others about and why... they will also learn about using philosophical dialogues as a tool to explore ideas...

Patricia, who works at Gästrikevatten, is my partner... I will be taking the 1.5 hour train journey to Gävle 1-2 times a month to met the children and hold the dialogues and then plan the next session based on what I have learned form the children. I am fortunate to come into this project with no agenda other than facilitating the children's dialogues and explorations of water... to ensure that they have access to the knowledge they need to deepen their dialogues, to ensure that it is a respectful and inclusive environment and also to provide new experiences for them to try out
Patricia does have an agenda... and that is to try to find out how a better education about water issues can be created.
It means we both have to listen... but we will be listening in different ways... and in ways that will support each other, the children and the whole project.

Children are competent... we need to give the time and space for their voices to be seen and heard (I am a visual listener) and I am so excited to be a part of this project where space and time is being given to children. That their opinions will be being genuinely valued.

This will be a year long project... and there is the hope that it might be continued beyond a year - in what form I can only think might be better or improved as we learn during the coming year.





Monday, 9 October 2017

Oral Language... the verbal child...

Oral language is such an interesting topic... as a mother of twins where I was told they would pick up language slower... and then being a bilingual family (English Swedish) where I was told this would also impact negatively their language learning I focussed a great deal on language... When the twins were infants I would have them up in my lap one at a time for "language" training... which essentially was interacting with them and letting them see how my mouth moved - thus seeing how sounds are made... I also reinforced the sounds that they made... if it sounded like a word then i would repeat it as a word... and of course sometimes I just made the sound... and I talked and read and sang a lot with them (although I think some of the singing was for me to keep calm as the two infants cried in the process of being tired and wanting to sleep and getting them into bed...) We lived in Australia for a while when they were 6-12 months... and what I noticed there (where we spoke nearly only English and no Swedish) was that they started making the sound "titta" which means look in Swedish, but due to the fact I did not reinforce this sound as a word (through my body language or verbal language) this sound disappeared from the repertoire... but came back again when we moved back to Sweden. This has given me a practical understanding of how my interaction with children is essential to support oral language development. All three of my children have English as their mother-tongue, despite living in Sweden... all three picked up Swedish silently - understanding what others said, but replying in English... and all three started speaking Swedish fluently all of a sudden... the girls at age 6 when they started a Swedish school, and my son at age 4 when wanting to communicate with a Swedish child in a playground (all three went to an English speaking preschool, although the girls attended a Swedish preschool for a year, where sadly they picked up no Swedish, which concerned me, and surprised the English preschool when they started who had expected the girls to have extended Swedish language and limited English... had no-one interacted with my children at that preschool...? as their English repertoire had been very broad and Swedish non-existent. My husband took some convincing to speak Swedish with the children, as he felt that he was missing out on communication... later he realised that he should not have worried and should have spoken only Swedish with them much earlier... hence the difference between my son speaking Swedish at age 4 and the girls at age 6).
I have found singing to be a great way to learn language... especially action songs... I have mostly worked with Swedish preschoolers... but all have picked up English through the songs I have sung with them in English... it is a joyful way to learn, and they get to sing if they want, not forced to learn... so there has always been the enthusiasm from their side to pick it up... I might not be the best singer in the world, but I sing with joy and enthusiasm, and this is contagious... 
Reading stories, new stories as well as the same one over and over again, and then messing about with words and the plot has been a great word to expand the oral language...
Rhymes and rhyming words and basically just messing about words has also been a great way to support children with their oral language development...

"Have you seen a whale with a polka dot tale?" "have you seen a rat with a stripey hat?"
and in Swedish... "Har du sett en råtta sitta på en potta?" "Har du sett en hund går på Gröna Lund?"
Then it is just to make up more and more together... and laugh together. I think laughter helps a lot.

