Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Visit to "Bild och Tanke" peschool...

I spent a morning at Bild och Tanke preschool today, found in the suburbs of Stockholm. Bild och Tanke means Image and Thought.

It was lovely to be back in an environment designed for children. This is a small preschool... and it is with intention that it is small. On my way home my mind raced about the obvious benefits I saw for these children attending a small preschool.. there were less relationships to manage, fewer other children to compete with for adult attention... and no matter what you tell me about wanting children to be independent and competent and all that (I want that too) - I remember so clearly How I wanted adult approval, adult attention... I remember that feeling of being special if I got it... and I know this should not be the case, I know that children should not desire that need for approval... but i think it is there within us all no matter how old we are... as children I/we sought approval of adults... and as adults we seek approval of our bosses... as humans we want to be seen, we want to be heard, we want to be valued... and being one of 25 is much easier than being 1 of 40 or 50 or more... even if the adult ratio is the same... I have got to the point where I need to check out some research into this... so if there is anyone reading this that can recommend some good papers/research to read, please add the recommendation to the comments...

So why do I mention that the children had a benefit?
I was there for only 2.5 hours... but during this time, my first visit ever... the children were all confident in asking who I was, why I was there, how long I would be staying... introducing themselves etc. I also saw how they helped each other, how they said kind things and complemented each other (and me) and also how the apologised for accidents and also accepted happenings as accidents... this I shall go into more detail...

Two children had spent quite some time constructing a series of sandcastles, with a complex story attached of what they were and who lived there and how many rooms there were in each castle.
Some other children came over to look... one of them balanced on the edge of the sandbox and accidently lost balanced and partially destroyed the biggest and so-labelled most beautiful castle. The child with a destructive foot moved quickly to the side.. he looked at the scene of destruction, and looked at the two children who had built it... they had not noticed... the child could have moved on and no-one would know. There was a slight pause... then the child said...
"I was balancing here and my foot slipped here, and the castle fell down like this... I did not mean to, I lost my balance. Sorry"
The children who had built the castle looked at the castle then looked at the apologetic child and one of them answered
"Its OK. We can build more"
The educator close by added..
"Maybe it is now a ruin... many old castles become ruins over time?"
"Yes, yes" many of the children said... as there were quite a few collected at the sandbox now.. at least 6... "it is a ravine"
In Swedish ruin and ravine rhyme. (Roo-een / ravv-een)

The play then carried on... all the children now involved with building, digging holes, filling up holes with water etc, making a few more ruins...

If the children were less secure (and I have seen this) then there would have been not the confidence to own up to this mistake, there would not have been the strength to accept that others make mistakes - many think they do stuff on purpose... and there would not have been the joy of being able to then play together with very little adult interaction...

The whole outdoor area was filled with children in groups busy exploring one thing or another... those children wanting/needing to run had an area they could do this without disturbing the gentle busy-ness going on... in the "pit" (a small mound with a slight dent in the top like a nest) was filled with loose parts that could be used to construct cocoons  - and activity connected to the children's interest in the butterfly cocoons found inside... in the middle were also images of cocoons belonging to other insects... not just butterflies so the children were making and reflecting on what could be inside their cocoon... the educator busy taking down notes...

I think with the preschool being smaller it not only means the children do not have as many relationships to manage... it also means the educators have fewer too... this means each child can be seen and listened to on a deeper level...

Well these are my observations and my reflections - having worked at both small and large preschools and also visited both small and large ones too..
but I am keen to follow this and learn more...
BUT first I am to communicate with Jenin... another skype meeting and then the next in the series about pedagogical documentation... THEN I can start exploring this idea..
Meanwhile enjoy these two images of the garden from Bild och Tanke.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Pedagogical Documentation - a Beginner's Guide - Session TWO

This is part TWO in a series of four posts introducing pedagogical documentation. Part one was about collecting data... and can be read here if you missed it. The idea is that these posts are for educators just at the start of their journey with pedagogical documentation, the kind of post that is not giving you a step by step method of what you must do but a post that aims to give you ideas and inspiration and to feel a little more confident as you try it out.

So you have collected data - it can be ...
written notes
the children's work

Now is the time to look at all this data, both as an individual educator, together with colleagues, with the children and with parents. Each time you look, each time you share with others you will gain a new perspective... some will tally with your perspective, others will add new details, and yet other might come in conflict with how you have interpreted the information.

