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


Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The art of learning - part one.

Over the weekend I have been in London with my daughters... we spent a morning in the Natural History Museum, and it has inspired this post...
I read the following...




 Which made me think of the Reggio Emilia Approach and the focus of the art studio/atelier as a language of learning. Using drawing and art as a method to look closer and to explore. This is something I have done over the years - myself as a child, and also as an educator. Art and creative expression has always been a strong path of exploration.

Below are some photos with comments about this art of learning...


In this session we explored the buildings of Stockholm... first the children explored google images to find a building that caught their attention and wanted to draw (as part of a background for a film we were making). The image was then printed out and the children drew and coloured them.
It gave the children an opportunity to explore architecture and how it has changed styles over history - as some chose building several centuries old, while some chose building that were decades or even a few years old. We saw the different shapes, and different purposes... gone were the basic square house with triangle roof.
We also took trips out to "find" their building in real life. To understand the size. The children developed an attachment not only to their own building choice but to all of them drawn by the group... and the parents all gave feedback on this that the children had become more interested in buildings, showed pride and knowledge about their buildings and the group's buildings and also had a greater understanding of the layout of the city that they lived in. So much learning triggered by drawing buildings... so much interest and curiousity sparked into wanting to know more





drawing maps was also a great way to develop a greater understanding of their local area... each child, together with their parents, drew a map of their route to preschool. We then created 3D maps with loose parts, and then also followed the map to each child's doorstep. The children learned so much about representation... about how they could draw a route, how buildings could be represented as squares etc. This encouraged the children to draw more maps, and also ultimately to start making their own designs/plans.
using a photo as a background enabled a child to better sort design ideas. To think about perspective, even if not fully able to use it yet. To think about the idea that people need to get from one side to another. This was the first of many designs that became more and more refined. Drawing became a way of learning how to incorporate all ideas, or of all ideas were worth incorporating or even feasible.


a vase of flowers in front... to learn that flowers are not always a circle with five petals around it... that there are many ways to draw flowers... as there are many different kinds of flowers... this is image one, where the child discovered that the first big flower made it hard to draw the whole bouquet... the solution was to draw extra flowers in the centre of the first large one... 
drawings can be a way to document a day, this is the drawing of my daughter aged 3.5 remembering the playground where she had been playing. I simply wrote down the words she instructed me to write.
learning to draw... both images are drawn by the same child - with a HUGE amount of frustration in between. The child was not happy with the fact that the drawing did not look like a cat, but a sun instead. So we took some deep breaths and I guided the child through the process... slowing things down and helping to sort out what could be seen. What shape is the head, how many eyes, and where are they, where do you find the nose, what shape is it, where is the mouth, is it happy or sad, what about ears... are they in the same place as your ears... can you see anything else that you want to put on your drawing (whiskers).
Afterwards the child was extremely pleased. This child needed support to take the time to observe and break down the observations into manageable pieces of information to draw.
learning to observe... not to just draw a horse with four legs because you know that horses have four legs... but to take the time to draw what you see... not all children could see all four legs depending on where they were sitting. This was a way to learn about perspectives... that we can all look at the same thing but see it in a different way.

the primary learning might not always be about the object or subject... it can be the social interactions... what happens when several children draw together... which side of the paper is up? How do the children collaborate so all ideas are represented... how do the children negotiate the space so all can reach... inspiration images were given (you can see a little of one to the left) but it was up to the children to work together how to be inspired and what to include... using previous knowledge of maps and buildings.

taking plans outside and drawing in a new way... plans on paper can help children learn to an extent... but using new methods the children are able to deepen their own learning... is their space for everything, do some things get in the way, why are they in the way.


using drawing to explore ideas... this was drawing how we listen. Instead of just talking about listening the children explored their ideas themselves through art and then explained their art to each other. This enabled the children to sort their thoughts - a bit like taking notes to a meeting, except this was with pre-writers.


drawing BIG outside - this is a drawing of me... the children drew round me in the gravel... they have then added wings as a way of transforming me into a fairy.



Sadly this post had a whole load more images, with notes about self portraits and other drawing  situations... but the images just kept disappearing and moving... so I took it as a sign that they should be saved for another day. When this sore throat of mine has gone and there is more time to reflect on the concept of the art of learning.





Wednesday, 24 January 2018

neurodiversity in a world of the neuro-norm

The more I read and learn about neuro-diversity the more overwhelming it starts to feel.

