Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Unique Child

I love social media, I love the fact that we can share ideas online no matter where we are in the world. I also find this position I am in... of being British but having lived in Sweden for just over half my life an interesting one, especially when it comes to my mother tongue. I realise more and more that I am not totally up to date with how words are evolving... and so sometimes they still have the same power as they had when I left UK in 1992... some words I have found have been diluted a great deal, or have altered slightly in their meaning. 

This must be the case for UNIQUE/UNIQUENESS. It is a phrase that is being used in the British educational system at the moment, and personally, I am not keen on it. 

I was participating in a twitterchat last night and the word popped up, and was used in a positive way, but it just grated on me. It feels such an isolating word to me where we are focussing on our differences... even though I understand the point is about illuminating the need to see the talents of children that extend beyond the academic. 

My discomfort has lead me to find out more about the word "unique" and why I feel this way. I of course turned to the dictionary... to see how the word is described... in fact several different dictionaries, just to make sure... here are just a few...

"The quality of being the only one of its kind" (Oxford)

"The quality of being remarkable, special or unusual" (Oxford) 

"Being without a like or an equal" (Merriam-Webster) 

These descriptions have, for me, confirmed why I feel uncomfortable with using "Unique Child" in an educational system. The descriptions do seem to describe something that is "one of a kind"... and learning for me is something that is collaborative, it is interaction. 

For me, we have more in common with each other than we do not... no matter how different we are, what our talents are, what our context is. Our differences allow us to explore the world from new perspectives... but our similarities allow us to do that together. 

Wikipedia describes uniqueness as "a state or condition wherein someone or something is unlike anything else in comparison. When used in relation to humans, it is often in relation to a person's personality, or some specific characteristic of it, signalling that it is unlike the personality traits that are prevalent in that individuals culture..." 

This is not how I would want children to be described... children are very much a part of our culture - they are creating it together with us. 

My big objection is the description that unique means "without equal"... I mean what are we doing...? are we not trying to create a world where there is equality? where we are all valued for who we are? a world where we are not discriminated against..? religion, race, gender etc etc etc etc etc... so many things where we are categorised and put on some kind of value scale. 

Maybe by being unique we cannot be put on this scale, we cannot be compared? But I still feel that we are never actually unique, because we have more in common with each other than not... we have sharedness. 

If unique is oneness, is the opposite diverse/myriad? But if we are seeing unique as something different and special... then the opposite would be ordinary or standard, which is not something I think we are either. Standard testing is obviously not something I think is effective... the one size fits all approach to learning... well, to be honest, its not really an approach to learning... it's an approach to assessing learning, that has then become the focus of how to teach in an adult down world. 

And yet the word standard is also complex - it has not been serving children's education well... but in society it has served us well... standard measurements, a certain standard of behaviour helps society to interact with each other peacefully... the problem is that when it comes to people there just needs to be more flexibility and if we start saying following the standard is right and not following is wrong then we start excluding people and thinking less of them... no matter how "unique" they/we are. 

Why are we always focussing on the differences? - why are we not examining the standard, the ordinary and how we can broaden the meaning of this, to make it more inclusive so that we can all be individuals that make up a whole? Isn't that we want? To belong? To be a part of something? To be valued? 

All of the dictionaries that I checked had a little "warning" that said many authors of usage guides, editors etc feel strongly that such "absolute" words such as "complete", "equal", "perfect" and especially "unique" cannot be compared because of their "meaning" - these are words that denote an absolute condition - so we cannot have less unique or more unique or very unique etc. The earliest meanings of unique (17th century) were "single, sole" and "having no equal", which developed to "not typical, unusual" during the 19th century. 

So why has such an absolute word been chosen to describe a child/ren? And how does this affect how we teach? Does it make us think of teaching and learning as one of a kind... that each class, each child learns totally in their own way... I think this put an enormous amount of pressure on teachers to see each unique child... to be constantly focussing on the differences. 

The last four-five years, I have been working with the whole idea of "mwe" the individual child as part of the group... that together we learn more, deeper, richer than what we do on our own. That our similarities being us together and allow us to understand our differences. I would really like for us to be equals... not in the sense that we are all the same, but that we are valued equally, differences and all. 

When I did philosophy sessions with children it was about weaving the children's individual ideas together to create a wonderful fabric of learning, something that was meaningful to them/us at that time, something that was constantly evolving. 

Why do I feel strongly about learning together rather than "unique" learning where the focus is on each child can be explained in these series of quotes. 

