Friday, 23 February 2018

Hygge in preschool

In my social media feed there has been a noticeable increase in the number of posts about hygge in preschool... as in hygge is a thing that should be done to increase empathy and a feeling of well being.

Hygge is a Danish word... very similar to mysa in Swedish or gemütlichkeit in German


hygge -  a Danish word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.
mysa - is a Swedish word for cozy,  to enjoy a calm atmosphere, often with candles, usually in contact with others. Happy, satisfied, content.

gemütlichkeit a German-language word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance

So to be honest I feel a little concerned when "hygge" is being sort of "marketed" as a pedagogical approach - especially if you ask adults about what hygge is in Denmark they will probably mention beer, spending time with friends in candle lit pubs having a good time and eating food.

Yes I think this feeling of contentment, of wellness, satisfaction and friendliness is something that should be found in all preschools... in all workplaces in fact... I wonder whether hygge is the answer - or whether listening to the children or creating democratic settings where the children are truly valued and value each other. is needed. first.. I mean to achieve "hygge" these things need to be put in place - so why not just talk about these things straight up and not put in that extra word of hygge that needs explaining... and from a Scandinavian point of view seems somewhat strange in an early years setting...
I asked a friend in Norway about the use of the word... and she reacted in the same way as me... that "being polite and friendly" should be an every day thing, creating places of well-being should be a priority for early years settings - no child can learn if they do not feel safe - and young children are learning all the time...

I see posts that write about how you can bring "hygge" into your setting - stating that "within a hygge setting there will be a calm relaxed feel to the play space" - some go on to describe the space in detail with little stimulus on the walls etc and cozy spaces... there should be uninterrupted play... soft lighting... in some posts it looks like a check list... and that concerns me... because if it starts to look like a checklist then there is the risk that it becomes a thing you do rather than a thing you reflect on... hygge as been turned into a product... you know, like something you could get from IKEA... talking of IKEA... you can check out this post - IKEA's lesson on how to create hygge - and, actually, if you follow their rules it would make for a great preschool too... - "express your creativity - share good food with good friends - choose a "me time" spot - make something with your hands - take a break for coffee - make simple things special - set up a pamper station".

of course you could take Vogue's advice and forget "hygge" and follow the Swedish "lagom" approach... another of those words that cannot really be translated... but basically means not too much not too little... and this is also a great approach for a preschool...

All these trends...

preschools/education should not be about trends... it should be about the children - plain and simple.
About creating safe spaces, about creating spaces to play, explore and learn, offering opportunities to interact with people, materials and the world around them (and that includes nature) about listening to understand, about creating spaces of equality where all are valued, about creating spaces that expand the current accepted norms... (this will mean constant dialogues about what the accepted norms are, why they are the norms, and how those not being included in this bracket can be included - not by inviting them in, but by expanding the definition - so the "them and us" feeling is reduced... and wouldn't it be nice if we could get rid of it and became "us"), if we support children to tune into their empathy, to understand their emotions and how to regulate them for their own benefit... so that there is more time for play and learning and less time spent on trying to calm down or deal with hard situations... because we all have a better understanding of each other...

The group of children I worked philosophically with for four years had all of this... they took care of each other, respected and valued each other... and I was a part of that group... we valued each other equally and also valued what we brought to the group as individuals. This is that hygge, mysa or gemütlichkeit... although I would have said that we were never aiming for mysig - except sometimes there was a conscious effort to make a meeting mysig, or a play area mysig - but not for the whole day or the whole preschool environment... I like to provide a setting for a hundred or more learning and play languages... not just the language of hygge...
(not that I am saying that any of these blogs are suggesting that we only speak hygge - my concern is that maybe some practitioners start speaking too much hygge as a thing rather than the "state of being" that it is.)

Hygge - the word has become a bit of a thing since Meik Wiking wrote "Little book of hygge" first published in 2016.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. "Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience," Wiking explains. "It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."
Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.
The above is taken from a description of the book, and this description pretty much sums up mysig also... and I guess every Swede would agree with me on that. But despite that Swedes would agree with me on the meaning of mysa and its similarity with hygge... I think there would be a huge dialogue about whether we wanted "mysiga förskolor" (preschools) - maybe moment of mys, but not a thing that needs to be brought in as a way to teach empathy.

I do think that a discussion about whether mys could teach empathy would be an interesting one... and could possibly result in a new interpretation of what mysig/hygge is...  but I still feel that mysig/hygge comes as a result of the empathy rather than teaching the empathy... of course it will also reinforce the empathy that already exists... its a time of bonding... with family, with friends and why not then with preschool peers? Except maybe you just don't want to be mysig/hygge with all of your peers at preschool? I mean we do not want to cuddle up to everyone... and there is lots of research about how we should not force/make children hug others when they do not want to - and snuggle /cuddle seems a much more intimate version of hug.