It can be a good idea to have some questions at the ready when reflecting on the collected information... for example...

What is/are the child/ren doing?
Did anyone take the lead/Who took the lead? Did the other children allow this/contest this?
Did the child/ren ask questions? What sort of questions, to other children or the adult?
Was the child/ren following another child’s lead? Peer inspired. Or was it own creativity?
Was it inspired by Tv/film/book or...?
Was the child playing independently or collaboratively? Is this usual?
What friendship constellation? The usual ones, or a new ones?
How did the child/ren use any resources/materials?
Has the child/ren explained any actions?
What is the child/ren showing in terms of understanding? This can be individual understandings and group understanding.
What knowledge does the child/ren have? Again on a group and individual level.
What skills does the child/ren have? Do they use them to collaborate?
Which strategies does the child/ren use/seem to prefer? (the children's way of dealing with a problem, learning/playing... not the adult strategy of teaching)
How involved is the child/ren? Are the active participants with enthusiasm, reluctant partipants or passive (ie watching the others)

How do you know? What evidence do you have, is it backed up with previous evidence/documentation?

I think it is important to not only look at each child but to see the whole group. Remember to collect information of individuals, groups and whole class levels... and to also analyse it in the same way. Each person has their own way of evolving, but the groups and the class is also evolving too, and it is a good idea to understand the nature of the group dynamics in the class and how the children's roles and development impacts this. especially as you will need this analysis to plan future activities/lessons... so always documenting on an individual level will make it much harder to plan class activities... as activities rely often on social interactions for them to be successful.

You can use the following criteria to evaluate a child’s involvement level - this can also be viewed for the whole group too, not just on a individual level.
Concentration, perseverance/persistence
Complexity and creativity
Facial expressions and composure
Reaction time
Verbal expression
Interaction with others/materials
Length of time of involvement

Time allowing it can be  helpful to look for any connections in documentation, e.g. does the child/group always seem to be exploring their learning/play in a particular way?

Remember to reflect on your collection method too... was it a good way to collect information, not only at the time, but also how it enables the analysis part... for example when I was doing philosophical dialogues with my group of children I found that filming and recording the sessions ended up being more time consuming in the analysis part of the process, even though they could offer a greater depth.  So we ended up only recording a few sessions to enable us to maintain a deeper thinking level of our notes, and also to help us understand what got missed in our notes (as voice inflection and movements and emotions are rarely recorded in written notes during a philosophy session due to the speed of the children's talking and trying to keep up with writing it down.
Also there has to be a level of respect and security with a team of educators to share films of themselves working with children... especially when this is open for critique... after all the whole aim is to understand not only how the children learn, but also to improve the way that we as educators teach... so that the learning and teaching are in symbiosis.
Directors at early years settings... well ALL educational settings - need to work towards creating an atmosphere that allows the educators to talk freely, openly and respectfully with each other. This is done in a similar way as we work with children... we need to give it time for these relationships and trust to be built... we cannot expect children or any person to feel courage to express all their opinions without that level of security and trust, and the need that mistakes are not frowned upon or laughed at, but merely seen as stepping stones of learning.

When it comes to the analysis part I really want to press the point of not just focussing on individual children... I know there is much said about the unique child etc... but  we all function in society and therefore we need to understand how groups work, how the individuals work within the group. To understand if all the children are interested in the same things, or whether some children are not given enough time, space or volume to make their voice heard. Is there an equality in the group... and this can be seen from many perspectives... from age, from gender, from religion, race, interests etc etc.
A recent report here in Sweden about the need to review the Swedish preschool curriculum wrote