"As a result, there is a move away from considering one's own viewpoint toward considering multiple perspectives of the collective, resulting in a shift from individual to shared meaning. This position often frees teachers from a focus on producing correct answers. If there is more than one way to view a challenge, then perhaps there is more than one correct response to that challenge."  Moran, p.413 The Hundred Languages of Children (1998) 

"Among the goals of our approach is to reinforce each child's sense of identity through a recognition that comes from peers and adults, so much so that each one would feel enough sense of belonging and self-confidence to participate in the activities of the school.... As a result, children discover how communication enhances the autonomy of the individual and the peer group" Malaguzzi, p. 68-9 The Hundred Languages of Children (1998) 

"The more we distance ourselves from quick and temporary solutions, from responding to individual differences in a hurried way, the wider will be the range of hypotheses open to us. The more we resist the temptation to classify children, the more capable we become to change our plans and make available different activities. This does not eliminate the responsibility or usefulness of noting differences among children. let us take them into account, let us keep an eye on them. But let us always excercise caution and learn to observe and evaluate better without assigning levels and grades."  Malaguzzi, p.81.2

"Recognizing the universality of children's potential..." Malaguzzi p.81 

I could go on... open other books and find the value of collaborative learning, of shared learning, the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), being part of a community of learners etc.. But I think you are getting the idea... for me the focus should be on the us... the we... without forgetting the me... because I truly believe that the me develops through the we

Below is a quote from the British EYFS webbpage about the unique child... there is a link at the end of the quote of you want to check out the page and see more links about the unique child. How all this thinking got started...

"Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured
Babies and young children mature in every area of development at their own pace and in their own individual ways. Inclusion means that individuals and communities are valued and no child or family is discriminated against. Young children are vulnerable but they are kept safe and develop resilience when their wellbeing is protected by adults. Health and well-being is an integral part of children’s emotional, mental social, environmental and spiritual health." EYFS A Unique Child 

What I see is the continuous use of the word "individual" in the text... I find this word much easier to digest than unique... its not so one of a kind, not so absolute... it recognises our differences without ignoring our similarities. Below I have copied and pasted in the synonym discussions from Merriam-Webster dictionary for the words UNIQUE and INDIVIDUAL. No matter how many times I read them... I prefer to use the word individual over unique every time when it comes to children... any human, really. 

  • Synonym Discussion of unique Merriam-Webster dictionary

    strangesingularuniquepeculiareccentricerraticoddquaintoutlandish mean departing from what is ordinary, usual, or to be expected. strange stresses unfamiliarity and may apply to the foreign, the unnatural, the unaccountable <a journey filled with strange sights>singular suggests individuality or puzzling strangeness <a singular feeling of impending disaster>unique implies singularity and the fact of being without a known parallel <a career unique in the annals of science>peculiar implies a marked distinctiveness <the peculiar status of America's first lady>.eccentric suggests a wide divergence from the usual or normal especially in behavior <theeccentric eating habits of preschoolers>erratic stresses a capricious and unpredictable wandering or deviating <a friend's suddenly erratic behavior>odd applies to a departure from the regular or expected <an odd sense of humor>quaint suggests an old-fashioned but pleasant oddness <a quaint fishing village>outlandish applies to what is uncouth, bizarre, or barbaric <outlandish fashions of the time>.

Synonym Discussion of individual

specialespecialspecificparticularindividual mean of or relating to one thing or class. specialstresses having a quality, character, identity, or use of its own <special ingredients>especial may add implications of preeminence or preference <a matter of especial importance>specificimplies a quality or character distinguishing a kind or a species <children with specific nutritional needs>particular stresses the distinctness of something as an individual <a ballet step of particular difficulty>individual implies unequivocal reference to one of a class or group<valued each individual opinion>.

characteristicindividualpeculiardistinctive mean indicating a special quality or identity.characteristic applies to something that distinguishes or identifies a person or thing or class<responded with her characteristic wit>individual stresses qualities that distinguish one from all other members of the same kind or class <a highly individual writing style>peculiar applies to qualities possessed only by a particular individual or class or kind and stresses rarity or uniqueness <an eccentricity that is peculiar to the British>distinctive indicates qualities distinguishing and uncommon and often superior or praiseworthy <a distinctive aura of grace and elegance>.

So what do you think, based on the above descriptions? Would you like to be teaching unique children or individual children? 

For me, it is about being a part of a whole, not deviating from it. Instead of making children "unique" maybe we should be focussing energy on creating an inclusive environment where all individuals can feel valued not just for their similarities but also for their differences... by broadening educational/learning/play experiences we allow all children to participate together, so that they can learn from each other - so that differences are seen as a benefit, rather than something that deviates from the norm... That instead of unique children that learn in their unique ways and probably not interacting with each other... meaning that our differences never get to be understood and/or appreciated. We are allowing society to feed the standard norms by saying "sure children are unique... we meet them where they are" rather than bringing them into the zone of proximal development so that we can all become better people. 

