Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Slippers in school!

I recently read an article by the BBC about slippers in school and the benefits they have on learning...
you can read it  here

Living and working in Sweden taking shoes off in schools is the norm... in fact it is rare to have schools where shoes are kept on... especially in the younger years...

Never once has it been explained to me that it would improve learning... it was always about the cleaning bill... and noise... which yes can affect learning to some extent.

Working with preschoolers I am on the floor a great deal... so a no shoe policy is great... it keeps the floor cleaner, the work surface... in much the same way you would not want shoes on the table. It also means that if your fingers get stepped on in the construction area, or any area of the preschool, they are not getting crushed by the hard soles of shoes.

The following points were lifted in the text as benefits:-
  • Children seem to behave gentler and bullying is reduced
  • Noise is reduced
  • It's more hygienic - carpets are cleaner and reduced wear and tear on furniture.
  • Children are more willing to sit on floors and soft furnishings creating more space for collaboration, presentation, role play
  • Teachers do not end up in conflict about the "right kind" of shoes

When I look for Swedish sources about slippers to see if the same benefits can be found here in Sweden, the noise and cleanliness can be easily found.
I found one text about bullying and better behaviour, BUT the article was also very clear to explain that the slippers were not the direct cause of this but all the other actions the school and teachers had put into place of which slipper wearing was a small part...

I have observed quite a few schools during my 20 something years of living in Sweden... and I would never have put together the fact that wearing slippers help children behave better... in fact if that IS the case I have some serious concerns about children and youth in Sweden... what would their behaviour be like if they were wearing shoes instead? The noise and social interactions in classrooms and between lessons is not subdued or calmer than that of British schools... in fact I would say that classrooms are noisier here than the classrooms I have observed in UK etc.
The children in the majority of classrooms I have observed in Stockholm, and worked in/with have a large number of children that constantly talk and disregard what the teacher is saying... there is a constant noise - hardly the calmness for learning... not that it should be deathly quiet... but maybe their should be pauses in the chattering in order to listen... not only to the teachers but also the other children in the class. Not one of them is wearing shoes. Not one of them thinks that not wearing shoes makes the school more homely.

Surely if there is competition about the right kind of shoes there will be the same developing about the right kind of slippers... what are in and what are not... unless there is a school uniform on slippers... of course here in Sweden there are no uniforms whatsoever... so is that the cause of bullying? I hardly think it is the cause... I am sure that situations can arise... but it is not the freedom to wear what you want or what you can afford, or the difference between shoes and slippers that is going to reduce the bullying... it is how children learn to listen and respect each other... and also how the adults learn to listen and respect the children, and each other too... the dialogue between school and home in order to see the whole child and to support them in their learning journey... social and cognitive...

Not once I have I felt that schools are calmer in Sweden due to the lack of outdoor shoes...
I do appreciate the fact that there are no puddles in the classroom/preschool - as melting snow leaves the footwear that is designed for minus degrees... I mean who WANTS to spend an entire day with big chunky boots on that are designed for minus degrees when they are indoors... feet will get too hot, the body will not be able to get comfortable... and those winter boots get put on in October and usually come off in late March if you are lucky, usually sometime in April.... that is 6-7 months of the year with footwear that is not designed for warm indoor environments... so of course slippers or sock feet are much better...
The downside being during a fire drill, or real fire... having to leave the warmth of the school and line up outside in the meeting places in nothing but slippers (or sock feet) in the well below freezing conditions!! Its cold! I have seen children cry from the cold... and real fire escapes means you can't stop by to put on their boots on the way out... Luckily fire drills etc seldom happen.

I know for a fact that some children get bullied by having their outdoor shoes taken and dumped in the middle of the playground... my own son has had that happen to him (plus a series of other bullying behaviours directed towards him... he no longer attends that school, as the school, despite not wearing outdoor shoes were not capable of curbing the behaviour towards my son... for a week or so at a time, but not real genuine solving of the social situation).
My daughters have told me about the behaviours of the older children in schools... of the fights that happened on the corridors, the body shaming, the stereotypical name calling - all by children without shoes...