The group and the individual in the curriculum In the preschool setting there are values ​​that are important from the preschool curriculum that concern both the individual and the collective. The preschool curriculum is, more often than not, interpreted from an individual perspective. According to the School Inspectorate, Nordic preschool research shows that there is a pattern of individualisation in value-based work throughout the Nordic countries, with indications that collective values ​​are increasingly marginalised. There seems to have been a shift from a group-oriented view to greater focus on the individual child (School Inspectorate, Part II, 2017). The child must, however, be seen in relation to what is stated in the preschool curriculum, and the group should be seen as an important and active part of development and learning. The group is thus, not only an opportunity for social development, but also be an active and integral part of learning, and this may need to be clarified.
For me this is part of the democratic process... that individuals are an active part of the group... and that the group is an active part of the individual development of the children and teachers.
This democratic approach is also why it is important that children are active in the analysis of the documentation. Why not print out (or open a page on the computer in powerpoint, with the image and space then to write the child's thoughts) - and show this image to the child of themselves doing something or interacting with others... ask the children about what is happening, what do they remember, how did they feel; if they would want to do this again, if so in the same way or would they want to make any changes? etc etc... there are many questions that can be asked to find out more about what the children were thinking... and this might end up being very different from how you first interpreted the photo.
In the log-books for the children I would glue in photos of the play-spaces that we visited... and then ask the children about the space... was it easy to get to, was it fun to play there, was there anything there that was not as much fun, was there anything there that was tricky? Did they need to learn more skills to be successful...? I would then analyse the children's individual answers to see if there was a group pattern. I would use the group patterns to  support continued learning and dialogues in the group/class... and always keep in mind the individual to ensure that we were providing an inclusive learning and play environment.

The more I write the more you might be thinking how on earth can I be thinking all these things and analysing all of this... the thing is the more you practice using this tool, pedagogical documentation the more it just becomes a part of how you see and listen... it is like broadening your spectrum of sight and sound... pretty much in the same way the curriculum becomes a part of your being and you no longer need to keep on referring to it, but that as you are doing your daily work with the children you see the curriculum happening in the small actions all around you. (of course it is good to keep on returning to the curriculum to reflect once more and to gain a deeper understanding). What I am trying to write is that the more you collect data and the more you analyse it... and use the entire circle of pedagogical documentation the easier it will become, as you learn better techniques of collection, and analysis, these stages will allow you to refine these techniques even more, and you will also become more comfortable with exploring ideas with colleagues, children and parents - and also to understand that not all feedback is going to be "great job" and that this feedback is about the work... and not you personally, and is there to help you get better at your work as an educator.

Having a weekly meeting where you spend time analysing the week can be a good start... asking the same questions allow you to have a systematic approach and easier notice patterns and anomalies.
For instance the following questions could be asked..
1. What are the children interested in (don't just write play... think about what it is in the play that is the most interesting... if it is a subject, for example robots, what is it about the robots that they are interested in... maybe they do not want to build robots, maybe they are scared of them and are dealing with overcoming fear)
2.How can we build on this? (what activities, visits, materials can we use to allow the children to explore these ideas through play, and through adult lead activities too)
3. Did the week go as expected? (each week will be planned... at the end of the week ask yourself did it go as you planned it... if yes, explain how it went as you planned, if no, explain that too... and remember not as expected also means that it went better than expected)
4. What have we learned from this... ? (For example if the math activity was more popular than expected and children complained there was not enough time/space/room - then what adaptations would you make to allow more children access to the activity, keeping in mind that many children might complicate the experience, but this can still be tested and evaluated... as it might work better)
5. are there any developments, milestones or concerns (on an individual and group level) - this is good to write down so that you can go back and see when you first started to have concerns, or the child/group first developed this particular skill etc.
6. What measures do we implement to respond to this... if there is a concern what are the teachers response... this is important to make sure you keep track of what measures you are using and how effective they are... there is no point reacting to a child in the exact same way week in and week out if it has no affect, this way you can keep track of effective measures to support the child/group learning and development.
7. How shall we plan for next week based on the analysis/reflections we have just made. For example if you had planned a science activity that the children have shown clearly they have no interest in, maybe it would be appropriate to change the activity to something the children are interested in. This new activity might have the same process but a content that is more meaningful for the children and will engage them.

Getting into a routine of analysing the data is important... especially with the children. Finding time is another essential question to answer... when is there time for collegial dialogues about the collected data, when is there time for dialogues with the children... and with the parents?

Your reflections and analyses of the children's work, the photos, the films and the written notes should give you enough information to make plans...
what sort of project would the children be interested in, and why
what sort of skills do the children already master, what do they want help with, need support with?
What learning styles/strategies do the children have?
Is the group settled enough for meaningful learning, or is the a greater need for more team-building activities... I am a big believer that children will learn if they feel safe, valued and included.

