Saturday, 22 July 2017

Överby Preschool outdoor environment.

The wonderful thing about leaving the city centre and visiting a setting in a small town/village just outside Stockholm is the sheer amount of space children and educators have at their disposal for outdoor play and learning.

The last 4 years I worked at a setting that did not have an outdoor space of their own - so the whole community became ours... play-spaces, the local square, the forest, the streets etc etc... and with all the pros and cons of that... actually this would lead me nicely into a post about the BRIC project conference that I attended in Gothenburg in mid June... so I have a feeling that will be my next post...

But this one is about the outdoor area of Överby prechool...
since they had been working on the sensory needs of children inside they had also brought this element into their outdoor space.

A massive space they had at their disposal, to design and develop... and then across the street was the forest for even more adventure... jealous... yes... to have that amount of outdoor space to play with is something I have never had access to, since I have worked in a city centre all the time... sometimes with a decent size space that could be developed... and at other times a mircroscopic space with very limited possibilties (and some have been so small that it was actually a smaller space than some of the rooms we had inside!!!!)

On the wall of one of the corridors inside was a long piece of paper showing a time line of the plans the educators, children and parents had been involved with over the last year or so involving the development of their outdoor space... so it was possible to see what had been discussed, what ideas had been shared and what had been done... and photographs of the joint efforts of educators, parents and children making changes to the space.


As you see below the space is BIG.

The recent adds has been a barefoot path, with different surfaces, a mud-kitchen, which they had been required to have fixed to another structure as they were not allowed to have it free standing (which I found quite strange since I have seen mud-kitchens elsewhere in Stockholm, in preschools and in public spaces that have not been required to be fixed to a structure). They had also constructed a willow den and a willow tunnel - to create small spaces within the large space they had.

They had a path cut through the grass for bikes to be ridden on, several places with raised vegetable/flower beds.

They also had a section that was fenced off for the younger children, with a connecting gate. This was to allow the younger children to explore at that own rate and not have the older preschoolers always charging through their play and exploration at full speed.

There were also sheds where materials were stored - from bikes to sleds to balls and buckets and spades - and two more sheds - once used as an outdoor art studio, where art materials could be easily moved into the garden area, or used in the shed (weather depending) - the other shed was a woodwork space. On the side of these sheds was a big blackboard for further artistic expression. (the shed were connected - one big shed divided into three spaces, each with its own door).

The outdoor space is still under development... so it will be interesting to see what happens here in the future.
it would also be interesting to see it in action when all the children are there... as most children were already on their summer holidays, creating a a very calm atmosphere with the few children still attending preschool before they too go on their holidays.

if you want to learn more about barefoot paths then check out This Playscapes blogpost as it has links to other sites too.
Barefoot paths can also be done inside - boxes/trays filled with different materials for the children to walk on.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Preschool visits: Överby Prechool. Post 3 of 3

Here is the third of three posts about Överby preschool... and I realise as I start writing that there will in fact be another post... to write about the outdoor space... so let's just call that a bonus post, eh?

As I mentioned in the last post about the sensory room this preschool has been designed in such a way that there are multiple ways into a room - this is a great way to share communal spaces and create ateliers for art and for the senses that can be used by multiple groups... the problem with the building design was that alternative routes were not considered - so when the children are in full flow in the atelier it is likely that children or adults will walk through the space to access another room... some children are able to cope with this without any problem... others are not. I also can imagine that of you are in the middle of a group dialogue and the door opens that the chances are VERY high that the soul of the dialogue escapes and maybe not retrieved again...
Eva, our guide for the morning, mentioned that this was a frustrating part of the preschool.
As with life, it is just something that has to be dealt with to the best of our abilities.

There were two ateliers - both constructed in a similar way...



As you can see... there are 4 doors coming into the atelier... so four possible sources of disturbance... at the same time four possibilities to meet up.
There is also a kitchen area, which I think is great in an atelier, I have worked at a preschool before where a kitchen area was a part of the art studio... there is just so  much stuff that can be done with this added dimension of heat - both in the oven and on the stove, as well as access to water. There was no child height access to water here, but a step up to the water in the kitchen area... not used to prepare food, there was a big communal kitchen for that.
Each of the ateliers was set up a little differently, but on a similar theme, there were also art materials in the departments/group areas so that children could be creative with these kinds of materials without the need to be in the atelier per se.


In the middle of one of the ateliers was a longish table filled with paint blocks and rushes and loose parts... in the other one there was sand on a table with natural loose parts... both rooms were central and did not have wall windows - instead they had a skylight as seen in the photo above.

One of the ateliers was in action with the few children that were attending that day (most children had gone on their summer holidays... as it was the same week as the midsummer celebrations)

The rest of the preschool was set up with the view to create small spaces within the spaces, with things hanging from the ceiling to divide the space up (as a tall person this means banging my head on stuff if I am not observant).
One of the things I like about Swedish preschools is that it is seldom a group has access to only one room... often it is a series of rooms, and then sometimes communal rooms to share as well - it is not like the classroom system that I see often in USA, Canada and UK etc where one large room is divided into activity stations/areas... or even where 2 classrooms (sometimes more) have their walls knocked down to create big communal spaces that are then used in traditional classroom style with a teacher and the group in each of the original areas... from a sensory point of view we are loading the children with even more input then...

in the top left of the above photo you can see a communal room for gross motor skills... this is a mirror room of the sensory room... it will give you a sense of the size of the space. I love having a room available for children to run around in indoors... just so you can confound that whole "you are not allowed to run indoors" rule... as it is not about indoors v outdoors... it is about being aware of other people and materials, and having consideration for the sensory input that running around has... running creates a high energy feeling in a room, which is fantastic, but if you are feeling overwhelmed it can be too much... so a space for quiet is needed equally as much... and spaces for play in between also... running cannot be anywhere... and sometimes it will be from a safety point of view.
In the above images you also see a room for music and sound which is still under development, a clay-play area on the floor... the documentation behind it is of clay creations to inspire... (by the children)
and the last image is of the cloakroom... the space between the outdoors and indoors... an essential space in Sweden where winter is about 6-7 months long (if not more) and there is a real need to have space to hang all the outdoor clothes as well as space to dry the clothes... as we get wet often!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Preschool visit... Överby Förskola (Part 2 of 3)

Last month I visited Överby Preschool in the municipality of Vaxholm, just outside Stockholm.
This is a preschool that has worked hard on developing a sensory room, that they applied for funding for and received.

The room is a large room, and is a communal space for all the children in the preschool, the educators working there ned to get a kind of "driving license" to be able to take children into the room... this is so that the room can be used at its best... the educators are supported to become guides to the room as well as observers of the children's interactions with the materials there. The number of children entering the room at any one time is also restricted to 4-6 children maximum - so that the children themselves are not adding to too much of the sensory input.
There are a LOT of sensory materials in one space, so I imagine that this is an essential part to ensuring that the sensory room is a positive experience for the children and not a sensory overload.

Personally I found it a little overwhelming... there was just SO much. I did like how the room was NOT divided into areas of the senses, but that all senses could be explored in all areas... partly because this also allows both children and educators to be aware of sensory materials in a much broader sense and not restricted to just one sense only. I am somewhat on the autistic spectrum (as are two of my children) and sensory processing is something that we have to actively work with - there are sounds, smells, textures etc that are extremely difficult to process

If you watch the below film of Alison Gopnik (especially the last 3 minutes, which I will refer to here) then you might get an understanding of this sensory issue I am talking about...



Gopnik talks about how children have a lantern rather than a spotlight of focus as adult have, being on the spectrum means that I am still lantern like most of the time, but have learned how to spotlight (but that takes a whole load of conscious energy to do as well). That thinking like a young child is like "being in love in Paris for the first time having drunk 3 double espressos"... which can be fun, but all the time is is exhausting.

So when we are thinking of sensory rooms we really have to think about how we are using them, what is their purpose, how many children, and why, how do the teachers react and interact with the children and materials, how are the materials interacting with each other etc etc... so that the sensory input is positive, challenging, exciting - but not overwhelming... and if it does overwhelm (as that could be a part of the challenge) - an awareness of how the overwhelming can be positive rather than negative, and then how the child can assimilate the input afterwards - are the children afforded time in a quiet space afterwards to reflect on the sensory experience, or do they go straight back to the sensory stimulation of a full group of children - this might not be a problem for all children... it is about learning to listen to the child/ren and making sure that their personal sensory experience and post experience is positive.

I would love to have curtains hanging from the ceiling... so that the room could be divided into smaller areas if that was needed... to help with focus, and to allow children that are easily overstimulated/easily distracted to opportunity to focus. The curtains could also add an extra dimension to all the projectors in the room too... there were several, projectors and overheads and light tables/boxes.

