Tuesday 30 October 2012

you just never know...

mud kitchen at Rålambhovspark, Stockholm
 There are many discussions about gender stereotypes and how we need to be aware so that we do not fall into them ourselves. I noticed many years back that when I was trying to create activities for all the children I still found myself not really managing it ... I mean at one preschool there was a film shown for the older children at rest time. I found myself NOT selecting "girlie" films (read Barbie films etc) as I thought the boys would complain - so the films were selected from a boy point of view. In the end I thought, no, Barbie Fairytopia must be introduced - and I was certainly surprised by the reaction. Half way through the film all the girls had left to go and do other activities (they had all probably seen it at home) - the boys though were GLUED to the screen (one or two asked me not to tell their older brothers) - but they thoroughly enjoyed watching the fluttering wings, the pinks, the rainbows and actually a story of heroism. It made me realise that by ensuring that the girls were being included in lego, math, science and rough and tumble was not going to create a world of gender equality, there also needed to be the need to offer the boys opportunities to dress in high heels, sew, sit calmly, read books etc - all the typical stereotypes.

Its not as if this is something new - I mean in the adult world the exact same things are happening - its more acceptable for women to become doctors - previously a male considered occupation than it is for men to be preschool teachers.

Why is it that the male status still has a higher rank than the female status? How come girls are encouraged to do "boy things" and yet boys are discouraged to do "girl things"?

How do we deal with parents who refuse to allow their sons to dress in heels and pink princess dresses?  How do we support a child who sits next to the dress up box stroking the princess dresses not daring to put them on because it would make his parents sad? We as teachers need to work TOGETHER with parents but there are times that I wish I did not have to - that I could have taken this boy and allowed him to parade all day in the most glamorous and glittering of dresses so that his heart sang. I mean the children in his group were so much more accepting - one of the girls asked him
"Why do you dress up in princess clothes so much?"
"Because they are beautiful" he answered
The girl accepted this as a perfectly reasonable answer.

Two years ago the crown princess in Sweden got married - and we had a prince and princess party to celebrate - we dressed up as princesses and princes and did lots of  royal and wedding type of activities. Three parents approached me - their sons wanted to come as princesses - was this alright. Of course - so we ensured that one of our staff cross dressed too (female to a prince) so that the children could see that even we as adults felt it was OK to make a choice of the two. The three princess boys came proudly in the room - all the children accepted them fully (3-4 year olds) in fact they did not even react that they were boys dressed as princesses. The only comment I got about the choices of outfits came a few days later as I was reflecting with the children individually about the party. One of the boys had reacted that another boy had come as a knight and not as a prince or a princess - he was quiet for a while and then suggested - "maybe he was a princess knight". Interestingly two of the boys had older sisters that loved to dress as princesses, but the third had a baby sister and had not yet seen her dressed in a princess outfit. In the afternoon we played outside in our princess and prince outfits and that was the only time one of the princess boys complained about the dress - it was NOT as easy to climb on top of the playhouse roof wearing a long dress!

So at this point you may be wondering why there is a picture of a mud kitchen here. Well its one of those things that made me laugh - at a work meeting we had been discussing how the boys never played in the play-kitchen in the preschool and what we could to encourage the boys into the role play area. The very next day we visited Rålambhovspark where all the boys played in the mud-kitchen the whole time and the girls ran around and climbed on the various climbing frames - after that day all children could be found in equal measures in the role play room.

Oh I have plenty more stories about my journey to gender equality awareness - and I will share more another day...

Remember the gender spectrum - any child can find themselves anywhere on that spectrum regardless of sex...

Monday 29 October 2012

not all children like to get messy

finger painting was NOT an activity of choice - this was his first experience.

Not all children like to get messy...
Michael was one of those children that started out life avoiding situations that involved paint and anything gooey. His two sisters being the absolute opposite - they explored everything to the fullest - and enjoyed every moment of it

Sophia getting creative

I do think that there should be an acceptance that some children simply do not want to participate in all the sensory play and painting that is made available - and that teachers do not need to feel anxious feeling that they are missing out. Michael never missed out - he had other interests. BUT I have to admit I still wanted him to be able to try messy stuff out without having a meltdown...

