Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Story of communication

This post has been brewing for a while... and my reflections have deepened due to chats with Kierna Corr who has stayed with me over the last few days and we have visited a preschool director (Soledad from Aspen preschool - link at the end to read a post about a previous visit to her preschool) in Botkyrka (Sweden's most immigrant rich commune) and also Annika who is responsible for the preschools in the Rinkeby/Kista area (another immigrant rich area).
The purpose of our visits have been to learn more about how can we better support the children of immigrant families - especially with language... with communication.

But before we can start with the children there is a need to start with ourselves... as educators. So this post will focus on that before moving onto the children and learning...

How do we communicate?
To create a safe space...
to explore ideas...

Do we speak in different ways depending on who we are talking to... and why do we do this? Is it appropriate?
When we communicate are we leaving enough space for others to communicate their ideas? Are we actually, truly, open to these ideas, or are they just words?
Why do we listen to some ideas and not others? Whose ideas do we give the most value to? and why?
What part of communication do we prioritise? Listening? Speaking? Reading? Writing? Why?
What are our expectations of others when it comes to these four areas of communication? Do we hold ourselves to the same standard of expectation as we do our peers, or the children...

Sometimes I think as adults we can struggle to create democratic classrooms, or listening classrooms, or even respectful classrooms because we did not experience this ourselves - we do not truly know what it looks like or feels like. So we have to be creative.

I also think that schools tend to focus on teaching children how to debate... and so teachers are debaters rather than skilled in dialogue, which is very different.
Debate is about getting your point across (whether you believe in it or not in school as a practice in the art of debating) - therefore debate is not so much about finding the truth, or the strength of the facts, but about the ability of the person talking - their passion, their ability to communicate, their ability to out-voice other ideas and opinions.
While dialogue is exploring ideas and opinions together, being open to learning from them, being willing to change your mind if the facts, the research point in a different direction from what you thought you might take at first... or it might just lead to understanding others better and a deepening of your understanding of your own opinion. Not just repeating your own opinion over and over without it ever evolving or without ever benefiting from a greater understanding of others. 
I feel that teaching children to debate is a great skill, but it is just one form of communication, and is not a great one for creating a great classroom atmosphere, of allowing children to learn from each other, for allowing children who are weaker in communicating but have amazing ideas and opinions that can benefit from others to shine.
I also think that debating means educators might be less open to try new things, because they excel in proving that what they know is the right way.
I also think that a school system that tests and has right and wrong answers is also going to produce teachers/educators that are going to need a whole load more bravery to try new ideas... as getting it wrong meant failure in school... that is a hard feeling to shake.

Are we, as educators, really comfortable with unpacking our own prejudices so that we can face them, learn from them and evolve? I think there are many things that we do without reflecting on, small, everyday things, that are steeped in stereotyped behaviour and tradition. These actions can accidentally exclude, even if that is far from our intention. This is why we need to be open with ourselves and how we communicate with others. What is a our view of the child? How does that impact the way we talk with them... do we see them as competent, do we worry about risk, do we stress about physical contact (you don't hug in school)... how does this impact the words and intonation and your body language?

What about the classroom? Does the layout/design of your classroom encourage communication? What kind of communication? Between the children or only from teacher to children - where they listen passively? How do you design a classroom to support active listeners? What is your knowledge about how the children listen? What does real listening look like?

I received a letter from my son's school in preparation for the new term starting in the latter half of August... there it stated (yet again) the need for "studierro" STUDY PEACE - what does this mean? Sometimes it feels that the teachers are expecting silence and to sit still so that the children can learn... but really there is only a small minority of children who need silence in order to be able to learn.. and even fewer that appreciate sitting still as an effective way to learn.
If children are spending their energy on trying to be quiet and trying to be still, then there is less energy being spend on listening, language acquisition, learning and participating in lessons... and also less time for the educator to be facilitating the learning as time is being spend on micro-managing children to sit still and be quiet. So how do teachers create learning environments? That allows all the children to learn... including those that need to move and need to make noise in order to access knowledge?

This might mean the traditional classroom will not work... and there is a need for flexible seating... but equally it might mean a traditional classroom does work with a particular class and a particular teacher (as long as the teacher is open to seeing the needs of all the children and is not just trying to convert all the children into sit still and be quiet learners... as no matter how good you are at making that happen it does not guarantee you that all the children are learning effectively. Silence and compliance does not equal learning.

The norm is an important part of what makes up our society... our expectations of others, what we accept and what we do not... that hitting, violence, being rude, murdering etc are not part of the norm... what we wear is also part of the norm, how we speak, the words we choose, swearing, what foods etc... there is a need for them to create community and also to create a kind of ethical code. The problem is that these norms can be too small and too restrictive and they have a nasty habit of excluding... this is why, we as educators, need to look at the norm we participate in, our own context, and how that impacts our communication.
In the below images if have drawn the norm as a rectangle... the small circles are groups, for a variety of reason that get excluded from the norm, and very often educators strive to include them. The problem is that these children, these groups have to learn how to become a part of the norm, and their differentness is highlighted as a problem... my son with autism/ADHD refuses to adapt, while my daughters have been able to (but at a great personal expense... complete exhaustion and sometimes depression - in fact when I was with my 17 year old as she got her ASD diagnosis the doctor complimented her on her self awareness and the fact that if she continued to work on that her autism would go away... I pointed out, as a mother with ASD that the autism does not go away, what happens is that we get better at hiding it so that neurotypicals feel more comfortable - we learn how to step into that box)

Educators learn various strategies etc to help children enter that box, become a part of the norm... and in this very process alienate even more the identity and the differentness of the child. Whether it be autism, or being an immigrant, a different home language, a different culture or religion, or skin colour, or family or. or , or ... there is no real inclusion.

What we need is to expand the norm... this idea of what is acceptable... to learn that neurodiversity, languages, cultures, religions, ethnicity etc etc enrich our communities. We need to communicate, to listen and to understand... to allow not just the educator but the whole classroom and the whole of society to understand and include and to accept.
To ensure that the rectangle that represents the norm includes all the children and all the groups and that there is a mutual respect and adaptation so that all can stay true to their identities.

I sometimes hear that this cannot be done in a classroom that we need change in the whole of society... but I argue that it is in the classroom that we need to start making the change... so that bit by bit the future looks more accepting, more understanding more respectful, and more peaceful.

If we are learning to dialogue instead of debate
If we are learning to listen to understand rather than listening to answer
if we give children the time to learn rather than instructing at a hurried schedule
If we are open to evolve as educators rather than just do what we have always done
If we are brave - to face our mistakes, to stand up for what is right.

Communication is essential for change. And language is a part of that. so the up and coming posts will be about communication and language... and since I believe in the 100 languages I will attempt to reflect from many perspectives and also on the many ways we communicate and can support language acquisition.

In the meanwhile... here are a few posts to read...

The story of a word - one of my posts exploring the importance of discussing what words mean between colleagues... are we communicating on the same page, or are we interpreting words differently and creating mixed messages?

Oral Language - the verbal child - another of my posts reflecting on language development

The importance of the spoken language - another of my posts... this one reflects on why there is so little focus on non-verbal communication.

Teacher Child Conversations - Dickinson
quality dialogue, open ended questions, also about non-contextural, not just context based vocabulary (ie past and future)...

Why the babies brain can learn two languages

Body Language - how we read body language for deeper understanding of what others mean... that women are better than this than men on the whole, that women with young children are even better... and men with nurturing jobs like nursing arts etc are good too... dues to being in tune with non-verbal. Films without sound had actors gifted in body language to communicate the story... with words/sound, this is not needed, it needs to be verbally good as well as body language skills
negotiating over the phone it is about the words and the stronger argument... face to face it is about the performance

Aspen Preschool in Botkyrka

Reggio and the power of words - a blogpost from Without Windows.

Learning for Life - here you can follow Kierna's 4 week adventure with the Churchill Fellowship - learning about migrant children and the early years in Berlin, Norrköping and Stockholm.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Open-ended Materials... AKA The battle between colours, plastics and natural materials

I often see posts and discussion about open-ended toys and materials...
and sometimes wonder how "open-ended" is being interpreted... as for some it is about taking away materials like cars, play food etc... which is more extreme than how I interpret it... but how extreme can we go? What is open-ended toys... or open-ended play?