Also when talking about Denmark being the happiest people in the world... they kind of forget to mention the fact that it is one of the countires in the world that have the highest consumption of anti-depressants - Mette Davidsen-Nielsen said to the SVT (Sweden's equivalent of the BBC) "we take medicine, drink a lot of alcohol, eat fat and sugar to survive. While we do that we have hygge" ... so she is asked in the interview... "so your drug yourselves into first place of happiness.?".. she answers... "Drugged ourselves to hygge, yes. You could say that. Maybe as a way to survive, not just a way to solve something"

link to the interview with SVT about hygge being an export success - in Swedish but also talks about why UK and USA in their time of insecurity with Trump and Brexit might need the concept of hygge
information on anti-depressants

This Swedish article about hygge being good on long dark winter nights talks about drinking wine, cozy blankets and millions of candles... it also mentions that it is not about achievements, performance or keeping to a tight agenda... which I think schools often have their focus on - getting grades, performing well and keeping to the curriculum - and this academic approach is being pushed down to an ever younger age. Educators in the UK are really having to fight against the lack of play, the lack of appreciation of children's own learning as the focus on academic learning being the learning norm - so maybe, in this sense, the word hygge can be useful to challenge the status quo. But I still think that can be done (challenging the status quo... making change) with all the very many research papers out there showing the importance of play and the problems related to learning and well-being by limiting play in favour for an academic approach.
This is something that is also relevant here in Sweden as the new preschool curriculum will include the word "undervisning" for the first time... a word that translates as teaching/instruction. How can we, here in Sweden, ensure that this "teaching" honours the child's individual learning styles, that play is the main method of exploring the hundred languages of learning... that there is no set agenda about what should be achieved in a specific time, or a focus on academic learning... but on a whole child learning. Where relationships are important - creating safe and respectful settings where all are valued... yes, I am writing that again. It keeps coming back to that...

So, basically, a democratic classroom/preschool is going to be hygge.

Posts that will connect with this idea...
Process not product -  reflecting on the difference between learning and teaching
Learning is fun - a post reflecting that we should not be making lessons fun... but that we should be awakening the joy of learning in each child AND the group as a whole.
Purposeful Play - another post about looking at how a word is becoming a "thing" - are pedagogical trends a good thing?
The Reggio Emilia Approach... short version description - so you get an idea of what sort of preschool I would like, and not a mention of hygge, but I am sure that the state of being in hygge would be achieved in this kind of setting.
Original Learning - how I see learning and play woven toegther
Together-play - how I see together-led play as an essential part of a democratic learning approach... not child led, or adult directed... but where adult and child voices are equally respected.



Monday, 19 February 2018

Is the Swedish preschool in a state of crisis?

There is so much GOOD about the Swedish preschool system... I love the fact that I can take out children anywhere in town without having to fill in risk assessments, and on a whim, the children have said something or whatever and I know  park/place that would allow them to explore these ideas further and I know we have time to do this in a morning... then we are off on the bus/train/boat and reach our destination without blinking an eye.

I love the fact that the preschool curriculum is about evaluating the setting, and reaching goals for the setting to provide quality care and education for the children... and NOT evaluating the children and ensuring the children reach set goals. It gives me the peace of mind that I can support the children at their own pace of development... it means that I, personally, have to be aware of developmental milestones and that I have concerns about a child I know what support I can provide, as a teacher, or request if needed.

I love the fact that ALL preschools cost parents the exact same amount of money... there are not settings that only the wealthy can afford, but that all preschools are available to all children... of course proximity is prioritised... so if you live in a wealthy area then its is more likely that your children will attend a preschool with other wealthy children, and if you live in an area with a high percentage of immigrants then that will also reflect on who attends the preschool... it is, though, illegal to ask for donations, but they can be made on a voluntary basis... I have worked in various parts of Stockholm, and some of the more well off areas have donated money for extra group trips... while other areas have not.
All preschools receive the same amount of money from the state... whether private or state run or parent run... all preschools are financed in the same way.
This is a good thing.

Over the years I have visited preschools and worked in preschools across much of Stockholm... and what has shocked me is the vast difference in quality being offered to the children.
Despite all receiving the same money.

There are Swedish preschool groups on facebook that I have stopped being a part of because of the incredibly negative attitude... not just to the work within preschool, but also towards each other as educators. And it is mostly because of how they treat each other that I opted to leave.









A recent report where studies, primarily from Denmark and Norway (but not all), have been analysed and have shown that preschools are beneficial to children's health, psychological well-being and also do better in school... they do state that the effects are small. Due to the belief that Swedish preschools are similar enough to Norwegian and Danish preschools the report is being said to be relevant for Sweden too.

It takes up the importance of teacher education, it also mentions ratio, amongst other things...

It does not state about what age children should start or how long days... and how these things impact children... whether there is a difference between attending 15 hours a week, like some children do in vast parts of Sweden when they have a sibling at home (except Stockholm, where they can attend for 60 hours a week if they wish) - or if they are attending full time... ie  30-60 hours a week.
Is there an optimal time? is there a number of hours where the effects stop being a benefit and become detrimental for the well-being of the child?

The Guardian's "Great Nursery Debate"  discusses professor Jay Belsky's research into the damaging effects of attending nursery/preschool before the age of two... the measurable stress levels and also the fact that it is much harder for YOUNG children to form deep attachments that are needed for a stable well-being... and this was with their parents as well as their carers/teachers in preschool. Of course he says that these effects are small... just as the previous research mentions... What I found interesting about this article is how this researcher was ostracised for pointing out that preschool/nursery was not beneficial for the very young (he refers to under 2 years of age) and that he was trying to turn back time and tie mothers to the kitchen sink again... it feels a shame that someone cannot speak their mind about the rights of children without others feeling they are infringing on women's rights... ???

Personally I think there are too many children having too long days... especially in a system where it is common to have 4-5 one year olds per educator (and 28% of staff  have NO training within childcare/preschool - although I have met pedagogues without training that have been truly amazing, and teachers with a full degree that I have wondered why they chose this work - oh, and private preschools tend to have 40% without any ECE training).