I have to point out that I have not seen the room in action with children... and I really like that the educators can only use the room after training and only with a very small group of children. This means that the room will need to be booked so that there are times for all the children and groups...

I do not remember how many children there were in the preschool, or how often the children had access to the room during a week or term... it would be interesting to see if there was a group that frequented the room weekly or more than once a week, as the same group... and to then compare this with groups that visited less often, or in different group constellations - as I have often found that children who feel safe with each other will play and explore on a deeper level... while other times by shaking up the group dynamics with a change of members can also enhance learning... it can also have the opposite affect.


The room was off to the side of the building, BUT the drawback with the design of the building was that many of the rooms had to be walked through to access other parts of the preschool. This could mean that in a middle of a sensory session educators and children could walk through the room. Not entirely ideal for a sensory room... but at the same time hardly the fault of the educators working there... maybe designers of preschools should talk more with educators and children... after all I think it is GREAT that there are rooms that are accessible from several points (and I will go further into this in my third post from this preschool) but it should not be the only way to get to other parts of the school/preschool... so if the room is busy the alternative route can be used and the session not disturbed.
My previous workplace also had this problem... but it was not a preschool originally, the building was designed as a post-office, so I feel you can understand why architects/designers had not considered this need for children's focus



As you see above there is plenty to choose from - fibre optics, light tables, tunnels, music, making music digitally through the fruit and vegetables, projections, ice, there was also smell etc...
I was in the room twice during my visit (with a visit to the rest of the preschool between). I found it easier to settle and play with one thing on my second visit... I wanted to just explore the room and touch everything the first time... and my observations of children playing has showed me them same... when we have visited new play-spaces the children will just go round and round more like butterflies testing everything, and then, if there long enough, settle down to play... repeat visits to the play space the children will settle into play so much faster, as they already "know" the space and the senses and experiences it has to offer.

During the last week I have been in the south of Spain, a new place for me, which left me totally exhausted the first 4 days - my husband found this fascinating (he works with sleep research and neurology) - and started talking about the thalamus - which I have now gone and read more about...
The thalamus is a kind of gatekeeper (but it is far more complex than that) sorting out the sensory input as to what is important and what is not... this is something I can do at home, as I am familiar with all the sounds sights and smells - but in a new place I could not filter. I am a person that daydreams to relax... I have a half hour dedicated daydream time everyday... where I make sure I can just be and just let my imagination wander... in Spain I was unable to do this for the first 4-5 days as my body was so busy sorting out all the input, filtering out what was important and what was not before I could get to the stage of daydreaming.

This brings me back to what Alison Gopnik was talking about in the TEDTalk I shared above... that when we are designing learning spaces for children we need to also be thinking about the sensory input of the room... if it is overstimulating then it will be so much harder for the children to focus, to filter out from their lantern approach of seeing,hearing, tasting, touching, smelling the world. There will be a need for them to process the room, process the experience... and to repeat the experience to maybe make more sense of it...
Maybe this makes sensory rooms, and sensory experiences so important... they are spaces for the children (and adults) to train their thalamus, to enable it to process and integrate better - as long as we are gibing the children the time to do this.

The whole preschool has become more aware of using the senses... so in the next post I will share images and thoughts about this...
as I just wrote, this is an important part of children's learning... sensory processing and self regulation.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Co-documenters

Recently I read a post about documentationThe Paradox of Pedagogical Documentation Misha writes "As co-researchers, it is our responsibility to be attentive and fully engaged with our students in an effort to nurture their investigations from moment to moment.  It is also our responsibility to make sure their learning journeys are made visible not just to parents and teachers, but also to the students themselves."

I agree that we are co-researchers but I also think that we are co-documenters - especially in the sense of the Reggio Emilia approach sense of pedagogical documentation... I do not feel that we should be producing documentation FOR the children, but WITH the children.
And if we are collecting data by documenting the children through photos, note-taking, filming audio, collecting work etc together with the children  and then analysing that with colleagues, parents and also with the children and then making plans based on the analysis with the children as well as colleagues... and then making decisions about what goes into the publications... digital, the wall, portfolios, online etc etc then we are not being voyeurs it is so much more than what the post states
"Documentation is the physical representation of teachers studying students, and as such it is a tool by which we share our observations and teaching strategies with one another.  It is a way for teachers to express a desire for respectful student interactions while demonstrating a commitment to honing their craft with each passing day."

Pedagogical documentation for me is in symbiosis with the children... they learn how to document their learning and see their learning, as do I... they learn from my processes and I learn from their processes... it is not so much about me being teaching and being present in the learning moments... but about being present together, of being aware of the learning that is happening, organically through play, and through the activities... for me it is not a tool that I use to learn about the children and show the parents, and the children what is being learned and achieved... it is a tool for both educator and child to use together and to explore the world together... if we are co-researchers then they need all the tools... if we are hogging the documentation tool then there is not balance.





And empowering the children with the documentation tool means that there are not those moments of a child saying "did you take a photo of me, can a I see" seen as an interruption, but seen as part of the child's natural curiosity.. and once you have met that curiosity and talked about why you take photographs, and how they get used, and use them WITH the children then the children start to understand the power of photographs in documenting their own learning, in documenting their memories. 

There is one part of the post that I did not agree with at all... and that was doing audio recordings of the children without their knowledge... of switching on the audio recorder in the breast pocket and secretly gathering the children's words. There are so many etheical issues that I struggle with about this... I think if we are co-researchers then there needs to be an openness, there also needs to be an equality in the relationship... and also we as adults do NOT want to be recorded without our knowledge.
I have used audio recordings before, always with the children's permission, always with the device visible, and the children have always been able to listen to themselves as well afterwards. I believe it is an important part of respecting the child's integrity.

It is the same with photography... I ask their consent, but when you know a group well and you involve the group in the documentation then there is an unspoken connection - I listen to their body language, the children tell me when they do not want to have their photograph taken and feel comfortable saying "no" (which I think is an important skill to learn too, as they know that I value their opinion and that they have the right to decide about their bodies), they tell me when they want photos and what moments are important to them (not just from my child development theory point of view) - not posed shots but of what they have learned to do and what they have found or made or what they want to remember, or what they are proud of in that particular moment. Audio is a great tool as is filming for getting all the details and my group would let me know when to use these mediums too or when to write down things. It means documenting with the children in all parts of the process - not just collecting the data but also at the analyzing, planning stage so they know why we collect data and how it helps them in their learning and in my learning to be a better teacher - and talking about this with them. They are with decisions about what goes on the wall too.

My son is very clear about what images I may use of him... my daughters are too, but not to the same extent... he will see a photo and will remember the emotion... not just of the photo right then, but also just before or just after the photo was taken... and then he does not want that photo shared - because it is personal as the emotion had been strong, especially emotions he connects as being negative... sad or angry or disappointed etc... even though no-one else can see that emotion, he can...
I have amazing photos of him that I can never use, because he has a strong emotion connected to it... imagine if I chose to ignore him and put it on the wall for him to relive every time he walked past...  (or had never taken the time to enter a dialogue with him about the photo and just put it up, never knowing how he felt about the photo) - and he thinks others can see the emotion too like him... he does understand the logic better now that he is older. (that others do see or feel about the photo in the same way as him, only the positive moment of the actual photo).. but we are talking about young children here... who might not have fully understood the separation of emotions ...


I remember doing documentation before the digital camera... have they EVER made it all easier... and now there ARE easy ways to record children (with their permission) and not just big chunky tape recorders as there were before...
... and the whole waiting until the film 
was finished before getting to see the photos... not the instant fix of today... and the COST.... OMG taking photos was a much more thoughtful procedure then... and even so, so many images were just wasted as photos did not capture what you intended or caught the children in a strange facial pose... stuff I would never put on the walls, or portfolios or share with others... yet I see so many places put on walls and in portfolios really random photos... and not ones that tell a story, or maybe reflect the child as they want to be seen... I mean, as adults we are pretty clear on what images we want to share with others of ourselves... but for some reason it is OK to put up on walls and publish on FB etc images that many adults have never asked permission from the children (only their parents)... I have a hard time when families share films of their children having tantrums and meltdowns... sure film these things sometimes to learn, and to learn with the child (I have, and as I filmed I have told the child I am filming you now so that we can work out a way to help you calm down quicker in the future... but this has only been with children that have had a hard time with self regulation and have worked themselves up into half hour or longer meltdowns... when calm we would watch the film, the child had no memory of being upset, so the film was essential to understand what we were talking about and the start of working on strategies together... the child was 3 when I started this approach, I told the child could say no, we always deleted the films afterwards together, and the child was aware and we worked together to create strategies, that worked!!) - but I would never share these sort of films with others... even if the child agreed, they do not fully understand the implications as they do not have the years of experience to comprehend that yet.