I thought I would take some time to explore these ideas...

I also see, repeatedly, rather intense discussion about plastic, colour and natural materials... and often natural materials are being framed as the "Reggio Emilia" way... and this post is here to say that it is not about it being plastic, or coloured, neutral or natural... what is important from a Reggio Emilia inspired perspective is the thinking behind the choice of materials...
Reflecting on the relationships between materials, the interactions between the children and the materials, the context of the materials, the sustainability of the materials... what are the materials saying to us... do the same materials impact adults and children in different ways... do materials have different statuses? Why? Is this the same status structure in all cultures, or does this differ? Do we allow ourselves to consider this when dialoging on an international level?

Maybe though I should explore what a closed-ended material is... if there are open ended, there must be closed-ended... and the word "ended" is important. The fact that the activity comes to an end... so a puzzle or a book has a  closed end in the sense that you can finish the puzzle and then move on, you can finish the book and then move on (of course both can be done multiple times - but there is a beginning and an end to the activity)
Open-ended means that there is no determined end - the children (or any person using the material) can use it indefinitely, so to speak without coming to an end... it has that potential... playing with cars, pretend food, blocks, play-figures can all create this open-ended play...

Sometimes I think that people are confusing loose-parts with open-ended materials - and therefore label pretend food as closed.
I have seen images of a tree cookie next to a slice of plastic cucumber with comments suggesting that the piece of wood is open and the cucumber is closed... as the cucumber can only be a cucumber...

I have seen plenty of children over the many many years I have worked in ECE using plastic cucumber slices (and similar items) in a great many possible ways... as money, treasure, things to float, as frisbees for the figures they were playing with etc etc...

For me, it is about our relationship with the materials and the freedom we give the children to experiment and play with them. If we say to children that they can only use the fake cucumber as fake cucumber... we have limited the use of the material... but we have not closed the play... the play the child can have with the cucumber can be limitless... it can be a home-scene, or a restaurant scene of which there are numerous possibilities...
if we allow the children to use the cucumber in any way they can imagine, then we open up even more possibilities...

I love loose-parts... I think they can offer children many possibilities... to construct and also in their role play - but I think that in the eyes of the child a pretend cucumber slice can be a loose part...

For children with delayed language, with autism etc then being specific can be of an advantage - a fake slice of cucumber can help them connect with the other children if they are labelling it cucumber - calling a slice of wood a cucumber might not be as helpful... it is always about context... about the needs of the children and providing materials that support their learning and not meeting the  play status other educators apply to materials.

Closed end materials also have their uses... they can support children with understanding start, middle and end... to be able to persist, concentration etc... and I would find it hard not to find someone that would say a book is a bad thing... it can be a catalyst to play... but the book in itself is closed end - in the fact that we start reading, there is a middle and there is an end... and when you get to the end... then it can be repeated, but it does not go on... open ended play can go on after it... but not the book.

Here are a few links to further reading about this topic

Professional Development of the third teacher - this post reflects on our choices of materials, how we interact with the learning spaces, the choices we make... and how the group of children and our context impact the choices we are forced to make... sometimes it is not always the exact way you want it - this is from my previous workplace and is a candid post about my struggle with the third teacher

The story of sustainability - this post is reflecting on our choice of materials from a sustainability point of view... what are we saying to the children if we are constantly using single use plastic to recreate activities seen online... what responsibility do we have as educators about how we use materials and our impact on the earth - this shared planet of ours.

The Story of Trends - this is a post to get people reflecting on ECE trends... many of them are amazing and are great and should be things we need to apply and reflect on... but that is the key word... we need to reflect... why is this trend useful and meaningful for us in our context? Do we need to adapt it to make it more relevant to our context? Does it aid or hinder the children in their learning? How?

The story of a holistic preschool/school - this is a post about a visit I made in central Sweden to a preschool and school with a holistic approach... where they are constantly thinking about the materials they are introducing into their learning environment... for the sake of the children, the sake of the local community and the sake of the planet.

Outside colour and shadow play - here you can see the use of colourful plastic loose parts... despite the fact that some of these items are intended as single use plastics, I have been using them multiple times... in fact the small cups are about 2 years old now... Some do crack and expire over time. I do try to limit how much plastic I use from an environmental point of view, I  choose plastics that are non-toxic and I am very aware of the problems plastics cause on nature and especially our oceans... from giant floating plastic islands to all the horrible micro-plastics formed over time.

Do templates kill creativity? - this post is about exploring the idea that it is not the template that kills the creativity but the attitude of the educator... if the educator is only allowing a single story of creativity for the children... only templates, and only specific ways of using them, then yes, I think templates are a bad thing... but if templates are a springboard to creativity, just one of the 100 languages of imagination and expression... then I do not see them as killing creativity...
Sometimes I am told that I should not encourage others to use templates, because I am giving fuel to those that abuse them... at the same time I also believe that we cannot treat all educators in the same way... because then the idea of the single story is being abused in how we communicate about templates... there is not just the one kind of teachers that over uses templates and prevents children from exploring many other avenues of creativity... there are many different kinds of teachers, with many different kinds of classrooms with many different kinds of needs and abilities. If our focus is always listening to the children and understanding their needs and enabling them to light their own learning fires... then templates will be used only when needed... and as part of a larger play and learning diet.

Play spaces and PLAY - this is another post on the theme of open play and closed play... many see that the forest/nature is a higher status play space than play-grounds that are adult made... mostly on the basis that adults have determined that they are used in one specific way... here I argue that it is not the equipment that limits children, but the adults in the space with the children that do that... I have seen children playing all sorts of different games and play on the exact same equipment... I have also seen children play the exact same play in a playground as well as in the forest... sometimes we adults need to take a step back and rethink our impact on children's play and how our own attitude enable or limit children in their daily play and interactions with materials around them.

Anyone that follows my instagram will know that I love being out in nature, in slowing down and looking closely. Those that have followed my blog for a long time will also know my love for loose-parts, natural elements and imagination (I mean the word is in my blog... also the word INTERACTION... as in interacting with materials, each other, the world around us)

what is important is that we reflect on what materials we are offering the  children... how accessible are they, why these ones, what can be viewed and not reaches, why? What aesthetics are you opting for, why? Do the colours of your place reflect the needs of the children? Do they stimulate children who need stimulating, do the soothe those who need calming? Is there space and materials for big play and small play... what sounds do the materials have, what smells do they have... how does this impact the children... and you as an educator?

Enjoy the process of thinking about the materials YOU make available to the children... and learning more about the relationships between the children and the materials and between the materials.

The story of LIGHT...

Over the years I keep coming back to light as a tool for play, a tool for learning, a tool to explore and experiment...

In a way light has become a symbol for learning...
we become enlightened..
We can also use the word illuminate and elucidate in similar ways...

I gave the educators in Palestine candles as a symbol of learning. That I came to them to shed light on new areas of play and learning... to direct the light from new perspectives in order to allow them to see the play and learning in new ways.

This is part of my love for playing with light... it is much deeper than just the play and exploration, the science and the art... it is also the opportunity to view something in a new light.

The short film below is all abut that... seeing the items in a different way... if the light is shone on it from the front or the side or from behind makes it look different... it allows you to notice new details... and by seeing all of them you can put together you see the greater whole...

There are two kinds of light - the glow that 
illumines, and the glare that obscures. 
James Grover Thurber

For me this quote is important for us as educators... that we can overshadow the children's learning by directing too much, through restrictive instruction, by only allowing the light to be shone on certain stories. We have to get to know the learners we are working with to ensure that we understand how much light we need to shine, to provide learning environments that enhance their learning rather than hinder.