I have also seen so many educators struggling to offer children the quality they feel children deserve... I have written about this before how there are settings where the director is clearly not giving the staff the support they need to gain the competence, the time for reflection and planning, and developing the setting for the benefit of the children there... it is a case of this is the way it is... a preschool that is a product that the children and educators have to fit into, rather than a preschool that is a process that changes to meet the needs of the children and teachers.

I have the great pleasure of being in touch with some truly amazing and inspiring people who work within the Swedish preschool system. And this is a truly great thing that I appreciate...

I feel this enormous sense of responsibility to listen to these people who are moaning about the Swedish preschool... I assume that they are the ones that are working in a preschool that is not working and there is enormous frustration when there is that feeling that change seems impossible... they are in a hamster wheel. 
I sometimes think that before a person can have their own inspiration ignited they need to be listened to. Just as we do with the children. We need to listen to why they think it is not working, ask them questions to delve into what the real problem is, find ways to allow them to see their own setting with a new perspective, so that change possibilities can be discovered.
I find that if we do not do this first then there is a like a defensive shield... because they are doing their best... I truly believe that all teachers/pedagogues strive to do their best for the children... but if you are stuck in the hamster wheel it is so hard to refuel - and there ends up being a system of putting out fires rather than the proactive fire prevention.
If the shield goes up... and its a protective shield... then it becomes very hard for them to take in new information, to see with new lenses, to be open to change... the educators and children are surviving rather than thriving...

I also feel that sometimes when I write these blogs I am often preaching to the converted - I mean its often people who think like me, or have come even further in their thinking than me... so how do I reach those that are exhausted just by their daily dose of being a teacher... how do I help to re-fuel them?

Sometimes I wish I was really wealthy... because then I would just donate my time to visit settings that wanted my help and I would come in and listen, ask questions, bounce ideas - help them to see their own setting with fresh eyes. But alas I am not... would be nice with a rich benefactor... or if the state thought about investing in people like me to visit and support the most vulnerable preschools. Because I think that is the only way. To truly listen. To validate the situation they are in right now and then to work from that!

The vast majority of Swedish children are institutionalised from a very young age... I mean preschool is an institution... it is adults that make the decisions about the curriculum, about how long days they have at preschool, about the routines, what food they are eating etc etc etc... 
The Swedish School Authority (Skolverket) reports that 83% of all 1-5 year olds are in preschool, ten years ago this was 72% and fifteen years ago it was 59%. 
95% of children between 3 and 5 attend preschool.

This is a HUGE number. So it is crucial that we are offering the best quality preschool we can to all children in all preschools. There should not be the difference between the quality of preschools that there is, I find this totally unacceptable.
The first of the links I shared... the Norwegian/Danish study analysis also points out the need for high quality preschools.
Would it even be ethical to do a study between a high quality and low quality preschool? I mean if we knew it was low quality shouldn't we immediately make changes to improve the quality for the sake of the children?

When I did my masters my final research paper was about quality in preschool... with a focus on Swedish preschools... I did my masters in 2009-2011 - and even then there were concerns amongst the teachers I interviewed that children were spending too long days in preschool and that they were becoming exhausted and struggled to manage their emotions more than those that attended a shorter number of hours per day/week. So I looked into this and found research that said 3 hours a day was enough for children to gain the benefits of preschool, up to six hours did not make any difference, but then over that, especially 8 and more hours a day became detrimental to children's emotional well-being and development. You are welcome to read my paper What is a world class preschool? in order to find out more about this.

Also I think it is interesting to read this article about the positive effects of preschool when there are so many other's about what needs to be improved...
for example one person that shared the study about the benefits of preschool had within the same 24 hour period also shared an article about how Swedish preschools are failing in their ability to ensure all preschools give an equal start... the exact same thing that I stated in my research in 2011, and that I still see now...
So if we know that not all preschools are equal we need to understand that some people working in preschools are not going to say good things. And if we feel that there are too many of these kinds of negative statements... then maybe we should be really really concerned because that might just imply that high quality preschools are in the minority... I hope to god that I am wrong in writing this.

Is preschool a place for parents to put their children while they work? - yes
Is preschool a place for the children to learn? - yes
Do these two needs always support each other? - no

I think if we are creating a space for children's learning then it will be ONLY about the children. Some children need shorter days, smaller groups, need attachment/key-worker on a greater scale than others... but parental needs cannot always allow this. How do we meet the children's needs without making parents feel guilty?

I wish preschool started from the age of 2 rather than one... or that children under two had smaller groups with a higher ratio of teachers... so that they could make those vital relationships, trust and love that creates the best foundation for learning. Max 1:3... so there was more time for physical contact... for the professional love that is so incredibly essential (see Jools Page about Professional Love - she was my mentor while I was doing my masters, and continues to inspire me... her work about professional love had a huge impact on me as a teacher and the need to develop close, genuine and loving relationships with all the children I teach... so that they feel secure, valued and free to learn and play).

I think we need to find what is learning in preschool... it is not just the teaching... it needs to be the care so that the learning can happen and be encouraged pedagogically... it is not just watching the children until the parents return to pick them up either. I have seen both happen... too much teaching to children who are not receptive because they are emotionally not being met (academic focus), and also places where they are being babysat rather than pedagogically inspired to explore and learn - at one of these latter places I was accused of being "pedagogical all the time" just because I was supporting the children's learning and wanted to reflect with co-workers about what I was observing... in fact that is how I started this blog... I dialog with myself when there was no other teacher to talk with.

