Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Story of Communication... part 3

This is just going to be a quick post... as I sit working on a small guideline to participate in a project with democracy, equality, diversity and inclusion being the cornerstones as part of my work as pedagogical consultant/guide for a preschool.

Communication is such a huge part of this...
How we communicate with our bodies, our tone and our words... how we allow our own prejudices communicate, often without our own awareness. This is why it is so important to discuss these with your colleagues...

You need to discuss what are the principles for an inclusive culture in your setting - what does inclusion mean, and how do you achieve this... who do you need to communicate and collaborate with to gain the tools you need to create this inclusive culture.

We need to embrace diversity, equality and integration/inclusion - seeing it as a rich source of learning for all the children rather than a problem.
How do we see what the children communicate as a source of learning rather than as a problem?

We need to critically reflect on our own personal attitudes and values and how they impact the children... this means not only looking at how you view the child, but also how you view the teacher... but also other values about language, ability, religion, sexuality etc etc - how do your opinions impact the children... as I do not believe that we can be objective, and I don't think we should be, but what we should strive for is an awareness of how our own opinions impact others... as communication is so much more than words... all attempts at saying the right thing and trying to be objective will not work if body language is communicating another story to the children...

For instance when my children were young I had other parents come to me and tell me that their children said that one of the teachers did not like my son... Despite the fact that this teacher always strived to be professional and say the right thing her body and tone were communicating so clearly something else that not only my son was picking it up but also the other children in the group. How aware are we of this kind of communication? This is why it is so important to personally reflect, and also reflect as a team about the "challenges" of  working with children. I mean sometimes the chemistry is just going to be wrong, and often we can ensure that other adults can do more of the interacting with that child until you have dealt with the chemistry and make the communication less toxic (for the child or yourself) - I have worked with children that have pushed my buttons (as all educators will do) and I have made the personal decision to always be honest and say to a colleague when I need a pause from a child in order to keep the communication positive - often it is due to patience running out, and batteries need to be recharged, but sometimes a child can just get under your skin in an irritating way, and you just need the time to reflect why, and also to talk with others so that you can refocus.
I am grateful that in the Swedish preschool system we are more than one teacher to a group, this means when I am having an issue with a child I can hand over responsibility to another adult for a while and seek help (through reflection, reading and looking for strategies, and talking with colleagues about how they interact and what strategies they use... and often see the child in a new light). I am honest with my colleagues, not just myself... and this then allows me the time to work out how to interact positively with the child. If we are always trying to kid ourselves that we get on with all of the children all of the time then we are not giving ourselves the time to evolve as a human and educator... it also means the children get to pick up on that story you are trying so hard not to communicate.
By being open with colleagues, we can learn about their struggles too... and learn from them and offer advice, that can help you in the future too.

We need to be active in testing out creative ways to be inclusive. To share ideas and test them out, evaluate them - sometimes just amongst colleagues, sometimes with the children... we need to play and test ideas not just talk about them. Theory into practice... otherwise it just is mouth-service...  it feels like you are getting things done, when there is no real impact for the children...

We need to be constantly discussing, and evaluating.

So, How do we learn to become comfortable with difference?
How does education impact the fundamental values of children?
How do you carry and communicate your culture? What is your culture?
How willing are you to listen to the cultures of others? And in what capacity?
How do you communicate between colleagues in front of the children? Is this a role-model for good social interactions or is it fraught? How does this impact the children? What can be done about it?
What is the diversity in your setting? Language, religion, race, culture, gender, age, ability, family structure etc etc... there is always diversity. How is this included and valued? Does everyone feel included? Do some get more space to talk, play, be noisy, participate... why? Why don't the others?

I think these are enough questions for this post to get you thinking about how you communicate based on your own personal fundamental values... how do yours relate to that of colleagues, the children and their families and the rest of society?

Monday, 6 August 2018

The story of ... otherism

There is a sense of great sorrow and frustration within me at the moment as I try to deal with what is happening in my family and what is happening around the world.

On Friday my son started medicating for his ADHD - he has a diagnosis of autism/ADHD and t it has been a constant uphill battle with the school system to try and create a learning environment that encourages him to learn... something that we have not yet achieved. He is constantly seen as a problem, despite people who meet him outside of school being able to see him as wonderful, creative, passionate and caring, this is the absolute opposite of how the school sees him, and it breaks my heart that he is not viewed as him but as an "other" - something that has to be dealt with as a problem - and most often as a problem for the other students in the classroom rather than the problem he has with them and the way they teach.
So they always address the wrong issues and seldom address the real underlying issue that he has yet to find meaning in this school system. Homeschooling is illegal here, it is not an option. He has made the decision himself to medicate as a way to make school easier. I hate the fact that my son needs to medicate to enable him to go to school... to enable him to be more like the others on the outside... that who is is not acceptable.

Working philosophically with young children... and letting that approach permeate all my interactions with the children... i discovered that children include if we stop "othering". That we are all just sharing opinions, experience and approaches to life... and they all have value... that we all react to experiences in different ways, and that is OK, and we learn how to create a learning and play spaces together that do not contain too many of these experiences that make individual stressed and anxious, and we learn how to help each other through these experiences if they do happen... not the teacher/educator fixing the "other" and helping them become more like the norm, but the whole group expanding the norm and including people as they are. No others... just we...