Standardised testing, and teaching to get grades, is, for me, more about treating the mind like a vessel to be filled rather than enabling the children to ignite their own learning fires...  Once the fire is lit there is light to learn. We as teachers need to facilitate learning... this is something I have written about many times, is essential to "Original Learning"

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.  Albert Schweitzer 
We also need to think about our own lights... we need to be refuelled, we need inspiration to ignite our imaginations and our energy. We also need to remind ourselves of those that do give us that spark - from the smallest to the largest spark... and take the time to acknowledge the role they have on your life...
I am grateful to all people that write comments, give feedback to this blog... either here or on my facebook page, instagram or twitter.  These interactions ignite my energy, illuminate new perspective for me to reflect on - in fact without light there are no reflections... they allow me to think more deeply, more carefully and to become a better educator and human.

I want to thank all of you that I have met face to face over the last few years in Canada, USA, UK, Palestine and Iceland - you have all impacted me and enabled me to evolve. I hope in the coming years I get to meet you again, and also get to travel to new places and meet others...

In April 2019 I will be in Athens as a keynote speaker at Play on Early Education - First International Athens Conference - there I will get to, hopefully, ignite the light in others that listen... and I will also be holding a light and shadow play workshop. Right now you can send in papers... maybe you can share your light with others at the conference? Check the website - the link is a few lines above!

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Light, colour and reflections...

Yesterday I shared a post with a film where I played with prisms, and also shared two films about how do prisms work and rainbows...

in those films there was the statement that white light could be created with just the colours red, blue and green and that the full spectrum was not needed to create white light...

So in the first film I made today there is some playing with these ideas... of red, blue and green light and the shadows...

What is really interesting when you play with light like this is that when you move the red light it is not the red shadow that moves but the green one... this could be a great stimulus for children to think about why this is the case... they can present their theories and why they think this...

here is a film showing how you can do this experiment on a bigger scale (I was just using torches/flashlights with coloured plastic over them) - my next investment would be the lamps as in the below film

In the next film... it explains why the shadows are different colours... and why they are not the colour that you would maybe first expect...

The local lake where I live has been a source of lots of inspiration... to slow down and notice the small things, and to appreciate what nature has to offer...
I also think nature can inspire our experiments inside (and outside)
For instance I love watching how the light reflects off the lake and creates patterns on the trees surrounding the lake, and overhanging the water... the ripples in the lake caused by the wind, and also the movement of fish (as was the case today... in some places it looked like the water was boiling because the fish were feeding off the seeds falling from some of the trees.

I am thinking trying out the same experiment another time but with a less reflective tray to contain the water... to see how this will impacts the reflection on the wall. I am also interested in floating other things on the surface too, including oil.
The great thing with the water and light play is that there is so much science and learning happening at the same time... not just about light, but also about floating, about the impact of movement, of wind...
could the tray be put on a speaker so that sound can create waves?

I think if I was working with very young children I would set this up as a usual water play session but change the lighting so that it created patterns on the wall to see how the children react... do they notice the patterns... does this change their way of playing and pouring things?
I would select the materials for pouring and floating carefully to be a part of the shadow making, with transparent, opaque and solid materials...
I think most children will want to experience the water first... so this is not an experiment I would try with children as their first contact with water for a while... it would be an experiment that has context... either we had noticed the reflections outside on the lake together and decided together to recreate them back at the preschool, or it would be a development of their water play...

Monday, 16 July 2018

Playing with prisms

I have been avoiding the heat of the sun here in Sweden and been playing in the dark again - this time with prisms

here is a short film from the first play session

I think if I had made the room even darker it would have been more effect-full...  but even in semi darkness it was fascinating... and obviously good for children who are afraid of the dark, so they can participate without dealing with fear...

To learn more about prisms... and some experiments you can do... finding the colours, understanding that it is the white light that IS the colours, and how to turn the rainbow back into white light... then watch the film below...

This film is intended for you as an adult to learn more about prims and to feel more assured when playing with rainbows and prisms...
each raindrop acts like a mini prism

If you prefer to watch something in Swedish about prisms, then check out the film after...
the film is designed for children... but is still useful for adults too...

Hope you have fun playing with prisms and rainbows...

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Layers of Colour

When I am in Athens next year to be a keynote speaker where I will be talking about play learning and the very youngest preschoolers I will also be presenting a workshop on play - with a focus on light and shadow, similar to workshops I held this year in Jenin, Palestine.
But at the moment I am collecting ideas, testing out the ideas and developing them - so that the play-workshop in Athens can push our play and imagination a little further...
Here is a short film of today's testing...
I have an idea of layering colours to create shadows... and this was my first test to see how we can create temporary art installations... and I want movement to be a part of this also.

This activity can easily be connected to Mondrian if you add strips of solid material/black card or frames and hang them between/round the cellaphane to create the Mondrian look
In this link you can see some Mondrian inspiration in the Hague... including coloured shadows...
Mondrian art on buildings in the Hague

This is of course just the first test of an idea which is slightly more complex in my mind, but I just wanted to see if it would work, and how it would work, to think out how to develop it further...

Friday, 13 July 2018

The story of a hug...

I recently read a short article about the benefits of hugs (touch) and babies... and just how it impacts the brain and development of the child.
The post was shared in a group about early childhood education as a reaction to the fact that some settings are writing no-hug policies.
And while I think physical contact is incredibly important to the well-being and development of each child, I also think we cannot just go round hugging every child as a pedagogical plan to develop their brains... we need to think about consent.
As a person who does not like hugging all that much, and also the mother of children where hugging/touch is not something they are keen on outside of the family I think we have to be aware of how we reach out to others.

As an early years educator I have learned to hug and touch to me the needs of the children... it has come out of empathy and an intellectual place. I have a huge respect for children who do not want to be touched and will wait for a signal, or will gently test to see if a hand on an arm, or holding a hand is what they need... sometimes it is just about sitting next to them... that is contact enough.

A hug or touch is a sensory experience. And if you are a person that is easily sensory overloaded then it can be difficult to appreciate the intentions of the hugger as all you focus on is the overload sensory experience and how to deal with that.

I have worked with children that have needed a firm hand rather than a light touch - the firmness was a better feel than the light touch which triggered a kind of discomfort - some children love to be tickled... others experience it as pain. I worked with one child that would stim a lot when very excited... hands waving so much she was unable to eat her apple, but if I applied pressure to her back in an up and down movement she was able to release the joy through me and focus on her apple. The moment I stopped was the instance the stimming started. I have no problem with stimming, but it was getting in the way of her eating her apple with the other children, and this small gesture enable her to be included in the group activity.

I think what it boils down to is love.
Jools Page has researched and written about Professional Love which I have written about on numerous occasions on my blog over the years. This is such an essential part of working with people.
Not just young children... but all people.
I think if we are coming from a place of professional love then we are going to be incorporating consent too, it is about showing care for the whole child/person and being aware of their emotional needs... understanding when a hug and when touch are essential to enabling the child to develop and reach their own potential, and also understand what form of touch is the most supportive and caring and respectful in the situation.

Today I read about children (albeit older ones) receiving electric shocks in a school in Massachusetts as part of their education... to condition them... and from what I can gather it is clear that the shocks are not being used in a therapeutic way but more as a way of control and punishment.  Professional love should be something that is used throughout the education system.
We see the lengths teachers go to protect their children in USA and the awful mass-shootings in schools... it is clear that professional love happens... but maybe it should become more official.

If you explore what the word love means you will see there is great diversity in its definitions... but essentially it involves caring for, or identifying with another. Also as I explored love I cam across the chinese word REN... Confucius never apparently completely defined it, because of its diversity... but it kind of comes back to love, humanity and interactions with others. Which is what we want for our children in schools... and this can mean touch and hugs.

There is the science (neuroscience) to back up the effects of touch - there is research about the catastrophic effects of when children do not get the physical contact that they need... (see links below)...

we need to ensure we are meeting the needs of the WHOLE child.

other links for further reading
Tracey Seed - Cuddling
Not touching - likened to child abuse
På svenska - in Swedish... research projects about touch in preschools - necessary or bad?
No touching kids policies is good for teachers - not quite the text I was expecting to read... as it seems to be written by a person who does not like being touched, but still important to read.
Losing Touch - how teachers are afraid to have physical contact with children in their care.
What the lack of affection can do to you
The Influence of touch on child development
The human touch: a neglected feeling - the importance of touch throughout life
Touching Empathy - that lack of physical touch can actually kill babies...