There are articles about it, and reactions to the articles... but what I feel the most is that "us and them" approach of which I feel absolutely no connection to whatsoever... I simply don't get it... and that can be part of my neuro-diversity in the sense that all these us and them definitions have been strange for me to truly comprehend... class, gender, race etc etc because first and foremost I see myself and everyone else as human, but understand that these definitions exists, and what they mean I just don't get why people over aeons put so much belief and energy into maintaining the "us and them".

It just gets in the way.

With neuro-diversity  there is often this concept that we need to fix the child/person with the diagnosis. That this individual needs to manage their behaviours in order to fit in... when in reality it is more about trying to manage (cope) with everyone else's behaviours so that we don't freak out, meltdown or withdraw/become exhausted.

Yet the focus continues to be on giving these children tools and more tools to be able to participate in a society that has absolutely no interest in widening the neuro norms (well all the norms really).
The neuro-norms need to be widened.. "neuro-typical" (haha, I mean typical, is that just another word for normal, maybe I should just write neuro-norm as in the accepted way to be wired to be an approved member of society) - the neuro-norm need to address their responsibility in all of this...
children/people simply do not behave... we react. We are a series of interactions to the world around us - the people, the nature etc etc. So the neuro-norm is having a huge impact on the neuro-diverse (well really if it is diverse, then we are all part of that diversity and thus our first break down of the "us-them").

We need to all work together. Sure those who struggle to fit into the neuro-norm need tools and support in order to understand and interact with those labelled neuro-typical - but I say the same is the case for the neurotypcial, they also need tools and support to understand the neuro-divergent.

Working philosophically with young children enabled us all, children and adults alike, to learn to truly listen and understand each other, understand that we are all different and that we do not have to agree on everything, learning how to challenge other people's ideas respectfully... not to prove yourself right, but as part of a shared learning process...
this enabled us to appreciate each other, but also to be open with each other. Children having meltdowns, or reacting violently/strongly were not being isolated, instead the children in the group took responsibility for each other... they tried not to create those situations that would stress their neuro-divergent peers/friends, they would develop strategies to help soothe if a meltdown occurred, and they learned not to take personal offence if an arm swung out - although they would comfort each other if they felt sad due to the hurt. The neurodivergent always took responsibility and would apologise and I would support that child to work out what the trigger was so we could find ways to keep such outbursts to a minimum.
It also required dialogues with parents - to use accepting language at home, to ensure parents were not encouraging their child to isolate other children, to be aware of their own language about children/people who struggled to exist within a narrow neuro-norm world.
It cannot be just something that happens in the classroom/preschool... as the children bring so much of their home-lives with them every day.

Over the years I have had parents talk to me about "that" child and about how they should not be in the preschool, or how they should be doing other activities. I understand the need to protect your own child - but I strongly believe that the best way to protect your child is to understand the neuro-diversity and to create play and learning spaces where we can all co-exist - not the neuro-norm thriving and the neuro-divergent trying to survive.
There are those that will tell me that my son should attend another school (parents and teachers) - which is not even an option as there are not enough spaces in the kind of school my son would thrive in (autism/ADHD) and we have been on the waiting list for 4 years now. And I know they tell me this stuff not just out of concern for my son, but because they are afraid that he is robbing time and energy from the other children's education.
Which in a way it does... because all the time they are trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, which is a complete and utter waste of time... why not make a square hole - it might take a little more time to make that hole in the first place, but once done, then all children and the educators can get on with learning and thriving.

For all the talk about the unique child and individual learning - there is very little quality effort being put into training educators about children who struggle to comply with the norm - they are simply educated for the norm and made aware of the rest...
EVERY SINGLE EDUCATOR I have met in connection with my son, and also at settings I have visited/worked at with children who struggle to fit in with the neuro-norm have complained that they do not know enough, they lack the competence to meet the child's needs. There is also sadly not enough time for most of these educators to learn about making a learning environment that is suitable for a neuro-diverse class/group.

It takes time. Time to learn. Time to listen to each child... as one child with autism will not be alike another child with autism - there are SO many variation. We need to take the time to listen to each child's variations... their strengths, their interests and their challenges. So that we can motivate each child, awaken their inner joy to learn - not make learning a grindstone.

I mean when we were in school we all had a favourite subject that we were good at, that came easy... and then there was that subject (or subjects) that we struggled with... Imagine if everyday you had a quadruple lesson of the one you struggled with and only half a lesson of your favourite (and that is if you managed to perform well in the quadruple lesson) - it is hardly going to light your learning fire, in fact it is going to outright de-motivate you...
This is how it is for many neuro-divergent children in school. They are trapped in the struggle - and they learn to disengage from school-learning.