Sure I have taken this whole "unique" thing to an extreme... I know. I wanted to pull it apart, to be critical, to explore and work out what I feel about it. It has made me feel that real change within the education system is hard because the same crap keeps getting masked with new words... the whole system needs changing, not how we classify children.. being unique won't make the learning better if we are not overhauling the concept of teaching to responding to how children learn. 

we should learn to understand the individual needs... to know which gifts to bring to the children for their learning. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Loud nights... (Palestine 15)

I have just two more nights left here in Jenin before my return to Stockholm, Sweden. For the second time in my just over 2 week stay I slept through the 5am prayers (that are pretty loud... and very beautiful).

There are nights when there is more than just the prayers that disturb... there is the sound of gunfire and sound bombs... and sometimes angry shouting. There is not the triple glazing I am used to at home in Sweden either... so everything sounds loud. Often you can hear the cries of young children that have been woken by the sounds.

This is the reality of the city I am staying in right now.

Being married to a sleep researcher (now professor... just had to have a little proud moment sharing that) means I reflect a lot on sleep and how that affects our ability to function.

Disturbed sleep will mean that there is not enough rest and recuperation. That the sleep will not be as efficient at helping the children (and adults) to store short term memories into long term memories... this will affect learning. It makes it harder to learn. Sleep is an essential component of learning.

The reality is as it is. One can only strive and hope that this reality will change. But change is also harder when you are sleep deprived. Emotions become bigger when you are tired... happy can feel euphoric, sad can feel overwhelming, anger  and frustration can be difficult to control... there is plenty of research out there sharing this (check my previous posts about sleep).

Nap/rest time is always a part of the day I will not skip with young children... and by that I mean children up until at least six.. probably older for some children.
Having a good night's sleep is important for everyone... regular bed times really helps children develop a good sleep hygiene that they can continue as adults. Getting into a good routine of sleep is a great way to support your children in their learning.

So I see the noisy nights as something extra the education system here in Jenin needs to take into consideration... that maybe children are more tired on some days after a noisy night, that maybe if there are many noisy nights in a row that there will be a tired accumulation that will make the learning slower than usual... and that a teacher understanding this can maybe compensate and allow the children to learn at a pace that will work... maybe longer breaks to be able to recuperate... maybe more hands on learning so that the whole body is learning... sitting still might make it harder to keep awake... so fidgeting is used to keep the body awake... and often this is not seen as "good behaviour".

Then of course there is the psychological affects of living in a place with guns, with occupation, with death and imprisonment of parents... but for this post I will not go into that...

a view over Jenin... the square building just to the left of the green is a school

the entrance to the school... this was once the main entrance to the school... not anymore as you can see. Rubbish is somewhat of an epidemic here. it is also a reality.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Play... (Palestine 14)

Today I went on another excursion with The Freedom Theatre preschool... up into the outskirts of Jenin, on a mountainside with the most wonderful views.
The destination is a home under construction - so there are rocks, sand, gravel and construction rubble everywhere... basically a paradise for creative play. It doesn't look beautiful... though the views do... but it is rich in possibilities.
The children had no problems finding things to do.

Fire was, again, a central part of the morning.
The children gathered stones to make the fireplace, discussed where the fire should be made, built the fireplace so the saucepan would have support over the heat, collected wood and sticks for the fire and helped fuel the fire until it got going. There was no adult watching the fire like a hawk to keep the children "safe", but watched the fire to ensure that it heated the sweetcorn and so that the children KNEW how to respect and maintain a fire. There is always the benefit of having a small group... the learning is real, hands on and meaningful. There is also a natural trust between the children and the educator which enables the fire to be there without it being a danger... but all are aware of the risk that it is too hot too touch. The children are aged 3-5. There were 5 children. I took the role of observer... but did interact with the children too.

Below is a visual story of the trip... BUT only the part by the building... we also walked onto the mountainside to explore the rocks and small pools of water... but I will save those images for another day...

interesting to see this play... I had seen the exact same play need at the previous excursion, that time squashing olives.

first attempt at a fireplace... a long line of breeze-blocks... great for building muscles!

building the fireplace... learning that it needs to be high enough to build a fire under the pan

the sweetcorn warming up for snack... as the children explore and play

making mud balls... there are layers of different types of sands making these balls... I have a series of photos documenting the evolving mud balls.

balancing on rocks and counting... the last rock was quite wobbly

this was fixed by the rock being replaced with a flatter rock, the decision to do this was made by one of the children.
fancy toys are not needed... children are creative and play with what is available... plastic cups become buckets to make castles. There were two types of sand... they soon learned which one was better at making castles.

then it was time ti decorate the castles

sometimes relocating was needed to ensure the peace and quiet to finish construction without a younger child's need to play demolition.

also learning that the "good" sand did not work as well when it was filled with small pebbles.

but it was worth trying again...

our play-space today... and view.
The children did not want to leave. They had a great deal of fun here... and it was clear that there was much learning happening, motor skills developing, social skills being tested and cognitive skills being expanded. All happening in PLAY.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Fireworks... (Palestine 13)

That magical moment when thinking/creativity clicks into gear and ideas explode like fireworks.