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The story of trends

This is a post where I explore the idea of trending in education...
this is something that I have looked at before, but feel the urge to explore it again...
especially after reading this post -
Why Low-tech is trending in education - when here in Sweden it is all about digital learning that is trending, and that is so apparent in the proposal for the new preschool curriculum. This made me think... should a curriculum be specifying trends in this way? Or should it be phrased in a more open way? So that ALL media are seen with equal value and not some (that are trending at the moment) are seen with more value... because we do not know what the future holds...
I am not saying that the digital world should be ignored, what I am saying is that it is one of many learning languages to express thoughts, ideas and explore.

A few days ago I posted about The Political Nature of the Reggio Emilia Approach and part of that post was a TEDtalk about the dangers of a single story... and I think trends are a part of this... we get fixated on an idea and follow that trend, and quite often trends are not being questioned, or pulled apart or fully understood as they should be... they are simply followed... and it becomes a single story.

Sometimes a "trend" is not fully understood which means that only a part of it is being spread... for instance within The Reggio Emilia Approach is is often the aesthetics rather than the the full complexity of the approach where our view of the child is explored - and the child is seen as competent and capable and a co-learner, where democratic learning and listening is integral to the approach, where it is about the whole community, etc etc and not just what the classroom looks like.

At the same time trends are almost a necessity... they are spoon fed alternatives to the status quo... which sadly is the only option in a profession that is  valued so little, that not enough time or resources are available... to be truly reflective there needs to be more time for teachers to explore pedagogy and ideas individually and, more importantly, together as a team without it impacting he children.
There needs to be enough time for educators to meet and discuss the children, discuss their teaching methods, explore research and pedagogical approaches etc so that they can evolve and also properly understand... that theory supports their practice, and that their practice is based on their understanding of the theory - so if they do not understand the theory it is going to impact the quality of their practice. If they are only given access to certain elements of pedagogical approaches, then they are not getting the whole story.

Also I think when it is trends, what happens is that you are just window dressing your status quo... the core of your practice is not being addressed it tends to be a change that barely scratches the surface. This, I feel, impacts diversity.
Diversity of ideas, of gender, of religion, race, politics etc etc...
Its kind of like changing the colour of your computer without changing the programming... we need to update the whole system, not just make it look prettier, or more expensive or more modern... The change has to happen within.

A relationship with the third teacher - this post looks at the need to go beyond the look and to meet the needs of the children and the context you find yourself... and to resist the trends, but to create equality.
What is equality? What do we mean by this in the classroom? How do we achieve that? How can we help children become aware of a cultural equality in their greater community if they are in a setting that tells a single story? What does the classroom say? Who does it validate? Who is not seen? And how does that impact us?

Process not product - this post explores how we create learning spaces that are about the process of learning rather than the product of attained goals/grades. About the need of diverse materials and diverse approaches to learning and play... there is not one way to learn, there are many diverse ways to explore the same topic.

Hygge in Preschool - actually this is a bit of an eye-roll at the use of Scandinavian words in the English language and that they are trendy. I mean I am very much in favour of preschools and schools being caring environments, that feel safe and comfortable for the children and staff to develop meaningful relationships that allow genuine learning. But to say we need to create hygge... set the room up in specific ways or do certain activities is lending itself to trend... of stopping listening to the children and doing the whole copy and paste... even if it is with well-meaning intentions...
What do the children YOU work with need to feel safe and secure? How can you develop meaningful relationships with them? How can you design the room so that it is meeting cozy needs of comfort but as well as waking curiosity and stimulating learning?

The story of a dining table - this post was written in response to someone writing that if you were "true Reggio inspired" you had tablecloths on the meal tables... tablecloths do not make you Reggio inspired... but if it is right for your setting... the culture and the context... then of course be my guest, put a table cloth on the meal table and enjoy the experience. What is Reggio is reflecting on how you honour the child... is a tablecloth necessary for that... sometimes maybe, other times not... The important thing is to reflect on how do we create respectful environments for and with the children.

The Early Years has more to do to Embrace Diversity - this is a post written by Laura Henry and explores the need to be more diverse in how we view diversity. We cannot simply think of diversity on one way... most often race and religion... it is so much more complicated than that... and includes the children, the setting, the staff and the families...

outdoor v indoor, learning v play - this post reflects on how we as a profession look at learning and play as well as the indoors and the outdoors... seldom do we talk about all of these things with equal value. Too often outdoor play is promoted as a trend, rather than as a place of natural learning and play... and while I think there is a real need to encourage more outdoor learning and play it is interesting to see how to is being done... "outdoor classrooms" "Forest school" is like shifting one thing to another place rather than evolving, expanding and embracing it all.

Sometimes I think even "risky play" is becoming a trend, rather than there being a full understanding of what risky play is, how it impacts the children now and in the future, and also how it impacts us as educators... how do we develop the skills needed to be a guide of risky play... do we "teach" it, or do we create the space for it... I find many articles about the need for it, but seldom about how to support the educators on how to embrace it in their daily practice. And i think this is the danger of trend... we do not go deep enough, partly because not enough time is given to educators to explore ideas, and partly because critical and creative thinking is still not valued as much as academic thinking. Also the fact that we are raised in a standardised school system with grades and right and wrong answers, we are not used to learning by failing... making mistakes and learning from them is a part of risk taking, it is also a part of process learning... and yet there is seldom room for this kind of practice - it has to be "correct" all the time. Teachers are afraid of reprimand, of getting it wrong - and so would rather hide their mistakes than learn from them... there are of course some brave teachers that defy the system and do what is right, boldly go where no teacher has gone before - and suddenly the universe and its great diversity is available for the children to explore...

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The political nature of the Reggio Emilia Approach...

in Swedish after the links
I am not a particularly political person... I have said this before... and this is not a post about politics - but this post does touch on the fact that education is a political entity.
It is through education that values are taught.
It is through education that history is taught... what is included, what is excluded, what bias, who is the narrator
It is through education that children are being prepped for society... especially in standardised education where there are right and wrong answers, an emphasis on filling the child with pre-approved knowledge rather than teaching children how to think creatively, critically and empathically..

The Reggio Emilia Approach was born out of a political situation... the parents of the city desiring a future where their children did not just follow fascist leaders but were equipped to make informed decisions of their own... to be able to choose what is right rather than just follow without question.
Carlina Rinaldi highlighted "how a teacher's work should be grounded in political belief and advocacy." (page 183, The Hundred Languages of Children, 1998)

When I said that I am not political it is more about the fact that I have not found a party that I feel truly represents me, it feels more like a case of choosing the lesser evil. I am about humanity - about equality - about respect and well-being.
I think there are many ways, in many cultures and many religions where this can be achieved.
I think that the human rights and children rights are good guidelines for how we treat each other.

I mean every single one of us knows that governments worldwide are looking for returns on their "investments" in early childhood and education. This can be seen in the curriculum, in policies in how much funding is poured (or not) into education. How research is continuously having to prove that it is economically worth while to invest in the early years - and that play and academics are often pitched against each other. Or that exams, revision, books, materials are becoming more and more a part of the financial side of things rather than being their to support children and teachers in there learning journey together - and more often than not the government (politics) is involved in which materials are used in the early years and schools.

How are teachers being trained? How much is being invested in this is also a political decision.

But surely what we all deem as important, as educators, especially those inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, is the voice of the child is what is the most important.
How do we enable the voice of the child to be heard by all... especially in political and social climates that do not value the child as much as we do?
What values are we wanting to communicate to children? Often, these days, I hear about "British Values" and "Swedish Values" and "Christian or Muslim Values" and "make America great again" - but what do all of these really mean? And aren't such statements political? Especially as far too often these days they are used in an exclusive way.

Being a British person who has lived my entire adult life in Sweden I have found that I am in a place where I feel both British and Swedish and neither. I spent six months in Australia, where I gave u telling people that I was British because I got sick of hearing about how I was responsible for bringing over certain species of flora and fauna that was harming the indigenous nature... I would like to point out that I have never taken any such thing over, and non of my family ever emigrated to Australia... so I am pretty sure it was the ancestors of the people accusing me...
But this is how prejudice works... whole stories are forgotten, only selected stories are repeated until they are accepted as the truth... this is politics...