What made you struggle with that subject? Was it lack of interest? Why was it not interesting, how could it have been made interesting? Was it because it was hard? How could it have been made more comprehensible to you? Was it because of the teacher? Was the teacher boring and uninterested in the subject? Was their a bad chemistry between you and the teacher (and the rest of the class). Was the class noisy or hard to learn in? - There are so many reasons... and so many possibilities to making adjustments.

I think there are lots of tools out there that can help
BUT they will only help if you have first listened to the child to find out what sort of help is needed. Putting a weighted vest on a child because you have heard that this helps children with ADHD or autism is not enough... you need to know the child, to understand that this could be a possible help, and why does it help... and to always always always have the motivation that it helps the child with their learning, and is not about keeping the child quiet and contained so the other children can learn.

if you are focusing on the child thriving... then the whole group will thrive. If you are focusing on containing the child so the classroom is quiet and behaving as the school norm requires... then you are setting yourself up for a bumpy road. And to be honest if the school system is always trying to get everyone to fit the one size all school norm then really the whole idea of unique child and individual learning is nothing but words...

What needs to happen is that the school norm needs to change. Not the children. Social norms need to change for a massive variety of reasons - far too many people are being discriminated against, are not being able to access an adequate education, simply because they do not fit the school norm.

I was able to make myself fit in... my daughters are also able to fit in... I could make school work, but it got harder and harder the older I got... maybe others did not notice, but the emotional and psychological strain of being in a classroom with so many other people that that made noises, made smells or could not keep still was an extra layer of energy above the learning. Then the learning - I remember verbal and listening exams were really really overwhelming - for a start I am a visual listener so just listening to a tape of language is making it extra hard to understand - I would miss stuff because I was panicking about trying to listen (and I thought everyone was like me, so i thought we were all in the same situation - it is only now that i realise that not all people panic in this way... but still enough to make this an unfair way of testing someone's ability to understand a language or other facts) - Telephones are hard for this exact same reason.
Another part of the listening was radio - I cannot listen to the vast majority of radio programmes where they talk... even some podcasts 8they tend to be slightly better). For some reason the sound quality of the spoken voice on radio is different - it vibrates in a completely different way to the extent that I feel it... its not pain, it is discomfort and it makes me feel sick (if you have restless leg syndrome... its like that... not pain, but almost). This meant that during lessons where we had to listen to a radio show (supposedly a fun thing) I always had to concentrate on my physical well-being that it was so much harder to concentrate on the content. Again I though all people experienced this.
My husband struggles with the radio, as he loves listening to radio shows - and for YEARS - yes years he refused to believe me because it made absolutely no sense to him... and also it has taken me years to work out how to best communicate this to him. My daughter's having the exact same problem with the radio and being able to back me up on the feeling has helped. he no longer thinks I am just crazy (I definitely have my crazy moments).
And this is a huge part of the problem - this lack of understanding. Finding out that I am on the autism spectrum did not mean I understood myself better - I know who I am - but what it did was allow me to understand everyone else... that for me I am neurotypical and the rest are neurodiverse... afterall I am used to with the way I think and interact and experience the world... everyone else is different.
Teaching and learning requires connection. It requires empathy. But if we are not able to connect or understand how another thinks then this empathy is not going to develop. The "neuro-norm" has to take the time to think about how the "neuro-diverse" perceive and interpret the world - and vice-versa. But through observations of my son, it takes him so much longer to learn this social stuff because he is trying to survive all the time in a world that does not always flow the way he does... so if the neuro-norm took the time to understand, to make adaptions, to accept, to make appropriate accommodations, to support, then there is a better chance that the neuro-diverse will have the energy to learn about the neuro-norm... and we can create the "mwe" instead of them and us.
Mwe... me/we... we are individuals in a community. What we do to support individuals will help the community, what we do to support the community will help the individuals... but there needs to be equality, and respect, openness, value and participation for this to work...
which brings me back to the philosophical dialogues... a metacognitive approach - from preschool and right through school... it should not stop.. ever.
A constant dialogue, a constant participation and respect. A constant attempt to listen to understand rather than listen to answer (which I think the school system tends to focus on... listen to answer, do the test, perform right, behave appropriately etc).
We need to be a community of learners - where all learning languages are valued.