Over the years I have worked a great deal with children with a language that has been different from the rest of the group... and have found that through songs and stories the children have soon been able to develop an oral language to play with the other children... but role-play as also worked there... and I would support at times with some "sports-casting" to provide the link between the children when language was proving a barrier... 
Also helping the other children to pick up a few words of the new language so that it was inclusive... as oral language is about interaction and conversation...about being inclusive... I have also worked philosophically with children, where i wrote down their words and ideas verbatim at every meeting. The clear structure of the meetings has also been a great way for children to develop their oral language... that LISTENING helps them... Often the youngest children are good at listening, as they use this skill to pick up language... but then the focus is always on the voice and expressing and the art of listening is forgotten. By helping the children to become better listeners they also become better talkers... the children become teachers for each other in their language development.




I also think that learning about language development as an educator is important... as part of my masters i focussed on language development and was fascinated by the pragmatic language development as I felt is was often over looked by educators... children can sound like they are picking up an oral language and communicating with others... they have vocabulary, the grammar is developing, and pronunciation is on par with their age... yet there lacks a red thread... they can often go off on tangents in a middle of a conversation, often misunderstand others, struggle to keep the red thread of longer dialogues etc...
My research into language development enabled me to see things that I had not really been looking for... and this is why it is important to keep reading and keep learning.
brain research is forever discovering new things about how the brain works and how we learn... which is so important for us as teachers - after all we are there to enable learning.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Reflections on PLAY and peace...

This image popped up in my facebook feed today... and it got me thinking about how I use my voice...

The reason I blog is to some extent speak my mind... to share my thoughts... to make a stand for children's rights, for play, for risky play... etc
to encourage listening - real genuine listening... not to just answer, but to understand...
making a stand for quality early years education... but also for education throughout life... it HAS to be meaningful and joyful... we need to feel safe to learn...
and this world of ours is starting to fray at the edges - as safe is not what it should be for far too many people around the world.
my thoughts are with ALL of those who endure violence - physical and psychological... in the home, on the streets or conflict areas where war and fighting have become the norm...
I send strength
But I wish for peace... and my contribution is not to pray... but to act... albeit very small. (this blog, my work in Palestine, workshops etc).. to share strategies that will help us raise a new generation of world citizens that will listen to each other, that will be more accepting of each other... and I know there are other educators that strive for this too...
Play for peace... real play for real peace... not adult controlled play for the appearance of order...

I think far too often there is a desire for order, yesterday I came across this in my facebook feed...
And it makes me think of the classroom... many educators want to create a democratic classroom where the children are co-learners and co-researchers and are central to their own learning - but I also think far too many go for order rather than peace... that there is the appearance of peace, because the classroom sounds and look harmonious... but it is due to the fact the classroom is being controlled by the teacher rather than the children self-regulating...

There needs to be justice in the classroom, in the ECE setting. That means listening to all sides of all stories to understand. To value all with equality. To not take all the space as a teacher... but to enable the children to be active participants...

To create a brighter. better and more peaceful future, where people (and I include children in the word people) are more accepting of each other, listen, respect but will also think critically and not follow blindly... we need to give children the skills to self regulate 8to be able to listen to others) to develop their empathy, to be able to think critically and to act respectfully even in a disagreement...

I am not saying we have to agree on everything, but we need to be able to explain why we don't agree and also be open to the opinions of others and that they might expand our own thinking.

We also need to learn how to work collaboratively... and that can be done through playing collaboratively...

play is essential

In another facebook interaction there was an exploration of play-based curriculum and what it means... it was asked by a person who then later went on to explain their very own strong opinions of what play-based was... in the sense that it did not feel as if this person had been open to the replies of the others... so I wondered why had this question been asked at all? But maybe it is also indicative of today's way of teaching... there is such a strong focus on getting people to express their opinions, to know their rights and not enough focus on how our opinions affect others, how we can listen to others and how our rights belong to us as a group and not just as a series of individuals in isolation... there is a competitive spirit fostered with grades and the present schooling system that maybe is not conducive of a collaborative and peaceful future... just thinking out loud here...

as for play-based...

