Another busy day.
In the morning we visited two early years settings, both located within schools… the first one being out of town … a large building with nature all around. The second one being in town, not in the centre, but not in the camp either.
One thing I have noticed with all the preschools is that they are not outside very much - some not at all - most do not have it as part of their daily routine. This, I understand, has cultural reasons… reasons such as the parents not wanting their children to be outside, especially in the cold and wet. There is also a lack of natural materials indoors, which is understandable if there is not the connection of outdoor play. So for me the materials/toys felt very plastic, as they were not balanced with nature… this has been the case with ALL the preschools.
Most of the preschools have many children sitting around tables to learn, as they do in school. We have been told that this is due to the parental expectation that the children must learn to read and write… and we were also told by one of the people we met that even the schools are requesting that the children arrive from preschool knowing how to read and write.
This indicates to me that play and learning are not seen as the same thing but as two very separate entities. What I do see is that many of the teachers/people working with the children in the early years settings are very interested in using play as the primary source of learning… where the whole child can learn, and not just a focus on the academic side of things. In that sense we are fortunate in Sweden to see the preschool years as a time for learning though play - although I have to admit that I wish this attitude to learning went even higher up through the ages… Malaguzzi said "nothing without joy" - and I am a believer that children learn better when they enjoy what they are doing.
Here are two photos from the two settings I visited today. The one below was the first time I saw that there were paints visible to the children, in most places they were either high up or in cupboards. Also the below setting rotated the children every 30 minutes, instead of always being in the same classroom… so that the children had access to different lines of learning… a role-play room, a reading room, a art/exploration room and a concentration room.
In the afternoon I did a short workshop with the children from the women's co-operative preschool "Happy Kids" talking to the children to work out what kind of art we should do… they were interested in flowers at the time… so we painted with flowers… afterwards we talked about what we could see in the artwork. So wonderful to be able to take a small part in these children's lives… to go from the point where the children are shy and unsure of how to talk with me… to being able to communicate their thoughts.
And - lucky me - I got to use one of those sinks that I have been admiring so much… and also witness the fun the children had there too… but of course this kind of fun usually results in wet children. Having extra clothes is quite important to allow for these kind of explorations…
At the American School, where I visited in the morning they had a section of the wall that was carpeted and could be used for velcro stories - wonderful big space for story-telling - and also a great way to manage acoustics in these big marble buildings…
Tomorrow a meeting with the ministry of education here and then a presentation for many preschool teachers in Jenin.