So I introduced dry messy play - nothing that would stick to his hands or body -  play-doh, rice, pasta, beans etc. I mixed various things into the play-doh to vary the texture - like glitter, rice and sand.

Outside we started with mud-play using sticks to keep the goo at a distance - introducing the messy play on Michael's terms. Nowadays he is a fully fledge messy-player - whether it is something he has naturally grown into or whether by offering dry messy play gave him the support he needed to take the step to allow himself feel OK with getting messy I am unable to say.

What I do want to say is...

I am a BIG fan of sensory play.

I am a BIG fan of allowing children to test out things on their on terms.

I am a BIG fan of allowing children to watch others having fun as a way of gaining confidence to try out themselves.

I am a BIG fan of offering children experiences based on their individual needs.

And I believe that if we keep the needs of the child at the core of what we do rather than just focussing on offering a range of activities - it will help us as teachers to offer the right experiences that will allow each child to reach his or her full potential.

Our Jackson Pollock inspired painting ended up being a skating rink and a big back splodge - but a totally fantastic experience - this is the cardboard footpath to the washroom!!

Sunday 28 October 2012

The future of preschool...

Today I have spent the day with others who are passionate about providing quality preschools, schools and after-school care thanks to Barnverket ( It has been an interesting day and has stimulated a whole flood of thoughts. Plenty to reflect upon.

Even though it is great to know that there are others wanting to improve/maintain quality for  children I felt a little sad that many did not come and share the experience. These are BIG thoughts, BIG plans, BIG hopes we have for our children. We need to work together if something is to happen. We cannot simply moan about the increasing size of preschool/school groups etc, we need to work together to work out HOW we can ensure that groups are not the size that will overwhelm both children and teachers...

So, here I am with a foot on both sides - one foot stands as a parent and the quality I want for my own children - and the other foot as a teacher and the quality I provide. I think I can confidently say that I will be marching in the same direction with both my feet - they are not at odds with one another - because what is quality for children is also quality for the teachers and vice-versa.

But what is quality?

Today is not the day to take THAT discussion, but no doubt I will get there soon.

In the morning we listened to Sanna Nova Emilia ( ) about how we can strive to create a more humane society with more focus on the needs of children and less on the needs of the economy. "If everyone made themselves feel good and did what made them feel happy (not at the expense of others) rather than doing what has to be done to survive" - a thought that we spend much of our time doing things that we do not want to do just in order to earn money to live, eat... How many of us are doing the job that we are really passionate about? Thankfully I can say that I AM passionate about my work - I have joy for my work and I think that is crucial as children are smart and can soon see whether or not you really want to be there, if you are really interested in them. BUT can we say that about all those working with children? Can we say that about parents? Does society allow us live our lives to the fullest? Do we have the choices that we really want?

Just throwing out some radical questions there.

Ken Robinson (, Alfie Kohn ( and others talk about creativity as an important tool for the future ... as Sanna said "We have no idea what the future has in store - the most sought after careers in the world did not even exist ten years ago - so how can we prepare children for the future?"

Are we providing environments where our children have the opportunity to think creatively?

After lunch there was a workshop where we discussed what areas we can be a part of to improve/work with.

The following points were raised in the final discussion after two areas were chosen to consider - parent/preschool/school co-operation and the well-being of individuals in preschools/schools.