So are Swedish preschools in a state of crisis...? If we are unable to have a high quality across all preschools, if the correct support is not being given to the directors and teachers in order to meet the setting's goals of the curriculum? If there is a lack of preschool teachers? If some areas have an even harder time of recruiting teachers? That there is not equal access to support for children with special needs/rights... if there is not equal access to professional development... and if this training is not being then properly applied in the setting?

What can be done to help these teacher/carers crying out for help?








Saturday, 10 February 2018

Purposeful Play



Last week I saw this image, courtesy of Marc Armitage at Play  and I felt compelled to take a screen shot to save it... it was a question that I felt I needed to return to.

Today I saw on twitter via another playworker the quote "Almost all creativity involves purposeful play" Abraham Maslow. Bringing me back to the question... what is purposeful play... and is it a thing? And what do we mean by being a thing?

And maybe all of this fits in with the post I wrote yesterday about process and product...
Is the phrase "a thing" referring to the fact that there is a tendency in education to make products of everything? That play is becoming a product rather than a process? That through adult manipulation there is a shift in play and what it means?

Over the years I have explored play and what it means - and have no answers but I have a kind of system of belief that works for me at the moment. But of course my own play exploration means that this will evolve over time too...

but for now, I believe that play is so complex that we cannot define it easily... that there are many kinds of play and that like we need to have a hundred languages of learning as Malaguzzi strived for in the Reggio Emilia Approach, there should be a hundred languages of play.... and hundred is a metaphorical number... it can be so many more.

I believe in offering children a play diversity... where they lead their own play, where I collaborate in their play, where I can (as an adult) inspire or lead their play... where they play alone, together, role-play, risky play, through games, exploration, imagination, indoors, outdoors, with props, without props, sensory, creative etc etc... that play does not have a hierarchy... but that there needs to be a healthy balance... and each child will have their own balance, and that will change over time... their own play diet needs to be varied and forever evolving... it is a process.

But in education we need to have trends... "forest school" "loose-part play"  "digital" etc etc... and I am by far against these things... I think they are extremely important, but they become like a fashion rather than part of the process - a kind of product. And that only concerns me because fashions come and go...
nature should be a part of all people's lives... children need access to it..  but it does not have to be a forest, not all people have a forest, there are many parts of the world that have access to a different kind of natural environment. In Sweden the same sort of "movement" is called "Ur och Skur "- which sort of refers to being out in all weathers (Ur - is outside, skur means showers). I am beginning to think maybe outdoor learning is a better way to phrase what is going on... and instead of a "forest school leader" we have "outdoor learning facilitators" - with the understanding that learning is in the sense of "original learning" where play is naturally and equally woven into the learning fabric.

Purposeful play, the phrase makes me think of Momo. (Michael Ende 1973).. and how children were controlled by the adult controlling their play... the purpose of the play was to make productive citizens...
"None  of Momo's friends escaped the new regulation. They were split up according to the districts that they came from and consigned to various child depots. Once there, they were naturally forbidden to play games of their own devising. All games were selected for them by supervisors and had to have some useful, educational purpose. The children learned these new games but unlearned something else in the process: they forgot how to be happy, how to take pleasure in little things, and last, but not least, how to dream.
Weeks passed, and the children began to look like the time-savers in miniature. Sullen, bored and resentful, they did as they were told. Even when left to their own devices, they no longer knew what to do with themselves. All they could still do was make a noise, but it was an angry, ill-tempered noise, not the happy hullabaloo of former times."
You can check out the whole post I wrote reflecting on this HERE

I have just returned from a recruiting day for preschools in Haninge... I was interested to find out more about the preschools there, and also to see if there is a way to be a part of this process in some sort of way that fits in with the process I find myself today.
It is so refreshing to talk with pedagogues who seem so fully aware of being a part of a process, of evolving and that the children are a part of this process.

I also got to revisit the Border Crossing exhibition (you can read about that here and here - and realise that this is a purposeful play for the pedagogues themselves (and the children). The exhibition has an atelier to explore the analogue and the digital - this could be done with children, but also as groups of educators playing with materials to gain a better understanding of the learning potential of the relationship between materials - and between nature and the digital - that they are not opposing ends of a scale - just as learning and play are not opposites.
ALL the educators in the Haninge preschools have visited the exhibition with intention that they gain a hands on learning, the interconnectedness of play and learning and the world around us.
I also managed to bump into Nettan again there and we talked about the course that she is taking at the moment, with the hope to dig deeper and expand her own thinking... and the disappointment that the learning was happening mostly through reading... or rather exclusively through reading... and that being a Reggio Emilia Inspired course it did not feel appropriate.
I feel that David Hawkins "messing about" that I encountered in Colorado and Canada have really influenced how I think about how we train educators... and has hugely impacted the workshops I hold where I try to involve as many of the learning languages as possible... if educators are being trained in just a few learning languages then how are they going to be able to support children with their hundred languages... the purposeful play will become narrow... while if we are educating adults to use all their languages and learning styles, to discover new ones, then purposeful play will also mean something very different.

If purposeful play is about being a part of a process, I am all for it... but if purposeful play is a about a product that is being marketed to teachers... then I feel apprehensive... how can it then evolve?

I think I need more time to process purposeful play... below are some quotes about play and learning to stimulate my (and your) thinking...









Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Being a bad parent

This is just a quick post about how it feels like I am being a bad parent... it always has done... because I have "that child" is one of my three children.

"That child" who is clearly not always well liked by teachers because he does not behave the way children are expected to behave in school (mostly because he is protesting the fact that he cannot learn the way they teach in the only way he can in a state of over sensory panic)

Until he was almost three I had a calm and content child... so I assumed I had lucked out on having three amazing children... his older twin sisters were/are model school students... they work hard, they know how to say the right things, they are polite and considerate...

Then, suddenly it was like someone flipped a switch - and this child before me seemed to be at war with the world is it did not perform they way he liked it.

Every day when I picked him up from preschool I heard about the things he had not done, the problems he had caused... and I would meet these comments with efforts of trying to do a better job so that they would not be repeated... of course his behaviour in the preschool/school is completely out of my control and power... but it still made me feel like a bad mother... this child of mine was causing problems...
I remember in his final year of preschool when his new teacher said something positive about him... I actually cried... in fact I am tearing up right now... it was so overwhelming to constantly hear negative things about your child that the positive words just made me a ball of emotions...

I also remember getting an angry email from a mother of a child a few years later accusing my son of being mean to her daughter and teasing her. He was calling her fat. Now I knew at the time that my son could say things as they were without adding any value to them... ie that fat was not a negative but simply an observation... for some reason society has place a negative value of fat - so that it has become an insult.
When I asked my son about it he told me that she was fat... (I knew the girl was overweight too) but that he had noticed that when he said that to her she would leave him (he did not notice that she became sad) - the problem had been that she would come and disturb him all the time because he was an English speaker and this fascinated her... and she would follow him all the time and would not leave hi alone when he repeatedly asked her to leave. But she did when he said "you're fat". He used it as a last resort tool to get rid of her, not as a phrase to tease her.
The long angry and abusive letter I got was of the kind that makes you feel like a bad mother... and I had to count to a hundred before answering that one... but I did pointing out the facts of the case, that I would talk to my son about how he was making her feel, but that she also needed to talk to her daughter about not harassing my son - I got no reply from her.

I have to frequently let my son know that certain words and certain phrases might be considered insulting by others - and he is surprised just about every time... sometimes I really need to convince him that the phrase is not appropriate, that even if HE thinks the sentence is not insulting he has to consider how others listening will perceive him.

As he gets older he gets better at this. As we have practiced with more phrases... but it is still an almost weekly event about what can/should be said... from a socially acceptable point of view

Today he came home from school and said (for the first time in many many years... and the tears are coming to my eyes again) that the other children in the class like him.

THEN there is all the stuff about being a good parents and giving your child freedom and letting them decide themselves how much screen time they get and when they go to bed and all of that...

I simply cannot do that... despite the fact that I talk about a democratic classroom and children making decisions... my children's well-being will always come first. There are decisions that I have to make, decisions that are not popular with my son because it means he cannot access screen time like he wants to... which would probably be ALL the time. I need to manage that for him... but as he gets older I see him being more capable of being able to make these decisions for himself... but my child with autism/ADHD is in many ways like a toddler... he might be almost 14 but in some instances his social and emotional reactions are like a toddler... and his decision making skills have been there too.
As he matures he will get more power in the decision making department... based on his ability and his well-being.

Working with toddlers and young children there are many things they want to do, that you know as an adult are not good for them... and that you have to make that unpopular decision so that you know you are working with your child's long term well-being and not being happy for the moment.

I see that he is going to be capable of doing all of this himself... but what maybe the average 11 might be able to manage about screen time management is something my son still struggles with at almost 14... but is getting there. I want him to develop a self regulation so that when he is an adult and I am not there to help him with regulation he will be able to have a balanced life, that he is able to have control over when he plays on screens rather than the screens compelling him to play like an addiction.

There was a time when my son got so aggressive when he played... or more correctly when he finished playing (to eat, to spend time with family, to have a bath, to go outside) that he made family life pretty miserable for everyone... himself included... because all the time he was trying to work out how to get back onto a screen, how to ensure he got more time than his sisters (as they shared) etc etc. So we rationed the time - gave him 10 hours a week that he could decide how he spent those 10 hours - so that somedays after 2 days there was no time left... and he got on with building lego, drawing and doing other stuff... he got the chance to re-discover the non screen things in his room.
Once he had made this rediscovery - in a way was rehabilitated - he gets more freedom... personally I would love to take his smartphone from him, as he is on a screen so so much more than what I would like...
BUT at the same time I see him using the screen to socialise with others... I see how he is great at negotiating, planning, leading in games and extremely generous... and I see this is slowly seeping into real life... he has always been generous, kind and loving... but in the school environment he is often too overwhelmed to be able to show these skills - so far to frequently he has been seen as the opposite.

BUT every now and again I just HAVE to put my foot down and get him off the screen and to do something else... there has to be a variety in his life... not just screen play and learning... but a hundred languages... and its hard to be using all those hundred languages if you are constantly being the language of a screen.

Then there is the whole outdoor bit... and how good parents take their children outside, and that nature is good for them... and how children feel at ease and better outside...
This is not always the case... it is a uphill battle to get my son outside - despite his love of frogs and other creatures... he is not at peace out there... he is literally whining every step of the way when we have gone for nature walks... to the point where as a parent you are literally screaming inside. There have been times where I have had to just walk off and let my husband take over for a while, as my patience has come to an end...
I see other parents taking out their children and having a fabulous time in nature, or museums or other activities... all impossible things for me and my son (but fully possible with my daughters... so we have had to do things where as a family we have had to split up to meet all their needs).