These questions will influence what you plan and how you create the curriculum/process for the learning/project in the near future... this might be something that occurs for a short time, or it might end up being a project that lasts a much longer time... for instance... the Leonardo da Vinci projected that I started with my group of children ended up being about robots and lasted a whole year and allowed the children to explore many different areas of their own development within the safety of the robot project... we explored, friendship, emotions, responsibility, making mistakes, technology and film making etc etc

For me this is one of the most exciting parts of the  circle... exploring the children's ideas, play and learning - my own thoughts, with the children, with my colleagues (my closest colleagues and the whole setting) and also with the parents who can bring a whole-picture clarity to the child and how they are evolving as a citizen of the local community, of the town, of the country and of the world.

of course I am writing these posts in isolation... which means I will probably forget something important that if I was with a colleague I would be reminded of...

The next part of this series will be about making decisions and taking action.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Pedagogical Documentation... beginners guide... Session ONE

This is a guide... it is not a step by step manual. So please read, let it fill you with ideas and with questions... and the courage to start...
this is a post for pedagogues that have not yet started using pedagogical documentation and are interested in learning more about this documentation approach...
This is post one of four... they are connected to the sessions I am holding via skype with early years educators in Jenin, Palestine.

Pedagogical documentation differs from documenting in the sense that it is a tool for the teacher to learn more about the individual children, about the group/class, about how the room is working (the third teacher) about how children learn, their interests etc... and from this knowledge make plans to support the children's continued learning, to make visible this learning to the children and parents ... and other interested parties... it is a tool to allow participation in the children's own learning. It is also linked to the Reggio Emilia Approach... where documentation is collected, analysed, discussed, reflected on, used to plan, returned to, more collecting of data as needed etc... so that the educator is learning from the child to become a better at helping the children to learn...

The first session was all about different methods of collecting information... about  observations, photographs, films, writing down dialogues etc and why we do this...
There were questions about should it be about individual children, the group etc... and really pedagogical documentation is a tool that can be used in many ways... to explore and better understand the learning happening in your setting.

An average week of data collection for me would be
Monday... take films/photos of the movement session to see how the children are physically developing over time. if there any concern areas I will take close ups of this (discreetly).
Outdoors, photos taken if the children are exploring something new, or are challenging themselves in a new way... or if the children ask me to (my group of children were well aware of how documentation was being used... to put into their files to remember, and also to show this is when I managed this, it also gave them power over what is important to them, and not always my adult perception of what is important in their development).
Sometimes I would have a notebook with me and write down notes about the group constellations, how they grouped and re-grouped during their free play, what sort of play they participated in, and how long they participated i certain games before changing - sometimes this would be intensive writing, and I would write the time at the left side at regular periods so I could see the process of the morning.  (this applies to all days... as we were outside every day)
Afternoons data collected through films, photos and written observations as needed. (this applies to all days)
Tuesday... dialogue would be recorded, most often by taking notes. One person held the dialogue another educator wrote down verbatim what the children and the lead educator said. Sometimes we filmed and recorded these dialogues, but the children often wanted to return to an idea we wrote down during the session, and rewinding on film/audio was more complicated to check. We also found that the children found it inspiring for us to write down their words... at first we wrote them by hand in notebooks, but after a while we wrote them directly into a computer.
see above for outdoor and afternoon data collection.
Wednesday... in the atelier. This was a session that was recorded mostly through film and photos, including photos of the various stages of the children's works. At regular times throughout the year I would take close up photos of how the children held their pens/pencils to see how the children's pen grips were developing. I would be focussing in the films not only on technique and the children's ideas and creativity, but also on their social interaction. Some art sessions needed more scaffolding... during those sessions there are fewer photos and films or maybe none... as the children always come before the documentation.
see above for outdoor and afternoons
Thursday... outdoor learning...  so very much the same as what I have already written about outdoor play, but also with more focus on seasons and nature... so I would take photographs and films of what we were seeing and doing, this would then be material we would use with the children later for further thinking and reflecting.
Friday... was a reflection day... I tried to take as few photos and films as possible on this day, so that there was time to reflect on the week... of course there are times when the children or myself see a moment that needs to be recorded in some way or another.