  • it's strange that at school conferences parents are not represented.
  • there is a need to return to the school law and see if the areas of home/school co-operation can be clarified - some areas can be interpreted differently which causes confusion about parents rights in their involvement in their children's education.
  • expectations - there needs to be clear guidelines about what is expected of teachers, head teachers and parents to enable good co-operation.
  • what is a "föräldraråd" (parent council)? And how does it function?
  • to meet children's needs - but are we really aware of what these needs are?
  • create a checklist for preschools and schools - what makes a great preschool/school, so that all settings can refer to and see what they need to work on
  • to not run preschools and schools for profit.
  • to describe what would happen if all preschools and fritids (after-school care) closed for a day - if all pedagogues made a stand for creating a sustainable and creative working environment for children and pedagogues.
  • creating a telephone helpline/advice-line for pedagogues who feel they are not in a quality setting and do not know where to turn - and to be able to do this anonymously if they choose to.
I left the meeting feeling empowered but also feeling small. I am just one little person - and this is such a big issue that it does feel somewhat overwhelming. But I guess this is why I started a blog. To reach out to others passionate about working with children. To share ideas, inspiration - to hopefully get feedback. I read about experiences from around the world and realise that maybe some of the "problems" in Sweden might seem insignificant compared to problems elsewhere. The fact that Sweden has a maximum fee means that preschool is accessible to all families and not just those who can financially afford it - so the discussions about poverty and preschool access is not one that is anxiously discussed here. In Sweden children do not start grade 1 until the year they turn seven - this means there is more time to focus on learning through play.
 Sadly, though, all the wonderful project work we do in preschool working from the children's interests and natural curiosity still ends up being squashed into a traditional school form of "one size fits all" which of course suits some children but not all.

BUT that does not mean that we should not make a stand for quality here in Sweden - to create together learning environments and possibilities that are meaningful for all our wonderful, curious and unique children.

So I will end this post like Sanna ended her talk

You can make a difference...
so what are you going to do?

Saturday 27 October 2012

halloween experimenting

halloween orange bell peppers 
 Most of the time its all about the process and not so much the result. On occasion the result can surprise you - it worked out as you hoped - or even better than you imagined. This evening the children got a bell pepper each as one of their dinner time veggies - talk about pleased when they saw what was for dinner!
 The other day we sliced the top off an orange and scooped out the insides. Its like peeling and orange from the inside out - despite having spoons it ended up being easier to use fingers. The children designed their own faces and they asked me to cut out their designs. I really am going to have to get a stanley/craft knife so that they can do this themselves - I had one - but when we moved apartment this was one of the things I just could not relocate again!!! But there again there are some boxes still left to unpack (reminder to self - never start a masters at the same time as moving home!!!)
halloween muffins
 Yesterday we had friends over - suddenly the house was filled with 6 children instead of 3. Michael and his friends got busy decorating his room in a spooky way while Isabelle and Sophia and their friends made spooky muffins. I gave them the recipe to make chocolate muffins and they just got on with it. It was wonderful to sit and just listen to them work together. When the muffins cooled they wanted to ice them - I told them how to make icing, this time not writing it down. When I went into the kitchen I could not believe my eyes - there were four bowls full of icing even though all the muffins had been decorated a-la 11 and 12 year olds... I have to giggle - I mean its not easy working out how much liquid and how much icing sugar is needed!! This was a true experiment where my "you will not need much water" had not truly been appreciated... the best bit was that they had all tried to eat the extra icing to reduce the amount of waste - I don't think they will be wanting iced cakes until at least next halloween... hehehehe. We talked about how next time it could be managed better - for example make one batch of white icing and then divide into 4 bowls and then colour... but I think this was a much better way for them to learn. Giving the gift of daring to make mistakes is an important gift to give.
left over icing

halloween bath

was not THAT easy to get ghost shapes - but practice makes...
 As a surprise I fixed a halloween bath for my 8 year old. Michael was full of excitement wondering what I was up to in the bathroom. I was inspired by the Boo bath posted by  Growing A Jeweled Rose and all that is needed is black food colouring, shaving foam and to cut out paper eyes and mouths.

this one was Michael's favourite ghost
 Michael was delighted and eagerly got into the bath - although he was concerned about the depth - as he could not see the bottom (although in this case he was worried it was not going to be deep enough) - but it might be worth considering that not being able to see the bottom might worry some children.

face to face with the ghosts

Michael wondered if they could be picked up

carefully he lifted them up

and then one by one splashed them down

loudly exclaiming how wonderful the shaving foam felt

mixing it all up was fun!

before the bath was over Michael had turned himself into a ghost - he was white from head to toe,  he was almost purring from the sensory delight!

photo opportunity with his favourite ghost before it too met with destruction!
I think far too often that we forget that older children still need to have their inner child fed. Both Michael's 11 year old sisters came in to get a handful of shaving foam to play with - one of them smearing it all over her face! I get reminded about what Ken Robinson says about creativity -
While 98% of children 3-5 years of age scored at the genius level on the creativity test, only 32% of the same children did so at ages 8-10, and then only 10% at 13-15 years of age. The researchers also gave the same test to a large group of adults over the age of 25 and only 2% of scored at the genius level.   