For example the Shakespeare play "Richard III" was written and performed to confirm the rights of the Tudors on the throne... not because it was the truth, but to discredit the king that was defeated. History was re-written for political purposes and was thus taught afterwards in a warped way...
Just as the Vikings were always portrayed as warriors rather than the mostly farmers that they were... as the countries they invaded had a written history, while the Nordic countries only had runes (not as much writing, documenting of their history as in the counterparts in the rest of Europe).
If we look throughout we learned about the body and medicine - we will find it is heavily influenced by politics - hysteria being a medical condition that allowed women to be seen as inferior, weaker... and many other medical conditions that were "created" to allow child brides back in the day of the Romans...

So if facts are politically controlled... then we need to accept that education is too.

I think what we need to strive for is creating learning spaces that allows children to be aware of the world and the context that they live in... to be aware that they can make choices... to be aware of how to make informed choices (for me that means learning about all the stories and not a single story) - to be aware of how to treat other people with respect and that they have the right to be treated with respect themselves, and to be aware that we all have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other and to this planet we live on...

I think, this is something that, no matter where our political alignment falls, we can all agree...

the problem is that sometimes/often politics is not always aligned with human rights - or they are selective... and this is a worldwide problem.

So,  how do we, as educators, reconcile with the fact we teach young children, we are about protecting the rights of young children, we promote their learning and their development, we strive to keep them safe - and yet we can reside in the same country that does not do the same?
Do we simply agree because this is the society we have chosen? Do we protest because our society values our voice and listens? Do we agree because we are politically aligned to those making the decisions? Do we stand up and say I don't accept THIS?

And then the children we are with everyday... are we making the decision to teach them so that they follow the rules no matter what, because that makes a good citizen? or do we raise them to question and to do the right thing? How do we know what is the right thing? What values are we going to instil in the children so that their moral compass rings true?

The Reggio Emilia Approach was started by a group of parents, who called to Malaguzzi for guidance - so that their children would question authority and not just accept - but have the strength and courage to do the right thing. From a humanity point of view. So this approach of pedagogy is in a sense a political movement... and I think many forget that as they describe the aesthetics, and focus on the materials rather than the philosophy...

This is why I have liked using philosophy with children - with preschoolers and school aged children... because it has taught me, as an educator (and parent) to learn how to guide, to listen rather than direct the children... I am fully aware of the power I have, I am continually learning about the prejudices and bias that I carry with me - as part of my childhood, the city I was raised in, the schools I attended the experiences I have had etc... and I try to work out how they impact the children, and others around me, in order to give the children the freedom they need to be able to make up their own minds... how I can supply information that they need to be able to make balanced and informed choices. The philosophy sessions allow the children to value each other, value the ideas of others, become aware that we all have different opinions and that we can discuss them with respect... that best results are achieved when we listen to understand and not just listen to argue back... to be open to new ideas, to changing ideas but also be true to what you feel is right, to your values and for your truth to grow with your knowledge and experiences gained.
We should not stand still on a value if we learn or experience that it is unethical or inhumane... we need to allow ourselves to evolve...

Historically we need to only look at Copernicus and Galileo to see how complicated this can be... the Church did not like the fact that scientific knowledge(due to the fact that new technology allowed to see new things) meant that humans had access to the information that the sun did not revolve around the earth but that the earth was one planet of many that revolved around the sun... Copernicus lost his life... Galileo retracted - the church though kept the information that was useful to ship merchants and therefore was useful to making money - but made sure the information that threatened their power was kept secret from the general public.
My first degree is in history and ancient history... this is why the constant references to history...

I am not a person that thinks we should be teaching preschoolers about what right wing, what left wing is... or what radicals or extremists are... but I do think older children need to learn everything they possibly can about what various parties stand for - and also about foreign policies... our planet is a shared space... what you do in your part of the world is going to impact me in my part of the world, as well as others...

As a teacher, and as a parent, I want to equip my children so that they understand their context, they can feel a part of it - so that they can be responsible participants. I want them to be caring and empathic, I want them to treat others with respect, and demand to be treated with respect themselves. I want them to know that they are a part of the whole world (why I started the International Fairy Tea Party - so that children could connect with other children around the world... in their own language... play). I want them to feel safe, to be able to ask questions, to feel empowered, to feel competent, to be aware of their abilities and their potential and to be able to reach their potential. To be able to learn and to be able to PLAY.

Far too often to be able to provide the above to children we have to get political... not all children in the world are safe, not all children have access to education, not all children are respected, not all children get to play....

As an educator, being Reggio Emilia inspired... I feel I have also taken on the responsibility of ensuring the voice of the child is heard. Today. That they are active and valued participants of society today.
This is why I will protest when children's rights are violated. This is why I will speak out when I feel quality is not what it should be, and that we are capable of providing - we are all in different places in our learning journeys... but being closed to the information that staff and children are not thriving for me is totally unacceptable... especially when delivered with suggestions on how to help both... and I se many many amazing and brave educators striving to make it better for children and colleagues that are not being listened to... because of politics...

Below is a TEDtalk about the danger of a single story... I think EVERY person connected to education should watch this presentation by Chimamanda Adichi

Here are some more links to read on this topic, some by me, and some by others much more knowledgable about education and politics than myself... (in Swedish after the links)

Education Is Always Political
Learning to be Free - a post I wrote, and also got messages about the fact I used the word "occupied" - this is the exact point I am making... some stories will say that Palestine is occupied, others will not... we need to listen to all the stories for people to make their own informed opinion.
Story of a Stone - another post written in Palestine... this time personal stories remind me of the power we have as educators...
A short description of the Reggio Emilia Approach - written by me.
A difficult idea: Public schools are a political place
a paper exploring the socia-political impact of Dewey on Reggio Emilia... democracy as a basis of the pedagogy
New York Times...Reggio Emilia - this looks at the communist/socialist background of the area, briefly
How does political context shape education reforms and their success?
Gunnilla Dahlborg and Peter Moss have written a book called "Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood" - if you care to read more...

PÅ Svenska

Jag är inte en särskilt politisk person ... Jag har sagt detta innan ... och det här är inte ett inlägg om politiken - men det här inlägget berör det faktum att utbildning är en politisk enhet.
Det är genom utbildning att värderingar lärs.
Det är genom utbildning som historien lärs ut ... vad ingår, vad är uteslutet, vad fördomar, vem är berättaren
Det är genom utbildning att barn prioriteras för samhället ... särskilt i standardiserad utbildning där det finns rätt och felaktiga svar, en tonvikt på att fylla barnet med förhandsgodkänd kunskap snarare än att lära barn hur man ska tänka kreativt, kritiskt och empatiskt. .

Reggio Emilia förhållningssätt föddes ur en politisk situation. Några av stadens föräldrar önskade en framtid där deras barn inte bara följde fascistiska ledare men var utrustade för att fatta egna beslut ... för att kunna välja vad är rätt snarare än att bara följa utan fråga. Carlina Rinaldi betonade "hur en lärares arbete ska grundas i politisk tro och förtal." (sid 183, The Hundred Languages ​​of Children, 1998) När jag sa att jag inte är politisk handlar det mer om det faktum att jag inte har hittat en party som jag känner verkligen representerar mig, det känns mer som ett fall att välja det mindre onda. För mig det handlar om mänskligheten - om jämställdhet - om respekt och välbefinnande. Jag tror att det finns många sätt, i många kulturer och många religioner där detta kan uppnås. Jag tror att mänskliga rättigheter och barns rättigheter är goda riktlinjer för hur vi behandlar varandra. Jag menar att var och en av oss vet att regeringar världen över letar efter avkastning på sina "investeringar" i förskolan och skolan. Detta kan ses i läroplanen, i politik - i hur mycket finansiering finns tillgänglig (eller inte) i utbildning. Hur forskning måste ständigt bevisa att det är ekonomiskt värt att investera i de första åren - och lek och akademiska ämne står ofta mot varandra. Eller att prov, böcker, material blir allt mer en del av den ekonomiska sidan av saker snarare än att vara tillgänglig för att stödja barn och lärare i sin lärande resa tillsammans - och oftare är regeringen (politik) inblandad i vilka material används inom förskolan och skolan. Hur utbildas lärarna? Hur mycket som investeras i detta är också ett politiskt beslut.