I have written about the unique child before... and I am not keen on this phrase... mostly because I think it lets people think we are dealing with these issues, that we see the individual and met their needs. Its like a veneer covering the reality of the school system underneath. And we will never have a school system that truly meets the needs of all children, the full range, the whole spectrum - our glorious human diversity, unless we dare to rip down that veneer and change what is under.

We need to see lesson plans, weighted-vests, fidget spinners etc etc not as fix it all to make classrooms work... but merely as possible strategies for the child to use. Not all strategies are going to work for all children... and if the strategy has been put in place to manage the class the child will eventually see through it. Also a strategy is not going to work for ever... children develop, evolve and there needs to be a constant dialogue with the child and their parents... and the whole class about how we can make this work.


I can go on... but I think this is enough for one post...






and there is not just the stereotype of gender... there is also the stereotype of ADHD and autism etc... it is time to break through this stereotype and see the CHILD


Sunday, 21 January 2018

Putting out fires...

Over the years I have both worked at various early years settings and visited/observed settings - one of the things I have noticed in some preschools is that they have an approach which I call "putting out fires" (släcka bränder)..
this is an approach where the educators come in actively when the children are having problems to put out the heat of the argument, fight or whatever the problem is between the children. What I have observed is that these educators often have to work very hard putting out fire after fire, and there is a sense of chaos, and many children who are in "need" of support.

What I prefer is a fire prevention approach.
This is an approach that focuses on enabling the children to develop the skills they need to work out their own problems, scaffolding their social development an their relationships, supporting the children with their self regulation - empowering the children. This means the children spend more time playing and less time in negative arguments, as they are able to resolve issues in a positive way (even if they can be passionate about their cause). The children are also empowered because they do not need an adult to put out the fire, as the heat of the disagreement is manageable for them.

Why does the "putting out fire" approach develop? I am not entirely sure, but my guess (through observation) is that there is this desire that children should be happy (see my last post - Learning is fun) - so rather than focussing on giving the children the skills to collaborate, to compromise and to self regulate (which will involve a full range of emotions) there is the focus that each child should be happy... this is not something that is possible - what makes one child happy can make another miserable...
I have observed children who behave in a way that is not socially acceptable... they hit and say things that offend the other children (and sometimes the adults too) - and instead of supporting this child to self regulate and to become a part of the group the adults come in and say no, take the child away and do something else with them... sometimes the something else is more fun that the original activity - and for me this is only re-enforcing the behaviour - of course the child is going to do things is s/he is rewarded.
Why do I think this happens... because there is a fear that this child will be sad, or break the child's self-esteem. But real consequences are not going to break a child's self esteem if they are fair - by taking the child to the side and sitting with them, doing nothing other than being there waiting for them to calm down and then explain that I, as an adult; do not accept how s/he treats others and that every time they behave this way we will step to the side to calm down and think about how we could better interact with peers... and at the same time doing activities in small groups that enable self regulation to develop. It is my responsibility to ensure other children are not being hit or offended (kränkt) - and this means taking the offender away until they feel calmer and gain control over their emotions in order to interact with other. I must find out why this child is behaving this way and meet those needs. Not just try to make the child happy in the hope that will stop the behaviour.

Part of the reason for the "putting out fire" approach is that the educators lack the competence - they need the support of their director/head teacher (förskolechef) to give them the training they lack to be able to support the children's needs.

Another reason is that there seems to be a fear of adult intervention - that children learn through play - which is true to an extent, but they still need us as adults to facilitate their learning, to provide the social tools they need to interact positively with others, to learn about the norms and also how to expand these norms to be more inclusive. Letting children just play is not going to adequately support the children in their development - to learn self regulation, to develop good listening skills, to deepen their social understanding of the world. This will mean that the children will be more dependant on the adults to solve these problems for them, as they do not have their own skill set... so the adults need to provide opportunities that are safe to practice their social skills and fort he children to reflect on them individually and together as a social group - in this way the children will be empowered... and there is a kind of fire prevention - or a firewall created that does not let the heated arguments/emotions get out of control.