 So by offering my children the chance to play, to get in touch with their inner child, I also hope to support them in maintaining their creativity throughout their life. Time will tell I suppose...

Oh, and just in case you were wondering - yes it did make a mess - but there was no problems cleaning it up - in fact Michael stayed in the bath with the shower - to clean all the grey goo off himself and to clean the bath - when he got out I just finished off the last bit. Michael enjoyed the clean up almost as much...

Friday 26 October 2012

Rainforest aka flower painting

Sometimes things just have to be adapted to make them meaningful. We had been reading Polar Bear Polar Bear What Can You Hear (Bill Martin Jr/Eric Carle) when the children got curious about the climates the various animals in the book came from - the rainforest being one of them. The group of children were aged 2-4 so I did not feel that painting a rainforest would be so meaningful - so I scratched my head and came up with painting WITH the rainforest.

I asked my local flower shop if I could have any flowers and leaves that they were going to throw out - and I left the shop with a huge armful of greenery and colours at no cost.

inspiration photos - two of many

many shades of green
After we looked at photographs of the rainforest observing the many shades of green, and that it was mostly green, we entered the atelier and saw the pre-prepared room with a central table with plates of 8 shades of green. The children were free to choose a table or easel to paint at. Another table was set up with a choice of leaves.

room set up
The children were then free to choose a leaf then dip in the green of their choice - the children worked separately on their rainforests  but met up at the foliage table and the paint table - both these tables required negotiations as the children sometimes wanted to dip in the same shade at the same time - but the co-operation between the children was positive as they were so focussed on their rainforest creations.

making leaf prints

 The children used all sorts of techniques with the leaves - printing, smushing, using them like paintbrushes, whipping etc. It was also interesting to see how the children held the leaves - carefully at the end of the stalk so their hands stayed clean or held the entire leaf in their hand some with fingers pointing out...

different methods used

choosing a shade of green and dipping

interesting to see how the children held their leaves

 Once the children were satisfied with creating the green of their rainforest we washed our hands and returned to looking at the photos - during this time the green paints were cleaned away. The children observed only four colours of flowers in the photos that we looked at - pink, red, yellow and orange - so just these four colours were available for the second session of the rainforest painting. This required more co-operation at the dipping table, which lead to more dialogue between the children. Win win situation!

choosing a flower colour to dip in a choice of 3

 The children used various techniques with the flowers - smushing, printing, holding the stalk at the very end, holding at the base of the flower ... the children really experimented. They were all very curious about how the paint

then time to add flowers to the rainforest

 working at the easel 

a finished rainforest

flower printing

various techniques used

a finished rainforest

 When the rainforests had dried I gave them a coat of artmedium to give them a bit of a shine - sometimes I add artmedium to the paint to make it glossy but dislike the fact that is it gets onto clothes it is then hard to wash it out. Even though we painted with the reds and oranges directly onto the wet green the rainforests did not turn brown, which happily surprised me.

The children were extremely pleased with the results of their rainforest painting and talked about painting with flowers for a long time afterwards. I would not hesitate to do this activity again and can recommend it if you you are in the middle of a project about rainforests, plants, spring or anything else that gives you the excuse to paint with flowers....

light table and salt

circles circles round and round
 Today the weather got cold - the perfect excuse to come inside with rosy cheeks and experiment with the lightbox.

The bottom had fallen off a tray so I staple-gunned a piece of perspex I found, dumped near a bus stop last spring, - it has allowed us to introduce new materials to the lightbox. Today we tested out salt I had coloured with green food-dye and green glitter.