Men vad vi pedagoger tycker, särskilt de som inspireras av Reggio Emilia, är att barnets röst är det som är det viktigaste. Hur aktiverar vi barnets röst att höras av alla ... speciellt i politiska och sociala klimat som inte värderar barnet så mycket som vi gör? Vilka värderingar vill vi kommunicera med barn? Ofta idag hör jag om "brittiska värden" och "svenska värderingar" och "kristna eller muslimska värderingar" och "make America great again" - men vad betyder alla dessa egentligen? Och är sådana uttalanden inte politiska? Särskilt när ofta används dessa frasar på ett exklusivt sätt. Att vara en brittisk person som har levt hela mitt vuxenliv i Sverige har jag upptäckt att jag är på ett sätt både brittiskt och svenskt men samtidigt ingen av dom. Jag tillbringade sex månader i Australien där jag slutade berättar för folk att jag var brittisk för att jag blev trött av att höra om hur jag var ansvarig för att föra över vissa arter av flora och fauna som skadade den inhemska naturen ... Jag skulle vilja påpeka att jag aldrig har tagit något sådant, och ingen av min familj har emigrerat till Australien ... så jag är ganska säker på att det var förfäderna till folket som anklagade mig ... Men så här fungerar fördomar ... hela historien glöms, bara valda historier upprepas tills de accepteras som sanningen ... det här är politik ... Till exempel Shakespeare-spelet "Richard III" skrevs och utfördes för att bekräfta Tudors rättigheter på tronen ... inte för att det var sanningen, utan att diskreditera kungen som besegrades. Historien var omskriven för politiska ändamål och lärdes därefter efteråt på ett förskjutet sätt ... Precis som vikingarna alltid porträtterades som krigare snarare än de främst bönderna som de var ... pga invaderade/flyttade till länder som hade en skriftlig historia, medan dom nordiska länderna bara hade runor (inte så mycket skrivande dokumentation av sin historia som i motparter i övriga Europa). Om vi ​​tittar igenom tiden och hur vi lärde oss om kroppen och medicinen - kommer vi att finna att det är starkt påverkat av politiken - hysteri är ett medicinskt tillstånd som gjorde att kvinnor kan ses som sämre, svagare ... och många andra medicinska tillstånd som var "skapade" för att tillåta barn-brudar på Romerska tiderna ... Så om fakta är politiskt kontrollerade ... då måste vi acceptera att utbildning också är.

Jag tror att det vi behöver sträva efter är att skapa inlärningsutrymmen som gör det möjligt för barn att vara medvetna om världen och det sammanhang som de bor i ... att vara medveten om att de kan göra val ... att vara medvetna om hur man kan göra informerad val (för mig betyder det att lära sig om alla historier/berättelse och inte en enda historia) - att vara medveten om hur man behandlar andra människor med respekt och att de har rätt att behandlas med respekt själva och att vara medveten om att vi alla har ett ansvar för oss själva, till varandra och den här planet vi lever på ... Jag tror att det här är något som, oavsett var vår politiska anpassning faller, kan vi alla hålla med om ... Problemet är att ibland/ofta är politiken inte alltid anpassad till de mänskliga rättigheterna - eller de är selektiva ... och det här är ett globalt problem. Så, hur förklarar vi att vi, som lärare, att vi arbeta med barn, vi skydda barns rättigheter, vi främjar deras lärande och deras utveckling, vi strävar efter att hålla dem trygga - och ändå kan vi bo i samma land som inte gör detsamma? Hålla vi helt med det samhälle gör? Protesterar vi på att vårt samhälle - värderar dom vår röst och lyssnar? Samtycker vi till alla politiskt beslut? Står vi upp och säger att jag inte accepterar DETTA? Och barnen vi är med varje dag ... fattar vi beslutet att lära dem så att de följer reglerna oavsett vad, för det gör en bra medborgare? eller erbjuda dom möjlighet att ställa frågor och gör det rätta? Hur vet vi vad som är rätt? Vilka värderingar ska vi införa i barnen så att deras moraliska kompass ringar sant? Reggio Emilia-metoden inleddes av en grupp föräldrar som kallade till Malaguzzi för vägledning - så att deras barn skulle ifrågasätta myndighet och inte bara acceptera - men har styrka och mod att göra det rätta. Ur mänsklighetens synvinkel. Så på det här viset är Reggio Emilia pedagogik en politisk rörelse ... och jag tror att många glömmer det när de beskriver estetiken, och fokuserar på materialet snarare än filosofin ...

Därför har jag gillat att använda filosofi med barn - med förskolebarn och skolbarn ... eftersom det har lärt mig, som en lärare (och förälder) att bli en guide, att lyssna snarare än att rikta barnen ... jag är fullständigt medveten om den makt jag har, jag lär mig kontinuerligt om de fördomar och bias som jag bär med mig - som en del av min barndom, den stad jag var uppvuxen i, skolorna, i de erfarenheter jag har haft etc ... och jag försöker utarbeta hur de påverkar barnen och andra runt omkring mig för att ge barnen den frihet de behöver för att kunna göra forma egna åsikter ... hur jag kan leverera information som de behöver för att kunna göra balanserade och informerade val. Filosofi-samtal tillät barnen värdera varandra, värdesätter andras idéer, blir medvetna om att vi alla har olika åsikter och att vi kan diskutera dem med respekt ... att bästa resultat uppnås när vi lyssnar för att förstå och inte bara lyssna för att kunna argumentera tillbaka ... att vara öppen för nya idéer, att byta idéer men också vara sanna mot vad man tycker är rätt, till sina värderingar och för sin sanning kan växa med sina kunskaper och erfarenheter. Vi borde inte stå stilla på ett värde om vi lär oss eller upplever att det är oetiskt eller omänskligt ... vi måste utvecklas ... Historiskt behöver vi bara titta på Kopernicus och Galileo för att se hur komplicerat detta kan vara ... kyrkan tyckte inte om det faktum att vetenskaplig kunskap (på grund av att ny teknik fick se nya saker) innebar att människor hade tillgång till den information som solen inte kretsade runt jorden, men att jorden var en planet av många som snurra runt solen ... Kopernicus förlorade sitt liv ... Galileo drog tillbaka sin forskning - kyrkan höll dock den information som var användbar för att skicka köpmän och var därför användbar för att tjäna pengar - men säkerställde att informationen som hotade sin makt var hållen hemlig från allmänheten. (Min första examen är i historia och antika historia ... det är därför de ständiga referenser till historia ...) Jag är inte en person som tror att vi borde undervisa förskolebarn om höger, och vänster osv ... eller vilka radikaler eller extremister är ... men jag tror att äldre barn måste lära sig allt de kan om vilka olika parties stå för - och även om utrikespolitik ... vår planet är ett gemensamt utrymme ... vad du gör i din del av världen kommer att påverka mig i min del av världen, liksom andra ... Som lärare och som förälder vill jag utrusta mina barn så att de förstår sitt sammanhang, de kan känna en del av det - så att de kan vara ansvariga deltagare. Jag vill att de ska vara omtänksamma och empatiska, jag vill att de ska behandla andra med respekt och kräva att de behandlas med respekt själva. Jag vill att de ska veta att de är en del av hela världen (varför jag började International Fairy Tea Party - så att barn kunde koppla ihop med andra barn runt om i världen ... på sitt eget språk ... lek). Jag vill att de ska känna sig trygga, kunna ställa frågor, känna sig bemyndigade (empowered), känna sig kompetenta, vara medvetna om sina förmågor och deras potential och kunna uppnå sina möjligheter. För att kunna lära och kunna leka.