For me being present is possible through and with documentation... especially when doing this WITH the children... I am aware that even IF I am 100% present I am going to miss things... like during philosophical dialogues with children, one teacher is the facilitator another is the one who writes... and when I read and look at film, or audio (when that is done too) or photos... I see things that I missed even though I was listening 100%... and for me that has been an important part of the pedagogical documentation... the part that allows you to put your view of the moment together with what the camera saw, or the audio heard, and importantly with how the children experienced it and colleagues too. It needs to be discussed with others... there is no way that we can see everything, understand everything no matter how present we try to be.
AND I am totally fine with us all coming with our own perspectives, that we look at the learning subjectively... I mean, is it even possible to be objective? We are humans with emotions! - what makes is so fascinating is the inter-subjectivity... learning about the perspectives of others and re-visiting our own understanding of the experience through their perspective... it opens up the opportunity to see things with a broader lens.


I think we have to accept that we cannot see and hear all... I think we can be present in the moment with documentation if we are including the children in the process instead of being voyeurs...


in the post it mentions the importance of a colleague, a co-worker - and as you have just read, I whole heartedly agree with this... we all have different skills that we can bring to the table, different ways of seeing, different ways of being present... and by working together rather than always dividing into small groups allows us to document moments in different ways... but then again sometimes small groups are better ... it is about listening to the children, to the group dynamic and working out a rhythm that works best for you all... educators and learners.

The post is valuable as it gets us thinking about how we document, and we need to question that... why, how, what and when... but it does it very much from the point of view that it is an adult that is documenting the children... this post is written from the point of view that if the children are involved in the documentation process, at all stages, then there will not be this feeling of not being present in the moment, of being an interference...
the documentation process becomes another area of learning for the children and educators... the children learn about their learning, they are in control more of what is important learning for them and what should be recorded (not always what you think) - they learn that their learning, their memories belong to them, not adults, and that they have the right to decide - sometimes they wanted me to publish things online and I would not, so I got the chance to talk about internet safety and about being aware of what you share online - and in today's society that is important learning - and yes preschoolers can learn this in a natural way without it being frightening.

Then I also think that if we are taking a step back from the children and allow them to get on with their learning, and not always being a hands on teacher then there is time to document, to take photos and films, to write notes...

Personally I never enjoyed audio documentation because I did not have the time to deal with it afterwards, if I took time to transcribe etc then it was time away from the children in what they are doing NOW... 
I do not record the minutia of every child's learning... each day every week... I am more a collector of moments together with the children, and those moments build up their learning story - sometimes there would be a need for details - often the pedagogical documentation was based on memories - talking with a colleague and recording that dialogue.

Time is something we never seem to have enough of... so documenting with the children felt a great way to save on time in the sense the documentation process did not take me away from the children all the time.

Isn't it great when you can read a post it it kicks starts a whole series of thoughts and reflections. This is why it is so important that we share with each other. And even though this post might seem rather critical of the post entitled "The Paradox of Pedagogical Documentation" I want to make it clear that I very much enjoyed reading the post and greatly value the questions it has posed, and needs to be posed.


Friday, 30 June 2017

Plasticine Labyrinth

Using the big metallic tray/serving dish from Jenin a labyrinth was made using plasticine.

it was an easy process to roll the plasticine into long strips, choosing a colour scheme was also important... it was supposed to be all green... but compromise was made when there was not enough green to complete the entire labyrinth... since blue and yellow make green, these seemed the next best colours... red and brown did not feel right apparently so black was used for the final bits.
This labyrinth was started from the inside out... I wonder if all children have this approach.

There was much thinking needed to make the gaps large enough for the ball to traverse through them, thinking about how to make it a little tricky and not too easy... blocking off routes, and then realising there was no way to get to the middle and having to make adjustments again.

The roundness of the tray influenced the labyrinth design... maybe on a square or rectangle tray the design would be different.

To navigate the ball around the maze we opted for magnets and a metal ball, but you could also think about just rocking the tray back and forth to make the ball move through the labyrinth... also if wanting to support children with pronunciation (mouth gymnastics) a lighter ball and a straw could be used... and the children could blow the ball around the labyrinth.

Alternatively the labyrinth could be made directly onto a table in a much bigger format and a ping-pong ball used to blow around.

Maybe the children could draw their labyrinth designs on paper, to record them, and maybe also work on how to make changes to the design to either make it easier or harder. Could colours be used as part of the design in a specific way... ir a challenge to create a design where the ball had to pass colours in s a specific order?

What about designing tunnels? and bridges? (of course bridges would mean a loss of magnetic contact if done magnetically... but this could be a part of the learning process of understanding how magnets work, and how to design labyrinths for different uses.).

There is a short film included under the photo.




Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Preschool Visit.... Överby Förskola (post 1 of 3)

This is just a brief post to share the fact that a larger and more detailed post is in the works...
but right now my brain is full of thoughts... I am sorting through photographs which has been making those thoughts spin a few more times... and eventually I will work out what sort of direction the blogpost should take...

but here, I want to share the value of visiting other preschools/settings and also the value of being visited. The opportunity to see inspiration, and also to see your own work through the eyes of others. The chance to exchange ideas and energy. To be able to make those pedagogical somersaults - even small ones... sometimes big ones... sometimes failed ones, as you realise the epiphany you are in the middle of is just too out there... but you learn from all of the somersaults... and sometimes those small ones can have a massive impact!

It is so important to take the time to look and listen, to feel and experience new things... to be open to possibilities and to ignite the passion that brought us into the ECE world in the first place... and to share this passion with others...

This photo is of their sensory lab that they applied for funding to create...

I will go more into details about this room, and the other rooms in a post coming later this week... maybe next week... as it's midsummer celebrations this week!






Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Th child and the city...

A friend of mine shared on facebook the following

Being a woman is kind of like being a cyclist in a city where all the cars represent men
You are supposed to be able to share the road equally with cars, but that's not how it works
The roads are built for cars and you spend a great deal of physical and mental energy being defensive and trying not to get hurt
Some of the cars WANT you to get hurt. They think you don't have any place on the road at all.

It got me thinking, not only from the perspective of human rights, equality for women and men... and those that are not included in this binary way of viewing life... where as adults we DO have a voice to be defensive and avoiding getting hurt... while children do not... they are seldom afforded a voice.
They experience being the cyclist as if in the dark and with no lights or reflectors... they are virtually invisible and the adult world seldom considers them as equals on the road. (Of course I don not include those adults who are working hard to listen to the voice of the child, that are advocating children's rights etc)



 For four years I went out with my group of preschoolers to hand out pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) as a symbol of goodwill in December... and I was always incredibly ashamed of the behaviour of MOST of the adults. Yes, there were those that came up to the children and interacted, that saw the children, admired their baking skills and enjoyed the message of goodwill... mostly parents with their young children and retired people... the majority actively avoided eye contact with the children (ranging from 2-6 over the years) actively ignoring the children's wishes of goodwill and offerings of sweet things and sometimes even ensuring they walked as far from the children as they could... some even snapped at the children (of course I was always there offering support so the children did not get disheartened.)
the children were forgiving... when we talked about the adults that chose to ignore us they thought it might be because they were shy and did not dare to talk, or were in a hurry and did not have time...
for me I felt sad that we have lost a sense of community where we all participate and support each other and focus on this sense of goodwill.
I ended up taking hundred of photos to document who ignored the children and who interacted... men between the ages of 20 and 60 were those who did most of the active ignoring.

On Friday I will be listening to Tim Gill who writes "Rethinking Childhood" which brings me to the point of cities and child friendliness and space for children to play... and how cities are designed for cars and not for children... maybe even all people...

this in an area between buildings... not designed for children, but the children called it "hide and seek" pak because it was great for that, and they always started with that game before going into other sorts of play... jumping, chasing and building with the junk they found there.
Stockholm has some car free streets during summer... this summer with be the third in "Alive Stockholm" (Levande Stockholm) where several streets are free from cars and filled with people and activities instead... another street has been added to this list of Summer-pedestrian-streets, making it four streets/partial streets that are car free. Some will have pop-up parks. I will be checking them out and taking photos this summer to see just how child-friendly they are. Last year I just enjoyed some of them... this year I want to investigate them a little more.
http://www.stockholm.se/levandestockholm

the city hall is not designed for children, and yet the children found play possibilities here too

and on the 17th of September a part of the city will be completely car free for the day in order to bring up more dialogue about how cars affect the city and the potential of a city without cars...
image from Stockholm Stad
Bilfritt område = carfree area

Those of you who have explore this blog will have seen the page about Stockholm play-spaces... I have shared images of play-spaces here in Stockholm, and also some spaces that are public but I have felt allowed for children's play to be a part of the space too... really that is what we want... spaces where we can all belong with equality, young - old, men - women and everything in between... you know  EVERYONE!