Wearing slippers is NOT the answer... but it can be a small part of making life softer... the REAL work comes in the interactions between the people... the children and the adults. Id making the choice to wear slippers part of the dialogue between colleagues where they are reflecting on the children and their communication with their environment, with their peers and with the teachers? or is it just a decision that is made... slippers =better behaviour=better learning?

Nope, I struggle with the whole reduced bullying and conflicts... its not what i have seen... it does reduce the noise of shoes in the classroom, but not the noise of desks, chairs, and voices... I also think that the preschool is kept cleaner... which makes play much more pleasant when it is on the floor... and also the economics of it... less time, less money, and also less wear and tear.

The cloakroom, where the is a shoe line... no outdoor shoes after this point. Children put their outdoor shoes on the rack under their peg/cubbie. Parents take off their shoes or put on shoe covers before bringing their child in... teachers take off their outdoor shoes and put on their slipper too! Here the floor gets wet and dirty so we have the tools to sweep or dry the messes during the day. The big silver/white cupboard to the left is the drying cupboards... essential to dry off wet outdoor clothes and sometimes waterlogged boots and shoes.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Uppsala - som lovade.

hej alla som kom igår för att lyssna på mig i Uppsala!
Här är en liten post för att dela lite mer information... bilder, bokförslag samt länkar (längst ner)

här på min blog finns det massor som handla om att lyssna, olika projekt för ateljén, filosofi med barn, det kompetenta barn osv osv...

om att kommunicera - här är en post om hur vi kan lyssna, kommunicera med barn som är ickeverbal, eller kommunicera bättre med någon av sina andra "99 språk"

Jackson Pollock - mer information om att utforska känslor med konst.

dansa på regnbåge - att leka metasamtalet

fotografi - jag har använt fotografi som ett språk att kommunicera - barnen dela sina idéer genom att ta bilder, samt utforska sina idéer vidare.  Det finns fler bloggposts om hur man kan arbeta med fotografi och barnens tankar om man kolla på "Through the Eyes of the Child" länk på sidan.

TEDTalks - 7 TEDtalks som handlar om lyssnande... verkligen intressant.

Hur man sitta för att lyssna

Filosofi i förskolan - mina tankar om filosofi i förskolan... med länkar till olika posts som jag har skrivit.

Nu lite länkar till andra som arbeta med filosofi med barn... jag pratade inte så mycket om filosofi - eftersom när jag jobbade med det jag insåg att först måste vi alla kunna lyssna, sedan kunde man börja med filosofi.. men det finns lite olika sätt att göra filosofi - P4C (Philosophy for Children), PwC (Philosophy with Children), Sokratisk samtal osv... vissa kör hård med sina metoder (jag har träffat en hel del utbildare i filosofi för/med barn osv) och såg hur vissa av mina kollegor blev rädd att börja kör filosofiska samtal med barnen eftersom dom var rädda att göra fel... vissa kursledare var mycket bestämde hur man skulle göra rätt och påpekade fel. Jag har tagit en mer Reggio Emilia inställning.. och blandad ihop olika dela av alla så att det passade barngruppen, samt jag blev bekväm med det också. Man måste bara våga att testa, gör en massa fel som man kan lära sig en massa nyttiga saker från och utveckla som barnen... det finns ett ord på engelska "evolve" som känns mer passande för lärande... barnens och vår egna. Det känns som man ta det i sin egen takt och evolvera istället för utveckla - som känns som det är en rakt linje som går uppåt dvs blir bättre och bättre (betyder det att vuxna är bättre än barn för att dom är mer utvecklad??? (Dagens random tanke).

Sara Stanley  P4C  Sara har stannat hemma hos mig också i en vecka där vi hann prata mycket... hon hade en mer lyhörd förhållningssätt till P4C än Bo Malmhester och Beate Børresen har - som har varit lärorikt att lyssna på och samtala med men hade en bestämd rätt/fel inställning till filosofi som var svårt att anpassa till förskolan (enligt mig och mina kollegor) - deras bok "Låt Barnen Filosofera" (Liber, 2004) är mycket värd att läsa - man få bra tips.

Thomas E Wartenberg Big Ideas for Little Kids... länken går direkt till den del av hans hemsida som jag tycker mest om... böcker... man kan hitta här många böcker och han har redan listat ut möjliga frågor kring det som man kan ställa till barnen för att fundera på den på ett djupare sätt.