Alltför ofta för att kunna erbjuda barn ovanstående måste vi bli politiska ... inte alla barn i världen är trygga, inte alla barn har tillgång till utbildning, inte alla barn respekteras, inte alla barn får leka. ... Som en pedagog som inspireras Reggio Emilia ... Jag känner att jag också har ansvarat för att barnets röst hörs. Idag. Att de är aktiva och värderade deltagare i samhället idag. Det är därför jag protesterar när barns rättigheter bryts. Det är därför jag kommer att tala ut när jag tycker att kvalitet inte är vad det borde vara och att vi kan tillhandahålla - vi är alla på olika ställen i våra inlärningsresor ... men om folk/chefer är stängda för information om det finns personal och barn som inte mår bra - är, för mig, helt oacceptabelt ... speciellt när de levereras med förslag på hur man hjälper båda ... och jag ser många många fantastiska och modiga pedagoger som strävar efter att göra det bättre för barn och kollegor som inte lyssnas på ... på grund av politiken ...

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Second most read on Teachwire

Teachwire have just shared a post with their top 15 most successful education posts - you can check out the post Here - "The Best Education blog posts you can read today"

I feel quite humbled and rather proud that the post I wrote about Reggio Emilia and messy play is their second most read post - and when I see the list of great subjects and read the articles, I feel even more proud to be one of these in the top 15.

Anyway if you missed the post the link gives you the chance to read it... and also access to the other posts that "must be read"

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Malaguzzi - the Fox and the Grapes...

Sergio Spaggiari shared recently a personal memory from working in preschools in Reggio Emilia together with Malaguzzi. The memory struck a chord with me as it resonated with the thoughts and reflections I have been having about children's rights, about what is happening in USA and around the world... about play and the way it seems so hard to implement a whole child approach to learning despite there being so much research about the harm of standardised testing and the benefits of play. (In Swedish after the images... although NOT the quotes)

So I will share the quote... and then my reflections... (Italian, and then a translation, via google)

Malaguzzi, la volpe e l'uva.
Ho un lontano ricordo dei miei primi tempi del mio lavoro di pedagogista nei nidi e nelle scuole dell’infanzia di Reggio Emilia (1974/1975). Ero poco più che ventenne e con altre tre pedagogiste ero da poco entrato nell’equipe pedagogica. Ho memoria di un giorno in cui Loris Malaguzzi mi chiese: “e allora cosa avete combinato ieri?” Si riferiva, e l’avevo ben capito, all’incontro, da lui stesso sollecitato, dei 4 nuovi componenti dell’equipe, per discutere “in libertà” di come avevamo vissuto i primi mesi di esperienza.
Io, diplomaticamente e un po’ in imbarazzo, credo di aver risposto: “Ma è stato solo il primo incontro, dobbiamo ancora mettere a fuoco i punti di vista personali. Ma di certo non mancano criticità, diversità di vedute e desideri di aggiustamenti”. Lui allora mi disse: “Continuate a parlarvi, poi ci mettiamo intorno ad un tavolo e discutiamo tutti assieme.” Poi aggiunse: “Ma ricordatevi della favola di Esopo.” Io non capii e chiesi: “Ma quale?”
E lui precisò: Quella della volpe e dell’uva. Quando la volpe dovette rinunciare a mangiare l’uva del contadino, perché era troppo alta. Ma allontanandosi, commentava che l’uva era ancora acerba.”
Il messaggio poteva sembrare enigmatico, ma era anche esplicito.
Era un invito, forse, a non eccedere in criticità organizzative. Ma di certo era anche un richiamo a tenere ben presente che i bambini hanno diritto al meglio (alle cose alte) e non alla mediocrità.
Parlandomi della volpe e dell’uva, penso che Malaguzzi volesse dirci che chi lavora coi bambini deve accettare la difficile sfida di operare su livelli di eccellenza, non accontentandosi della medianità e delle cose semplici. In altre parole, maliziosamente, voleva far presente che spesso capita, a chi non è soddisfatto dei risultati conseguiti, di accusare le circostanze, per non esplicitare il timore di non sentirsi all’altezza della sfida pedagogica.
Io, diplomaticamente e un po’ in imbarazzo, credo di aver risposto: “Ma è stato solo il primo incontro, dobbiamo ancora mettere a fuoco i punti di vista personali. Ma di certo non mancano criticità, diversità di vedute e desideri di aggiustamenti”. Lui allora mi disse: “Continuate a parlarvi, poi ci mettiamo intorno ad un tavolo e discutiamo tutti assieme.” Poi aggiunse: “Ma ricordatevi della favola di Esopo.” Io non capii e chiesi: “Ma quale?” E lui precisò: Quella della volpe e dell’uva. Quando la volpe dovette rinunciare a mangiare l’uva del contadino, perché era troppo alta. Ma allontanandosi, commentava che l’uva era ancora acerba.”Il messaggio poteva sembrare enigmatico, ma era anche esplicito.Era un invito, forse, a non eccedere in criticità organizzative. Ma di certo era anche un richiamo a tenere ben presente che i bambini hanno diritto al meglio (alle cose alte) e non alla mediocrità. Parlandomi della volpe e dell’uva, penso che Malaguzzi volesse dirci che chi lavora coi bambini deve accettare la difficile sfida di operare su livelli di eccellenza, non accontentandosi della medianità e delle cose semplici. In altre parole, maliziosamente, voleva far presente che spesso capita, a chi non è soddisfatto dei risultati conseguiti, di accusare le circostanze, per non esplicitare il timore di non sentirsi all’altezza della sfida pedagogica.Malaguzzi, the fox and the grapes.I have a distant memory of my early days as a pedagogista in the nurseries and preschools of Reggio Emilia (1974/1975). I was just over twenty and, with three other pedagogistas, I had recently entered the pedagogical team. I remember one day when Loris Malaguzzi asked me: "So what did you do yesterday?" He was referring, and I understood it, to the meeting, which he himself solicited, of the 4 new members of the team, to discuss "In freedom" of how we had lived the first months of experience.I, diplomatically and a little embarrassed, I think I replied: "But it was only the first meeting, we still have to focus on personal points of view. But certainly there is no lack of criticality, diversity of views and desires for adjustments ". He then said to me: "Keep talking to you, then we'll sit around a table and discuss all together." Then he added: "But remember Aesop's fable." I did not understand and asked: "But which one?"And he specified: That of the fox and the grape. When the fox had to give up eating the farmer's grapes, because it was too high. But moving away, he commented that the grapes were still sour. "The message might seem enigmatic, but it was also explicit.It was an invitation, perhaps, not to exceed organizational problems. But certainly it was also a reminder to keep in mind that children are entitled to the best (to high things) and not to mediocrity.Talking about the fox and the grapes, I think that Malaguzzi wanted to tell us that those who work with children must accept the difficult challenge of operating on levels of excellence, not being content with mediumship and simple things. In other words, maliciously, he wanted to point out that it often happens, to those who are not satisfied with the results achieved, to accuse the circumstances, not to explain the fear of not feeling up to the pedagogical challenge.

I think this happens more often than we think. We are unable to attain the high standard children have the right to... and instead of looking to ourselves and seeing what we can do to make change we blame the situation we find ourselves in instead.

But I also think that making change is so much harder on your own... it is possible, but it requires that other listen and want to make a change, it requires bravery.

I believe that the school system has grounded many down when they were children - I have referred to this when talking about "Thinking outside the Box" a few years ago... when I talked about this with my children at home my daughter simply replied that "my box is bigger in the inside and travels through time and space" - she had of course been  influenced by the British TV series Dr Who, but it did make me think about it in a whole new way. That we as children have our own unique boxes, all different, all designed to help us learn, develop and evolve into the person we should be... it is our potential.
Society is filled with stereotypes and norms... these can be helpful as they guide us in understanding the community we belong to... but they are also restrictive... so even from our young age our boxes are being shaped into what is allowed and what should be there... and then when children start school it is almost as if they are told to hand over their personalised boxes and step inside a uniform, plain moving box... each child the same, each being filled with the same knowledge and the same expectation... some children are able to fit their own boxes nicely into the moving box, they do not need to give it up, they know how to camouflage... others work hard at trying to make it fit and spend to much energy doing that and become exhausted by school... others just abandon their box and take the new one, and others totally refuse and often pay the price for doing that (I see this in my son, he refuses to compromise who he is when he sees no-one makes any effort to appreciate the beauty and the benefits that his box actually brings).