What I see in these play-spaces is that, especially on weekends, there are more adults than children... or at least it feels that way as the big adult bodies take so much space... I watch and see how adults follow their children round the play-spaces. ONLY ONE play space had children playing without any adults in sight... this was in the south suburbs of Stockholm in an area with many immigrants... maybe a different play culture? I liked it, the space belonged to the children, the children were creative in their use of the play space... it reminded me of my own childhood when we went to the park on our own to play - the children in the play space were aged 5-15 - while in the ones dominated by adults the ages were 1-6 maybe a few 7 and 8 year olds too... of course older children will not want to play here, there is no space for them.

In 1998-99 I did a research on how children use museums looking at 6 museums in Stockholm and six museums in Yorkshire... interviewing parents, teachers and the museum workers. What I found was that museums in Sweden seemed to have more space for children on the side of the exhibitions... yes they had considered the children, but they had not made the exhibitions inclusive and attractive to all in the same way that museums in Yorkshire had... the UK museums had a greater focus on connecting their exhibitions to the school curriculum than in Stockholm (although Sweden is catching up on that it is still no way near what the UK museums offer in the sense of down-loadables etc... and that might not always be a good thing... I am just stating fact.)
But for me, this sectioning off feels like much of what happens with children all the time... they are institutionalised from the age of one (some start preschool later here in Sweden) where most of the play will be within the preschool perimeters - indoors and outdoors.... I have worked at MANY places that have said one and two year olds should not be taken on excursions because they are too young, or it is too dangerous etc etc... and I have worked at a place without their own outdoor space and saw that ALL ages can play all over the place... we just have to conquer those spaces... in the sense that yes, we ARE allowed to play here.
Together on the Square... the children designing how their dream square would look... it went through MANY design changes over the six months, as they learned more about the needs of others...

I spent 6 months on a project called "Together on the Square" where the children and I explored how the public square could be a place for everyone to meet, to learn about our community and to participate in it with others... The children played on the open square OFTEN, and by choice. There were no climbing frames or things specifically designed for children... but there was space to run and play... and in winter the snow was plowed into big piles here making fantastic places to play on unintentionally. By taking the time we allowed the children, and ourselves to see the play potential of this public space. This gave us all the strength to see play potential in other public spaces... my adult eyes got to see a new Stockholm! in the film below you get to see "our Stockholm" we really travelled all over the place and finding play everywhere... I am also fortunate not to have been constrained by a variety of policies that restrict how I go out - safety is important, but the teacher is deemed competent in knowing what is safe to do with the children... this group of children I had worked with for 3.5 years, I trusted them completely, as they trusted me... this meant we could go on adventures together... for some groups I have worked with where there is not the trust yet, or the ability to explore safely then I have asked parents to come too... In Sweden we have on average a 1:5 adult- child ratio.


I am looking forward to listening to Tim Gill and finding out more about children and cities... and making cities more people friendly.

Collecting information about space and children's play...

Please could you write in the comments here... or in the comments of the groups where I share this post, so that I can collate some information about how space affects children's play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching.... if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact...

How much does the curriculum, the space and the size of the group impact your ability to teach/educate? especially educate the way you understand children learn.

So please, could you take the time to answe these questions... it would be REALLy interesting to see if there is a geographical difference in how much space per child is dedicated to children's learning, and whether this is enough space for children to learn through play....
the focus will be on children 0-6 years of age.
1. location - town, country
2. size of space for one class/group (preferably in square metres)
3. number of rooms available to JUST this class/group
4. other rooms available, and how often during the day/week/month
5. number of children and age of children in group/class
6. number of teachers (teachers and assistants, would be interesting to write 1 teacher, 2 assistants or whatever, just to see if there are any big geographical differences there too)
7. size of overall setting/school - how many classes,
8. what curriculum do you follow, do you feel it limits you in any way? (this is YOUR personal feeling as a reaction to your teaching style) - does it empower you?
9.do you have a no running rule inside... ? Why? (and there can be good reasons for this, so be open and honest please)
thank you for all the information, if you manage to ... it would be so interesting to understand more about how we use our indoor space... and also if we as teachers are limited/empowered by this space too. I will put all of this into a future post and share with you of course...

if you have any other thoughts that you feel would be useful for finding out whether there is enough space for us to teach children the way they learn or not, then I would very much appreciate it... 

Many thanks for your time. 
Suzanne


Bubble Game developments

I have been intending to write this post for quite some time, but for some reason never quite got round to it... so today I am making a conscious effort to get it done... inspired by a dialogue in an online group about running indoors... where we discussed this post "Look out a T-Rex":Thoughts on 2walking feet". by David Cahn. it is a great post exploring children's needs to run, and our adult needs to let go of our need to control the running...
It did raise some dialogue that not all spaces are designed for running... so that the need to control the running is not coming from basic fears of running control but real fears of a small awkward shaped/designed space for many children is not optimal for children to run in safely especially as young children do not have a fully developed sense of spatial awareness (or physical control, or understanding consequences of their actions - my dad always said... the older you get the further you see).

One of my parts in the dialogue...
"I have always worked that we have spaces to run inside, spaces for quiet play inside... and spaces for play in between.
Not all children want to be surrounded by children running.
Some children get very frustrated with their constructions being knocked
 over by running children or their small play with others disturbed by children hurtling through...
so I create space for all kinds of play... 
In Sweden we seldom have one room for many forms of play as I have seen in UK and USA etc... but each group/class will have a series of rooms... this makes it much easier to have rooms for quiet and rooms for noise and running...
AND of course if I see a huge need for running then I take them outside where they REALLY can run..
Also in Sweden we do not wear shoes inside... so when they are running inside I encourage them to be barefoot so that they do not slip... running on our floors in socks CAN be dangerous and corners are not always taken so well... and I have nursed MANY bumps and bruises and also cuts to the head (and alos bruises to other parts of the body)...

I think not running is not just about adult control... I think we have to observe children's play and meet their needs, and that can be sometimes restricting the running - I am not afraid of noise and running... but ALL the time you also have to think about the sensory input for all of the children AND staff... there needs to be down time too, and places to feel quiet and still... and times to learn how to be quiet and still, because that is just as important as the freedom to run and shout...

I agree whole heartedly that we need to reflect more on the rules that we make for children... why they are there, do the children know about them and understand them... are they always needed... or maybe just in certain rooms or at certain times? Who are the rules really for? Who benefits from the rules and how do they benefit... what would happen if the rules were not there..."
 there is a need for us to design spaces from the very start to allow the children to learn and to incorporate all kinds of movement on an equal basis... that means running is given the same value as sitting quietly...
it is important to remember that most educators are fully aware of the need to run... but are given a curriculum and a space that does not give enough time, space or value to this part of the children's play and learning. Really we need to be addressing these point higher up in the educational hierarchy - so that the authorities are designing spaces and curriculums that are relevant and enable the educators to teach the way children learn....

Anyway back to the bubbles... it was a way for my children to not only work on their self regulation, but also to develop their spatial awareness...

Here is the link to the first post I wrote on this Bubble game  -  what I want to go into more detail is not the part where we sat in a circle but the part afterwards where the children are running more...

The part where they are lined up against the wall and they run forward to pop the bubbles and have to move back when the next name is called... and I say their names pretty fast... they have to be listening all the time for their name, or they will miss it, they have to be aware of running so they do not crash into anyone else, and they have to be aware of where the bubbles are and popping them. This stage is like a warm up... as there will only be two children at most in action at the same time.

THEN... all the children are active at the same time... I have done bubble popping with children many many times over the years... and nearly always there has been a crash, I would say it is GREAT fun until the crash happens, then it stops to comfort the children who are upset...
This play of popping all the bubbles has the challenge that the children are not allowed to touch each other... if they do then they have to sit out. the aim of the session is to work as a team and all children still be popping bubbles after 2 minutes has passed 8this proved to take two years of playing once a week before they managed a two minute session without touching another). BOTH children sat out, the one that did the touching and the one that was touched... the idea was that we take responsibility for others, our actions do not happen in isolation. At the end of two minutes (so it was never long to wait) we would talk about strategies... why were those children successful and still popping bubbles, what were their own theories, what were the theories of those observing? We then tried out the theories... the most fun one was when a child said "I am not sitting down because i kept to the edge where there were no others and did not pop the bubbles" - all the children thought this was a good idea... we tried it out and the whole group stood at the edge and watched the bubbles... the reflected and decided it was not the best way to play...

phot of me playing the bubble game taken by Opsis Magazine


The children got better at popping the bubbles and being aware of the other children around them, or predicting their movements and compensating appropriately to avoid contact - the children were learning spacial awareness. This also improved the tag/chasing games they played... they became better at ducking out of the way... but also better at tagging without that push or hit sort of action that used to happen when they did not have the same spatial awareness and the same physical control over their bodies...
They also learned a great deal about working together as a group and solving problems TOGETHER.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Updated version of "The Relevance of Malaguzzi in ECE" as a blogpost...

