Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Play... (Palestine 14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

then it was time ti decorate the castles

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

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

but it was worth trying again...

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

Monday, 16 January 2017

Fireworks... (Palestine 13)

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

That is what happened on the course today.

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

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

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

this was done then for all the presentations...

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

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

Today felt powerful. To see all this creativity flowing.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 January 2017

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

This morning I held a presentation for parents...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 14 January 2017

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

Today has been all about play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 13 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The second session (Palestine 9)

Yesterday was my second session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The power of novelty (Palestine 8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

downtown Jenin... with wide streets

the Refugee camp

the refugee camp with narrow streets

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

stroking a chicken