I am not the one that likes to use the term "play-based curriculum" because I think there are so many interpretations of what play is and who it belongs to...
For me play belongs to us all and not just to children... play comes in many many forms and children (all people) need access to as many of these forms as possible... and to be exposed to new ones if they are not yet familiar with all of them...

I have worked with children in refugee camps, children in poverty stricken areas in Sweden and also in the wealthiest areas of Sweden all have been able to play... not all of them have had a full range of the play languages... I have also worked with children with special needs (or rights, depending on how you like to see it or phrase it) and have seen that many of these children have needed support with their play languages...
Whether a diagnosis or not there have been children that have needed, for a variety of reasons, support with their various play languages.. very often social play has needed support... as children have needed to self regulate, build language/communication skills etc - and all of this can be supported through play, but play that is lead, and designed by educators 

So careful setting up of the spaces, of material choices and activities to support and stimulate their learning and play needs to be planned. Through listening to the children and their needs and their interests, and by learning when to come in and support and when to back away and let them play or try themselves - are all part of the process in my approach as an educator of young children...

Play is an incredibly important word, it is central, but it is one of the words I use to create a curriculum with the children
listen
democratic
meaningful
joyful
respectful
caring

are also some of the words that are central and important for me... especially for creating a peaceful classroom rather than a controlled classroom.

But in another dialogue today the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk has been raised by myself and others (Tom Shea, Sue Martin) that we need to put all of this into action... not just talk about it and understand that all of this is important, to to ensure that this is happening in every classroom and in every ECE setting.
A respect for children and their competence... AS children. To value their learning, to value their play.




Saturday, 30 September 2017

Border Crossing... from analogue to digital and back...

In the last few days I have been reflecting on a post shared by Sue Martin on my personal facebook page about teachers being replaced by "inspirational robots" - you can read the article here...
What I found is that I answered not as I or Sue expected... as I am rather an hands on person (but in no means adverse to technology) - but in this case I was actually in favour of these robots - as long as they do as the article explained... they learned to adapt to each individual child's pace of learning, they learnt how to challenge each child without overwhelming, they learned what interested and motivated the child to learn, it meant learning was more effective and the school day could be shortened... which for me, means there would be more time for free play and human interactions. It also mentioned that the learning would occur in many forms... so closer to the hundred languages than most schools are offering today.
For me the school system is limited... it is not able to reach all the children, not even the most talented teacher can engage all the children all the time... far too many teachers do not have a proper understanding of how the brain works and how learning happens... especially when it comes to children with autism and ADHD - and believe me I have first hand experience of this as I struggle to find a path for my son that will enable him to learn in school (the standardisation of schools is a mire of misery that seems to be drowning any enthusiasm my son had for learning).
Often I find that screens are being used as an alternative way to teach my son - but I would like to point out that it is the exact same standardised crap except in screen format... technology is not expanding learning possibilities it is being forced to conform to the school system that is not working for all children. The school law, the school curriculum talks about inclusion... but the system does not allow it to happen with the standardised approach.

So the idea of a digital system that will allow my son to learn with all his learning languages (and gain more... so not JUST a screen) - that is tuned in to his brain and how it works, and tuned in to his interests to motivate learning, and allows him shorter days so that he has free time to be himself... then these inspirational robots cannot come soon enough...

Screens should not be a form of child-care... used to keep a child quiet so that teaching can happen (this is happening a lot with my son - and I know this is the case for others too). Screens, apps, computers... the digital world is simply another language - not the main language, just another one that can and should be used in learning... digital does not have to mean children are using screens all the time...

The Reggio Emilia exhibition  Border Crossing shares experiences of exploring nature using digital tools... that the digital enables children and adults to see a new perspective of the world around them and to then explore nature in a new way...

At the exhibition there is the chance to explore various techniques where nature and technology are used... where technology is used outside to explore nature and then brought inside to continue the experience and also where nature is brought inside to explore technology... it is not a one way exploration... hence the name of the exhibition crossing borders... the border between analogue and digital, the border between nature and technology, between outside and inside, between real and imagination...
By combining technology with nature, of analogue and digital, there becomes the possibility to explore imagination and the real world... to be able to explore the imagination in new ways, and also to explore the real world from new perspectives..