Another observation of the "putting out fire" approach is that the adults are listening to answer rather than listening to understand - they hear the words of the children but are not fully comprehending what the children are meaning. For example the environment will be set up for children... but not the children they are working with... so the adults are constantly trying to battle with a third teacher who is working against them rather than working with them. The third teacher creates problems/fires rather than soothes or extinguishes... for example having a space that is a room AND a corridor at the same time can be problematic for children who struggle focussing, or need small spaces with few distractions to feel safe - and then these children act out. The educators then react to the acting out (time and time again) rather than setting up the room to ease the situation (fire prevention)

Another explanation can be that there is the need to meet the curriculum requirement of "child influence" which I sometimes think has been misinterpreted - it is not about letting the children choose whatever they want to do - especially on an individual level (and I have seen this where some children are allowed to do whatever they want, experiment with things in an almost destructive way, because that is what they want... with no regard to the rest of the group).
For me child influence is about getting the children involved together, about me listening to them, not just their words, but also what is being unsaid. It is about creating a community of learners where the children are aware of each other's needs and can make decisions together that are do-able.

Last week when I was working with the board of children in Gävle I handed over the reigns t the children to design a game - at first the children were quiet and my colleague kept wanting to help them (despite me saying that we should not be afraid of that awkward silence at the beginning of the meeting)... it took 6 minutes for them t get into the flow... but in this time my colleague tried to help twice... my strategy was to write the time we started in my documentation and give at least 15 minutes of silence if needs be... but time feels different when it feels awkward... I could see that it was not much time, my colleague could not... and her well-meaning meant that she wanted to stop the children feeling uncomfortable. I think this happens a lot in learning situations.... children are not given enough time to get going on their own, so they will need longer as they are not used to it especially as there was no designated leader (which the adult usually takes)
Another reflection from this session is that of the role of leader - at the end I asked if they thought there was a leader - all the children said no, because they had all made decisions and they had all come up with ideas. In my observations it was clear there was a leader. When I mentioned that a good leader is not a person that has all the ideas or makes all the decisions but guides everyone to do that together there was a change of heart and they pointed out the same person I had also identified as leader. For them leader was synonymous with decision maker - which I think comes from the fact that the teacher/educator is often seen as the leader of a classroom and a clear decision maker rather than a facilitator of the children's learning, their ideas and enabling them to make active decisions about their own learning.

It is in this way I refer to child influence (barn inflytande) that we re-examine how the word leader is being used, work out who is making the decisions, and what kind of decisions are being made, and also whether the reasons for these decisions are being shared with the children. I think it is essential to share with the children why there are certain safety rules put in place, why we have lunch at certain times together, why there is rest time... the benefits - and to allow space for the children to talk about these.

This way the children can explore their own influence on the setting. They understand the educators are not just decision makers, but are trying to create a space that allows the children the freedom to explore through play, to evolve as a social being and to understand the world around them... to make sense of it all... not to be controlled.

The "putting out fire approach" is much more about adult control... as we are trying to control the fire that the children have created... despite the fact that I think this approach often is based in the belief they are giving children control.

You would not put a person behind the wheel of a car and let them learn how to drive themselves. The person needs to understand the theory, the practice... needs to be guided... for their own sake and the sake of others...
in the same way children should not be left to steer their own learning... they should be active participants of their own learning but they need to share the wisdom of the adults around them who guide and facilitate them. Allow them to develop the skills to explore all their emotions safely, to learn to self regulate, to collaborate with others, to think critically and creatively and to listen - not only to the adults, but to their peers and to their own inner voice.


Yes, we need to trust children - but we can't just send them out into the world unequipped. We need to give them the social tools and then trust them to use them - to give them the space and time to practice using them. Not come in and correct them when they are simply doing the best they can with the skills they have.
Its like a carpenter... to create a carpenter needs a variety of tools. If all we are giving to the carpenter is a saw and a hammer then we can't come in and admonish the carpenter when they use the hammer in the wrong way... they are simply using the toolset they have...
We need to equip the carpenter with a full set of tools and also let them know how they can be used safely... and then trust them to use these creatively.
As we need to equip the children with social and learning skills and then allow them to express themselves creatively, to interact with adults, peers and materials, to explore the world and to discover new skills to add to their own personalised toolbox.









Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Learning is FUN

Yesterday I engaged in a small exchange about the fact the word "fun" is being used as a key word in the new preschool curriculum... that school/preschool should be fun. The thought being should this really be a key word? School and preschool is about learning (preschool is learning through play and exploration rather than the formal learning of school) not about having fun. The educators are not trained in how to entertain the children and keep them happy... the educators are trained to support the children's learning.

This is not to say that learning should not be fun... but how is learning fun?

Let's keep this to three points...