Internet is great... you get access to so much support and so much research... but at the same time it can make you feel like a bad parent because you simply cannot do the simplest of parenting things.

my son, not understanding why he cannot paddle in the freezing fast flowing river

Process not product...

I have written about this before... but from an art/creating point of view - you can read that post here ...
This post, though, is going to be a focus on life processes, and the process of preschools/education.
There is a new curriculum ,or rather an updated curriculum, that is coming out here in Sweden soon... and we have been given the chance to read the suggested curriculum and submit our reflections - right now there is a period of these reflections being analysed - and hopefully addressed and utilised in the final rendition of the curriculum.

I have my concerns about the curriculum having a bigger focus on teaching and on digital media - as it takes away from the children's learning and the diversity of media available to the children...
My recent post Mediums explores that... I feel that if a specific medium is being mentioned that many times then there is a clear message being sent that this is a preferred medium, or has a higher status than other mediums. It is apparent, through images on social media, that digital media gets more recognition and appreciation than many other mediums... and yes there is much that is amazing with digital tools... but it should not be a thing in itself, which I sometimes think it is becoming, but just part of the process of learning and play and life. It needs to be relevant and meaningful... it needs to be a part of the process and not a product... it needs to be a language of learning and not a lesson/event to say we have the digital covered.

Sometimes, well maybe often, I feel that the education system is a product rather than a process. And I feel the more we focus on the teaching the more of a product it is going to be... the more we talk about getting ready... for school, for adult life etc - the more it is going to be a product to achieve these things.

As educators (as humans) we need to be in a state of process all the time.
I need to be thinking about my thinking and how that applies to the children I interact with and the people I work with. I need to be in the process of evolving. I see the children are in this state... of being in the process of learning about themselves, each other and the world... and the world is constantly evolving, so we all need to be evolving with it. So if the preschool/education system is more like a product it is not going to be able to adapt with the world.
I think teaching creates a more product state of mind... while facilitating the children's learning is more of a process - as it is more open ended, more flexible.
For me, teaching is like one of those battery operated toys with fixed outcomes - there are set books, there are set ideas, there are right and wrong answers, and testing. The teaching is about meeting the needs of the school and society... of getting grades... or preparing young children for school - it is a product. While facilitating the children's learning means abandoning your adult agenda and embracing a democratic approach to learning, where the educators acts as a guide, listens and learns with the children... supports the children to develop their own ideas and share them with others, enables the children to reach their potential through a variety of learning languages... using many mediums, where digital is just one of many but does not carry more status. Because if we value some learning languages/media more than others the children are going to pick up on that and will value certain learning styles more than others - it means we have created a community where there is not equal value... because more value has been given to those children who learn through a digital language...

As we do not know what the future holds... we need to ensure that children have access to all their "hundred languages" as described by Malaguzzi... and I strongly believe that these languages should not be ranked. Especially when we are striving to create an education system that is based on democratic values, as are the Swedish preschool and school curriculums.

There also needs to be a process during the days, the weeks, the months and years... the the children, the educators and for the setting itself. There needs to be a kind of interconnectedness - for example I would not simply use digital media if there was no reason to... or just because it is cool, or it is required part of the curriculum... I will use digital media because it makes sense in our explorations of a project the children and I are exploring together... for example when exploring "listening" we explored with our whole bodies, all our senses, with a huge range of materials... inside, outside trying, as educators, to provide as many learning languages to approach this project... could we discover something new if a different language was used... did different children shine in their ability to express themselves, how did each language affect the individual or the group as a whole - were there any languages that felt out of range for the children at this moment... was there a way to support the children to acquire skills to master this language, or was it due to physical or cognitive maturity and thus time was needed?
My plans for a term would be enormous... as they would be a list of possibilities... not all would be done.. as the children took us down different paths and more things got added to the list of possibilities. It is like when I prepare for a philosophy session... I prepare with a great many possible questions, knowing I will not have the time to ask them all, trying to think of the many possible directions the dialogue could go, to try and prepare myself not to have a fixed agenda... and then also to be open to the possibility that I have not thought up the follow up questions that the children need me to ask, because my thinking has not taken the same direction as theirs... I need to be a in a state of process.

I think this is hard to do, when there is such a product feel within the education system... and yet there is the demand that educators should encourage child participation, child influence, that they should listen to the children, that the children are active in their own learning... and yet there is the focus on teaching, not the learning. How can teachers meet the expectations of creating a process learning when they are forced to work in a product system?

We should not be teaching subjects, but sharing knowledge, and sharing where we can find knowledge, and how to critically reflect on this knowledge we find.
We should not be teaching children how to do things, but enabling them to learn or master it for themselves in their way..

So instead of asking yourself how do you teach a child to read and write... we should be asking how does a child learn to read and write - and then support that process. Not take a teaching product and implement it in the classroom, or the lesson (and there are plenty of such products (or methods) for preschools - so it is not just schools). I also think that with the new preschool curriculum having a bigger focus on "teaching" now there might also be a bigger trend to more of these products entering the preschool world here in Sweden too.
The more focus there is on the teaching, rather than on the learning... the more focus there is on the teacher and not the child... also the more expectation of what the teacher has to do for the child... and there is not more time given to educators to meet all these "must have to's"  - hence the need for products as time savers. it does not matter that policies and curriculums have written down the child is central in their learning, if we are creating an education system that is rigid and needs to produce children who get grades... its all about the product/the end result and not about the learning. it is about the teaching and the teachers leading the children and not about a democratic classroom.