Yesterday I spent a lot of time trying to moderate dialogue about cultural appropriation... this is an incredibly important topic... it is part of this otherism. We need to gain a better understanding of minority groups, oppressed people... these "others". We need to work out how to include them rather than change them to be a part of the norm.

As part of my story of communication series I have been bringing this up... you can read the first two posts..
the first in the series.... about our role as adults learning to communicate to include. and the second in the series which is about how the room communicates with the children (and adults) and creates welcoming and inclusive environments that encourage play and learning.

But today I feel so much frustration and sorrow.

I have a strong belief that the way forward is to communicate so that others listen... if we are hostile, rude or put others down to promote our agenda then people will not be able to hear the importance of what you have to say they will spend time protecting themselves from the discomfort and offence...
 instead of listening to learn.
I want people to learn from each other... but sometimes there feels like there is a competition to be the most politically correct... and I have struggled in the last 24 hours with trying to deal with is my non-violent approach (verbally non-violent too) the right way... or am I being complicit to oppression as I was being accused of...

Today in my twitter feed the timely words of the Dalai Lama helped me with my thinking

Human beings are social animals and it is love that brings us together, while anger drives us apart. To live more peacefully, and joyfully in our daily lives, we need a warm heart

I am going to stand by the fact that communicating in a non-violent way is the best way forward.
yes we can be passionate - but not at the expense of others 

I think sometimes people have too much of an agenda which blinds them and deafens them to the stories of others - they are so quick to share their agenda and ensure that others hear it (and often these are agendas that need to be heard) that they do not take the time to find the story of the person they are attacking. Because it is delivered with such passion that the person on the receiving end is belittled and sometimes accused of things that they are not... and then they feel the need to defend themselves and their story - and so the message that is so important gets lost - because it becomes about the emotions and not the content.

I wrote in my story of communication about how I feel that debate is about how well the person puts their message across rather than the message... this is why I like to dialogue... because, for me it is about learning together... as in our philosophy sessions... we are a community of learners... not two opinions trying to prove themselves right.

Yesterday I read an article about parenting... the difference between reactive and responsive parenting... and I think this is what I am striving for... that we have responsive dialogues rather than reactive...
Even though we can often be justified for having our reaction, our emotions, and that far too many are suffering from being oppressed... the problem is that if we are reactionary in how we communicate then people will react back. But if we communicate our story (with passion, and explain our emotions, but without the rude tone, or angry tone, or the need to put others down or ridicule) then we increase the chances of people responding...

I have repeatedly shared the ted talk about the danger of the single story... and I feel I need to share it here again...

By telling the many varied, diverse stories... and valuing them... we can avoid otherism. By being aware that this is happening, that our lives are often built on a single story then we can also avoid otherism.

I share the below pictures again, these that I shared in my first Story of Communication post... because this, for me demonstrates this otherism...

We have these "others" that are not a part of our local social norm... and what is often seen as correct is that we invite them in to our social norm... this often requires them to change and adapt. Of course there are many things done to these "others" outside the norm that are done to push them further out, to make them more different... to oppress.

But even in these attempts to invite them into the norm, the focus is always on their "otherness" and not our similarities

What I really want is to expand the norm so that the "others" can become a part of the norm as they are... this will mean everyone will learn about each other, adapt, accept and understand.

I saw preschoolers able to do that. Without a shadow of a doubt young children can do this if we give them the space and the time and the tools - and also share our own adult power with them... that I, as an educator, do not sit with my adult norm and invite their child otherness into the norm... but expand that norm so that childhood is an active part of the democratic norm in our learning and play.

It sounds so simple, but for some reason it does not seem to be... I think it comes down to trust...

I think the education system needs to change... and fast... to be more inclusive...

In the second post about communication I wrote how the environment can exclude and also offend by teachers/educators not being aware of what the room says... or it invites, or prohibits and also how it sometimes uses other cultures inappropriately so that it creates "othering".

There are far too many people in this world that actively use otherism to further their agenda. We have seen how Trump and his party and those that support him have used otherism to justify their barbaric way of treating families at the borders...

In a way Trump can be a great example of why we should communicate peacefully rather than with anger... during clashes earlier this year in the USA Trump said both sides were to blame... as he was able to pick at a few people who protested with violence... instead of focussing on what the real message was... on the content of the protest. The message got lost somewhat. And I feel this was a message that should not have got lost it needs to be heard loud and clear.

Otherism is sadly far too easy to create. During the second world war the European Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities and other "others" were at first the subject of "otherism" to pave the way for the most dispicable persecution to occur where millions suffered and died because they were excluded from the norm.
There are stories of oppression around the world and throughout history. Stories of otherism.
We need to start hearing the stories of these people. We need to listen. We need to see the humanity and respond with humanity.