That is what happened on the course today.

The participants shared their documentation of Saturday's session (where they played with loose parts, and told to take photographs of the learning that happened to create a documentation/publication that could explain to parents how learning happens through play. it would have been a documentation of children's play, but sadly I have timed my visit to when the schools have their winter holiday... great for being able to meet up with the participants more, not so great to put their practice into direct action.

Once they had presented we brainstormed together...
what learning was visible in the documentation
how could we extend, continue, support the children's continued learning through play...

At first this part proved slow and lacked ideas...
So I put a big piece of paper on the floor in the middle of the room, with the rocks (as this was the topic of the first presentation) and shared some ideas for continued play and the learning that could happen. It was amazing... a little bit of inspiration and the fireworks were ignited.
They were coming up with ideas, all sort of possibilities... and sharing the learning potential of these ideas...

this was done then for all the presentations...

The presentations were done as a powerpoint, or as a film, or as a series of photos with a written text. Most had worked in groups... and we talked about the value of shared learning... of working together so that shared reflections deepen.

They asked me about why i was writing down everything they were saying... I told them that it helped me to connect their ideas... to remember what was being said, so that next time I come I would be able to see how their ideas have expanded, changed or become deeper. more profound, or not changed... to see their learning... and that this is how I see the children's learning... how they interact with each other... how I see their language development, their idea development, their knowledge bank growing, and that it allowed me to be able to share with parents how their children learned and how they were developing, and what we could do to continue their development.

Today felt powerful. To see all this creativity flowing.

Once I am home in Stockholm, I will write more about the activities and our reflections... right now this is all I can manage!!

I do want to put a book together with ideas for play and learning... something simple to provoke thought and that is directly related to this course.

I am also going to put together some form of research to see if this 15 month course will have any impact on the children. So the idea is during February some observations will be made of the participants classes/groups and a few control schools/preschools... and then after the course the same observations made at the same schools/preschools... to see if the year long course... including a visit to Sweden and visit preschools in Stockholm... makes a difference in how the children learn/react to their learning/teaching.
I am grateful for The Freedom theatre who will ensure this happens, and also the support of Jenin Ministry if Education who will allow access to schools/preschools in order to learn more about effective teacher training.

If the course is not effective, the adjustments will need to be made... I DO feel confident that it will have an impact though.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Parents, schools and dreams... (Palestine 12)

This morning I held a presentation for parents...

For education to evolve, no matter where you are in the world, parents need to be involved.
This is so the case here in Jenin.
The participants on the course have told me how it is not easy to implement a play approach to learning because parental expectation of education requires them to show completed worksheets and homework... even for the young children... and school teachers are expecting kindergarten children to be learning to read and write before they start school.

My focus with the parents was about being physically and emotionally ready to read and write... to build up motor strength in arms, and hands and the whole body to enable the child to sit down and focus and write, and how through play this can be done. About the need to self regulate, the need to be able to truly listen... to understand and not just hear... so that learning in school can happen... if a child is still learning how to self regulate in school then there will be less energy for learning "lessons" is a child does not have the body strength to sit, most energy will be wasted on trying to sit rather than on the "lessons". AND that children before the age of 8 do not learn in the same way as we do when we are older...

This is something I will be going into more later with the participants too... as this coming week we will be talking about brain research, and various development areas... as well as learning more about observing and documenting learning through play.

After this presentation I visited a women's centre in the middle of the refugee camp... where i could see some women being trained in making jewellery - a way for them to earn money... and also children being taken care of... a sort of out of school care... the blocks were taken out (since it is one of the course participants that works here) and we played together with the children... we built and talked and explored different ways of building... it became clear how the children inspired each other in their constructions and how children tried and tried again to make things work, trying different approaches until they succeeded. The participant and I talked about what we had seen, the learning we had observed as we walked back to The Freedom Theatre.

After lunch I went to see the teacher training centre and the kindergarten that will open there next month... large grand building on the outskirt of Jenin. It appears to be somewhat like a lab school.. with observation rooms for the trainee teachers to watch and observe children learning.

This is a very exciting move for Jenin to have its own training centre... until now there has not been one... hence the desire for The Freedom Theatre to start such a training.

I also met here another member of the ministry of education, the man who is responsible for the schools, including special needs children. So we talked about this to some extent too... how children with special needs can be included in the education system.

It truly feels wonderful to start this collaboration with Jenin's Ministry of Education and to exchange ideas about learning, and how The Freedom Theatre has started something special in Jenin that is so relevant to the direction the ministry of education is taking - learning through play.