I feel that technology, the digital world, is sometimes elevated a little too much as a language of learning... where in a sense it takes too much space... it is sometimes too loud so that other languages are not being heard. Its is a fantastic language to learn and explore... but as educators we need time to explore this language, to master it somewhat, to feel comfortable with it, to understand the potential for learning, play and exploration before we use it...

In that sense I can recommend going to Border Crossing to see how digital and analogue are being used as a bilingual approach to exploring nature... it is not so much about crossing the border, and more about blurring the edges of the border and to get the best of both worlds...

I am about learning with all of our senses, with all of our hundred languages... and the digital language is here to be used as one of them... it is exciting... but it is important to remember in this excitement that it is not more important than all the other languages, and it should not have the higher status that it sometimes gets, so that the focus is on the digital product rather than the child's experience and process.

Educators need time to play with this language and all languages to understand better how to weave it into the fabric of their community of learners...

Below are images from Border Crossing and a short film with some glimpses of the borders crossed...



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Philosophical photos 2.

To continue the posts of photos that can stimulate thinking, reflection and dialogue with young children. I am back at Fotografiska (The Photography Museum) here in Stockholm as there are two new exhibitions to check out   Paul Hansen's "Being there" - series of photographs from his work as a journalist (I got quite emotional in this exhibit as there are a whole load of war-torn images) and found I could not look at the whole exhibit in detail as it was a bit overwhelming for me (and plenty of images that are totally unsuitable for young children to explore, but for older children and young people there are some excellent images that should and need to be reflected upon)
There is also an exhibit called "Last night in Sweden" a response to Trumps statement "last night in Sweden where Trump implied there was a terror attack/unrest in the country - instead this series of photos (and a book) show what happened on that evening around the country... lots of non-front page news... just life!

So here are three photos I have chosen from these two exhibits...

Paul Hansen.
Questions
where do you think they are going?
why do you think they are all on the bike?
How many people can ride on one bike at the same time?
How many people should ride a bike together?
What do you think is in the container?
What do you think they will do with the contents?
activities
if you have bikes/trikes, how many can ride at the same time, how easy is this?
take paper outside and paints - use bikes to paint on the paper
go out and look at transport, how do most people get about
find films of people doing tricks on bikes, think that bikes are used in many ways
get the children to design a bike that would make it easy for many to ride at the same time
listen to the sound bikes make on different surfaces.

Jonas Lindkvist (Jönköping)
Questions
are mermaids real?
what is happening in the pool here?
Are the mermaids captured?
is it OK to catch mermaids? or anything?
why would someone want to put mermaids in pool?
is this a mermaid prison?
Why do you think people want to dress up as mermaids?
Do adults like to play? Why?
Are adults allowed to play? Why? When?
if you were to be a mythical/magical creature, what would you be? Why?
Activities
read books about mermaids
try moving on the ground like a mermaid, maybe even try to negotiate an obstacle course as a mermaid (with legs together)
draw magical creature, let the children explain to you their powers
can these creature be connected and create a story as a whole group?
Use figures and small world scene to create spaces for imagination play
dress up clothes, scarfs etc can also offer the chance for story telling

Izabelle Nordfjell (Arjeplog)
Questions
is this a pet or a wild animal? How do you know?
Is it OK for wild animals to be inside?
Why do you think the reindeer is inside?
If you could choose any animal to be your pet what would you choose? Why?
Are there any animals that you should not have as a pet? Why?
Activities
Draw your favourite animal (the children can always explore lots of images of photos of a variety of animals to widen their knowledge of what animals they have a choice of) Let the children tell you why it is their favourite, or if it is their favourite today, or if it was hard to choose as they like many animals etc
go looking for animals in nature... think about how it would be for these animals inside at the preschool, would they like it there?
look for animals tracks outside. Use animals figures inside to make tracks in clay or with paint.
let the children bring a stuffed animal to school and create your own safari experience. You could make interesting fact signs for the animals like you would find at a zoo... get the children to group the animals... do they sort them by colour, or by size, or by the climate they live in... you could sort by all methods bringing maths and also natural sciences into the play.
read the book "Dear Zoo" by Rod Campbell - can the children make their own lift the flap book together using inspiration from their own favourite animals or photos of their stuffed animal? The children can take their own photo of their toy.