My contribution is to support children with their listening skills... to listen to understand... to share their opinions, to enter dialogues to be a community of learners, to listen to the opinions of others and value them even if they do not agree... to listen with respect.

Discovering that the life you lived is based on a single story... and that story was cruel and fed off the suffering of others is incredibly uncomfortable... but this discomfort should not be confused with the discomfort of dealing with someone who uses anger to tell their story... then there is a different kind of discomfort... not with the realisation that we do not know or understand but with the fact a person is being punished and reprimanded for their ignorance, instead of being allowed to learn and make better and more informed decisions.
I want children in my care to be exposed to multiple stories - to go out actively searching for more stories and not just accept the one story they are being fed in society... to think critically, creatively and empathically.
I think if all educators do this... then we stand a chance of peace in the future.
The incredibly sad part is that many people around the world are not free to tell multiple stories - they can be punished for deviating from the single story.

Today I posted this dream on my personal facebook page... and also on instagram, Twitter and my Interaction Imagination page.

I am also busy adding people to the map of International Fairy Tea Party - a global celebration of play and imagination... not just for the children to have their own personal play (which is incredibly important in this day where play is becoming all more endangered) but to be a part of a global community - to learn about other countries around the world and that we are united in play and imagination... and also the choice of having the celebration on the equinox (autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern) means that we all share the same number of daylight hours... we might not have the same cultures, languages or resources but we can be united through daylight, play and imagination. It is about learning about others, not creating otherism. About respect, joy and connection. There are many countries across five continents that have already signed up - and everyone is encouraged to play within their own context.

Why not join in this celebration as a way of learning more stories about this world we share.

below are some quotes I would like to share...

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The story of communication... part two

In the last few days since writing the first part exploring our adult role in communication I have seen an increasing number of posts about setting up the environment ready for the new academic year to begin (in the northern hemisphere that is... of course in the Southern hemisphere the school year is different, and it is winter right now!)

So I decided that this next post in the series should take a look at the classroom... the learning environment ... the third teacher..

as  Reggio Emilia inspired educator I reflect a great deal about my colleague, the third teacher, and over the years I have written quite a lot of blogposts on the topic, as well as sharing images from settings I have visited...

What I have always struggled with is that many educators focus on how the third teacher looks a little more than how it functions... imagine if that is how we educators were treated too. That how we looked, fixed our hair, the clothes we wear whether we work out over not... all of this had more importance than how we teach, communicate and interact with the children... it was more important than the knowledge and experience we have gained over the years... or more important than the relationships we create with the children, parents and colleagues...

I think we would consider people that looked at us in that way as superficial and missing the point of us as educators... not seeing or valuing what we really do.

Of course the early years does not get the value it should, but not to be valued by our own ECE peers would not be healthy for our teaching self-esteem.

So in this post I want to look at how the room communicates... with you as a teacher, with the children as learners, with the humans that spend time there...

Start with the question...
what is the intention of the room?
The intention of the room at the start of the year might be about making the children feel welcome, feel settled and feel comfortable to interact with others...

How do you with the resources that you have meet these needs?
How are you going to arrange the furniture to create space for the children to meet and talk with each other? Do you want them in just big groups or smaller groups? or able to change the size of their group throughout the day (which would mean a selection of space sizes from large to the small).

Do you want the children to feel independent and competent? How do you set up a room to do that?
If you have EVERYTHING out and visible at the beginning and the children do not like to tidy up or are not ready to cope with the amount of resources then you are setting the children up for failure and yourself for frustration and hard work picking up after them... Why not limit the resources in the beginning to see how the children manage those, allowing them to feel in control of the space by being able to play and tidy up after themselves without feeling overwhelmed? New things can be introduced bit by bit... and these introductions can allow you as an educator to enhance the play and learning you see the children engaged in and allow the classroom to meet those needs. It also allows you the time to explain some tools and how they can be safely used... rather than having everything out at the same time and a feeling of risk in the everyday is higher than what it maybe should be.

For instance I have worked in groups where scissors are a great creative tool and all the children knew how to hold, transport and use them... while in other groups the scissors have posed a problem, carried in a dangerous way, not being held properly and accidents happen (too frequently) or children use them inappropriately which switches the scissors from risk to dangerous...
Access to scissors is based on the children's ability to use them and their relationship with them... the room needs to communicate I trust you... and if you are placing materials in the room that require you to police the children then the room and you are saying you do not trust.
When I have had groups with children unable to happily and safely interact with scissors (regardless of age) then I put the scissors out of reach and in a space where they need to ask me to use them, I will bring them down and we can work together, communicating with the children how to hold them, how to carry them and how to use them so that they can get creative... with the intention that as soon as they are ready the scissors can be placed in a place where they can reach themselves.
Just as we do not let people drive cars without lessons and learning first and proving that they can drive safely, I think we need to use the same approach with tools in preschools... so they do have that competence and I avoid coming in saying no.

I want to create a room that says yes.

And more importantly that allows me to say yes rather than no.

Look around the room. Do you see anything that might make you say no to the children? Why does it have this no potential? Can you make changes so that the room clearly allows the children - permits their play - rather than requiring you to police and possibly restrict their play and learning?