Collaboration. Communication. Creativity. Critical thinking.
Four very important "C's" for education around the world.

playing with the children (face free image, not the best construction image)

the newly built teacher training facility and kindergarten.
Today I have not included the photos I would have liked to... as I don't have the time to process them... I like to keep faces out of images I share out of respect for the children's integrity. Images of my own children's faces I share... I have talked about this with my children... we talk about the consequences of sharing images, what kind of images I share and why. Being older, they have a better understanding of the consequences (my own children at 16, 16 and my 12 yr old will be turning 13 in April - yes I have twins!).

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Loose Parts... learning to play (Palestine 11)

Today has been all about play.

Getting the educators to play with loose parts...
we started with looking at the stones that they had collected and I was happy to see that all of them had brought stones with them.  And in another post I will share some of those stories.

This evening I have been busy preparing a presentation on play and learning for parents tomorrow morning... if this is going to be effective... we need the parents to understand the importance of play and not just the educators.

So this is just a brief post with an update about today.

I shared with them the documentation I had made about the farm excursion the other day... showing the learning I had seen in the children's play, discussing how the play could be provoked for further learning... and how questions could be asked on different levels... that more complicated questions about social values could be asked for older children when it came to the photo of the sheep where the MALE goats were sectioned off  from the rest of society etc. In other words learning how the same location could not only offer many different kinds of learning but many different age appropriate learning.

Then it was time for the loose parts play...

There were four "stations" or experiences or activities or provocations (you pick the word that suits you best) and the teachers were free to choose one or more to explore. They also needed to photograph their experience with the challenge of documenting the learning that was happening in the play... this will be their homework putting the documentation together so they can present it on Monday... where we will analyse it together and work out how we can go forward to deepen the play and learning. Ideally this would have been done at their schools... but sadly it is the winter break right now... something to remember for future courses.

The stations were exploring the potential of an overhead... with various materials to test out.
Using paper to create a large 3D house/building (using old sheets of paper used in previous presentations, so i thought we could recycle it... its very thin, so it was a good challenge)
Using the rocks/stones that had been collected
Using wooden blocks...

The educators were asked to find many different ways of learning in each play area.

 Afterwards we played the bubble game... laughed a great deal and then discussed the learning benefits of the game... and also about the potential problems of the game and how they could be avoided through involving the children in the rule-making of the game. So that the children learned to understand why there are rules and not just follow them blindly.

I am afraid that is it for today... I will like to return to this session with more reflections, when I have more time... both to think and also the time to write those thoughts down.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Documenting... learning to see the learning in play (Palestine 10)

Today I have been sightseeing... a trip to Nablus, one of the world's oldest cities that has been continuously inhabited, and also Sebastiya. This is the area of the Samaritans... not that there are many Samaritans left these days... these are also very historic places... King Herod was in Sebastiya, as was Jezebel and John the Baptist has his tomb here... his head being reportedly laid to rest here.
For me there was a link to my own city of York... Helena lived here... she was the mother of Constantine who was made Roman emperor in York.

But back to the main purpose of this post...

Yesterday i went with the Freedom Theatre's preschool to a farm owned by the family of one of the teachers. It was about a 20 minute walk from the preschool... and there was lots to discover on the way...  from muddy puddles (which only two children could splash in, as they were the only two with boots on... most had slippers on, some had shoes on... when I return in April I am going to bring a variety of sized rubber boots for the preschool to use on these occasions)... there were plants and flowers and berries to smell and look at and learn about.

The small farm had sheep, hens, turkeys, olive trees, herbs, lemon and orange trees... so much to discover. The farmer milked one of the sheep (since there are lambs now, the sheep can be milked, this the children learned too). The milk was taken to the open fire to be heated and let boil for a while so that it was safe to drink. We all got to drink warm fresh sheeps milk... my first time to drink sheeps milk... it was creamy, rich but not as pungent as goats milk. We also drank chai (tea) made with herbs found in the garden.
The children could freely interact with the animals, run around, climb trees and enjoy the tastes and smells that this farm could offer.

I took photographs of the whole excursion... and I have made two documentations... one to show the activities that support writing... climbing trees, hanging from the swing ropes from the branch of one of the olive trees, mushing olives with a stick, splashing water with a stick, washing the small cups after drinking... I also showed how much the children had learned about nature and the world around them... the different herbs, the different trees, the cabbage still with its roots attached, where milk comes from, that it needs to be boiled first etc etc etc
These documentations I will show to the teachers tomorrow.
Sadly the schools are on their winter breaks right now, as I had hoped that they would all do a document of their observations of their children in their settings - so what I will do instead is get them to take photographs of their "play" tomorrow during our full day session and to share the learning through photos and texts.