Ann S. Pihlgren detta är en länka för att läsa om Sokratiska samtal.. eller eftertänksam dialoger. Hon har en bok som heter Sokratiska Samtal i undervisningen (Studentlitteratur, 2010). Boken fungera för förskolan och skolan

P4C - SAPERE - lite mer information
Philosophy Foundation - Peter Worley - han har skrivit många böcker inklusive "The if Machine" (Continuum, 2011). Han är rätt så aktiv i facebook P4C grupper men verka har en mer blandad approach och har till och från ifrågesatt p4c som metod (då är han et slag hjälte för mig... att ifrågesätta... yeah!) Han fick en hel del kritik för det, det är alltid svårt att ifrågesätta metoder - kolla på skolsystemet, många ser att den inte fungera för ALLA som det borde men det är motstånd för att göra om det.

en annan bok man kan kolla på är Doverborg/Pramling Samulesson "Att förstå barns tankar: Metodik för barnintervjuer" (Liber, 2011)

Nu tror jag att det finns tillräckligt mycket för att kommer igån med egna tankar funderingar och testa antingen filosofiska samtal, eller eftertänksam dialoger - och kommer igång med att stödja barnen att lyssna på varandra mer.

För alla som vill har sagokortbilder... lägg en kommentar här med detta bloggpost... och lämna din e-mail samt namn på förskola, så kan jag skicka bilderna till er... jag kommer inte publicera kommentar med e-mail adresser, så allting blir privat.
Imorgon kommer jag skriver en post om sagokort igen och flera sätt man kan använda dom... för tillfället kan ni kolla på detta... Story Cards/ Sagokort

Monday, 6 March 2017

The hundred languages of democracy...

As I put this presentation together trains of thoughts keep flooding through... ideas for blogposts... new ideas, and old ones that I never got time to write have resurfaced...

Schools here in Sweden are supposed to be a place of democracy - but sometimes I have my doubts that all voices are being heard... as elsewhere in the world there is a strong bias for the written word here. Which means there is a heavy focus on reading and writing... which is NOT every child's preferred language of communication... I am reminded of this daily due to my son's extreme dislike of reading and writing... he does LOVE to be read to, something I do for him every day...

BUT if democracy is about having your voice heard, about participation, about being valued for who you are... then why are children with other communication preferences being discriminated against?

So I will, as part of this year of exploring the democratic classroom/preschool, try to unfold some of democracy's hundred languages...

One language of democracy is giving the children the power to take care of each other - to comfort each other, rather than the children always seeking an adult...

In the series of images below (a screen shot of my up and coming presentation that is under construction) a child had fallen over... at the beginning of the year the children would always come to us... or they would cry and all the children would just look at us expecting us to put it right... by far the majority of the time there was no scrape or blood or need for medical intervention, but as soon as the children saw I was with the child they resumed their play. It did not feel like a democratic community where we listened to each other, took care of each other... all powers of comfort resided with me, so I enabled the children to take this power and use it themselves by scaffolding and supporting how to take care of each other.

It was not easy - instinct is to go over and help the child and comfort them... but I needed to back off and allow the children to comfort each other. I was always watching... and if I felt the falls was to hard, to high, or there was a risk for real injury I was there like a shot, otherwise I let the children assess the situation... sometimes they rubbed of knees and hands, gave the required comfort and all was well... sometimes they brought the child to us so that cleaning and a plaster/bandaid could be applied.
In this series of photos I could see the child being me... my usual routine of checking the injury, then asking the child what they needed to feel better (not all children like hugs to feel better) - the child below in the photo REALLY needed a hug. Then I would always take the child to a bench where we would sit until they were ready to play again... so they knew they could have comfort as long (or as short) as they wanted

For me this is a democratic language. The people (here it is the children) taking care of each other. Listening to their needs and responding to them, knowing that each person is different and that that is OK.

I always make sure that all children are included... that every child in the group needs to be comforted and that every child should try comforting... for some children this was hard. To comfort others did not come naturally at first, but with time, and without force, there was an understanding of why comforting another was important and that it was OK to do it on your own terms... (we talked alot... this was a big part of the scaffolding)
not all children liked to be hugged... but when they realised the process meant that you could choose how you were comforted, this meant accepting help from others became easier. It also meant that the child learned that hugs were not necessary to comfort others... stroking a shoulder or arm would suffice... the process always went in many directions.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Democratic Preschool...