Take the time to look from the child's height. It does look very different from their height. Does it look inviting or intimidating? If the latter what changes can be made?

Children have a very different sense of beauty than what adults have. Attempting to clone what others do is not always the best option. Find out what your  children need and like.  Will baskets, neutral colours and the like calm them or send them to sleep? Is that their sense of a learning environment? I am personally not an educator that likes a lot of visual clutter and lots of colours brightly challenging my eyes... but equally I don not like the opposite where there is no colour and devoid of all clutter. I like a learning space that says welcome - come play, come learn, come share your ideas with others... and also a space that celebrates this process, the children can see their value, the value of their ideas etc as this is communicated in the space too. We do not need fancy furniture and expensive materials to be able to do this. We get creative with what we have.
Not all learning spaces have the financial means to get exactly what they want from the catalogues - it is about recycling and upcycling... which is a very sustainable approach to education and also has its own beauty/aesthetic

When we look at images from other people's settings we need to always take this into consideration... we do not know what kind of budget they have, we seldom know how the space is used and what kind of children's needs and abilities they are meeting, we seldom take the time to ask about how the space communicates with the children... it is so often judged on how it looks.

This is part of the reason why Malaguzzi did not want people to take photos of the settings in Reggio Emilia... he did not want others to simply come and take photos to then replicate the space elsewhere... he wanted the educators to start a journey together with their third teacher... where they get to know each other and learn how to communicate with the children... to communicate a joy for learning. The downside is that there are many educators out there in the world saying you need to have this or that, or get rid of this or that for it to be truly "Reggio Emilia" inspired... and yet there are no images to say this is right or wrong, just word of mouth that seems to have been distorted over time - where no plastic, or natural baskets or loose parts or nature are the must do or the must have in order to be Reggio...
Start with the children.
Your relationship with the children.
How do you view childhood and what they can do, should do? How is this reflected in your learning space (indoors and outdoors). How do you communicate with children? How is this reflected in the space? What is the intention of your learning space? How does this impact the room?

What about sound, light, smell, touch - and why not taste... how do these all fit into your room? Do these elements hinder or enhance learning... what can be done to ensure that the room enhances learning rather than hinders, considering all the senses.

we also need to think about how the room communicates inclusion.
Does every child feel welcome?
Can every child feel they can identify with the room or elements of the room? ie does a child with a foreign language have access to her own language through books for example... even if you as an educator cannot read them, their very presence in the space says that her language is valued.
Does the learning space require that some children need extra help? Why do they need this support? Can the room be designed so that all children feel competent.

I have been seeing this image going round facebook the last few weeks, and it made me think of education... (in fact there are several versions that can be found if you google equality, equity and justice meme - so I included a few here)

What I feel we should be aiming for in our classrooms is the justice or liberation - the sad fact is the education is mostly set up for equality which means those that can thrive, those that struggle struggle more... there are schools and educators that strive to ensure that there is equity, that the children get what they need to be able to achieve... but really what we should be doing is designing our learning spaces so that all can be who they are and thrive and achieve and not have to conform to a school norm with standardised learning and tests that is so exclusive.
The really sad part is that reality seems to be going to some kind of extreme that there are those who have that keep getting more boosts and opportunities to achieve and thrive, while others get more taken away - not everyone is getting the chance to rise to the height of their own potential.

So designing your classroom and what it communicates is an incredible complex task. It is so much more than beauty.

How do you include the neurodiverse? Children of different colour, culture, language, religion etc? How do you include families that are not the norm... where the norm is seen as a mother father and children... not all families look like this... does your learning space make all children feel welcome, that all children can find their personal identity reflected?

is the room designed so that the children follow orders, learn obediently, or is there space for joy, laughter, care? What feeling/emotion does the room communicate... does it communicate an openness to learn and explore?

Then there is language?
Language to communicate?
Is your space set up to create a space that encourages children to communicate with each other, verbally and non-verbally?
Do you have words hanging over the room on shelves, walls and the floor, down from the ceilings? Why? Who are they for, especially for pre-readers? Does it overwhelm or enhance the children's desire to read? Or do they become invisible to the children... which in a way is devaluing the written word in the eyes of the child?
Are there other ways you can support language and communication? For instance Soledad at her preschool in Norsborg (see link below) has lists of words for the educators, they are tucked away, but visible enough to remind the educators to diversify their language - to not just rely on the same stock phrases. I like to hang question samples in the documentation room/office to remind educators that there are many many questions that can be asked... to the children, and ourselves as we make changes in the classroom and write up our observations...
Get the children involved in the documentation process so that they see that their words can be written down... this has far more power than vocabulary hanging from the ceiling or on shelves. The children's own words.
Are you communicating your expectations of the children by hanging these words... or the ideas and potential of the children by sharing their words? And this is not just an either or thing... both can work together... it is about mixing things up to create a space that works for you in your context.

Below are some links to posts that might be useful...