This post can also be accessed as a downloadable pdf here

The Relevance of Loris Malaguzzi in Early Childhood Education

Introduction
Loris Malaguzzi (1921-1994) is an educator from Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy. I will present a brief history of Malaguzzi and the beginnings of Reggio Emilia followed by some of the key concepts of his pedagogical philosophy. Then I will conclude with a discussion of how Malaguzzi has influenced the Swedish curriculum and the relevance of his work to current early childhood education.
I find that exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach is like a journey... always new things to discover. The bulk of this text was written in 2009 as a part of my masters in ECE and has been continued in 2017 to include my journey with the Reggio Emilia Approach and to document it and share it with others.
Since I completed my masters I have started writing a blog “Interaction Imagination” - the word interaction being directly inspired by Malaguzzi. There I share my thoughts about being a Malaguzzi inspired educator... as I have found that the more I have explored The Reggio Emilia Approach the more I want to go back to how Malaguzzi inspired his fellow colleagues and those around him. Please take the time to read to the end and discover why he is so important to me... and how he can inspire you.

A Brief History
At the end of the Second World War Malaguzzi heard about a group of women who were building a school from the rubble and financing it with the sale of abandoned German tanks (Hewitt, 2001, p.95) and his involvement with these women became the beginning of what is now known as The Reggio Emilia Approach. New (2000, p.2) writes that the parents did not want ordinary schools; rather, they wanted schools where children could acquire skills of critical thinking and collaboration essential to rebuilding and ensuring a democratic society. Moss (2007,p.136) writes that a previous mayor of the city claimed the Fascist experience had taught the citizens’ of Reggio Emilia that people who conformed were dangerous and that this is why the parents so desired critical thinking for their children. They asked Malaguzzi to teach their children, and he told them that he “had no experience, but promised to do (his) best. 'I'll learn as we go along and the children will learn everything I learn working with them,” (Atner, 1994). These were not empty words but the very foundation of the Reggio Emilia approach. Malaguzzi has “emphasized the importance of ”leaving room for learning” by observing children and reflecting, thus enabling teaching to become better than before” (Scott, 2007, p.22). Malaguzzi, himself learned, as he had promised - he went to Rome to study psychology, where he took inspiration from such thinkers as Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey and Bruner. But he did not stop there – he continued to research and enter dialogues with others in a variety of fields of learning - absorbing all the information and applying the theories and ideas that suited the needs of the preschools and the children in Reggio Emilia, for example he went to the Rousseau Institute and the Ecole des Petits of Piaget in Geneva (Malaguzzi 1998, p.53) but also the works of Wallon, Chaparède, Decroly, Makarenko, Erikson, Bronfenbrenner, Bovet, Freinet and the Dalton School in New York have guided Malaguzzi in the development of his pedagogical philosophy (p.59). The list of names being just a sample of the scholars Malaguzzi sought inspiration from. The various theories he discussed with the staff of the new preschools, and the parents of the children who attended the preschools, in order to inspire and to process the information (p.60). New (2000, p.2) says that many credit Malaguzzi for uniting many other Italian early childhood educators to share and debate methods of working with young children.The responsibility of running these schools remained heavily in the hands of the parents until 1963 (Malaguzzi, 1998, p.50) “when the municipality of Reggio Emilia began setting up its own network of educational services for children from birth to six years”. (Nutbrown and Abbot, 2007, p.1). According to Spaggiari (1998,p.105), even though the responsibility no longer rested with the parents, but with the municipality, they continued to be an active part of the Reggio preschool, including regular slide shows and art displays, theme evenings, lectures given by experts for both parents and teachers, work sessions where parents help build new furniture, workshops where new techniques are learned, holidays and celebrations spent together with the families and parental involvement in excursions.
Edwards et al.(1998, p.22) says Malaguzzi decided upon limiting class size to twenty as well as there being two teachers in every classroom rather than the customary one, and that teachers should work collectively and without hierarchy as suggested by Bruno Ciari, the leader of the Movement of Cooperative Education, another of source of inspiration for Malaguzzi – and someone he was in frequent dialogue with.
In 1970 the first infant-toddler centre was opened, one year in advance of Law 1044(1971) instituting social and educational services for children under the age of three. This occurred on the demand of the mothers who requested a safe place for their children as they returned to the workforce (Edwards et al1998 p.19, Malaguzzi, 1998, p61). This was followed by a series of social legislation making the availability of nursery schools more readily available to the people of Italy and the number of schools blossomed until the mid 1980’s (Edwards et al, 1998, p.22).
The interaction of Swedish teachers together with those of Reggio Emilia resulted in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm called “The Hundred Languages of Children” (Barsotti 2009). The title of the exhibition also being the title of a poem written by Loris Malaguzzi describing how children start life with a hundred languages but are robbed of 99 continued Barsotti. Thus reinforcing his pedagogical philosophy as being one that helps the children to maintain all their different languages and to build upon them rather than telling the child which voice should be used. Barsotti told us, at one of the many Reggio Emilia courses held in Stockholm, that the interaction with Sweden has continued and in 1992 The Reggio Emilia Institute opened in Stockholm allowing dialogues and courses to inspire teachers across the country.
After the sudden death of Malaguzzi, Rinaldi (2008, p.53) confesses to an enormous vacuum, arousing fear that they would lose the sense of the experience itself. Rinaldi had worked for 24 years by Malaguzzi’s side and thanks to their conviction they moved forwards and continued with what Malaguzzi had started. A new version of “The Hundred Languages of Children” Exhibit began its tour in Rome in 1995 and continued around the world (Edwards et al, 1998, p.23). In 1996 the early childhood system in Reggio Emilia was entrusted to the city authorities by the Ministry of Education this included funds to continue the education of its teachers (Edwards et al 1998 p.23). The spirit of Malaguzzi is forever present in the city of Reggio Emilia. He had challenged teachers to develop “new eyes” to enable them to see the true intelligence of children (Rankin 2004, p.81) and through these eyes the teachers of Reggio Emilia continue to see – what the children are doing and are interested in, and further a-field – what the researchers are doing. Dahlberg and Moss (2008, p.4) point out that it is not simply the fact that the educators of Reggio have brought in concepts and theories from many places but that more importantly they have reflected upon them, creating their own meanings and relevance to their work.



Key Concepts
Malaguzzi was the driving force of the key-points of the Reggio Emilia approach. These key-points include – children have rights rather than needs; the child as a collaborator with the teacher in his/her own education/development (interactions/pedagogy of listening); the environment is the third educator; the researcher teacher and the researcher child (documentation/competent child); learning through play, emphasising creative expression (hundred languages), and the involvement of the parents. (Gandini 1998 p.177; Malaguzzi, 1998, p.79; Spaggiari, 1998, p.105; Vecchi 1998 pp139-147; Abbot 2007 p.14; Philips 2007 p.49; Rinaldi, 2008 p.57, p.65)

Rights:
Malaguzzi (1994, p.1) said that children had the right to fulfil and also expand ALL of their potential, describing them as rich and competent and not beings with needs but beings with rights. He wrote down a Bill Of Three Rights – for the parents, the teachers and the...
Children have the right to be recognized as the bearers of important rights: individual, social and legal. They both carry and construct their own culture and are therefore active participants in the organization of their identity, their autonomy and their capabilities. The construction of this organization takes place through relationships and interactions with peers, adults, ideas and objects, as well as both real and imaginary events of a communicative world (Malaguzzi 1994, online )
I noticed that these writings of Malaguzzi reflect many of the articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example article 12,
where children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account; and in article 29 that states the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities should be to their fullest potential. (United Nations, 1990)

Jones (2000,) described the rights of children in Reggio Emilia as stemming from common sense rather than an international declaration.
The words 'common sense" carry with them overtones of approval, suggesting solid, workable and rational agreement over what is the best to be done in determining the rights of individuals and social groups
(Jones, 2000, p.3)
In this description the rights of children bend and sway with the society and the culture that the child finds itself in – a part of a family, a part of a preschool, and a part of a city. The children can be assured the safety and guidance of the adults around them as well as being heard and valued to have their own theories.
Not only does the word “rights” for me apply to us seeing each child in their developmental process, and seeing their abilities rather than focussing on their difficulties... it also brings me to the idea of democracy. That children are heard and valued are a part of the democratic process... that the children have the right to participate in their own learning journey and not simply be assistants to the plans the educators have for them.