The documentations are VERY simple, using power point and little text... the idea is to get them going, thinking about the learning through observation... as well as giving the educators a tool to show the parents that learning IS happening even though they are not filling in worksheets. It is also why I chose not to bring my camera... by only using my mobile phone to document there is no excuse saying that I have tools that they do not have... I have the same tools... although I am unsure if they have access to a computer. Printing out would be best... but if not then showing the photographs on their phone and explaining the learning (having it written down on paper, as a document) will suffice.

and yes, that fireplace was open... and not once did the children, aged 3-5 even think about putting their fingers on it, or I felt they were at any kind of risk... they stood round it to watch the milk boil for a while... and then continued exploring the farm.

Tomorrow I introduce loose parts to the educators, we will be messing about together... and they will be bringing in 3 stones each and will tell the story of their stones before we make a pile together ready for different kinds of learning.

There has also been a big pile of old paper there all week... I am hoping to use that paper to challenge them to make a 3D house with it... so I am REALLY hoping that no-one has come to tidy it away. They will get some tape but that is all.

I will be taking down buttons and also some other loose parts to use on the overhead that has been found in the Jenin markets by the theatre stage manager... he finds all sorts of marvelous things.. and is great at fixing things too...

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The second session (Palestine 9)

Yesterday was my second session.

I have such admiration for these educators... listening to my very different approach to learning... with eyes wide and a desire to implement much of it. They are also aware that the culture they find themselves is not ready for this... parents want to see proof of a different kind of learning... the writing, the reading at ever younger ages.
This is a difficult thing... because learning is not isolated to schools and preschools... learning is life... and learning should be life-long.

This time I finished off the presentation about listening... showing more examples of activities and play that enable the children's listening skills - their empathic listening, their critical listening (listening to understand), their creative listening (listening to build on ideas), their sensory listening (listening to experience the world around them) and their cognitive listening (listening to gain knowledge/wisdom). Their is no science behind these phrases... I have just made them up now to try and explain some of the listening that we develop (they might already exist as ideas... this is something I will be exploring more of as I return to Stockholm).

We played the labyrinth game that I have played with my preschoolers in Stockholm, and analysed together the learning that was happening... turn-taking, understanding that another person does not "see" the same way as you, learning about left and right, learning about angles, learning direction, learning to follow instructions, learning to take responsibility for each other, learning empathy, learning to trust... just to get started on the learning areas...

The activity is that two people guide a third person through the labyrinth safely... without going over the lines... it might be lava, or sharks or whatever your imagination comes up with.
The idea is that children develop their theory of mind... my preschoolers would point the direction the third child should move in... forgetting that they were blindfolded and could not see and was relying on verbal instructions. The reason for two people to guide is for these children to develop their collaboration skills...
We have also done this outside using sticks to draw in sand/mud/gravel.
When the children had done this a few times we put obstacles in the way to climb over to add to the verbal explanations and directions. It's a game that the children think is fun... a little scary, but the fun kind of scary. The first time, not all children completed it... it was too scary being that dark... but with more attempts and more chances they progressed until they too could manage the course with enjoyment.

The final part of the session was exploring history... Ibn Sina, Comenius, Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey etc etc and of course one of my favourites... Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Approach.

There were lots of questions about the needs of children with autism and other children with "disabilities" within the school system... and what support was made available so that these children could share their abilities.
Questions about the size of groups/classes, the number of teachers and what the parents felt about risky play, getting messy and playing outside in all weathers.

The minister of education, Kindergartens, Jenin, was there again. I feel that this is a wonderful opportunity for these educators, not only to be pioneers, but to potentially have support through policy.

Today I have spent the day with the 3-5 year olds at The Freedom Theatre preschool, visiting a sheep farm, and drinking fresh sheep's milk. I photographed the excursion and have prepared two simple documentations... from the viewpoint of developing skills for writing (hand strength) and also for learning about nature... I could have gone on to share the learning of math and science too... but felt two were enough for us to talk about on our full day Saturday workshop.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The power of novelty (Palestine 8)

Yesterday I went with The Freedom Theatre preschool to a chicken farm... where chickens are raised and 39 days later taken for slaughter...

I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback with the whole thought of that as a destination... but then opened my mind to the possibilities. This is a REAL way for the children to learn where their food comes from.

The drive there was an experience in itself.
7 children and three adults in one car... yep, no seat-belts and child-seats - this was back to my own childhood style of transportation. I remember my friends and i cramming into the car and my dad driving us all home... But in these days of hyper safety I have to admit it felt odd, but I went with the flow... and I felt safe the whole time.