For me the first thing we need to do - is create a place where all the children feel safe to be who they are... where they dare to communicate their ideas and express their emotions... without a safe space it is near to impossible to children to be capable of learning and having fun, of experiencing joy. Children need to feel accepted to feel safe. They need to feel cared for. They need to have people interested in them and invested in giving them the time and space to evolve.

Secondly the learning needs to inspiring... it needs to awaken the children's curiosity, it needs to get them excited to learn more, it needs to ignite the children's desire to explore the world and everything in it. This feeling of wanting to explore is often connected with enjoyment rather than being forced to learn something they are not interested in, which seems the opposite of fun.

Thirdly it needs to be motivating... not only to motivate the children to try new things but also to complete the tasks they have started... not by force, but because the children are motivated to do this. In the sense the the learning is meaningful.

IF these three elements are in place then the learning is going to be fun.

of course I think that the first point - being safe - is one that should not be a point at all in preschools and schools... it ought to be a given... as it ought to be for the whole of society, for the whole world. yet we do not live in a safe world... so we do need to focus on creating a safe place for learning in schools.

As educators we need to facilitate the children's learning - not teach what we think they should know... but guide the children to discover the world around them and their identity within it, as an individual and as a member of a variety of groups (family, friends, preschool/class, clubs, neighbourhood, town, country etc etc).
learning can be frustrating and hard work at times... it should not be fun all the time... but it should be meaningful, the child should feel motivated to exert the effort to endure the frustration and the child should feel safe to be who they are, to get it wrong without admonishment and to feel the power and wisdom of trying again.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post A successful child is a happy child - reflecting on how there is a focus on trying to keep children happy, and that a parent or teacher feels successful if their child is happy. It is NOT about children who are successful are happy...
I think there has been a focus for a long time on trying to make children happy... hence the focus that preschool should be fun, learning should be fun-filled in the Swedish preschool curriculum.
But if we are always focusing on the happiness of the child, then how will the child learn to manage their other emotions... how will they learn to overcome challenges... how will they learn to compromise and interact with others if the focus is on having fun and being happy?

Challenge, frustration etc do not have to be negative parts of learning if they are part of a inspiring, meaningful learning experience in a safe environment - the children will overcome the challenge and feel empowered by the experience of their own success. Instead if everything is geared up for the children to be having fun - how will they own their own successes in the same way?

Learning can be fun. As Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - but for me joy can be only experienced is you feel safe, accepted and competent - and a curriculum based on fun is not going to enhance the children's feeling of safety, acceptance and competence - while a curriculum based on feeling safe, feeling inspired and feeling motivated will.

The learning should not be hidden under a layer of entertainment (although this can be a language of learning... but just one of the 100 or more languages).
Our focus should not be on providing a place for the children to have fun, it should be a place that allows the children to evolve and to be empowered.





Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Intersubjectivity

When we listen to children we need to pay close attention to how the children make sense of the world around them in order to be able to fully understand what the children are communicating (when I talk/write about listening... I mean the kind of listening we do with our ears, eyes, minds and hearts... so we listen to non-verbal children as well as verbal children). Often I hear that we need to listen with objectiveness - which really is an impossible thing to do... as we always come to every situation with a subjectiveness - the children also come to the situation with a subjectiveness. Instead of objectiveness we should use intersubjectivity - that we as adults use our experience and knowledge as humans to imagine our way, or to share the child's point of view. This is a way of listening to the children that allows a greater depth of understanding - it is a form of interpersonal sharing.

The philosopher and psychologist Peter Hobson wrote (2005, p. 190): 
To perceive a smile as a smile (to take the simplest example) is to respond with feeling, in such a way that through the smile one apprehends the emotional state of the other. In other words, there is a mode of feeling perception that is critical for establishing intersubjective relations between people, and it is a kind of perception that establishes a special quality of relatedness between the individual and what is perceived—in most natural circumstances, a person.


I am a big believer in listening... not only the adult-child listening relationship but also between the children too. Empathy is built on this intersubjectivity - our ability to understand others and to connect with them. Empathic listening is the listening with the heart... of using emotions to hear what is being said... while intersubjectivity is more complex it is the mind imagining as well as the emotions.
Children also need to develop this intersubjectivity - this will help with conflict resolution, with play development together, idea building etc etc...  Intersubjectivity is much easier with neurotypical children - as it is easier to imagine the subjectivity of another. But with neuro-divergent children this might be more tricky as it is a way of thinking that is harder to imagine for the adults around them and also for the other children around them. Children who are not neurotypical will probably not perceive themselves as different, at least not as first... and therefore they will also struggle with imagining how others think.