On Wednesday (8 March 2017) I will be heading to Uppsala to share a presentation about listening and values... with a heavy focus on democracy...

The very first sentence in the Swedish preschool curriculum is "Förskolan vilar på demokratins grund" (The preschool rests on the foundations of democracy).
Yet over the years I have seen a kind of confusion over what is democracy... and how does the preschool rest upon it? Often I have seen "democracy" been used a project, and often that means voting... but over the years as I have been on this "listening journey" of mine I have come to understand democracy as something quite different... and that voting is a tool of democracy rather than being democracy.

A democratic preschool for me is about listening to each other, about being heard and valued, about having respect, about having power over your learning, about being an active participant, about negotiating and compromise...

Children do not choose to come to preschool... well at least not at first (and for some, never) - it is their parents that make this choice for them... it is also the parents that choose which preschool they attend, and the preschool that chooses which educator/s will be with the children. The educator in a sense is the power, the leader - but we also have to acknowledge that we have not been democratically chosen by the children for this role.

Working philosophically with children (age groups between 2 and 6) has allowed me to see the importance of listening as a democratic tool. When I first started working philosophically the children seldom listened to each other... they heard that others were talking, but did not listen to their words or try to understand their intentions, their focus was on telling their own story - and paying attention to the teacher was important (if not always appreciated) - as children are used to having to listen to an adult.
So in the beginning of this 3.5 year journey with the same group of children I focussed on enhancing their listening skills... not so much about them listening to me, but about them listening to each other... real listening (I have written a lot about listening over the years... so please take the time to explore this blog to learn more if you have the time).

And yes, I felt that with time and with practice we created a democratic preschool... where the children listened with respect to each others ideas, even ideas they did not agree with were listened to. We learned that by listening we might expand on our own ideas - so it was always worth while to listen - we might change our opinion even... or be more sure that our own ideas were good ones.
The children had the opportunity to make decisions about their learning and play - decisions we made together... the children ensured that everyone was included, they were aware of the feelings of others - when choosing the playspace we should go to (Monday-Wednesdays) they developed their own strategy for making that choice, they also decided that those that got their choice should not cheer, because that made the few who had made another choice sad, and likewise those who did not get their choice should not boo, because that made others feel bad too - but expressing joy and disappointment was OK, but in a respectful way. They also made the decisions when they saw that someone or a few were very disappointed that the next day they should visit that playspace - recognising the needs of others. During the process there was room for the children to present arguments as to why that particular playspace was good for play - and quite often this resulted in many changing their minds when they realised the same play could be offered in both play spaces, or another new, or an old favourite they had forgotten about could be played.
ALL of this could be done without my adult interference... we had modelled the necessary skills through philosophical dialogues which they then applied to many other situations.

Each child was heard and valued by the whole group. The whole group worked together to create a community of play and learning that would benefit them all and not just a few. I was their leader - not in the sense that I made decisions, but as a guide to ensure the group principles were upheld, and also with the knowledge that I LISTENED to all of them, as well as they listened to me. We created a community of play and learning TOGETHER where we were equally valued despite us all being different and the fact that over the years I have accumulated a considerable amount of knowledge that the children are just starting to build on.

On Wednesday I will share this journey of listening to create a democratic preschool in greater detail and with lots of images to illustrate.
To create/be a part of a democratic society then we need to listen... those elected to power need to listen to the many voices of the people, and not to exclude; the people need to listen to those in power and make informed choices; the people also need to listen to each other with respect and not to exclude - not to be convinced in the rightness of your own opinions but to consider the viewpoints of others, and to remember that democracy requires compromise, you do not always get what you want, and you also need to be aware of those who never get what they want, because that is not democratic either...
so that means listening to everyone so that we have a better understanding of who is being included and who is being excluded due to being a minority... this is as relevant in the classroom as it is in society... and is not just the responsibility of the country's leader or the classroom educator... but of the whole society and every child in the classroom to ensure that all are included and heard.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Challenging ideas (My Reggio)

During the last few weeks I have been reflecting quite a lot on what the Reggio Emilia Approach means to me... since I have been interviewed for online conferences, podcasts and written some articles about the Reggio Emilia Approach (check this link to find out more about the free online conferences) ...