There have been times when i have felt the need to collect extra information... when I worked in a bilingual preschool language was an important part of our lives... as not only were there two used languages at the setting (English and Swedish) but many of the children had further home languages too. For the sake of play, learning, communication it was important for us as educators to know how much the children could understand in the two languages used at preschool... so that we could better support their development through appropriate activities, stories and constellations of children... as the children are also teachers and help each other in their learning.
Of course when it comes to children in need of extra support in their social skills or an area of learning, then there needs to be specific data collection to better understand the child; as educators we will have our assumptions, but by collecting data we can see if we are correct or not...

Sometimes I have collected data based on the needs of the educators (in my role as director). On occasion educators have felt that at certain times of the day there are to many children for the child-teacher ratio at the end of the day... and by collecting precise data of when children and educators leave the setting there is the opportunity to see if this is just a feeling because educators feel tired at the end of the day, or that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

Data can be collected to understand how the setting is being used... what areas are most used, are there any areas that some children do not feel welcome in, are there any areas that educators do not keep within a good radar of safety? There are many questions that can be asked.

At this point we have collected information, documented the children... it is not pedagogical documentation yet. It is when we begin to analyse this information that it begins to be pedagogical... and this should be done preferably with others... with colleagues and with the children too... and also the parents. So we are at stage one of the documentation circle.

It is important when collecting data, making observations that you find a style/approach that works for you. Maybe in the beginning you feel uncomfortable... especially if you are being filmed and your voice being recorded... but this can be a good reminder that the children too might find it uncomfortable.
When documenting children though film and photographs we should always be sensitive to the children... not all children want to be photographed or filmed, especially when they know it is going onto the wall. So respect a child's integrity. If they say no, then don't.
it can be a good idea to talk to the children about taking photographs, and take the time to explain to them why you are taking photographs, so that they become a part of the process. If you are taking photographs of the children's work, there are copyright issues here... the artwork belongs to the child, so if you are wanting to share it on social media you should be asking for permission.
But we can go into this more at a later date... right now it is this first step. Getting comfortable with collecting data, finding a routine that works for you, and making sure that the children come first... the documentation is a tool to support the process of becoming a better educator it is not the process in itself. So put the camera, notebook down and be with the children, use the documentation tools when there is time.
It might be that when you get started you want to give yourself a routine, that at certain times, certain activities you learn how to collect the information; so that you get comfortable with the process. AND why not push yourself out of the comfort zone and try a method that you would not usually use, just so that you can evaluate it... maybe it is better than you first thought?

Over the years I have had a variety of notebooks for writing down observations, or writing down dialogues, or for using like a scrapbook, with photos glued in... I have also used similar notebooks for each child... where they could choose photos to glue in and write their thoughts down (sometimes on their own, most often they dictated their thoughts to us and we wrote them).

it is about getting creative with documentation... about being open to technology as new tools allow for new ways to record the children's learning. it is about testing, and making mistakes, rethinking and finding new ways... until you find your optimum data collection procedure...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

MOMO and play...

In 1973 Michael Ende wrote the book "Momo" - it is about a girl with the ability to tell stories, to capture the imagination and for play - it is also about someone who can REALLY listen... a child that creates an almost time-free zone through play and listening... a child that creates an almost time free zone through play. The grey men are time stealers... they make everyone work hard in order to "save time" to do the things they like later... of course later never comes. Momo becomes their enemy... she cannot be convinced to save time by playing with toys that are not open ended, and her playful power is so strong that she inspires all of those around her...
In the book she goes out of time for a while to learn with Professor Hora how the grey men can be defeated; but during this time the grey men succeed in controlling the children... the hardest part of society to control as they were not so easily convinced to save time like adults...

The children are put into depots... because it was too dangerous to have them on the streets, they needed to be educated for the future, accidents involving children cost so much money and could be used for other things, and because the adults were so busy trying to save time that they no longer had time for the children... 

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

I find it interesting that in 1973 Michael Ende (author of Never-ending Story) saw how adults would so completely control children's lives... I have seen how the free play... free from adults (but not devoid of adult care) from my own childhood seems a rare things in most parts of the western world. I saw glimpses of it in Palestine, but it was not free for both genders.

By sharing this excerpt I am not in any way saying the early childhood education centres are something bad and should be avoided at all costs.. what my intention is that we who work in these centres and home-settings are aware of the need for play in its many glorious forms. That we need a healthy play diet.
I have been writing about this all morning as part of the play chapter for my book, and it made me think of Momo, which made me want to share it.