Of course if you are looking at how children learn, and trying to meet that process, there also needs to be time invested to understand both individual and group needs. And sadly time seems to be one of those things that is been constantly robbed from educators.

Original Learning is something I feel should be a part of the educational system.. a lifelong approach to learning - where play is a natural and valued part of the learning. And of course play is going to evolve with the child... what/how my teenage children play now is very different from how they played as young children... but they continue to learn through play, they continue to need play as part of their balanced diet of learning.

Below are a few quotes that I feel are important to this process of thinking... as this is a process... and is still very much requiring more thought...











Thursday, 1 February 2018

Philosophical photos 3.

Continuing the series of using photographs as a stimulus for critical and creative thinking with children... here come some more photos with suggested questions and activities to get children (and yourself) reflecting together and deepening their own understanding of their perspectives...

Again the photographs come from the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm, where I sit right now in their café with one of the best views over Stockholm.

The first image is taken using a panorama effect, so looks slightly curved... at the end of this blog is another image of the same photo taken at an angle, just in case you think the slight curve of the image is distracting.

You do not need to ask ALL of the questions... choose the ones you think are the most appropriate for the group of children/students you work with

Nick Veasy - Inside Out
Questions.
How many people can you see on the bus?
How many are children?
How many are women? How do you know that they are women?
if people look the same on the inside - how can we tell who is who?
if we are so much alike on the inside why are some people excluded because of how they look?
Would living in an x-ray world make it a better place for everyone? why?
Do you think the people on the bus are happy.
Do you think they know each other?
Where do you think they are going?
Are they all going to the same place?
would you like to be able to see the world like this, with x-ray eyes? Why?
what if it was x-ray glasses? Would you like to wear them?
if you could only see in two colours, which two colours would you choose? Why?
if

activities
the book, "Bone by Bone: comparing animal skeletons" by Sara C Levine
draw round each child on a big piece of paper and allow the children to fill in their skeleton to create a x-ray
paint with white on black paper to create x-rays (if you check Nick Veasy you will find he x-rayed very many things from mobile phones to airplanes - any of this can be inspiration)
outside you can use sticks on other natural materials to create skeletons  either outside, or bring them inside and paint white


Chen Man.
This photo is called "Conversation"

Questions
why do you think this photo is called conversation?
what is a conversation?
How do you have a conversation with another person?
Do these people look like they are having a conversation?
Do you think they are talking with out words?
can you talk without words?
Do others understand you then?
can you read other people's thoughts?
Do you think that would be a good thing to read other people's thoughts? What do you think the benefits would be?
what do you think the problems would be?
would you like someone else to be able to read your thoughts?
What do you think these two people are having a conversation about? what makes you think that?
Would you like to join in their conversation? Why?

activities
mirror game - sit opposite a friend and one leads and the other mirrors the actions - is this a kind of silent conversation?
sit in silence in a circle... can you hear each other's thoughts?
yoga
charades (communicating without verbal words)
explore sign-language
draw a picture of two people having a enjoyable/angry/sad conversation


Extra image of the bus, plus an image of batman in x-ray and also a smart-phone



is this a phone skeleton? or is a phone more like an insect, with an exo-skeleton?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Mediums...

It is the last few days that we, here in Sweden, can reflect and contribute our ideas, thoughts and reflections on the new proposed preschool curriculum before decisions are made and the curriculum is presented.

So I have been taking another look, reading, thinking, counting words - to see if that will help... and actually it does, sometimes you have a focus on a word that you think is not being mentioned enough or being used too much - so counting how often words are used can give you a healthy reality check... and sometimes it lets you know that your suspicions were sort of correct.

This post is focussing on the term mediums... because there are many mediums for learning... and in the curriculum we are encouraged to use many when working with young children. There is though a focus on using the digital medium. I wonder why there is this need to specify the digital - several times the curriculum writes - digital and other mediums (or something similar). Why is only the digital medium ever specified... surely the term medium is something that is discussed in the teacher training programmes, and that the digital tool is one of many tools that can be used to support children's learning across the curriculum.

By singling out "digital" are we giving this medium more status than others...
if we are talking about equality, diversity, equal value and democracy in the curriculum... then maybe the same should be done with the words and mediums being chosen.

This time I chose to count words in the second section - about aims and guidelines ( I would like to pint out that in Sweden we do not have aims for children, but aims for the education, care and the setting).
In this section the term "learning" is mentioned seven times more than "play/imagination" and six more times than "explore/discover", three more times than "care", twelve times more than "create". It is also used two and half times more than "communication/conversation" and 8 times more than "listen/reflect/question".

Yes, this is a curriculum so maybe learning should have the highest level... but in this count I have excluded the words, teach, education, develop etc... it is purely learn.

How does this all impact us as educators?
the more we read/hear a word, the more importance it is given. Why is the word play not used more often as a method of learning throughout the text... in the same way that digital is being used?
Play is a medium of learning.
Why is art (dance, music etc) not being used as a medium of learning... but just as one mention as part of creating... which is mentioned twice (skapande/skapa - not the kind of create in the sense of us educators creating a learning environment - but the children being creative with the arts as a way of learning).