The story of communication part one
Open ended materials vi closed ended materials - this posts looks on the materials used and offered to children... do you avoid plastic, why? What is an open ended material? Are closed ended materials bad - always? Why?
The Political Nature of Reggio Emilia - this post is here to remind you that this is NOT a pedagogy about beautiful materials... it is a pedagogy of communication of rights, values, and respect.
The benefits of BIG play - a post to remind you that BIG play is important... how are you designing your learning space so that children can learn with their entire bodies?
Visit to Anden preschool in Haninge
The story of eating together - a post to reflect on WHY to you serve the food the way you do? Is there a more correct way? How does culture and context play a part in all of this?
Story of a word - looking at language
A visit to Aspen preschool in Norsborg - this is Soledad's preschool, as I mentioned above
Inspiration not cloning - please always be inspired by the posts that I share, the images I share... but always always always reflect and think why is this meaningful and relevant for you and your children?

Some images

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Story of communication

This post has been brewing for a while... and my reflections have deepened due to chats with Kierna Corr who has stayed with me over the last few days and we have visited a preschool director (Soledad from Aspen preschool - link at the end to read a post about a previous visit to her preschool) in Botkyrka (Sweden's most immigrant rich commune) and also Annika who is responsible for the preschools in the Rinkeby/Kista area (another immigrant rich area).
The purpose of our visits have been to learn more about how can we better support the children of immigrant families - especially with language... with communication.

But before we can start with the children there is a need to start with ourselves... as educators. So this post will focus on that before moving onto the children and learning...

How do we communicate?
To create a safe space...
to explore ideas...

Do we speak in different ways depending on who we are talking to... and why do we do this? Is it appropriate?
When we communicate are we leaving enough space for others to communicate their ideas? Are we actually, truly, open to these ideas, or are they just words?
Why do we listen to some ideas and not others? Whose ideas do we give the most value to? and why?
What part of communication do we prioritise? Listening? Speaking? Reading? Writing? Why?
What are our expectations of others when it comes to these four areas of communication? Do we hold ourselves to the same standard of expectation as we do our peers, or the children...

Sometimes I think as adults we can struggle to create democratic classrooms, or listening classrooms, or even respectful classrooms because we did not experience this ourselves - we do not truly know what it looks like or feels like. So we have to be creative.

I also think that schools tend to focus on teaching children how to debate... and so teachers are debaters rather than skilled in dialogue, which is very different.
Debate is about getting your point across (whether you believe in it or not in school as a practice in the art of debating) - therefore debate is not so much about finding the truth, or the strength of the facts, but about the ability of the person talking - their passion, their ability to communicate, their ability to out-voice other ideas and opinions.
While dialogue is exploring ideas and opinions together, being open to learning from them, being willing to change your mind if the facts, the research point in a different direction from what you thought you might take at first... or it might just lead to understanding others better and a deepening of your understanding of your own opinion. Not just repeating your own opinion over and over without it ever evolving or without ever benefiting from a greater understanding of others. 
I feel that teaching children to debate is a great skill, but it is just one form of communication, and is not a great one for creating a great classroom atmosphere, of allowing children to learn from each other, for allowing children who are weaker in communicating but have amazing ideas and opinions that can benefit from others to shine.
I also think that debating means educators might be less open to try new things, because they excel in proving that what they know is the right way.
I also think that a school system that tests and has right and wrong answers is also going to produce teachers/educators that are going to need a whole load more bravery to try new ideas... as getting it wrong meant failure in school... that is a hard feeling to shake.

Are we, as educators, really comfortable with unpacking our own prejudices so that we can face them, learn from them and evolve? I think there are many things that we do without reflecting on, small, everyday things, that are steeped in stereotyped behaviour and tradition. These actions can accidentally exclude, even if that is far from our intention. This is why we need to be open with ourselves and how we communicate with others. What is a our view of the child? How does that impact the way we talk with them... do we see them as competent, do we worry about risk, do we stress about physical contact (you don't hug in school)... how does this impact the words and intonation and your body language?

What about the classroom? Does the layout/design of your classroom encourage communication? What kind of communication? Between the children or only from teacher to children - where they listen passively? How do you design a classroom to support active listeners? What is your knowledge about how the children listen? What does real listening look like?

I received a letter from my son's school in preparation for the new term starting in the latter half of August... there it stated (yet again) the need for "studierro" STUDY PEACE - what does this mean? Sometimes it feels that the teachers are expecting silence and to sit still so that the children can learn... but really there is only a small minority of children who need silence in order to be able to learn.. and even fewer that appreciate sitting still as an effective way to learn.
If children are spending their energy on trying to be quiet and trying to be still, then there is less energy being spend on listening, language acquisition, learning and participating in lessons... and also less time for the educator to be facilitating the learning as time is being spend on micro-managing children to sit still and be quiet. So how do teachers create learning environments? That allows all the children to learn... including those that need to move and need to make noise in order to access knowledge?

This might mean the traditional classroom will not work... and there is a need for flexible seating... but equally it might mean a traditional classroom does work with a particular class and a particular teacher (as long as the teacher is open to seeing the needs of all the children and is not just trying to convert all the children into sit still and be quiet learners... as no matter how good you are at making that happen it does not guarantee you that all the children are learning effectively. Silence and compliance does not equal learning.

