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.