I posted yesterday about how art allows children to look more closely, to explore an object or project in a new way... and yet this is not conveyed in the preschool curriculum in the same precise way that digital learning is being - why digital? Why? (you can read that post here - The art of learning)

I am all for using both digital and analog as tools of learning. But will the focus on digital in the curriculum as a medium mean that there is a biased focus on this particular medium? it is clear from images shown on social media that settings that show their digital mediums in action get a great deal of praise... and yes, it is amazing... it is such a fabulous medium to work with... but I can't understand this power it is being given in the curriculum. Why is the word play not given that same power as a medium, why is music and art, and movement not being given that same power.
A medium equality (jämdställdhet) - a medium diversity (mångfald). Mixed media. 100 hundred languages.

if we are focussing on certain languages on certain mediums, it means we are closing off our listening to the other languages, the other mediums. We need to keep ourselves open to the children's languages learning so that we offer mediums of learning that will allow them to enhance the skills, knowledge etc that they possess, challenge them in their weaker "languages" as well as introduce them to new "languages" - all at the same time as honouring the identity of the child, the group, and the community.

I have to admit that it concerns me that some areas are being lifted more than others... for me this should be a part of the teacher training and not the curriculum.






The Reggio Emilia Approach... the short version

Unlike many other pedagogies the Reggio Emilia Approach does not have specific models or written methods and thus makes it more tricky to define - especially if you want to keep it short... and over the years this has been a request I have heard being asked often. So below is my attempt to describe it as short as I can...



For me it is an approach that has come from the need to allow children to think critically and creatively and to form their own opinions and not just follow what others tell them... but to evaluate and make informed choices. Born out of the need to ensure that the citizens of Reggio Emilia do not follow a fascist blindly again. (The approach started in a town called Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy, at the end of the second World War... the fascist was Mussolini).

To "do" this approach one needs to listen..

  • to the children, to understand what they already know, to comprehend their abilities so that the learning can occur appropriately. To listen to their ideas, to their interests and to value them as citizens. To create a democracy within the learning environment.
  • to parents - to better understand the whole child
  • to colleagues - to have many perspectives - to better understand the child, to better understand the learning, to better understand what is needed to meet the needs of the children and to better understand your own teaching style.
  • to the process - focus on the how and why, not the product. The process will teach you so much more about how the children learn, their interests, the learning languages and skills etc than the product ever will
  • to the room - both the indoor learning space and the outdoor - how does it help/hinder the children in their learning, is it making the children dependant on adults or independent and capable, does it provide interactions with materials and social etc... in this way the learning space becomes a third teacher... and extra colleague.
  • to research - to be continuously exploring what research has to offer to better improve your own skills as an educator. Not just research within education but on a broader sense - psychology, neurology, sociology etc etc - all of this will allow the teacher to gain a more complete and more nuanced understanding of learning in the world today.
  • to the world - to understand that the world is always evolving, this means that the children we interact with as educators are also evolving... not only as individual children, but as a group, and also as a reaction to the society they find themselves in. This means we need to listen to the needs/direction of the society the child finds themselves in, we cannot simply lift something that works in one community and place it in another community... we need to listen to what aspects are needed to make it work for these children, in this setting, in this community...
To help with the listening we document - we take notes, photos films etc and use these to support reflections. Reflecting is a part of listening, a part of understanding.
These documentations and reflections can be shared,  also as publications (a finished product of reflections and images etc), with the parents and with the children. The democratic approach means that the children participate in the documenting and the reflections - it is not just a process that is done by the teachers for the children - or for the parents to prove what the children are learning.
It is a way to make the children's learning visible so the children can evaluate, understand, reflect and think critically - but it also makes it visible for the educators and the parents so that they can evaluate and understand the children, the learning and their own impact.
These understandings become the basis of launching new learning opportunities and styles.

There is a clear focus that the child is competent... and not simply an empty vessel to be filled by the teacher. This is why we need to listen to the child... what do they already know, understand? What are they already capable of... how can I, as a teacher, build on this foundation. How can I, as an educator, facilitate the children in their learning. How can I encourage the children to build a community of learners... where the children learn from each other and value and respect each other - that it is not just the teacher's voice that weighs the most... that all voices are equally valued.

There is a focus on the 100 languages of learning and play - that there is not a one size fits all approach to learning - each child has multiple ways of learning, and each child will have preferences for which languages they feel most comfortable to learn with. For me, the Reggio Emilia Approach is about making available all the learning languages for all the children - to help them discover and develop ones that are less often used, so that they can expand their learning opportunities, as well as allowing them to refine those they feel comfortable using. This can mean a project can be explored in many ways - so that new discoveries can be made through different learning languages being used. Music, art, science, math, language, stories, play, kinaesthetic, visual, social, etc etc.

Democratic... this I have already mentioned... but as an educator we are co-learners, co-documenters - we have equal value as all the children... as an adult we have gained more life experience and more knowledge across the board which we share with the children, and act as a guide. But we also allow ourselves to be guided by the children and their experiences and their knowledge... as they have taken different paths from ourselves and can share new wisdoms with us. We need to be open to that.
It is not about following the child, but walking with the child/ren on a learning journey together.
It is a relationship with the children, with learning, with play, with exploration, with democracy etc etc...

So if I am to keep it short... the above is what I would include...
if you wish to read more... then the following posts I have written over the years might be helpful...



Listening and reflection








Co-learners, co-researchers, democracy









The Third Teacher






Documentation






The Competent Child