As we left Jenin refugee camp and the city and onto the open fields (5 minutes by car) the feeling in the car changed. It was amazing. These children who were all busy being aware of each other, and how they should sit and behave suddenly relaxed. The educator, sitting in the front (with a child on her knee) started talking about what could be seen growing in the fields, and asking questions about what the children could see... the children were fully focussed on what they could see and what everyone was saying. They also were generous with each other so that they could all see... I was sat in the back, four children sat next to me, two children sat on my knee. The road was unsurfaced so we moved slowly. Perfect to take in the sights.

When we got to the chicken farm we were invited in... of course the smell was the first thing that hit you.
The room was enormous and was partitioned off half way... on the other side was where the chicken were. We went to see them. The children learned about their 39 day life... that when they got bigger the whole building would be made available to them, how they were fed, how they were kept warm, and in summer how they are kept cool, how the air is changed regularly, and how the sawdust is later used as fertiliser.
They also got to touch chickens and see the difference between male and females - and that most were males.

After the visit they all got back into the car and were returned to the preschool in the camp.
It would have been nice to have walked a bit in that big open countryside... as I felt that WAS the novelty. And after all it would have given the children the chance to see the plants growing the cows mooing... and also a closer look at that dead cow on the side of the road... it was part cow part skeleton... and it did catch the attention of the children from the car.

Today at the course I told the educators about this transformation in the children... and they replied that most children in the camp never get to see open spaces. Below I will share images of the city of Jenin and the camp, so that you can really see the difference... the buildings here in the camp are placed very tight together, so I can understand that open space is something the children are not familiar with. The children were calmer in this open space... even though they were not out in nature they were able to see it... even this was having an impact. Then of course, the novelty factor played its part... here was something new that the children needed to discover more about - their brains were busy absorbing everything... sight sounds smells and information.

The question is... how do they deepen this learning? What have the children taken back with them... what could the educators explore...
the smell seemed to have had a big impact on most of the children... maybe something to do with smells... what makes a good or bad smell... do we all like the same sort of smells... charts could be made, maths can be used, art could be made of beautiful smells of "ugly" smells, art using spices - smelly paint. Why do things have smells even? The see where to go from that....

downtown Jenin... with wide streets

the Refugee camp

the refugee camp with narrow streets

the chicken farm - this is half the space... when the chicken get bigger they will double the space for them

stroking a chicken

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Open Listening...

Having done my first session yesterday I am sat today reflecting on that experience and at the same time preparing for tomorrow's session.
I will be introducing "schemas" to them and I have brought Chris Athey's book "Extending Thought in Young Children: A parent-teacher partnership" and also Frances Atherton and Cathy Nutbrown's book "Understanding Schemas in Young Children: From birth to three"... to support me when I share the concept of schemas.

Schemas means patterns... patterns of learning, patterns of behaviour and patterns of play...
Check out this online pdf to find out more about  Schemas - it will give you a quick introduction.

For me schemas work wonderfully with my Reggio approach to learning... there is a heavy focus for the teacher not only to observe but to listen openly.

As I was re-reading Atherton and Nutbrown's book I came across the quote about open listening... it seemed relevant to share with you...

"The philosophy and practice of open listening is not just about being nice or tolerant, and nor is it the kind of listening that looks for the repetition and affirmation of the already known... it means opening up the ongoing possibility of coming to see life, and one's relation to it, in new and surprising ways. Open listening might begin with what is known, but it is always open to the understandings one has of self and other, and the relations between them, creatively evolving into something new. Open listening opens up the possibility of new ways of knowing and new ways of being, both for those who listen and those who are listened to. (Davis 2011 "Open Listening")

To listen to children we need to be open.. to see their learning, their ideas and their creativity. Being open is not an easy process, but if we do use open listening with children, a non-judgemental listening... listening to understand and not to answer... then the children will feel the freedom that this allows... a freedom to express themselves and to evolve.

To understand children it is not enough to understand child development... we need to listen - not just hear words... but to listen with ears, eyes, mind and heart.

it is clear from what the course participant said yesterday... that those teachers that were not listening... truly listening, were unable to give the right support to their pupils. They felt neglected, they felt not understood and lacked connection with their learning... learning needs to be joyful and/or meaningful - for the CHILD.

Anyway... I need to get back to my reading...

Monday, 9 January 2017

The first session (Palestine 6)

It may have been a 3.5 hour session today... but really it was just too little time... especially when we need the time to translate.
BUT at the same time 3.5 hours is a LONG time to concentrate they way we were today. Lots of full on listening happening... and that is pretty exhausting.

I was honoured by the Director of Education, Department of Kindergartens, of Jenin, being present at my session today too. We had a meeting before hand to chat about the content of the course to ensure that it is aligning with the Jenin direction for kindergarten learning. She seemed happy with what I presented and told me about her recent visit to the city of Reggio Emilia to learn about their learning philosophy. This was like music to my ears, as this is an educational approach that sings to me... and I will be sharing some of "my" notes with the participants of the course so that they can create their own rhythm of learning.