I have also had time to read blogposts, articles and books that have got me thinking and making pedagogical somersaults...
In the last few days Diane Kashin wrote a post Playfulness and Playlessness: The Politics and Pedagogy of Play on her forever inspiring blog Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research... her reflections were inspired by a post by Debi Keyte-Hartland Pedagogical Documentation in Challenging Times .
Not surprising really that educators who appreciate the Reggio approach should read each other's posts and be inspired to write... taking the thinking further, adding their own reflections... allowing an idea to expand, to be diverted, altered or challenged.
I think the "challenging" part is the hardest... not only to do the challenging but also to be on the receiving end of having your ideas challenged.
But I do believe that this challenging part is incredibly important... especially in the political climate we have today that both Debi and Diane talk about in their posts... the need to be humane... to be a positive part of the social fabric... not just following, but making informed choices... this can be done through making the humane visible as Debi writes and by giving freedom as Diane writes.

There is a phrase in Swedish which I feel is often thrown around but seldom truly exists - "högt i tak" which means high in the ceiling. This refers to that we are open to all ideas, that we accept the opinions of others, that we can talk frankly with each other, and that ALL are valued. Nearly every workplace I have worked at has used this phrase... seldom has it been active.
So why is it so hard to have a high ceiling? And why is it so important in "my" Reggio?

I feel it is important because if we are to evolve as educators we need to be open... to our own limits, to our failures, to the ideas of others, to the concept of having our ideas challenged... not to be proven wrong but as part of the process of expanding the idea, to be open to the idea that it is ok to challenge others and that they will not get offended... to learn how to do this respectfully... but at the same time I hear about the heated dialogues of Reggio Emilia and feel are we being too polite all the time with each other... is our politeness getting in the way of us evolving as educators, of being able to see pedagogy from a new perspective?

Time and time again there are dialogues in the facebook group Reggio Emilia Approach where people get uncomfortable with the challenging bit... which I think is a shame... there needs to challenging... of course with it being a group with well over 23,000 members from around the world there is a need for respect... not just being polite but a  respect that we view pedagogy from different perspectives... the Reggio Emilia Approach is not about lifting the pedagogical approach carried out in the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy and recreating it elsewhere... it is about redeveloping the approach to suit the needs of your own context... where we meet as educators is our view of the child as competent, ourselves as co-researchers/co-learners with the children, a pedagogy of equality and a pedagogy of listening. To have equality means valuing all of those 100 languages, valuing the potential of all... no matter gender, religion, ability, age etc etc; listening means understanding the children, understanding your own context... including your political context - understanding how stereotypes influence your teaching/interactions with the children in your care.
So how can we be respectful and not just polite... so that we are open to the challenges and can challenge in a meaningful way...

I think part of the problem is school... we have all been trained in a school system that has its focus on reading and writing... communication though is much more than reading and writing... it is MOSTLY listening...

communication - listening 40%, talking 35%, reading 16% and writing 9%

As you see in the above image (free Swedish lesson here) despite writing being only 9% of communication an awful lot of school time is spent on this area, and often from a far too young age, when there could still be more focus on the other skills - especially the listening and talking. There are next to no learning opportunities for children in listening... real genuine listening... not the kind of listening that lets you hear words, but the kind that allows you to understand the point of view of another... because if you know how real listening feels then you can also recognise it in others... then you feel more free to share your opinions and ideas with others...
The last four years I have worked philosophically with children... I also saw that I needed to support the children in their listening skills to make those philosophical dialogues more meaningful... so through play and art we explored listening and became better listeners... this blog shares that listening journey. But it was not only the children that got better at listening... so did I... I was learning with the children... I am still learning and one day I hope to be a great listener. I was told that i was a good listener when i was in Palestine... that I listened with an openness and with respect; and really I have my preschoolers to thank for helping me get to that place where other adults comment on it...

So I think it is hard for people/educators to have that high ceiling because we never get enough time to hone our listening skills, to practice being open... to let go of our own agendas so that we can understand the perspective of another. TIME. We need so much of it... time to practice, time to make mistakes, time to reflect, time to communicate with each other. So much time is filled with "must-haves" that often we are not give the chance to let go of our agenda, that we feel is important... that is important.
So how can we give each other more time, give ourselves more time so that we can build that ceiling high and use its full potential?