Interaction
According to an interview between Malaguzzi and Rankin (2004) the interaction between children and children, children and adults and adults and adults is an essential part of the Reggio experience.
Interaction must be an important and strong word. You must write it in the entrance to the school. Interaction. That is, try to work together to produce interactions that are constructive, not only for socializing, but also for construction language, for constructing the forms and meaning of language.
(Rankin, 2004, p.84)

Rinaldi (2008) suggests that just listening to a teacher is not a sufficient way to learn and to develop. She contends a child should participate in his/her own development for it to have any relevance, not only on an individual level but also by listening to peers and learning from them. The teacher should listen to the child in order to develop as a teacher, listen to the parents to further understand, and listen to each other to stimulate professional development.
Rinaldi gives eight explanations of what listening is when describing documentation and assessment. These include the concept that listening is an active verb, that it is an emotion and based on curiosity, that it should be done not just with our ears but with all of our senses, that it is not an easy thing to do and should be done without prejudice, and it is the premise for any learning relationship (2008 p.65). Zakin (2005, p.4) states that this approach to teaching and learning based on collaboration and mentoring stems from Vygotsky’s (1973) theories (zone of proximal development) and requires the teachers to look at their own pedagogical practice. Therefore a curriculum is created not by the state but by the teachers in collaboration with the children. Rankin’s (2004, p.82) writes that Malaguzzi said “its not so much that we need to think of a child who develops himself by himself but rather of a child who develops himself interacting with others”. This is why the meeting place of the piazza is so important – here the children can exchange ideas with each other – as well as in the small activity groups together with a teacher.
Dahlberg and Moss (2008, p.6) suggest another important inspiration for Malaguzzi has been John Dewey (1938) including his view that learning is an active process and not merely the transmission of pre-packaged knowledge. They suggest this is seen in the teachers listening to the children’s interests and developing projects together, learning simultaneously during the process.
The word interaction felt so important to me that I chose it as part of the name of my blog. That interactions are not confined to children interacting with the educators, each other and the world around them, but also my interactions with my colleagues, with the world around me and of course with the children I work with. The blog was started as a way to interact with ideas... writing down my ideas so that I could reflect on them build on them, and also so that others could read them with the hope that I would get feedback in the form of comments that would allow me to think one more time about the process of thought... maybe even have the opportunity for a pedagogical somersault.. where my train of thoughts are turned on its head and I am afforded a new perspective. This can only happen through interactions... with others, with books, with experiences...



The Third Educator
Rinaldi (2008, pp77-88) writes that the layout of the preschools has been a crucial part of the Reggio experience, Malaguzzi believing strongly in the relationship between a good quality environment improving the quality of learning. The environment should enable the child and teacher to express their potential, abilities and curiosity. The Reggio Emilia preschools have been created by the collaboration of architecture and pedagogy and the use of visual arts.
The piazza has become synonymous with Reggio Emilia, each of Malaguzzi’s preschools possessing one. It is a large open central space that most traditional schools also have, but Gandini (1998 p.165) had wrote that Malaguzzi explained that it is how this space is used that is important. By calling it a piazza, the town square, Malaguzzi was creating a significance about this open space – a place for meetings and interactions – and not just a place for “recreation because between 10:00 and 10:30 there is supposed to be a break”. I this sense it is not merely about calling it a piazza either, it is about the significance of the place; it is an approach to thinking about how a space can be used, and this space does not have to be indoors, it can also be created outdoors... not all settings are constructed in the same way, so we cannot just lift the idea of “the square” and transplant it into our own setting. We have to think about the intention of the space, how can we create these interactions, what sort of interactions and why? And then to arrange the space according to these reflections.
Gandini continues that the environment must be flexible and must be adapted with the changing needs of the children. She remembers the words of Malaguzzi who told her that “we value space because of its power to organize, promote pleasant relationships among people of different ages, create a handsome environment, provide changes, promote choices and activity, and its potential for sparking all kinds of social affective, and cognitive learning” (1998, p.177)
The atelier, workshop or studio, is a space in the Reggio Emilia preschools that Malaguzzi (1998, p.73) invested a great deal of hope. It is a space rich in materials and tools easily accessed by the children. It was intended not only as a space of creativity but also as a place of research – a place where the children can test out their theories individually and together with other children, and with professionally competent adults (p.74). There are small ateliers for the children to work on projects in smaller groups – as the children are divided according to age in Reggio Emilia preschools (Gandini, 1998, p.172). There is much that can be written about ateliers, not only the access to the materials and also the use of an atelierista (an educator trained in the arts to provoke/deepen thoughts not only for the children but for the educators too), but I feel it is necessary to point out that the atelier is not the only space for creativity. Creativity is more than art, so being good at art is not about being creative – it is the capacity to make connections (but that is just a very basic way to describe the complexity of creativity). I have written about art, the atelier and creativity often in my blog...
Bishop (2007, p.73) says that Reggio Emilia preschools have intended to have an educational and symbolic value for those using the spaces – both indoors and outdoors. Many describe the preschools as filled with light and colour from the large glass windows, white walls and glass room dividers, aquarium-like, and illuminating the children’s work (Bishop, 2007; Hirst, 2007; Nutbrown and Abbot, 2007; Gandini, 1998;). Furniture and materials are designed so that the children can be independent – the environment allows them to start activities and pursue them with as little assistance from adults (van den Bosch, 2009, p.20).
The third educator can be seen as your colleague, and just like yourself and your human colleagues, it is in need of professional development to be able to interact with the changing needs of the children and of society.



Documentation
We teachers must see ourselves as researchers, able to think, and produce a true curriculum, a curriculum produced from all of the children” (Malaguzzi, 1993 p.4). The word ”reconnaissance” is used by Malaguzzi, (1998, pp.88-89) as an important tool to overview the situation with the children, the preschool, the family, the town etc. From this reconnaissance wisdom is acquired into how the children play, how they pretend and how individual and group identities develop etc (p.89). Rinaldi (1998, p.119) explains that the observations are documented and are used to stimulate the teacher’s self-reflection as well as discussions with colleagues.
Projects arise from the interest of the children continues Rinaldi, they are of varying lengths of time and children work by themselves and with the teachers. The teachers continue to observe and document during the project’s process and this documentation makes it “possible for the teachers to sustain the children’s learning while they also learn (to teach) from the children’s own learning” (Rinaldi 1998, p.120) The documentation includes words and photographs at both adult and child height (Leask, 2007, p.45) as well as diagrams, working models, paintings etc
(Bishop, 2007, p.76). Slide documentaries, videos and books says Rinaldi (1998, p.121) also support the memory and interactions of the teachers, children and parents. She continues that by revisiting a project by looking at the documentation the children are offered an opportunity to further reflect and interpret their own ideas. Something I do with the children in Stockholm with exciting results. The artwork and results of the projects therefore document the process – the learning of the children which then offers further learning processes for adults and children alike by acting as a “mirror of our knowledge” (Rinaldi, 1998, 121).

There is a difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation... the latter being taking that step to interact with the documentation... to analyse it together with other... the children, colleagues parents etc in order to better understand the learning of the individual children and the group. And from this analysis plans can be made to support the children's continued learning journey, thus starting the next cycle of documentation to learn from.

see my post Beginners guide to Pedagogical Documentation for more information on this


Play
Play is a key factor in children’s well-being. As such it is not a luxury to be considered after other rights have been addressed but understood as an essential and integral part of children’s everyday lives and therefore central to the UN Convention as a whole.” (Fronczek, 2009, p.113). Malaguzzi says that as teachers each one needs to be able to play with the things that derive from children and that curiosity is a necessary attribute. He also says that teachers need to be able to try something new based on the ideas that are collected from the children. (Malaguzzi, 1993 p.2). In other words Malaguzzi is not only promoting play as a method of learning for children, but also as a method of learning for the adults around them. This is an idea he got from Hawkins (2002, p65-77) “messing about” - that for educators to truly understand the pedagogical value of play they must mess about with materials, play and explore with them. I have written extensively about play in my blog and the need for a healthy play diet, that there are many kinds of play and children need to have portions of all of them. Often, I feel, adults are too quick to narrowly define play and to defend this view of play. My observations of children over the years has lead me to believe that it can be hard to fully understand what play is, and that it is not something that is exclusively for children either. I also feel that many areas of play has been encroached on by adults, especially educators who search for the teachable moment. Despite the fact that I wrote “play is not meant to be educational. Rather, education flows naturally into the environment os a child at play.” I feel there is room for educational play as one of the many forms of play, my meaning with the statement is that far too often adults forget that free play is a learning environment that maybe we as adults have to be able to see the learning and the children are allowed to get on with their play.