When it comes to the questions the idea is that you do not have to use ALL the questions. They are just suggestions to get you going... especially with the  mermaids, the questions I have shared have several threads of thinking... you really don't know what direction the children might take the dialogue, and it can be good to have a few extra questions up your sleeve just in case it takes an unexpected direction...

Hope that gives you some food for thought...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Play and the new proposed Swedish Preschool Curriculum...

Yesterday I wrote some reflections on the draft of the preschool curriculum that is being shared with those working in the field to reflect and respond to...
I quoted the section on play and on my facebook page received this feedback from Sue Martin in Canada... that got me thinking yet another rotation - and it really does rotate... making links to the school curriculum...


"Thank you for your reflections. I have only my small phone to read and comment as I'm in northern Ontario right now. However, my immediate thought was that, although the inclusion of play was a great step forwards, the description sounded rather adult led and directed. I might have picked up the wrong idea; i wish I could ponder in this properly. I'll have to wait. Thanks."
Here is the excerpt from the proposed curriculum again
Play as a basis for development, learning and well-being
Play has a central role in education and promotes children's development, learning and well-being. For children, play itself is important and it can provide joy and well-being. In play, the children are active participants, they mimic, creative and process their experiences. In this way the children can form an idea of ​​themselves and other people. Play stimulates imagination and empathy. Play challenges and stimulates children's communication as well as the ability to symbolize thinking, cooperation and problem solving.
A learning environment and an attitude that encourages play confirms the importance of play for the child's development, learning and well-being. The staff should ensure the conditions for play and lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play. The staff will also ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in communal play based on their conditions and ability.
Staff should notice factors that limit the play and develop working methods and learning environments that promote play. The physical and conscious presence of the staff leads to the support of communication between the children and the prevention of conflict situations. The play should be seen and heard. Playing children and adults should be given time, space and tranquility to find games, experiment and experience.
As you can see it states that staff should "lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play." For me as a person who is an advocate of free play and children's right to their own play it was clear to me that this implied that children have access to play that is inspired by themselves (with the adult on the outside) and also play that is inspired by and with adults... BUT it does leave room for other interpretations that adults should be leading all the play. And while I feel that play is the essence of learning in Swedish preschools, it might be worth ensuring that this is preserved and that the curriculum also supports the need for free-play within its learning frame.

I think preschools are very much an adult steered realm, no matter how much we strive for equality with the children that we work with, there will never be a true equality... Firstly the children have not chosen to go to preschool (there are of course those who love going to preschool) the decision has been made by parents who, in Sweden, have made this choice due to the need to return to work (by the age of three 90% of children attend some form of care, mostly preschools).
Children do not decide how long their day will be... preschools in Sweden are, by law, open between 6:30 and 18:30 (they can open later and close earlier of there is no parental need at their setting) - over the years I have encountered children who have 10plus hours in a preschool setting - much longer days than is legally allowed for adults to work (and this can be from the age on one).

I will say that preschools strive to make their settings the best place they can for the children... not just from an education point of view, but also from a care point of view... if a young child spends 30-60 hours a week in preschool there needs to be care (read more about Professional Love, Jools Page)
The word "omsorg" is used a few times in the text (means care) but maybe not as much as it should be... as if there is not this care, there is not the feeling of safety then there will not be any learning. A safe environment where each child feels cared for is essential for a child to develop, to learn and to evolve as the person they are.