It was only a few years ago that my autism became apparent, through the diagnosis of my son, and understanding my brain was autistic was like switching a light on. It was not about understanding myself... I know who I am, I am used to how my brain sees the world... it was the realisation that others did not see the things the way I saw them that was the game changer... stuff made so much more sense. And I am still picking things out from my childhood where I realised that my autistic reaction was not the usual reaction... I mean honesty, despite being something that many people desire in a friend, is really not want people want... they want people to say the socially appropriate thing, while I was just honest - and that was not always the best thing for me! I can laugh about it now, but it was not always fun as a child or young teenager.

I have been lucky, I have been able to use my intelligence to break the social code, and also to understand intersubjectivity by closely listening. It is also easier to learn to understand neurotypicals because everything is written from a neurotypical view point - the norm. So even though I did not know I was autistic I was still managing how to interact socially on a intellectual level.
I like being social. I like being with people. I love dialogue and balling ideas with others. But many hours of social interaction are exhausting. I have learned to plan in downtime, so that I can fully enjoy the social time. it is not a case of its a nice rest - it is essential to have the downtime to be able to function.

But what I find is that there is always a need for those that are different to work harder at the intersubjectivity than there is for neurotypcials or those people that fit the norm...
What we need in society is a greater understand of the different - the divergent thinkers and all of those that do not fit the norm... the minorities.

Neurotypical adults need to take more time to try and imagine how divergent thinkers perceive the world in order to be able to fully listen to these children. This means, firstly accepting that we perceive things differently, secondly taking the time to discover how the child perceives the world - and from there imagine how learning, how experiences are affecting the child.
I have read many texts about autistic children lacking empathy and imagination - and yet my observations of my children, and the understanding I have of my own emotions is quite the opposite... there is too much empathy and too much imagination that sometimes it has to be switched on to mute, or even off just to be able to survive the social situation we are in. Objects do not demand that kind of empathy, so they are safer... quite often this is the case for animals too, they are less demanding in their social expectations. The fact that there are many children with autism, or other non-neurotypical diagnoses are not able to communicate their emotions or ideas in the same way as neurotypicals should not preclude that they are devoid of empathy and imagination. Maybe their imaginations is so strong that they would rather stay there then participate in the loud, bright over stimulating world around them... and with the state of the world as it is, can you blame them at times?

We need to take another look, spend more time listening with intersubjectivity - to try and understand the learning needs of each child/student we meet as educators.










Hobson, R. P. (2005). What puts the jointness into joint attention? In N. Eilan, C. Hoerl, T. McCormack, & J. Roessler (Eds.), Joint attention: Communication and other minds: Issues in philosophy and psychology (pp. 185–204). Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:o so/9780199245635.003.0009

Monday, 15 January 2018

Metacognition and the preschooler...

This is a post I have been thinking about writing for some time after reading a comment that preschoolers are not capable of metacognition... and yet I have seen young children thinking about thinking... and using it to their advantage. I would say that metacognition features strongly in young children's learning... it may not always be verbalised the way adults are used to being able to recognise it as metacognition.

For instance children, from the very start, observe and learn. They watch others, test things and adapt what they see to their own context. This is easy to see when young children are trying out knew motor skills... they observe others doing something and then make the decision to try that out for themselves - they have to think about the movement, they have to consider whether they want to also try it... and then afterwards they assess whether they were successful or whether they need to do it a different way to be successful. Children are clearly thinking about their thinking and not just their actions and the experience.
With a group of preschoolers this thinking about thinking through physical activity can be supported as an educator by scaffolding the children to scaffold each other... some children learn to master climbing a wall, stone, tree or climbing frame faster than others and it is of benefit to encourage them to explain to their peers how they managed it... they think about their actions, they reflect on why it works and they share this and show this to their peers.
The advice is not always going to work (sometimes there are physical differences, for instance a taller child is going to be able to reach a better foothold that a shorter child cannot) - but they then think through this together and try to devise a new way for success.
I often film the children in their attempts... so they can look at what they are doing and learn from the footage. What they thought was a good idea does not look as successful on film, and sometimes what feels hopeless in real life suddenly looks more hopeful on film.
Getting the children to pause and reflect on their activity - not only opens up the opportunity to think about their physical thinking, but also creates a space to calm down and allow frustrations to die down so that only determination is left. Frustration can be a good thing - as long as it does not get overwhelming.