Hundred languages
Malaguzzi (1998 p.3) wrote a poem as part of the exhibition of the children’s work entitled “The Hundred Languages of Children” that reveals his thoughts that children do not think and learn in just one way but have many approaches to the world and his belief that school and culture are robbing them of ninety nine by telling them how to think and how to learn without joy. Göhlich (2008, p.1) wrote that learning is multidimensional – that it includes learning to know, learning to know-how and learning to live and that it is not just a cognitive process.
Learning creatively has involved challenging many preconceived ideas about education. Up to now, art instruction, has been more appreciated for its cultural and recreational service to children than its educational possibilities and Zakin (2005 p.5) believes that it should be seen with new eyes, that art and science are not at opposite ends of the scale. Gardner (1998 p.xvii) also comments on the harmony Reggio has achieved by “challenging so many false dichotomies” for example child versus adult, enjoyment versus study as well as, like Zakin, the contrast of art and science. Rinaldi (2006 p.173) continues this list with work-play and reality-imagination; she writes the word “and”, linking everything together – creativity and rationality, teaching and researching etc. I understand this, as one should cover all areas with equal importance so that the child has a chance to develop her “hundred languages” and has a greater opportunity to find the ones that she excels at and enjoys.
If there are a hundred languages there are a hundred ways to listen... as educators we need to see how each child learns and to be able to provide a curriculum that meets these learning abilities, as well as providing new languages for the children to try out. If we listen we can hear more languages; in this way we learn from the children and from colleagues and parents, as well as online communities that can share ideas and thoughts about learning and play.



Parents
The parents are an important part of the Reggio preschool experience, they are also considered a specialist and are recognised for bringing with them a particular viewpoint as well as values (Rinaldi, 2006, p.157). Hunter (2007, p.39) says that parents are encouraged to participate in the daily life of the preschools and that parental observations contribute to “lively discussions”. Running the preschools without the parents, write Södergren and Wiking (2009, p.15), is unthinkable in the Reggio Emilia preschools and are a part of their development rather than just “customers” who drop off their children to professionals who make all the decisions.


Reggio Emilia and Sweden
Malaguzzi’s “first flight abroad” was to Sweden and the exhibit which was first called “When the eye jumps over the wall” that later became “The Hundred Languages of Children” (Barsotti, 2009). This involvement with Sweden came before the curriculum for the preschool (Lpfö98) came into being in 1998. Vecchi comments on the importance of the move of the Swedish preschool from the Social Service Department to the Education Department indicating a change of viewing preschools as a place to protect and nurture children to a place of learning (Vecchi 1999, p.46). The new curriculum was welcomed by many as it raises the status of the preschool, by describing the preschool as laying the foundation of lifelong learning, giving parents the possibility to influence the setting as well as challenging teachers concerning giving children the right to influence their own situation (Rösne and Sköldefors 1999, p.48).
Bondesson et al (2007 p.17) describes the new Swedish preschool curriculum as changing the focus of how the child is seen. The curriculum sees the child as competent, as did Malaguzzi, and that the teachers should support the child’s development and learning through interactions with children and adults. “Children in preschool should meet adults who see the potential in each child and who involve themselves interactively with both the individual child and the group of children as a whole” (Lpfö98 p.5).
The curriculum has a general formulation which allows a variety of interpretations – therefore the traditional Swedish preschool, writes Bondesson et al (2007 p.18) is able to continue working with children based on adult lead activities, but at the children’s level to encourage their learning. At the same time it allows for the Reggio inspired method of allowing the children to influence their own learning process and the teachers as fellow researcher. The Swedish curriculum states “The preschool should promote learning, which presupposes active discussion in the work team on the contents of what constitutes learning and knowledge” (Lpfö 98 p.6).
At the preschool where I work in Stockholm we have a pedagogical advisor that comes once a week and works with us – to discuss ideas, documentation methods and starting up projects after observing the children’s interests. Therefore we are discussing what learning is for us, embroidering the philosophy of Malaguzzi onto our Swedish
fabric.
The Swedish preschool curriculum also covers Malaguzzi’s key points of being creative “
by means of different forms of expression, such as pictures, song and music, drama, rhythm, dance and movement, as well as spoken and written language” as an essential part of “promoting the development and learning of the child” (Lpfö98, 2006 p.7) Södergren and Wiking (2008, p.26) write their concern that the Reggio Approach preschools in Sweden can never expect the parent participation that occurs at the preschools in Reggio Emilia in Italy. This, they believe, stems from the fact that preschools in Sweden arise from the parents need for childcare rather than being created for the children as they did in Reggio Emilia. This, though, does not consider the parent co-operatives in Sweden that rely on parental involvement – these co- operatives are not always Reggio inspired, but have many different influences – from traditional Swedish preschools, forest schools (Ur och Skur) to Montessori etc. Working at a Reggio inspired preschool without the parental involvement expectations and having my children at a parent co-operative without a Reggio profile has been an eye-opening experience to see just how valuable the interaction of parents is for teachers, parents and not least the children.
Parents are seen as valuable by the Swedish curriculum as the section on preschool and home states – “Parents should have the opportunity...to be involved and influence activities in the preschool.” (Lpfö98, 2006, p13) but are not as actively involved, on the whole, as the parents in Reggio Emilia.
To see the environment as a third educator is something Swedish preschools are still working on, Bondesson et al (2007,p.37) had predicted that this would have been the area easiest for Swedish preschools to adopt from the Reggio philosophy, but were disappointed in their study to find that this was not the case. They felt that having a mirror pyramid was not enough and that the environments lacked sensual experiences and a more inspiring environment for the children’s creativity. Preschools in Sweden, both traditional and Reggio are making the transition from adult sized furniture to child sized (Thestrup and Sundquist, 2004 p.13). My own preschool has two child- sized tables and one adult-sized table, although there are discussions to invest in child-sized furniture for the entire department.
The rights of children, “each individual shall be emphasised and made explicit in all preschool activity” (Lpfö, p.3) comes under the heading of fundamental values in the Swedish curriculum, the word “democracy” being the very first word used. “Democracy forms the foundation of the preschool.” (Lpfö98, p3)
This is very poignant when one considers that the preschools in Reggio Emilia were started as a reaction to the fascism Italy endured during World War II. Rinaldi (2008 p.140-141) writes of the importance of democracy in the preschools in Reggio Emilia and its connection to the children’s participation – “school as a place of democracy”. In Stockholm, we have not only the Swedish National Curriculum to follow, but also Stockholm’s Preschool Curriculum, which is a compliment to the national one. In the Stockholm Curriculum there is a section on pedagogical documentation (the word documentation does not occur in the national curriculum), it describes documentation as a tool to reflect and develop the setting, allowing the work at the preschool to be visible so that children, parents and staff have a basis for reflection as well as it being a support in self evaluation and part of the systematic quality of work (Stockholm Stad 2009, p.14).



The Relevance of Reggio
To give an idea of the extent of its influence, between January 1981 and January 1999 there were approximately six hundred delegations to Reggio Emilia with a total of about ten thousand visitors (Morrow, 1999, p.23). In Sweden it can be a long wait before one gets the opportunity to visit Reggio Emilia as part of one of the courses
offered, as there are so many wanting to visit – my preschool is still on that waiting list – a year later.
There are several areas of research identified by Abbot and Nutbrown (2007) arising from the inspiration of Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach, for example the role of teachers, parents and play in the education of children. Also inclusion and attitudes to special educational needs as well as the role of the preschool environment and creativity.
What Malaguzzi has introduced to Reggio Emilia is not necessarily new, Dewey (1980, p15) had written about traditional schools being a crime against the nature of children by not following the interests of the children and learning practically, as did Pestalozzi (1746-1827) (Nutbrown et al 2009, p.27). Nutbrown et al (2009) continue that play has had several pioneers including Montessori (1870-1952), Steiner (1861-1925), Fröbel (1782-1852), Isaacs (1885-1948) and Margaret Macmillan (1860-1931). Comenius (1592-1670) had written about how teachers should understand how a child’s mind works, as did Dewey (1859-1952), Vygotsky (1896-1934) and Montessori with their ideas of a child-centred education – with activities and interaction and Charlotte Mason’s (1842-1923) writings became known by some as a child’s Bill of Rights (Nutbrown et al, 2009, p.36). What was new with Malaguzzi was the longevity of putting his theory into his practical work. Gardner (1998, p.xvi) compares Dewey’s decades of writing theory and his four years of practical work in a school with Reggio Emilia, “Nowhere else in the world is there such a seamless and symbiotic relationship between a school’s progressive theory and its practices”. The “hundred languages of children” documents how the preschools in Reggio Emilia have evolved over forty years interweaving theory and practice during this time. Nutbrown (2006, p.121) quotes Moss (2001), that:
while we seek the answer which will be enable us to foreclose, in Reggio they understand that even after 30 years or more, their work remains provisional, continually open to new conditions, perspectives, understandings and possibilities
We need to also continually assess what we are doing, to weave into our practical work the theories that we are reading – and making it relevant to the situation we find ourselves in.
Nutbrown et al (2009, p154-155) describe play as an important part of learning for children, and that although the word “play” is used often its definition is not always clear. After a period of children “working” in school being favoured, play, has once again, found a new respect.
The EYFS and the Early Learning Goals (ELGs), however, provide suficient flexibility for practitioners to follow children’s interests, respond to their ideas for developing play activities, and provide structured activities (which can also be playful) to teach specific knowledge and skills. (The National Strategies Early Years, 2009 p.5)
For teachers in Reggio Emilia play is highly valued for its ability to promote development writes New (1998 p.274), but is only a part of the learning package –
the project being of equal importance.