I was lucky... I was able to camouflage my box throughout my school years, to still be me and take on what was useful from school too... But then I was lucky that my primary years and my early secondary years were at schools that appreciated not just the academics but also art, music. theatre, play and whole child learning... I was lucky indeed.

So what does this all have to do with the grapes?
Well many of those children who gave up their boxes are now teachers themselves - and in those boxes they gave up was the ability to see themselves honestly, as well as much of their creativity and imagination... that would help them devise new ways to get those grapes... maybe by not working alone!! And not wanting them for just themselves.
There are plenty of teachers that never gave up their box, or have been able to rediscover it/be renuited as an adult... and they can bring this with them to the classroom to enable children of today to keep a hold of their own unique boxes rather than hand them over to the educational system.
They get to use all 100 languages so to speak, and not just the ones that the schools deem fit to pack into the educational box.

Also in the educational system with tests, exams and standardisation then being wrong is something you want to avoid at all costs... it is not a learning tool (as it should be) but a punishing tool - you get lower grades, get less options in your future...
This is not how we should be treating potential.

I have worked at settings where evaluation has been about what they have done, and often making it more rose-tinted than it should have been... I like to be brutally honest, because in that honesty I can see where I need to learn, what I have missed, try to understand how and why I missed it and think of ways that I can improve as an educator. This is not an easy process... but we also need to do this with the setting... what has the setting provided the children... and where has it failed... and to see failure as the first step in learning rather than a reason to be ashamed.
I have had friends that have been sent out of excursions on the day the setting was being inspected to ensure the truth was kept from the authorities and only the positives were shared. I think this is a huge part of the problem as to why there are huge gaps between settings that can offer the children the grapes and those settings that complain about the quality of the grape not being worth picking, or not even avoiding accepting they tried to get them in the first place...

I think if settings were given incentive to be honest, instead of being punished, then we could reduce this quality gap... and by this I mean they are given support to address the areas they need help with, rather than being rapped on the knuckles with a ruler (measuring quality). If settings knew they could get the support to improve areas they were lacking rather than being just left to their own devices  then I think a great deal can be achieved.

We need to help educators re-unite with their childhood boxes - to understand play, to remember how to listen in a hundred languages - and not just let them try to find the answer in this moving box they were given at school... because the answer is not there.

After the Swedish translation there are some links to posts that might be useful for continued reflection... including my original post on thinking outside the box.

Jag tror det händer oftare än vi tror. Vi kan inte nå den högkvalitet barn har rätt till ... och istället för att titta på oss själva och se vad vi kan göra för att skapa förändring skyller vi på situationen vi befinner oss i istället. Men jag tror också att göra förändringar är så mycket svårare på egen hand ... det är möjligt, men det kräver att andra lyssna och vill göra en förändring, det kräver tapperhet. Jag tror att skolsystemet har malet många ner när de var barn - jag har hänvisat till detta när jag skrev om "Tänk utanför lådan" för några år sedan ... när jag talade om det här med mina barn hemma svarade min dotter att "min låda är större på insidan och färdas genom tid och rum" - hon hade självklart varit influerad av den brittiska tv-serien Dr Who, men det fick mig att tänka på det på ett helt nytt sätt. Att vi som barn har våra egna unika lådor, alla olika, alla utformade för att hjälpa oss att lära, utveckla till den person vi borde vara ... det är vår potential. Samhället är fyllt av stereotyper och normer ... det kan vara till hjälp eftersom dom hjälpa oss att förstå det samhälle vi tillhör ... men dom är också restriktiva ... så från och med vår unga ålder formas våra lådor till vad som är tillåtet och vad borde vara där ... och då när barn börjar skolan är det nästan som om de får höra att de måste överlämna sina personliga lådor och stiger inuti en enhetlig, vanligt flyttkartong ... varje barn ska vara lika, var och en fylls med samma kunskap och samma förväntan ... vissa barn kan anpassa sina egna lådor snyggt in i lådan, de behöver inte lämna över den, de vet hur man kamouflerar ... andra arbetar hårt för att försöka göra att det passa och spendera för mycket energi på det gör och bli uttömt av skolan ... andra överger bara sin låda och tar den nya, och andra vägrar helt och betalar ofta priset för det. (Jag ser det här i min son, han vägrar att kompromissa vem han är när han ser ingen gör någon ansträngning för att uppskatta skönheten och de fördelar som hans låda faktiskt ger). Jag hade tur ... Jag kunde kamouflera min låda under hela min skolår, för att fortfarande vara mig och ta på vad som var användbart från skolan också ... Men då hade jag tur att grundskolan var på skolor som uppskattade inte bara akademiska lärande utan också konst, musik. teater, lek och hela barns lärande ... Jag hade tur verkligen. Så vad har allt detta att göra med druvorna? Tja, många av de barn som gav upp sina lådor är nu lärare själva - och i dom lådor de gav upp var möjligheten att se sig själva ärligt, liksom mycket av deras kreativitet och fantasi ... som skulle hjälpa dem att utforma nya sätt att få dom druvorna ... kanske genom att inte arbeta ensam!! 
Det finns gott om lärare som aldrig gav upp sin låda eller har kunnat återupptäcka den som en vuxen ... och dom kan ta med sig den till klassrummet för att göra det möjligt för barn i dag att hålla sina egna unika lådor istället för att överlämna dom till utbildningssystemet. Dom får använda alla 100 språk så att säga, och inte bara dom som skolorna anser lämpliga att packa in i utbildningsboxen. Också i utbildningssystemet med test, prov och standardisering då är en fel något man vill undvika till varje pris ... Det är inte ett lärande verktyg (som det borde vara) men ett straffande verktyg - du får lägre betyg, då blir mindre alternativ i din framtid ... Det här är inte hur vi ska behandla potentialen. Jag har arbetat/besökt verksamheter där utvärderingen har handlat om vad personalen har gjort/lyckats med och gör det ofta mer ros tonade glasögon än det borde ha varit ... Jag gillar att vara brutalt ärlig, för att jag i ärligheten kan se var jag måste förbättra mig själv, vad jag har missat, försök att förstå hur och varför jag missade det och tänka på sätt som jag kan bli bättra som lärare. Det här är inte en enkel process ... men vi måste också göra det med verksamheten... vad har verksamheten försett barnen ... och var har den misslyckats ... och att se misslyckande som det första steget i lärandet snarare än en anledning att skämmas. Jag har haft vänner som har skickats ut på utflykter den dag verksamheten ska inspekteras för att säkerställa sanningen hölls från myndigheterna och endast positiva information delades. Jag tycker att det här är en stor del av problemet om varför det finns stora klyftor mellan verksamheter som kan erbjuda barnen druvorna och dom verksamheter som klagar på kvaliteten på druvan inte är värt att plocka eller inte ens undvika att acceptera de försökte få dom i första hand ...
Jag tror att om verksamheter fick drivfjädrar att vara ärliga istället för att straffas, så skulle vi kunna minska denna kvalitetsskillnaden... och därmed menar jag att de får stöd för att ta itu med de områden de behöver hjälp med snarare än att bli rappade på knogar med linjal (mätkvalitet). Om verksamheter visste att dom kunde få stöd för att förbättra bristande områdena snarare än att bara lämna till sina egna enheter, då tror jag att en hel del kan uppnås.

Vi behöver hjälpa lärare att återförena med sina barndomslådor - för att förstå lek, för att komma ihåg hur man lyssnar på alla hundra språk - och inte bara låta dom försöka hitta svaret i den lådan som de fick i skolan ... eftersom svaret är inte där.

Thinking outside the box
Circle time... to do or not to do - don't just do things because you have always done them... reflect WHY and how do they help the child in their learning and development
Professional Development... how do we grow as teachers?
Democracy as a Relationship
Putting out fires - the frustration of adults not getting the support then need to be able to give children the quality they have the right to
The story of intolerance - the importance of looking at ourselves honestly to see how stereotypes and bias limit us
What it takes to be a preschool teacher - using circles to explore how you as a teacher are...