Documenting the children's activities, learning and play offers a great way for the children to think about their thinking. Children do not simply play devoid of thought - play is a chain reaction of thinking, from one idea to another, exploring.

By sharing the images with the children... not just on the wall as memories, but as purposeful triggers of thought. We can support how children express their metacognition with others. They can share their theories about the play they experienced the day before, the week before or even years before... but this means as an educator we are not just asking them questions about what they have done, not asking them to recount the experience... but to reflect on the experience in the photo or film. How did the play make them feel? How do they think other's feel in the play... why do they think that? This can be done individually or together... by sharing thinking together children have the opportunity to think about how we do not all experience the same play in the same way...



For instance a few years back a group of preschoolers and i were evaluating play-spaces in Stockholm. Each day we visited a new play-space and on our way back to the preschool we rated it from1-10, 10 being the best and most enjoyable. As educators my colleague and I secretly did our own rating based on our observations of the play (as a way to see if we were understanding the children's play). We found that we got it almost right, but learned that even though we thought one play space offered the best and most harmonious play all week, it did not rate as high as other spaces that had more novelty features... and access to trikes and bikes was high on the desirable.
At one playspace there were only a few trikes available, and very many preschools... only one child from our group got to ride on a trike and once on it, did not leave it, despite the request from the other children in the group. My colleague and I made the decision not to force the child off, but to only point out the feelings of the other children.
On our way back to the preschool, the trike riding child rated the playspace a 10, the rest of the children rated it a 6 (the lowest score of the week) and made it quite clear that the lack of access to the trikes was a big part of the reason. With support the group were able to convey their feelings about the experience and the trike child really got the opportunity to think about thinking... the rest of the groups thinking, his own thinking about his thinking... I contacted his parents during my break to let them know, what had happened so that they were able to support the thought process at home... and we continued the thinking the next day on our way to a new park about how choices we make and how they impact others and about how choices of other impact us. The trike child never monopolised trikes/bikes or any other play equipment again. By being given the opportunity to experience the other children's thinking, and also by being given the chance to explore those thoughts, with support of us his teacher and his parents - and also his own thoughts about the experience - he was able to make an informed choice about taking pleasure but also to enjoy giving pleasure.



This was a group that I worked with for almost four years... we used philosophical dialogues as a tool to share ideas, learn, and also to develop their metacognition - their awareness of thinking and thinking about thinking... and also how to share that process.

We focussed on active listening - that we listened with our ears, eyes, mind and heart... it was not just about hearing words, but also thinking about what others were saying. So already in the listening there was an awareness in the thinking process.
We had thinking pauses. We regularly took thinking pauses... always at the start of the dialogue the question or stimulus was introduced and the children were asked to take a thinking pause... not to just think about the answer, but to also think about why they though that answer... The children were being encouraged to think about their own thinking from the very start.
At the end of the dialogue we found the children (I started these sessions when they were 2-4 years old) were too tired to engage in a meta-dialogue... so we read back their words to them... as we wrote down everything during the dialogue. The children were asked to listen carefully and let us know if we had written down their words correctly, or if they had changed their minds... this was our form of meta-dialogue of a not too exhausting nature... it allowed the children not only to think about their own thinking, their friend's thinking but also the group thinking.



All of this takes time... the children gain trust in each other and feel safe to share more of their thought processes. The children become more sophisticated in their language use and are able to share their thinking on a deeper level - it might not always be that their thinking is deeper, but their ability to share has developed to an extent that it allows more depth for the listener.

For me, the most important element for metacognition - and for the sharing of this metacognition is creating a safe atmosphere, allowing enough time and providing enough situations and tools for the children to test out sharing their thinking about thinking.
I also believe rest time is essential for metacognition. Plain old doing nothing time. Many children think this is boring, but a 30 minute pause everyday to lie down and be quiet. To get comfortable with your own voice in your head is essential for metacognition. If we are not comfortable with our own voice, how are we going to be comfortable with thinking about our own thinking. If we are not taking the time to be quiet and to reflect or dream... when are we going to get the time for metacognition - especially our own, personal metacognition. It is all well and good that I have philosophy sessions where the children are thinking and thinking about thinking, but despite the fact I work as a facilitator in their dialogue... this is still an adult lead activity, I will not deny the power I have on the group as an adult, despite my desire to create a democratic learning space where all voices are equal.

I believe that young children are more than capable of metacognition, and if we give them the time and support to develop the skills we will be able to follow their thinking about thinking.

I also believe that metacognition is a part of Original Learning.