The shape making did not come straight away - in the beginning the children needed time to investigate - to feel, to move it around, to pour, to bury hands - before they were ready to start making shapes.

My daughters helped out at preschool today - Isabelle sat reading stories with children snuggled up while Sophia supported the children in their lightbox play. There really is something very magical about the trust and the delight between children - 11 year olds and 3 year olds have very many differences yet they could meet here at the lightbox with the same curiosity and playfulness exploring the salt.

Oh - and as for the cold weather - the first snow of the season came at just before 9pm - so of course my 8 year old son NEEDED to run out into the garden in his pyjamas and boots to feel the fat snowflakes tickle his face and to scrape together the seasons first snowball! The simple joys of life...

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Indoor environments - a visit to Täppan

in the one year old room. Instead of a home area - a veranda - to open up play opportunities
Its always inspiring to be allowed to visit another preschool and to see what they get up to, how they have arranged their indoor environment and more importantly get to hear about why they have made their choices about the preschool design. This morning I visited a preschool called Täppan on Södermalm, and feel like I have had a battery recharge!! Its wonderful to listen to a pedagogue who is passionate about what they do, its uplifting, its contagious - you could see a room full of teachers with heads filling with ideas - I mean you could almost see all the ideas flying around the room ... after all what works at one place does not necessarily work at another - you have to dissect the ideas, the inspiration and then recreate it again to meet the needs of your own setting.

Each matchbox contains a doll and represents a week day.
The above idea about the weekdays for the youngest children is an easy thing to adapt - 7 matchboxes, 7 small dolls - each with a name inspired by a weekday - in English is could be Thomas Tuesday, Wendy Wednesday etc - at each morning meeting the children knock on the relevant matchbox and then up pops the doll to greet the children. At the start of the week there is one doll and by the end of the week there are five - a concrete way to see the week unfold.

each department has a little hut or tent for language - the children can go into them, a teacher sits outside and writes up everything the child says - even the one year olds - all their sounds and developing words and sentences.
The storytelling or talking tent/hut is apparently well used and the children LOVE to go in there and tell the teachers all sorts of things - or sometimes nothing at all. The words/sounds are placed on the wall the same day (especially with the one year olds where language develops at an incredible rate) so that parents can read them TOGETHER with their children when they are picked up. This is something appreciated by both children and parents - and also allows the teachers to follow the children's language development. Often the words are handwritten - as the objective is that the words are on the wall the same day they are uttered.

the box represents the yard - the dolls are made by the parents and there is one for each child. When a child is choosing an activity they place it in the right box.

this box represents the movement room. A concrete way to help toddlers make choices and remember the choices they have made.
The two boxes above allows the youngest children to be able to make choices about their day and their learning in a more concrete way. By placing their dolls in the yard box the child has decided to go out - if the child forgets their decision they can return to the box to be reminded. Children that were sick had their dolls placed in a bed - so that even though the children were not there they knew their friends were thinking about them - as they saw how dolls are placed in the sick bed. My own children had a doll system at their own preschool - and I know how they would wonder about whether their doll had been placed in the sick bed or the sick chair and wondered which of their friends would make the decision. All three of my children knew the owner of every single doll - and they still have their dolls even now.

wood has been added to the wall, not only sound absorbing but also allows for shelves etc to change easily to meet the needs of the group.
This method of using wood on the walls could be found in different ways throughout the preschool. Even though its very attractive this was not the main reason. Preschools need to adapt to the needs of the children - shelves, hooks etc need to be added and taken away - fixing drill holes in the wall is not as easy as fixing holes in wood. Below is another use of wood to absorb sound but also to help the children understand the dynamics of the room. BIG open rooms are like an invitation for running and loud play. By adding small wooden dividers, that still allow an open feel to the room, reduces the speed at which children can move around the room. Its a kind of sleeping policeman/speedbumps for a preschool. Simple, beautiful but effective.
a wooden room divider

another sort of divider next to the stables

each day 10 mice are hidden around the preschool 
Everyday the children in the two year old group go looking for the mouse babies - learning prepositions as they go - its under, on top, behind etc - then they count them - how many do they have - only eight have been found - how many more are left? Mathematics and movement and social collaboration - so much of the curriculum can be found in this daily activity.