The norm is an important part of what makes up our society... our expectations of others, what we accept and what we do not... that hitting, violence, being rude, murdering etc are not part of the norm... what we wear is also part of the norm, how we speak, the words we choose, swearing, what foods etc... there is a need for them to create community and also to create a kind of ethical code. The problem is that these norms can be too small and too restrictive and they have a nasty habit of excluding... this is why, we as educators, need to look at the norm we participate in, our own context, and how that impacts our communication.
In the below images if have drawn the norm as a rectangle... the small circles are groups, for a variety of reason that get excluded from the norm, and very often educators strive to include them. The problem is that these children, these groups have to learn how to become a part of the norm, and their differentness is highlighted as a problem... my son with autism/ADHD refuses to adapt, while my daughters have been able to (but at a great personal expense... complete exhaustion and sometimes depression - in fact when I was with my 17 year old as she got her ASD diagnosis the doctor complimented her on her self awareness and the fact that if she continued to work on that her autism would go away... I pointed out, as a mother with ASD that the autism does not go away, what happens is that we get better at hiding it so that neurotypicals feel more comfortable - we learn how to step into that box)

Educators learn various strategies etc to help children enter that box, become a part of the norm... and in this very process alienate even more the identity and the differentness of the child. Whether it be autism, or being an immigrant, a different home language, a different culture or religion, or skin colour, or family or. or , or ... there is no real inclusion.

What we need is to expand the norm... this idea of what is acceptable... to learn that neurodiversity, languages, cultures, religions, ethnicity etc etc enrich our communities. We need to communicate, to listen and to understand... to allow not just the educator but the whole classroom and the whole of society to understand and include and to accept.
To ensure that the rectangle that represents the norm includes all the children and all the groups and that there is a mutual respect and adaptation so that all can stay true to their identities.

I sometimes hear that this cannot be done in a classroom that we need change in the whole of society... but I argue that it is in the classroom that we need to start making the change... so that bit by bit the future looks more accepting, more understanding more respectful, and more peaceful.

If we are learning to dialogue instead of debate
If we are learning to listen to understand rather than listening to answer
if we give children the time to learn rather than instructing at a hurried schedule
If we are open to evolve as educators rather than just do what we have always done
If we are brave - to face our mistakes, to stand up for what is right.

Communication is essential for change. And language is a part of that. so the up and coming posts will be about communication and language... and since I believe in the 100 languages I will attempt to reflect from many perspectives and also on the many ways we communicate and can support language acquisition.

In the meanwhile... here are a few posts to read...

The story of a word - one of my posts exploring the importance of discussing what words mean between colleagues... are we communicating on the same page, or are we interpreting words differently and creating mixed messages?

Oral Language - the verbal child - another of my posts reflecting on language development

The importance of the spoken language - another of my posts... this one reflects on why there is so little focus on non-verbal communication.

Teacher Child Conversations - Dickinson
quality dialogue, open ended questions, also about non-contextural, not just context based vocabulary (ie past and future)...

Why the babies brain can learn two languages

Body Language - how we read body language for deeper understanding of what others mean... that women are better than this than men on the whole, that women with young children are even better... and men with nurturing jobs like nursing arts etc are good too... dues to being in tune with non-verbal. Films without sound had actors gifted in body language to communicate the story... with words/sound, this is not needed, it needs to be verbally good as well as body language skills
negotiating over the phone it is about the words and the stronger argument... face to face it is about the performance

Aspen Preschool in Botkyrka

Reggio and the power of words - a blogpost from Without Windows.

Learning for Life - here you can follow Kierna's 4 week adventure with the Churchill Fellowship - learning about migrant children and the early years in Berlin, Norrköping and Stockholm.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Open-ended Materials... AKA The battle between colours, plastics and natural materials

I often see posts and discussion about open-ended toys and materials...
and sometimes wonder how "open-ended" is being interpreted... as for some it is about taking away materials like cars, play food etc... which is more extreme than how I interpret it... but how extreme can we go? What is open-ended toys... or open-ended play?

I thought I would take some time to explore these ideas...

I also see, repeatedly, rather intense discussion about plastic, colour and natural materials... and often natural materials are being framed as the "Reggio Emilia" way... and this post is here to say that it is not about it being plastic, or coloured, neutral or natural... what is important from a Reggio Emilia inspired perspective is the thinking behind the choice of materials...
Reflecting on the relationships between materials, the interactions between the children and the materials, the context of the materials, the sustainability of the materials... what are the materials saying to us... do the same materials impact adults and children in different ways... do materials have different statuses? Why? Is this the same status structure in all cultures, or does this differ? Do we allow ourselves to consider this when dialoging on an international level?

Maybe though I should explore what a closed-ended material is... if there are open ended, there must be closed-ended... and the word "ended" is important. The fact that the activity comes to an end... so a puzzle or a book has a  closed end in the sense that you can finish the puzzle and then move on, you can finish the book and then move on (of course both can be done multiple times - but there is a beginning and an end to the activity)
Open-ended means that there is no determined end - the children (or any person using the material) can use it indefinitely, so to speak without coming to an end... it has that potential... playing with cars, pretend food, blocks, play-figures can all create this open-ended play...