In my quote about LOVE is the first word. Care is essential
I have now gone through the text and started to count certain words to se how often they are mentioned... with the idea that the more they are mentioned the more focus the curriculum has on them (or the bigger the impact they have on us - which made me sort of laugh afterwards as the word UNDERVISNING (teaching/Education in the sense of instruction) had had a massive impact on me and yet was only used twice... the word UTBILDNING (education) was used about 34 times (this was not an exact counting).
This is a preschool curriculum - a plan of learning - the Swedish word is "läroplan" (learning plan) so it is hardly surprising that this is a text that contains the words undervisning and utbildning so many times... the words "lära" and "lärande" (learn/learning) are used 19 times and develop/developing (utveckla/utveckling) are used about 23 times.
Play is used 19 times, the majority of those times within the paragraph above (13 times in the Swedish text, in one of its forms) so only 6 times in the rest of the text.
Care (omsorg) is used just five times as is "trygg" (safe/secure) - although there can be references to these states through other means... for example... it states that the preschool should together with the home create the possibility to develop based on their own needs/abilities... this could mean the need for security in order to be safe...

As for play being the children's and not adult steered... then there are sections of the text that refer to this... not as their play but in their right to learn through their interests... and since play has a "central role" in learning this must also imply the play is child lead and not just adult lead.
"The education should give space for the children's own intiatives, imagination and creativity in play and learning indoors and outdoors. (Utbildningen ska ge utrymme för barnens egna initiativ, fantasi och kreativitet i lek och lärande såväl inomhus som utomhus.)"
 
It also states that there is a need for educators working in preschools to explore the meaning of knowledge and learning as part of their ongoing work and that knowledge is not just facts but also comprehension, skills and familiarity...

The education should be based on the children's needs and interests, as well as the knowledge and experience that the children have previously been able to use, but also continually challenge the children by inspiring new discoveries and knowledge.
So even though it talks about the teacher leading the play and creating the learning environment it is something that needs to be rooted in the children - to create a space for individual and group learning.
While I personally like the curriculum as it is open to interpretation and I have a strong play-based/child-based approach to learning then it suits me well... the concern is, can it be interpreted to bring the rote, teacher-down learning that is found far too  much in schools, where children are sitting at desks... because the school curriculum has a similar text at the start of it's curriculum  (it mentions that joy is important for learning, but not play). I counted the same words and found the results a little surprising...


















As you see above the word education (utbildning) is used in the preschool curriculum far more than the school curriculum in fact combining the words teach, learn and education then school has only 58% of the learning and education mentions compared with the school... somehow I thought it would be the opposite way around. That there would be more focus on learning, education and teaching in the school.

So basically I feel what we could say is let's revamp the school curriculum to look more like the preschool curriculum... I mean there is more learning going on, there is more safety/security, more development and more play... and as educators in early childhood we all know that joy is found through play, that self directed learning can be found through play...

I am not for taking away the learning from the preschool curriculum, as long as we ensure that this is done through play, through the children's choices, through equality with the educator as their pedagogical guide...
what I want is a bigger focus on security and care as being essential for learning... without out this there is no foundation for learning... and also my experience in the Palestinian refugee camp also shows that security and care are essential for being able to play and imagine too.

And my dream is that we take play up into the school, we take this form of learning higher up so that there is not this hierarchy of teacher down instruction (there ARE school forms and school teachers that are doing remarkable work with democratic classrooms - but I see these as more preschool inspired than traditional school)

So back to the original reflection about the teacher leading the play... 
I think we do need to always reflect on the power we have as adults... and how that impacts on us as educators. I know when I first started exploring listening I was fascinated (slightly horrified) by the way children would listen to my voice more than their peers... that already by the age of 2-3 years they were trained into giving the adult more value.
In a way it takes courage to empower children, to trust in them, to see them as competent and to be an equal with them, when at the same time you have to keep them safe and guide them pedagogically... as it is a fine balance and you have to be aware of it all the time. The great thing is that the more you work at it the easier and more natural it feels... but that you still always have to be aware of the power you possess as an adult...