the stables for the 2 year olds
Children's needs are different depending on age - the two year olds stable is different from that of the four and five year olds as you will see later on in this post.

one of the areas for the 2 year olds
EVERY room that you went into you could see the thought behind it - you could see the respect the teachers have for the children. You could also see how much parents have contributed with old furniture - even the neighbours contribute after they had been invited on a guided tour of the preschool. Sometimes simple measures can be very effective.

lunch table for the children who have set the tables

the dining room
The dining area was created so that the children do not have to tidy up their activities so that lunch can be served. The one year olds eat in their department at 11:00, the two year olds eat in the dining room at 11:00. At 12:00 the three-four year old group eat and at 13:00 the oldest group eat (they have a mid morning snack). The teachers at Täppan have found this system to work well - the older children have a longer morning - allowing for activities to take the time they need, to have longer excursions and also allows for last minute children inspired excursions/activities. The food is placed centrally on each table so that the children can help themselves and also have a social dialogue. The teachers found that the buffet style lunch was not to their liking, feeling that some children nervous about trying new food could not be enticed as easily to test it - when it is in the middle of the table they have found that children tend to put a little on their plate half way through lunch when they see friends enjoy their food. Also there is the social interaction of "can you pass me the potatoes please" that gets missed when children help themselves from a buffet. I am not promoting any specific way - I am merely saying that preschools need to make choices based on the needs of the children and the competency and interests of the adults around them and the setting premises ... each setting will be unique.

when the teachers write down what the children talk about in the storytelling tents/huts the words and phrases are always displayed
The above is an example of how the words and phrases the children said in the talking-tent or storytelling hut could look like. I did not get time to read what the children had said - but I assume they were talking about autumn or something similar judged by how the words are interwoven with leaves.

one of the art studios
There were several mini art studios/ateliers in the preschool - two of them were placed next to the toilets - or in the washroom area of the toilet. Part of me thinks this is a great way to utilise space, and have water close to hand - but part of me wonders about the aromas created in that area - and also how comfortable are children going to the toilet knowing there are children and teachers just outside working on a project. Again - you have to observe the children and take your lead from them.

another art studio - also used as the staff room - as the staff room  was turned into the dining room
The main atelier was a room in its own right - even though it acted as the staff room during part of the day. It certainly would not bother me to have my break in this room, but I can assume that this is not everybody's cup of tea!

3-4 year old room
One room with many opportunities for play. A boat, a shack and also a stage (not shown on the pictures) - this allows for children to participate in different role-play but to still have contact with all the play in the room - to be inspired by it - to deepen their own learning as their play evolves.

3-4 room - the boat was designed so that it could be more than a boat

a room under the stairs (like bend over low for me)
Now if Harry Potter had a room like this under the stairs he would have probably been happy to remain there. A cupboard under the stairs was transformed into a small café that just looked like it had been lifted from Junibacken ( ). OK not a room I could get into a hurry without banging my head - but wow - my inner child was screaming to let me play here!

inside the cupboard under the stairs

another storage cupboard converted to stables
Here you can see how the stable for the older children is more challenging - with a ladder and the need for the children to negotiate who can play there at any one time as there is a 2 child limit.

space themes - paintings of aliens and spaceships guarded by an astronaut

old fashioned school room
An old fashioned school room was created after visiting an exhibition at the Stockholm City Museum. The fact that the room is found in the oldest children's department is not without coincidence - these will be the children who will be starting school after the summer - here at preschool they get an opportunity to play school in a safe environment, testing out ideas and theories and helping the children formulate their worries and excitement so that teachers and parents can offer the children a smooth transition from preschool to school. The room also contained a shop - for role play, mathematics etc - also created in an old fashioned manner to continue the aesthetics of the preschool as a whole.
store mathematics

This was definitely an inspirational visit and the teachers at Täppan have really created something beautiful and the artwork and documentation on the walls showed that they took the children seriously - their learning, their abilities and their development. Many thanks for allowing us to visit...