Free thinking... free speech... it also comes with the risk that we have our ideas criticised... but we need to be open enough, free enough, to explore these criticism as a way to expand your own thinking or solidify your own thinking... even, possibly, make a pedagogical somersault and change your thinking...
pedagogical somersault... was first used in connection with viewing the child as rich and full of potential to learn with the educator rather than being empty and  being needed to be filled by the teacher...

some quotes to reflect on about free speech, a high ceiling, the need to stand up for the right to express our opinions... and the hundred languages...

“Do not make the mistake of thinking that you have to agree with people and their beliefs to defend them from injustice.” 
― Bryant McGillVoice of Reason

“No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity.” 
― Maajid NawazIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

“The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is what I absolutely do not subscribe to.” 
― John Cleese

“Discourse and critical thinking are essential tools when it comes to securing progress in a democratic society. But in the end, unity and engaged participation are what make it happen.” 
― AberjhaniSplendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

“[T]he imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.” 
― George Orwell

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” 
― George Orwell

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” 
― Oscar Wilde

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.” 
― Neil Gaiman

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.

― Winston S. Churchill

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

 (The FB group mentioned above "Reggio Emilia Approach" is a closed group for educators and parents interested in learning about REA and also sharing inspiration, a place to ask questions)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Invitations to Play....

Today I saw a invitation to a twitterchat, which given time I will more than likely join in, where the chat is about "Invitations to play".

It got me thinking... what exactly does this mean?

Why are we inviting children to play? Isn't this something that they do? Isn't this how they explore the world and connect with each other?
Shouldn't our focus be on how do we create the TIME and SPACE for children to play?

OR, maybe (more than likely) the title is referring to how we educators can influence their play... how we can extend their play, how we can put a pedagogical lilt on their play. Really, it's not about making play available to children, but how we can manipulate play... that might not be a bad thing... but it is something we need to be aware of... that power we have over the children and their play.

OR, the title could be referring to how we as educators can learn from play... what invitations do we put out for the children so that we can learn more about what the children already know, how they interact with each other and the materials, about the children's problem solving skills, to learn about the children's various learning styles... there is much we can learn by observing children at play... that will enable us to know what materials we can put out that will invite the children to extend their play, to deepen their understanding of the world around them.

So I am looking forward to this evening... 20:00 GMT, 21:00 CET (me) which would make it
15:00 EST - for those of you across the pond that might be able to make it, despite being the middle of the afternoon. If not, why not check out the chat afterwards to see what was discussed and what ideas were presented as play invitations

#EYshare is the hashtag to use... you can find me on twitter @SuzanneAxelsson. My twitter account is only used for sharing learning, play and Early Years ideas.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Unique Child

I love social media, I love the fact that we can share ideas online no matter where we are in the world. I also find this position I am in... of being British but having lived in Sweden for just over half my life an interesting one, especially when it comes to my mother tongue. I realise more and more that I am not totally up to date with how words are evolving... and so sometimes they still have the same power as they had when I left UK in 1992... some words I have found have been diluted a great deal, or have altered slightly in their meaning. 

This must be the case for UNIQUE/UNIQUENESS. It is a phrase that is being used in the British educational system at the moment, and personally, I am not keen on it. 

I was participating in a twitterchat last night and the word popped up, and was used in a positive way, but it just grated on me. It feels such an isolating word to me where we are focussing on our differences... even though I understand the point is about illuminating the need to see the talents of children that extend beyond the academic. 

My discomfort has lead me to find out more about the word "unique" and why I feel this way. I of course turned to the dictionary... to see how the word is described... in fact several different dictionaries, just to make sure... here are just a few...

"The quality of being the only one of its kind" (Oxford)

"The quality of being remarkable, special or unusual" (Oxford) 

"Being without a like or an equal" (Merriam-Webster) 

These descriptions have, for me, confirmed why I feel uncomfortable with using "Unique Child" in an educational system. The descriptions do seem to describe something that is "one of a kind"... and learning for me is something that is collaborative, it is interaction. 