Sometimes I think that people are confusing loose-parts with open-ended materials - and therefore label pretend food as closed.
I have seen images of a tree cookie next to a slice of plastic cucumber with comments suggesting that the piece of wood is open and the cucumber is closed... as the cucumber can only be a cucumber...

I have seen plenty of children over the many many years I have worked in ECE using plastic cucumber slices (and similar items) in a great many possible ways... as money, treasure, things to float, as frisbees for the figures they were playing with etc etc...

For me, it is about our relationship with the materials and the freedom we give the children to experiment and play with them. If we say to children that they can only use the fake cucumber as fake cucumber... we have limited the use of the material... but we have not closed the play... the play the child can have with the cucumber can be limitless... it can be a home-scene, or a restaurant scene of which there are numerous possibilities...
if we allow the children to use the cucumber in any way they can imagine, then we open up even more possibilities...

I love loose-parts... I think they can offer children many possibilities... to construct and also in their role play - but I think that in the eyes of the child a pretend cucumber slice can be a loose part...

For children with delayed language, with autism etc then being specific can be of an advantage - a fake slice of cucumber can help them connect with the other children if they are labelling it cucumber - calling a slice of wood a cucumber might not be as helpful... it is always about context... about the needs of the children and providing materials that support their learning and not meeting the  play status other educators apply to materials.

Closed end materials also have their uses... they can support children with understanding start, middle and end... to be able to persist, concentration etc... and I would find it hard not to find someone that would say a book is a bad thing... it can be a catalyst to play... but the book in itself is closed end - in the fact that we start reading, there is a middle and there is an end... and when you get to the end... then it can be repeated, but it does not go on... open ended play can go on after it... but not the book.

Here are a few links to further reading about this topic

Professional Development of the third teacher - this post reflects on our choices of materials, how we interact with the learning spaces, the choices we make... and how the group of children and our context impact the choices we are forced to make... sometimes it is not always the exact way you want it - this is from my previous workplace and is a candid post about my struggle with the third teacher

The story of sustainability - this post is reflecting on our choice of materials from a sustainability point of view... what are we saying to the children if we are constantly using single use plastic to recreate activities seen online... what responsibility do we have as educators about how we use materials and our impact on the earth - this shared planet of ours.

The Story of Trends - this is a post to get people reflecting on ECE trends... many of them are amazing and are great and should be things we need to apply and reflect on... but that is the key word... we need to reflect... why is this trend useful and meaningful for us in our context? Do we need to adapt it to make it more relevant to our context? Does it aid or hinder the children in their learning? How?

The story of a holistic preschool/school - this is a post about a visit I made in central Sweden to a preschool and school with a holistic approach... where they are constantly thinking about the materials they are introducing into their learning environment... for the sake of the children, the sake of the local community and the sake of the planet.

Outside colour and shadow play - here you can see the use of colourful plastic loose parts... despite the fact that some of these items are intended as single use plastics, I have been using them multiple times... in fact the small cups are about 2 years old now... Some do crack and expire over time. I do try to limit how much plastic I use from an environmental point of view, I  choose plastics that are non-toxic and I am very aware of the problems plastics cause on nature and especially our oceans... from giant floating plastic islands to all the horrible micro-plastics formed over time.

Do templates kill creativity? - this post is about exploring the idea that it is not the template that kills the creativity but the attitude of the educator... if the educator is only allowing a single story of creativity for the children... only templates, and only specific ways of using them, then yes, I think templates are a bad thing... but if templates are a springboard to creativity, just one of the 100 languages of imagination and expression... then I do not see them as killing creativity...
Sometimes I am told that I should not encourage others to use templates, because I am giving fuel to those that abuse them... at the same time I also believe that we cannot treat all educators in the same way... because then the idea of the single story is being abused in how we communicate about templates... there is not just the one kind of teachers that over uses templates and prevents children from exploring many other avenues of creativity... there are many different kinds of teachers, with many different kinds of classrooms with many different kinds of needs and abilities. If our focus is always listening to the children and understanding their needs and enabling them to light their own learning fires... then templates will be used only when needed... and as part of a larger play and learning diet.

Play spaces and PLAY - this is another post on the theme of open play and closed play... many see that the forest/nature is a higher status play space than play-grounds that are adult made... mostly on the basis that adults have determined that they are used in one specific way... here I argue that it is not the equipment that limits children, but the adults in the space with the children that do that... I have seen children playing all sorts of different games and play on the exact same equipment... I have also seen children play the exact same play in a playground as well as in the forest... sometimes we adults need to take a step back and rethink our impact on children's play and how our own attitude enable or limit children in their daily play and interactions with materials around them.