Sunday, 17 September 2017

proposed new Swedish preschool curriculum - some reflections...

Here in Sweden at the moment those working within preschools are being given the opportunity to read the first part of the new edition of the preschool curriculum and to have our say.
You can check it out here it is, of course, in Swedish.

I have already read it and expressed my opinion in the format that they have given us... a kind of questionnaire.

But I thought I would share some of my opinions here...
As before the curriculums first sentence is that the school systems rests upon democracy... there is though a much bigger focus on the word "undervisning" which google translates as teaching... but there is another word for teach - "lära" - and this new curriculum has chosen to use the word "undervisning" which is a much more schoolified word and has a bigger connection to instruction, while "lära" is more connected to learning... as the word for learning in Swedish is "lära sig". The word "undervising" is made up of two words - "under" which means the same thing in both English and Swedish and "visa" which means show. So the word, for me has a larger connection to a hierarchy and not the equality of learning together that I (and many others) strive for within early childhood education.

The word popped up many many times and there began to be a feel of unease, despite all the wonderful descriptions of children's rights, and creating a space of equality and respect for all.

Then, about half way through it states...

Play as a basis for development, learning and well-being
Play has a central role in education and promotes children's development, learning and well-being. For children, play itself is important and it can provide joy and well-being. In play, the children are active participants, they mimic, creative and process their experiences. In this way the children can form an idea of ​​themselves and other people. Play stimulates imagination and empathy. Play challenges and stimulates children's communication as well as the ability to symbolize thinking, cooperation and problem solving.
A learning environment and an attitude that encourages play confirms the importance of play for the child's development, learning and well-being. The staff should ensure the conditions for play and lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play. The staff will also ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in communal play based on their conditions and ability.
Staff should notice factors that limit the play and develop working methods and learning environments that promote play. The physical and conscious presence of the staff leads to the support of communication between the children and the prevention of conflict situations. The play should be seen and heard. Playing children and adults should be given time, space and tranquility to find games, experiment and experience.


And I felt a kind of relax... although it does not say that "undervisning" is performed through play, it does imply that. There needs to be a huge focus on educators exploring play and understanding how learning occurs in the play in order to fully use it as a "lessons" which is the kind of teaching undervisning implies. Play lessons, lesson in play... but at least play is mentioned more than previous curriculums and is stated that it is central, even though the word "undervisning" feels to be used more... maybe I should take the time to count how much both words are used?

Another point that I feel is important that we working in preschools here in Sweden should find out WHO exactly is responsible is this phrase...


An equal education
According to the school law, education in preschool should be equal regardless of where in the country it is organized. Education in preschool shall be characterized by the care of the individual child's well-being, security, development and learning. The education should be accessible, taking into account the children's different conditions and needs, and adapted to all children in preschool. This means that the education can not be formulated in the same way everywhere and that the preschool's resources should not be distributed equally.
This intrigues me... how are they going to find out where all these resources need to be... is it only the money that preschools apply for to meet the costs of having extra teachers to support children as mentioned above... or are they actually going to visit preschools and really see the quality of the teaching that is going on and therefore give more finances to those preschools in need of a pedagogical lift?
There are HUGE differences in the quality of preschools for a variety of reasons... and if they REALLY mean that there should be a quality equality throughout Sweden they need to be able to see what this quality differences are and have a strategy as to how to create an equality...
In the section at the end of this first part the curriculum refers to who has responsibility... that the owner has overall responsibility, the director has pedagogical responsibility and the educators (teachers and assistants) have professional responsibility that the education is of a high standard... but where is the mention of who has responsibility of ensuring that there is equality of quality in all preschools throughout Sweden?

I wonder how such big difference in quality occur... since private, state etc preschools all receive the exact same funding from their local school authorities there is the opportunity for equality that might not be found in other countries where private settings can charge parents more money to attend their educational facilities... that does not exist here.
So it has always surprised me that there has been such a large difference in quality at preschools I have worked at and visited over the years as well as talked about with friends and colleagues.
So what strategy will be put in place? That is something I am eager to find out... as there are many preschools with great potential that need the support to lift their educational standard (and this is for a variety of reasons).