Malaguzzi’s description of a child with rights rather than needs is relevant in the discussion of inclusion. Phillips (2007 p.52) writes that “ the hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking” in Malaguzzi’s poem is a recognition of diversity rather than churning out a “standard” child from the school system. Inclusion has been a part of Reggio Emilia practice prior to it becoming national law in Italy in 1971 (Vakil et al, 2003, p187). Inclusion, though, is more than just placing special needs children in a classroom, write Vakil et al (2003, p187) it requires a holistic approach of the child with appropriate practices which is not always a possibility in a “strictly academic curriculum”. Smith (1998) writes that in Reggio Emilia an extra teacher is assigned to the group rather than the child which avoids, as Agneta Hellström called the “bodyguard model” in which the support teacher, often lacking in appropriate experience and training, is assigned to the child. Soncini, interviewed by Smith, goes on to explain how ALL teachers in the preschool are supplied with the relevant information so that children with special rights are welcomed in all classes and all areas of the school and not totally reliant on one adult (Smith, 1998: 201-205). Phillips (2007, pp58-59) points out that no place is perfect and that a recently built preschool had not been made wheelchair accessible, and that not all rooms and all materials were within reach for such children.
Canella (1997 p.162) says the voices of children have been silenced by the weight of “adult” constructions of and for them. The English Foundation Stage Curriculum views the child as a future pupil, write Soler and Miller (2003, p.61), they continue that the curriculum is organised in stepping stones which views children’s development in a sequential manner. This means policy makers have assumed where levels begin and end for all children whereas, they write, Malaguzzi has stated the child as the starting point of the curriculum. Rinaldi, write Edwards et al, (1998 p.183), said that learning must be imagined as “spiralling” with children, teachers and parents as active parts of the learning process that cannot be expected to occur in any set order.
Warash et al (2008 p.447) write of the similarities of Reggio Emilia with DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice) and the foundations of the Competent Learner Model, as those that have an appropriate curriculum, teaching strategies, and an appropriate learning environment so that children acquire the necessary competencies to be competent learners. They continue that Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach have stimulated a “powerful arena for reflecting on and questioning educational practices”.
Malaguzzi (1998 p.75-77) said that creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty and that it requires the partnership of knowledge and expression rather than being at odds. Robinson (1998) has also come to understand the importance of creativity as a part of the educational process rather than a separate subject.
Creativity is not simply a matter of letting go. Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas. Creative education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills, and encouraging innovation. In these ways, creative development is directly related to cultural education. (Robinson, 1998, p.6)



Final Dialogue
The Reggio Emilia approach requires a great deal from its teachers, they need to have the energy and enthusiasm to develop and evolve, to have the ability to believe in themselves and in the children and parents, they need to be able to be part of a team – not just a team of colleagues, but of the whole community. Malaguzzi had great expectations of his teachers and could be exacting and demanding, but this was a part of his respect for their intelligence, abilities and possibilities (Rinaldi, 2008 p.59) in just the same way that a teacher strives to help a child reach his full potential. Warash et al (2008, p.445) observed that teachers in Reggio did not praise children for work below their full capacity and that there is a persistence of questioning that is not seen in the U.S.A, where fostering self-esteem is more dominant.
One concern is the lack of research into the effects of the Reggio approach. There is no research into whether or not they achieve what they set out to do. There is no knowing whether or not the children will grow up into adults able to think for themselves and trust in their own convictions. There is a need to evaluate their own effectiveness – not to just continuously evaluate the time of the early childhood years – but to see whether it does have a lasting effect – whether these children keep their “extra pocket” into adulthood, and if they do, whether they use the contents of this extra pocket (Hunter 2007). If they are not keeping or using these pockets there is then a need to develop their practice further so that they do in fact achieve the goals the original parents had set and the very reason for the preschools existing.
There are studies that show that preschool does have lasting effects - the High/Scope method HAS been evaluated and showed that working with young children does in fact improve conditions for adult life (Schweinhart 2009). The EPPE (Effective Pre- school and Primary Education), the largest study in Europe on the effects of preschool education on children’s intellectual and social and behavioural development, has also shown that good quality preschool education has lasting effects beyond the preschool years (Sylva & Siraj-Blatchford, 2009)
When I attended a Reggio Course in Stockholm I found it strange that we were unable to take photographs at the preschool we visited that had been to Reggio Emilia in Italy – their reason being that they themselves had not been allowed to take photographs during their visit in Italy. I could not reconcile with the fact that a pedagogical philosophy, which promotes photographic documentation as a method of memory stimulation to further deepen the learning process, would then deny visitors such a source of inspiration. When I questioned the ban on photography there came an explanation of making ones own journey. This I can understand, but at the same time question – we have travel guides that help us make decisions about a journey, including photographs and information to help us make a choice. Even if we were to choose what was recommended in the guidebook it would never be the same
experience – the weather might be different, the group of people would interact in a different way etc – producing something new and unique. The photographs of the preschools that allowed such documentation (on the same course) have proved to be a great source of inspiration. We could never replicate what they have done as our building and our needs are different – but they serve to inspire us to create something new in our own location and question what we do now.
It is impossible to say just how much influence Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach has had upon early childhood educational practices, but without a doubt the sheer numbers of educators visiting Reggio Emilia and reading the literature must be having an impact on how teachers view the child and their own educational approach. Carlo Barsotti (2005) described Loris Malaguzzi as a genuine person and that maybe his greatness lay in the fact he was never satisfied with his successes. He continues that Malaguzzi never wrote down his early childhood pedagogy as a method as he believed it to be continually changing and evolving, that the teachers should also be non static and offer tools and experiences that the children could use to stimulate their creativity.It is this influence, writes New (2000, p.4) to promote, not change, but reflection, debate, and conversation--that may well be Malaguzzi’s and the preschools of Reggio Emilia greatest legacy.



Reflections
Of course reflection is a must have part to any dialogue about Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Approach. Despite writing this eight years ago now I will still return to read, to find those quotes and those references that inspired me then and continue to inspire me... but now, with time I read them with a new perspective, giving me the opportunity to reflect further and anew.
Also eight years ago I had to write with a word limitation – which was not the easiest thing to do, there was so much I wanted to convey about my relationship with the Reggio Emilia Approach and there simply was not the word space to include everything. Hence my desire to share this one more time with a few thoughts added here and there. I still have not written as much as I maybe could – especially about PLAY, LISTENING, DOCUMENTATION, DEMOCRACY, THE THIRD EDUCATOR, CREATIVITY... etc etc... as I wanted this to not be too long that readers do not have enough time in their busy schedules to read to the end and to reflect on this article about Malaguzzi in its completeness. I am, though, I the process of writing a book and this might also have impacted how much I share here... what do I include in this extended article and what do I save for the book. Those of you familiar with my blog will know that I have written a lot about listeningI shared my journey as an educator learning more about how to work philosophically with 1-6 year olds.
I cannot express how important it is to reflect. And to do this with openness. That kind of openness that allows you to see your mistakes and not be afraid of them, but to see them as a learning opportunity. The kind of openness that allows you to receive comments from colleagues that you might not want to hear at first, but ultimately allow you to be a better teacher. The kind of openness that allows you to talk frankly with your colleagues in a respectful way to challenge them as we all evolve as educators.
Self reflection is fantastic, but reflecting with colleagues and friends, with the children and parents is also essential to grow as an educator... to evolve your teaching skills to meet the evolving child.
As the children need a safe place to learn, so do educators. If we are to learn with the children then our workplace needs to be safe, it needs to be respected and valued. Sadly within the early years sector status is not something we rate high on in society, this I feel contributes to educators not feeling safe. This means that evolving will be stifled by the need to get it right and get approval. This is not something I want for the children I work with, it is not something I want for the colleagues I work with... including all those I interact with online and in workshops I hold around the world. ECE needs to be valued.
Malaguzzi was, for me, a person that raised the value bar... not by saying we need to teach in a specific way, but that we needed to adjust our approach to how we see the child, how we value learning and play, how we interpret words, how we interact with the world around us, how we perceive education... to see the rich complexity and the interdisciplinary nature of learning.

http://interactionimagination.blogspot.se/



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