For me play needs to be safe, but that does not mean it should not be without risk, but play should be a space where children feel safe enough to express themselves, to explore their emotions, test out their skills, make mistakes, adventure with their imaginations etc etc. There also needs to be freedom, and openness to try out the things that we as adults feel uncomfortable with... like using sticks as guns... so that the children can make sense of the world together with others, and not feel confused in isolation.
Pedagogical play, I feel, is part of the play diet... but the space to experience this free play with a non-judgemental openness is being offered less and less, as children are being institutionalised younger and younger with the express need that they should be trained to be good citizens.
And it is not as if I want bad citizens... its just I have more faith in play and children.

excerpt from: Michael Ende (1984) "Momo", page 168.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Updated version of "The Relevance of Malaguzzi in ECE"

It is one of my most read posts... and yet when I read it I see the gaping holes I would loved to have filled if I had had more word space... it was an assignment as part of my masters...
So I have returned to the paper and added a few more reflections... and since there was a request to be able to download it and have more access to it, I have made it into a downloadable pdf file...
you just need to click on this link

The Relevance of Malaguzzi in ECE

and it should take you to another page where you can read online, or download for later.

I hope it inspires some further thinking, or gets you going as you start your journey in the Reggio Emilia Approach, for whatever reason you read this... I hope that it offers you something.

all the best

not often there are images of me here... but just so you get an idea of who I am behind this blog... well sort of...

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Why Together Paintings/Art?

I have always liked collaborative art... of working together...
I find that often the focus is on the individual, which is an essential part of working as an educator... to see each individual child and to enable them to reach their potential... but individuals live, work and play in groups, so they need to work out how to be themselves in not just one group, but in a variety of groups and social situations.
Together art gives children the opportunity to express themselves and interact with other. It is not a form of art that is conflict free - it can require a great deal of scaffolding at times - but it does give the children time and space to practice those social skills while doing something enjoyable. They learn how to take turns, to make space for each other, or take space from others (as there are children who take up a lot of social space and children who take up too little social space... they both need to learn how to allow an equality in the social space): they learn how to be inspired by each other... sharing techniques, learning from mistakes etc etc etc...

I also felt there was a lot of "mine" happening, so by making art together we were creating "ours". It is not that we were making only together art, but that there was a mix of many options of big group art, small group art, working in pairs and working individually... and that all of these ways felt natural for the children to partake in.

Lots of scaffolding in the early days, allowed me to take more and more steps back as the children would scaffold each other more and more.

Also by allowing together paintings to happen across the ages the older children got the chance to realise just how competent the younger children are... and stopped referring to them as babies...

In this post I have selected a whole load of different together art for you to see and think about...

when working with one year olds I introduced together painting in a different way... not so much that they were all there the first time, but in ones and twos so that it was not overwhelming. In this image just off-screen were three children watching... two of them had shown us that they did not like getting messy in previous art opportunities. There was so much joy when this child painted that both the children who did not like getting messy wanted to try...  and this is the beauty of together painting that children can inspire each other. Both those two only painted for a very short time... but they had tried something that they had avoided passionately before hand.

sometimes a together artwork is not about art AT ALL. This piece was a morning meeting, it was about supporting the group to take turns, supporting the group to take the time to think and reflect and to support the group to help each other... it was not about being creative and expressing themselves through art.
The idea was that each child selected three squares of tissue paper... the colours on offer were the same colours found on Elmer the Elephant by David McKee - the children needed to glue their three squares onto the elephant in order and also to make sure that the same colour square did not touch each other (although corners were allowed). This was a lot of thinking for eleven 2-3 year olds It required patience to wait your turn (each child had several turns), but being an active adviser also helped with that. It also meant that children could not just select their favourite colour but had to explore other colours too.
At the end the elephant was cut out and used as part of storytelling. The children also got the opportunity to draw their own elephants and glue on pieces as they wished - but then the focus was more on painting with the glue rather than fixing pieces of paper onto their art.

this was another artwork.. making leaves for a tree which was more about supporting the children with understanding boundaries than it was about being creative. What happens if you paint out of the lines and into someone else's area, how could we resolve conflicts, how could we use self-regulation to avoid conflicts... can someone paint over the lines by accident, or is it always on purpose? Lots of ideas for the children to explore.

and yet another artwork about turn taking. patience, thinking about colours, self regulating, concentrating... this was again not an art session per se, but a morning meeting/circle time/philosophy session.