We started of with introductions... because in learning we need to trust each other, we need to feel safe with each other...

We then shared memories of our own education... a bad one and a good one... with the intention of exploring what makes a good teacher.

it became very clear that THE TEACHER /The EDUCATOR is central to a child's learning and enjoyment at school. Most of the bad memories were connected to verbal and physical violence by the teachers, by the teachers not taking an interest in the students and not truly listening to them so that learning could happen. The classroom was seldom a safe place. Some teachers talked about been hit so they bled... of their children being afraid to write, even though they can, because they are afraid of what will happen if they get it wrong.
Being afraid of getting it wrong does not aid learning.
The stories about the good moments were centred on the teachers that cared, that was interested and that showed compassion and love. These were the subjects they enjoyed the most.
There was only one person that had nothing negative to say about their time in school. This person's education was in another country - and they talked about being empowered by the teachers to become the person she is today.

After a short coffee break (have I mentioned just how good the coffee is here... its not just the taste, with a hint of cardamom, but also the texture) we continued with a game/play/activity that I have done with my preschoolers... you can check it out here - Line dancing
This was a time to practice doing something where there is NO WRONG way to do it... the focus is about individual interpretation, of being inspired... of learning to take turns, of self regulating, of listening with eyes and not just ears...

I also did this -  a bit more extravagant... letting them know that I was inspired by the way my children had interpreted the line... this we discussed... that they had done it like adults, while I had done it like a child... some went back to retry again, having being freed from their adult way of listening to the line.

line dance... drawing the line together on the mirror... lots of ups and downs and some squiggles... no loops though!!
We then took it in turns to "dance" the line as we interpreted the line

Once we stopped laughing. listening and enjoying the process we sat down again and I went through my "Art of Listening" presentation... first of all talking about the teacher and how theory, practice and the person need to work together in a balance, and I compared these Circles with the stories they had mentioned earlier from their childhoods.
We explored why listening is important and then went onto practical ways of practising listening skills through art and play. They soon connected how listening was allowing the children to understand values and enabling their social play as well as their cognitive development.

I realise I am going to have to change the course a little bit more... some of the teachers work with much older children... so I will expand some of the activities and learning to include children up to 12 years old.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

observations... (Palestine 5)

I spent a few hours at the preschool, here at the Freedom Theatre, this morning.
it of course left me with the frustration of not being able to speak the language... and without a translator we did our best, and I am grateful for the words of English the educators there speak with me.

This is a centre that is trying hard and is extremely interested with the idea of learning THROUGH play... and not the concept of making lessons "playful".

It is an enormous jump to make... it is a leap of faith... in the children, in play, in each other, in themselves. I have a great deal of admiration for these educators striving to do something very different from the education they have had themselves... and having never really seen it being modelled.

The whole morning the children I was with were indoors... I felt that if they had been outside for a while for some of that energy to be run off the focus on indoor activities would have gone smoother.
it was a lot of free play, there was a meeting, more free play, a story, more free play and then some colouring pages were brought out for the children to colour in, with pencils that were brought out for the activity.

But, outdoor play is not a natural thing in this culture as it is in Sweden... and I no there are educators in UK and USA that complain about the lack of outdoor play and learning in their settings... but really it is virtually non existent here.

The camp though is a very cramped urban area so there simply are not the large areas for running around for children in the vicinity... this preschool does go outside, and has gone on excursions. They also have a small play yard including a sandbox... which is a rare thing in the area and has apparently become quite an attraction outside of preschool hours... sadly others do not always respect the sandbox and rubbish is left behind and sand thrown around. (Swedish preschools can have problems sometimes in their yards as they are freely available to the public out of hours... this has meant that I have found broken glass, cigarette butts, stolen goods and even refuse after drug use in the children play areas over the years... thankfully not often).
Finding a balance between making the area available to others for play and keeping it in good condition for the preschoolers play can be a tricky one.

Tomorrow will be the first day I hold the course..
I will start with exploring the educators ideas on their own childhood education, reflecting on the good and the bad, and how we can create a preschool that focusses on those good points and avoids the bad... and why were they bad/good?
We will explore the circles of being a teacher... you can read this post called "What it takes to be a preschool teacher" to find out more. And ending with a presentation about listening... to the children, children-children... and also professional listening as colleagues...
There will be a game to play, possibly two, depending on focus and time.

when I first arrived everything was spread all over the floor, I helped picking things up, and one of the children helped me set the table... that encouraged other children to come and start a orange juice party

furniture was rearranged so that the children could do some colouring in... there was not enough room for all children... but that seemed to be to each child's preferred way of drawing/colouring in

the sandbox with mudkitchen