Anyway these are my first BIG take aways from reading the new curriculum draft - I am so glad that educators have been given the opportunity to make their opinions heard... I am curious to see how it will impact the final product...?

And so a collection of quotes on play and learning to finish off this reflection...


















Friday, 15 September 2017

A relationship with the third teacher...

I have been very fortunate to have been able to visit many preschools over the years... and to also interact with the educators working there. I have also been fortunate to have worked at a variation of settings allowing me to see different perspectives of how educators and children develop a relationship with the third teacher... their play and learning space.

Not all places that I have visited have been Reggio Emilia inspired, but there has still been an awareness of the way rooms are designed impact the children...

Over the years I have seen that sometimes (maybe too often) there is a gap in that theoretical awareness and it being practically applied... and also the idea (that I have referred to many times in this blog) that the Reggio Emilia Approach is so much more than developing the pedagogical environment and making it look beautiful.

Children and educators are making a learning journey together. If we left learning footprints then we should see them walking side by side with an equality. I think though sometimes the adult is having such an impact the the children's footprints cannot be seen. The adults, in their well-intentions, have created beautiful environments based on their own perspective of childhood - and the child's perspective is hard to find.
This does not mean that the children will not enjoy the environment, find it stimulating, be able to play and learn there... it is simply not my idea of what the Reggio Emilia Approach is about.
For me it is about the relationship between the third teacher and the children... and its relationship with the educators, and the parents and society... it is also about the relationships between the people...

As I mentioned in my post the other day about Border Crossing, it was the interaction with the people there that really opened up the exhibition and allowed me to take a step inside and make new discoveries... I was invited to leave my footprints there together with my guides (those I was learning with).

I entered a dialogue today about  children and bullying... and how ti seems to be more prevalent in schools than preschools here in Sweden (at least those places I have visited and worked in, and knowledge from friends and family)... is this just because younger children don't bully or is it because in preschools there is an active attempt to create an equality with the children... whilst in schools educators do not strive for that... there is a distinction - could this be why hierarchies also start to develop amongst the children - as they emulate what they think being an adult is?

Tom Shea in his filmed interview about play (your can see it HERE) mentions the trend that school education style of "TEACHING" is being pushed ever further down in years and into preschool settings, while he strongly believes (and I whole heartedly do too) that what should be happening is the "LEARNING" should be pushed up in the years and into schools... that play and relationships with the world around them should take a much bigger part of education than teacher-dominated teaching. We should be "enabling" learning.

So back to the third teacher... this relationship we develop needs to help the children to learn and play and explore and experiment and interact - and as educators our relationship with the third teacher needs to support us to enable the children to learn and play etc.
And just as educators need professional development so does the third teacher (the third educator maybe). We need to take the time to observe how it interacts, what sort of relationship it has with the children. We need to listen to the children and their thoughts about the space (both indoors and outdoors... I am a BIG believer that the third teacher is not exclusive to the indoor environment) - we need to reflect on how we adults interact (educators, parents, cleaners etc) - we all need to develop a positive relationship with the space we work and play in.

So what is needed to help those who need to make the leap from theory to practice...? Or are blinkered and think they are doing what they preach when they are not (and admit it, we have all met at least one of these educators). What can we do to help develop the reciprocal relationship with the third teacher... and to understand that it is one of many interactions that make up the Reggio Emilia Approach. We work as teams... so how can we strengthen the team.
Well I will leave you with that thought... my thought too, to ponder over the weekend. Not sure if I have any answers... maybe you have some ideas...?

The below images I have decided NOT to add the locations, because sometimes I think that adds status to some environments... instead, take the time to look at each image and see if you can see the child and the adult with equality... what is it in the image that makes you think that thought about it... Can you understand the philosophy of the learning space by just observing?