This was the first "Together painting" in the sense that it was labelled a together painting before we started... I wrote "TILLSAMMANS" on the paper in big letters which is Swedish for "TOGETHER". It was a part of a project called Together on the Square where we were exploring collaboration, empathy and the local area through the children's interests.
In the beginning I needed to have a list - a turn taking list, as there was so much disagreements about who should paint and when. There were two pots of paint, one black and one white. The idea being that the children needed to talk to each other about swapping colours... giving them the chance to learn how to ask respectfully, how to say no respectfully, to be aware that others are waiting (and if you don't like to wait, maybe they don't) and also to learn how to wait (if you don't like having to change colours to quickly, maybe others don't). This was a way for the children to learn how to socially interact with each other. It was not conflict free, but I was there to support them if needed. After a week the children did not need a turn-taking list any more, they were able to do this themselves (no longer waiting a few cm away saying "is it my turn yet?" on repeat) - they learned that there was time to paint, that they could play and return to the together painting repeatedly and have several turns during the day. The children had to learn that there was time... and everything did not need to happen now... other could be first sometimes.

the together painting was active for different length of time sometimes a week sometimes much longer... with different layers being added. There were many discussions about was it OK to paint over someone's work or not, and what happened to that image, was it still there. A lot of photographs were taken at the children's request, as they soon learned they could document their process and keep their artwork that way too. This was a great way for the children to understand how photography could be used as a memory and also as a form of documentation.
eventually more and more children could paint at the same time as the children became more socially competent at the easel. Learning how to share the paint pots and how to communicate their desire for colour change and also their desire to not swap... they learned to do this in a respectful way... although some scaffolding still was needed on occasion. And when there were many children at the painting at the same time then space was a premium and finding space for your own creativity could be tricky... but this was all part of the skill package... conflict resolution.
I always chose the colours in the sense that they would offer the children experiences of new colours being formed when mixed... and not for it always to turn brown...(although brown happened on occasion too)
it also became a place to test writing skills... and this inspired other children... so it was a great way for literacy to spread through play across the ages.
The together paintings often became a wonderful sensory experience for many of the children... one child would start painting their arms an others would follow.
it was also a place where we tested new techniques... like putting tape across and then peeling it off when the paint was dry...
or dipping straws into paint and blowing it onto the paper
or gluing bits of paper onto the paper using glitter filled glue... this was to create a hedge of thorns and flowers as part of a sleep beauty project the children were exploring.
sometimes we decided BEFOREHAND how to collaborate... here the children made rainbow - each child with their own colour and taking it in turns to make a series of rainbows across the paper... They really had to check each rainbow to see which one was the next for them to paint, so that the colours would come in the "right order" - the children helped each other out.
sometimes instead of pots I would put a tray of colour out for them to use - often the tray itself would become the artwork - and there could be intense dialogues between the children when one wanted the colours separate and the others were mixing on the tray... these were great opportunities to learn.
Together painting can be taken outside... this is plastic stretched between trees... the same idea of different colour pots with a brush in each and for the children to enter a dialogue with each other to change colour. This was part of the International Fairy Tea Party celebrations that are held every year in September... 
more outside collaborative art - it does not always have to be paint...
sometimes it is using what the children find

and they can sometimes find all sorts of junk to create with...
some collaborative artworks have been done very differently... in the sense that they did not work on them at the same time... we had 11 children and 6 pieces of art... half the group went outside to play while half worked on the first stage of creating a magic forest...
then the other half would come in and continue the magic forest process... this happened many times until the children were satisfied
layer by layer...
and then a few months later the children decided that the forest were no longer correct... winter had arrived and we needed to change the look of the forest... so we took them down from the wall, lined them up on the table and then on another table at the other side of the room I put lots of white tissue paper for the children to rip up, make balls with etc and glue onto the forest images... all 11 children on the 6 forest artworks - it was an interesting dynamic watching the children negotiate the movement in the room and interacting with each other to ensure each forest picture became wintery.
This idea of a communal paint centre I have used many times... this was part of a rainforest painting... each child painted a rainforest using flowers and leaves... the first session was leaves, the background, using a variety of greens... the children came to a central table to dip leaves and then print on their own paper... the idea being there is movement and the need to take turns with the paints... and not just to paint their own creation in isolation.
it was also about sharing materials, and inspiring each other.
I have done several spaghetti/string painting over the years, in a variety of ways too... but this way of doing it in small groups and collaborating is the way I have enjoyed most... as I see the interactions between the children have been at the best. A pile of string or spaghetti, dip in the paints and then let the noodle/string dance on the paper in a variety of ways - some children have told stories together as they create the art, some have sang together, once I saw a group do this in total silence.
the art is then done over time in a series of small groups... adding more and more depth to the artwork.