For me, we have more in common with each other than we do not... no matter how different we are, what our talents are, what our context is. Our differences allow us to explore the world from new perspectives... but our similarities allow us to do that together. 

Wikipedia describes uniqueness as "a state or condition wherein someone or something is unlike anything else in comparison. When used in relation to humans, it is often in relation to a person's personality, or some specific characteristic of it, signalling that it is unlike the personality traits that are prevalent in that individuals culture..." 

This is not how I would want children to be described... children are very much a part of our culture - they are creating it together with us. 

My big objection is the description that unique means "without equal"... I mean what are we doing...? are we not trying to create a world where there is equality? where we are all valued for who we are? a world where we are not discriminated against..? religion, race, gender etc etc etc etc etc... so many things where we are categorised and put on some kind of value scale. 

Maybe by being unique we cannot be put on this scale, we cannot be compared? But I still feel that we are never actually unique, because we have more in common with each other than not... we have sharedness. 

If unique is oneness, is the opposite diverse/myriad? But if we are seeing unique as something different and special... then the opposite would be ordinary or standard, which is not something I think we are either. Standard testing is obviously not something I think is effective... the one size fits all approach to learning... well, to be honest, its not really an approach to learning... it's an approach to assessing learning, that has then become the focus of how to teach in an adult down world. 

And yet the word standard is also complex - it has not been serving children's education well... but in society it has served us well... standard measurements, a certain standard of behaviour helps society to interact with each other peacefully... the problem is that when it comes to people there just needs to be more flexibility and if we start saying following the standard is right and not following is wrong then we start excluding people and thinking less of them... no matter how "unique" they/we are. 

Why are we always focussing on the differences? - why are we not examining the standard, the ordinary and how we can broaden the meaning of this, to make it more inclusive so that we can all be individuals that make up a whole? Isn't that we want? To belong? To be a part of something? To be valued? 

All of the dictionaries that I checked had a little "warning" that said many authors of usage guides, editors etc feel strongly that such "absolute" words such as "complete", "equal", "perfect" and especially "unique" cannot be compared because of their "meaning" - these are words that denote an absolute condition - so we cannot have less unique or more unique or very unique etc. The earliest meanings of unique (17th century) were "single, sole" and "having no equal", which developed to "not typical, unusual" during the 19th century. 

So why has such an absolute word been chosen to describe a child/ren? And how does this affect how we teach? Does it make us think of teaching and learning as one of a kind... that each class, each child learns totally in their own way... I think this put an enormous amount of pressure on teachers to see each unique child... to be constantly focussing on the differences. 

The last four-five years, I have been working with the whole idea of "mwe" the individual child as part of the group... that together we learn more, deeper, richer than what we do on our own. That our similarities being us together and allow us to understand our differences. I would really like for us to be equals... not in the sense that we are all the same, but that we are valued equally, differences and all. 

When I did philosophy sessions with children it was about weaving the children's individual ideas together to create a wonderful fabric of learning, something that was meaningful to them/us at that time, something that was constantly evolving. 

Why do I feel strongly about learning together rather than "unique" learning where the focus is on each child can be explained in these series of quotes. 

"As a result, there is a move away from considering one's own viewpoint toward considering multiple perspectives of the collective, resulting in a shift from individual to shared meaning. This position often frees teachers from a focus on producing correct answers. If there is more than one way to view a challenge, then perhaps there is more than one correct response to that challenge."  Moran, p.413 The Hundred Languages of Children (1998) 

"Among the goals of our approach is to reinforce each child's sense of identity through a recognition that comes from peers and adults, so much so that each one would feel enough sense of belonging and self-confidence to participate in the activities of the school.... As a result, children discover how communication enhances the autonomy of the individual and the peer group" Malaguzzi, p. 68-9 The Hundred Languages of Children (1998) 

"The more we distance ourselves from quick and temporary solutions, from responding to individual differences in a hurried way, the wider will be the range of hypotheses open to us. The more we resist the temptation to classify children, the more capable we become to change our plans and make available different activities. This does not eliminate the responsibility or usefulness of noting differences among children. let us take them into account, let us keep an eye on them. But let us always excercise caution and learn to observe and evaluate better without assigning levels and grades."  Malaguzzi, p.81.2

"Recognizing the universality of children's potential..." Malaguzzi p.81 

I could go on... open other books and find the value of collaborative learning, of shared learning, the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), being part of a community of learners etc.. But I think you are getting the idea... for me the focus should be on the us... the we... without forgetting the me... because I truly believe that the me develops through the we

Below is a quote from the British EYFS webbpage about the unique child... there is a link at the end of the quote of you want to check out the page and see more links about the unique child. How all this thinking got started...

"Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured
Babies and young children mature in every area of development at their own pace and in their own individual ways. Inclusion means that individuals and communities are valued and no child or family is discriminated against. Young children are vulnerable but they are kept safe and develop resilience when their wellbeing is protected by adults. Health and well-being is an integral part of children’s emotional, mental social, environmental and spiritual health." EYFS A Unique Child 

What I see is the continuous use of the word "individual" in the text... I find this word much easier to digest than unique... its not so one of a kind, not so absolute... it recognises our differences without ignoring our similarities. Below I have copied and pasted in the synonym discussions from Merriam-Webster dictionary for the words UNIQUE and INDIVIDUAL. No matter how many times I read them... I prefer to use the word individual over unique every time when it comes to children... any human, really. 

  • Synonym Discussion of unique Merriam-Webster dictionary

    strangesingularuniquepeculiareccentricerraticoddquaintoutlandish mean departing from what is ordinary, usual, or to be expected. strange stresses unfamiliarity and may apply to the foreign, the unnatural, the unaccountable <a journey filled with strange sights>singular suggests individuality or puzzling strangeness <a singular feeling of impending disaster>unique implies singularity and the fact of being without a known parallel <a career unique in the annals of science>peculiar implies a marked distinctiveness <the peculiar status of America's first lady>.eccentric suggests a wide divergence from the usual or normal especially in behavior <theeccentric eating habits of preschoolers>erratic stresses a capricious and unpredictable wandering or deviating <a friend's suddenly erratic behavior>odd applies to a departure from the regular or expected <an odd sense of humor>quaint suggests an old-fashioned but pleasant oddness <a quaint fishing village>outlandish applies to what is uncouth, bizarre, or barbaric <outlandish fashions of the time>.

Synonym Discussion of individual

specialespecialspecificparticularindividual mean of or relating to one thing or class. specialstresses having a quality, character, identity, or use of its own <special ingredients>especial may add implications of preeminence or preference <a matter of especial importance>specificimplies a quality or character distinguishing a kind or a species <children with specific nutritional needs>particular stresses the distinctness of something as an individual <a ballet step of particular difficulty>individual implies unequivocal reference to one of a class or group<valued each individual opinion>.

characteristicindividualpeculiardistinctive mean indicating a special quality or identity.characteristic applies to something that distinguishes or identifies a person or thing or class<responded with her characteristic wit>individual stresses qualities that distinguish one from all other members of the same kind or class <a highly individual writing style>peculiar applies to qualities possessed only by a particular individual or class or kind and stresses rarity or uniqueness <an eccentricity that is peculiar to the British>distinctive indicates qualities distinguishing and uncommon and often superior or praiseworthy <a distinctive aura of grace and elegance>.

So what do you think, based on the above descriptions? Would you like to be teaching unique children or individual children? 

For me, it is about being a part of a whole, not deviating from it. Instead of making children "unique" maybe we should be focussing energy on creating an inclusive environment where all individuals can feel valued not just for their similarities but also for their differences... by broadening educational/learning/play experiences we allow all children to participate together, so that they can learn from each other - so that differences are seen as a benefit, rather than something that deviates from the norm... That instead of unique children that learn in their unique ways and probably not interacting with each other... meaning that our differences never get to be understood and/or appreciated. We are allowing society to feed the standard norms by saying "sure children are unique... we meet them where they are" rather than bringing them into the zone of proximal development so that we can all become better people. 

Sure I have taken this whole "unique" thing to an extreme... I know. I wanted to pull it apart, to be critical, to explore and work out what I feel about it. It has made me feel that real change within the education system is hard because the same crap keeps getting masked with new words... the whole system needs changing, not how we classify children.. being unique won't make the learning better if we are not overhauling the concept of teaching to responding to how children learn. 

we should learn to understand the individual needs... to know which gifts to bring to the children for their learning.