Anyone that follows my instagram will know that I love being out in nature, in slowing down and looking closely. Those that have followed my blog for a long time will also know my love for loose-parts, natural elements and imagination (I mean the word is in my blog... also the word INTERACTION... as in interacting with materials, each other, the world around us)

what is important is that we reflect on what materials we are offering the  children... how accessible are they, why these ones, what can be viewed and not reaches, why? What aesthetics are you opting for, why? Do the colours of your place reflect the needs of the children? Do they stimulate children who need stimulating, do the soothe those who need calming? Is there space and materials for big play and small play... what sounds do the materials have, what smells do they have... how does this impact the children... and you as an educator?

Enjoy the process of thinking about the materials YOU make available to the children... and learning more about the relationships between the children and the materials and between the materials.

The story of LIGHT...

Over the years I keep coming back to light as a tool for play, a tool for learning, a tool to explore and experiment...

In a way light has become a symbol for learning...
we become enlightened..
We can also use the word illuminate and elucidate in similar ways...

I gave the educators in Palestine candles as a symbol of learning. That I came to them to shed light on new areas of play and learning... to direct the light from new perspectives in order to allow them to see the play and learning in new ways.

This is part of my love for playing with light... it is much deeper than just the play and exploration, the science and the art... it is also the opportunity to view something in a new light.

The short film below is all abut that... seeing the items in a different way... if the light is shone on it from the front or the side or from behind makes it look different... it allows you to notice new details... and by seeing all of them you can put together you see the greater whole...

There are two kinds of light - the glow that 
illumines, and the glare that obscures. 
James Grover Thurber

For me this quote is important for us as educators... that we can overshadow the children's learning by directing too much, through restrictive instruction, by only allowing the light to be shone on certain stories. We have to get to know the learners we are working with to ensure that we understand how much light we need to shine, to provide learning environments that enhance their learning rather than hinder.

Standardised testing, and teaching to get grades, is, for me, more about treating the mind like a vessel to be filled rather than enabling the children to ignite their own learning fires...  Once the fire is lit there is light to learn. We as teachers need to facilitate learning... this is something I have written about many times, is essential to "Original Learning"

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.  Albert Schweitzer 
We also need to think about our own lights... we need to be refuelled, we need inspiration to ignite our imaginations and our energy. We also need to remind ourselves of those that do give us that spark - from the smallest to the largest spark... and take the time to acknowledge the role they have on your life...
I am grateful to all people that write comments, give feedback to this blog... either here or on my facebook page, instagram or twitter.  These interactions ignite my energy, illuminate new perspective for me to reflect on - in fact without light there are no reflections... they allow me to think more deeply, more carefully and to become a better educator and human.

I want to thank all of you that I have met face to face over the last few years in Canada, USA, UK, Palestine and Iceland - you have all impacted me and enabled me to evolve. I hope in the coming years I get to meet you again, and also get to travel to new places and meet others...

In April 2019 I will be in Athens as a keynote speaker at Play on Early Education - First International Athens Conference - there I will get to, hopefully, ignite the light in others that listen... and I will also be holding a light and shadow play workshop. Right now you can send in papers... maybe you can share your light with others at the conference? Check the website - the link is a few lines above!

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Light, colour and reflections...

Yesterday I shared a post with a film where I played with prisms, and also shared two films about how do prisms work and rainbows...

in those films there was the statement that white light could be created with just the colours red, blue and green and that the full spectrum was not needed to create white light...

So in the first film I made today there is some playing with these ideas... of red, blue and green light and the shadows...

What is really interesting when you play with light like this is that when you move the red light it is not the red shadow that moves but the green one... this could be a great stimulus for children to think about why this is the case... they can present their theories and why they think this...

here is a film showing how you can do this experiment on a bigger scale (I was just using torches/flashlights with coloured plastic over them) - my next investment would be the lamps as in the below film

In the next film... it explains why the shadows are different colours... and why they are not the colour that you would maybe first expect...

The local lake where I live has been a source of lots of inspiration... to slow down and notice the small things, and to appreciate what nature has to offer...
I also think nature can inspire our experiments inside (and outside)
For instance I love watching how the light reflects off the lake and creates patterns on the trees surrounding the lake, and overhanging the water... the ripples in the lake caused by the wind, and also the movement of fish (as was the case today... in some places it looked like the water was boiling because the fish were feeding off the seeds falling from some of the trees.

I am thinking trying out the same experiment another time but with a less reflective tray to contain the water... to see how this will impacts the reflection on the wall. I am also interested in floating other things on the surface too, including oil.
The great thing with the water and light play is that there is so much science and learning happening at the same time... not just about light, but also about floating, about the impact of movement, of wind...
could the tray be put on a speaker so that sound can create waves?

I think if I was working with very young children I would set this up as a usual water play session but change the lighting so that it created patterns on the wall to see how the children react... do they notice the patterns... does this change their way of playing and pouring things?
I would select the materials for pouring and floating carefully to be a part of the shadow making, with transparent, opaque and solid materials...
I think most children will want to experience the water first... so this is not an experiment I would try with children as their first contact with water for a while... it would be an experiment that has context... either we had noticed the reflections outside on the lake together and decided together to recreate them back at the preschool, or it would be a development of their water play...