sometimes artwork can take a long time to get going - like this one did... I was sweaty at the end of this due to having to work so hard at the scaffolding and trying to keep my cool... I was getting frustrated by the children's total lack of listening to each other. It was a new group to me, and after working for four years with the same group and really working on the group dynamic and how to listen to each other, it came as a shock to work with a group that could not. But just because it was not easy is not reason enough not to do it... maybe it is more reason to do it... to expose the children to an opportunity to learn about the needs of others and how to make sure their own needs are met too.
more outside art colaboration... this time using coloured ice on fabric
Together painting on the square.The water source was two spray bottles that the children needed to collaborate together with to ensure they could all paint... as well as changing the colour pucks with each other.
some outdoor art is more science than art... this is where the children painted on the slide (well paper on the slide) we also used the swings to create art too together.
the swing art became the background for the fairy portraits... the children drew each other, added wings and then cut them out. 
taking turns mixing the spices.

this is part of making a background for a Moroccan inspired fairy land... 

it was also about self regulation... can I put paint on all of my friends backs? Will they like it? Should I ask first, is it ok to say no?

and this is the sky for that fairy land... some made the trees, some made the sky etc... all the children do not all have to do the same thing... we can all contribute in different ways. This session was designed to help the children with pronunciation difficulties to train their mouths through blowing the paint through the straws... Paint on sugar solution.

I ahve done a lot of light table painting with children... in pairs and in groups... as well as individually. The small space adds a challenge, but that is a part of the process. Again a lot of story telling, singing and dancing usually happens.

and it has seldom been a negative experience as there is just so much wonder and joy.
some together paintings have been a meta dialogue... a reaction to a philosophy session... here the children has explained that to play magical powers (what we had discussed in our philosophy session) there was a need to dance on a rainbow. So together we created a big rainbow to dance on... with our feet... and the children cheering each other on...
sometimes it has just been about paint directly on the floor... because they wanted to clean up like Cinderella (boys and girls). So we paint and then we clean it all up together. Taking responsibility together.

big painting on the floor... working out together how to make brown... testing theories and then finding a solution.
This was part of making a gingerbread house as we explored Hansel and Gretel. The candies for the house was made with paint scented with peppermint, lemon etc...

individual portraits brought together. Individuals make up a group.

here we needed a big artwork in the dining area, not to just cheer up the room but also to act as a sound absorber... so we painted on fabric. The whole preschool was involved. The younger children first, printing with vegetables and fruit, and also dabcing with coloured feet and hands... fabric is great for this as it is not slippery.

then the older children finished off the artwork by using black paint to draw fruit, vegetables and other foods.
this is a similar artwork... where the younger children made the background and the older children painted spring images on top... a way for ALL the children to be a part of the process.
some together paintings need a lot of collaboration... here the children are egg rolling... too steep and the egg breaks, not steep enough and the egg won't roll. We did many kinds of collaborative work with balls, magnets, and poles with paintbrushes dangling down.
back to turn taking and risk taking... this is just on a table to add flower prints to a big spring background... there have been artworks where children have taken it in turns to climb a step ladder and drop paint from up high... the children supporting and encouraging each other, as well as making sure that they are safe.

 So, as you see, there are VERY many ways that children can collaborate and paint together... and I have felt that the benefits are so worth the trouble. Yes, this style of working can get messy... both with paint everywhere, but also socially, as we are putting the children together in close proximity to experience new things... but what I observed is that the more the children were exposed to working together the better they got at it... and the easier it was to use these skills they learned in other play and social situations...

 This does not touch the collaborative nature of loose parts, or construction and other areas of learning... the focus of this post was on art.