Wednesday 28 November 2012

Blowing bubbles

lots and lots of bubbles
Blowing bubbles is not only fun but its a great way to train up mouth muscles and help with pronunciation - sounds do not just come automatically a mouth has to be mature enough to wrap your tongue around them!!

Of course there is science in bubbles too - to talk about why they are always round, even when you blow through something that is square or star-shaped? Do bubbles stay round when they meet another bubble? What colours can be seen? Why do bubbles pop - and then sometimes you can slide your finger carefully into the centre of one?....

A great mouth training and bubble activity is bubble painting - taking a cup with bubble mix and paint in it and then getting a child to blow through a straw to make it bubble up to the top (or over onto the table) MESSY WARNING!! Then to capture the bubbles on paper.

a bubble print - when they were dry we cut them out and they became planets...
 Of course for some children capturing the bubble-prints is a rather secondary activity - making lots of bubbles being the most important part of the activity - and being allowed to make a mess only heightens the fun. Watching the colours spread across a table and then start to mix into each other - well more exploration, more science... who am I to stop that?

and when there is lots of colour everywhere - then its fun to blow air and see how it moves and flows across the table!
On this occasion the children exploring discovered they could make new patterns by blowing into the overflow - the table re-appeared - bubbles sailed across the table (and of course I was thinking - yes more mouth training, more exploration, more discovery...) for the children its fun and laughter - they do not notice that I can see their brains ticking, they do not know they are learning. So it is great when in the middle of a morning meeting when children are talking about preschool and school and they say they don't learn anything in preschool I can remind them, bring out the photographs and show them how they learnt about bubbles, wind and colour (or whatever the documentation relates to) - suddenly children get to see their own learning - adding another layer of learning, a new depth to their understanding of the experience... and then it is to give it another go to allow them to apply this learning...

Oh and cleaning up after this activity was almost better than the actual activity for three of the children. They got to clean on the pots of different coloured paints in the long trough like sink together - and they marveled at all the bubbles and how the colours mixed to make new colours - and handing over a couple of whisks to the experience allowed for a whole load of role-play to slip into the action - lots of language to test their pronunciation skills - lol!

Monday 26 November 2012

Outdoor Environments

water play in Austria - simple but effective
 So here comes a little bit about outdoor environments. Not much, just a little taster and some link with some great texts and fabulously inspiring photographs. So if quality outdoor environments imprive sleep and health in young children - what makes a great outdoor environment?
I think there are so many variations - most seem to have a nature theme to them, space for role-play and space to explore - but I still think the vital component is the adults. Its what we do with the outdoor environment that will really make it meaningful. Yes, the children need time to explore in their own way - but they also need adult scaffolding. I remember reading about free-play often being the time when bullies can be more active (will look that one up again) so our presence and involvement is important. I think that often the outdoors is not used as effectively as the indoors by teachers - its like break time - the children run free. Not saying this of all places - but I just think the outdoor learning arena has not yet reached its full potential.
sometimes it is enough with some natural elements to experiment with
 I am lucky that my own three children get plenty of time to explore nature - my in-laws live in the middle of the countryside - allowing my children to explore in the forest, the lake, the meadows and all the animals that live there - as well as visiting the farms in the area. I see this as a huge gift, and wish that all children could have access to these kind of natural experiences.
mud kitchen in one of Stockholm's play areas
I also think that the parks and playgrounds in Stockholm are fantastic with varying outdoor facilities - some with animals and some also have indoor facilities with staff too. I feel fortunate to be raising my children in Stockholm.

Now for a few links to sites and pdf's that have great inspirational photos and information/research about playing outdoors.

Beacon Rise Primary School, just outside Bristol - play area at Beacon Rise Primary School

Here is a great site with lots of photos of play areas - so take the time to scroll down naturalplay

Another useful document  -from Australia

Young Children and Nature: Outdoor Play and Development, Experiences Fostering Environmental Consciousness, And the Implications on Playground Design
Ashley Parsons (no photographs)

Well that is it from me today - I will be returning to outdoor environments again - and I will take a more Swedish focus next time...

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sleep and Preschool part 2ii

So now I return to yesterday's post about outdoor environments being an important part to health and sleep quality in preschool children. In Sweden 97% of all 3-5 year olds attend a preschool setting (referred to as a DCC in the research article - Day Care Centre) this means that in Sweden the time spent at preschool covers a large proportion of a preschooler's life.
example of a great outdoor environment - half way up a mountain in Austria

The article points out that microbes and the spread of infections may be slower due to the expanded outdoor spaces compared to the indoor environments, but there is research that can show both sides of the coin - that infections spread equally fast and that outdoor preschools and "indoor" preschools tend to have the same number of absences as each other - obviously more research needs to be made into this area...

Today, overweight, craving appetite, a lack of sleep, restlessness
and medicalization to calm the parents’ worries are
important health issues for the child population even in a
welfare country such as Sweden (1)

The article goes on to describe how a good outdoor environment can have a positive impact on the above mentioned quote. The quality of the outdoor environment at each preschool was assessed by the Outdoor Play Environment Categories (OPEC) scoring tool. 

Vegetation gives protection from excessive ultraviolet radiation
known to affect the occurrence of skin cancer.
Green outdoor environments are also known to buffer the
impact of life stress in young individuals, especially if they
grow up in deprived areas compared to the impact on
children from affluent areas. Preschool children
areas including woodlands had better attention capacity,
were calmer and appeared less stressed than did children
who attended urban DCCs in a more dense and barren
environment. (1)

OK, so far not a whole load about sleep - so I will not go into the details about weight, stress and health so much and will focus on what the article has to say about sleep. As I mentioned yesterday the children playing in preschool yards that rated high on the OPEC rating system tended to sleep longer, and since sleep has a positive impact on health one can deduce that the affects of a good outdoor environment has a double positive impact on the preschoolers health.

Important for children′s health is the length of sleep per
24 h. This study indicates that the quality of the outdoor
environment in combination with long outdoor stay
resulted in longer night sleep. Physical activity was less
important as an explanatory variable, with the effect of
OPEC and outdoor stay removed. (1)

This means that being physically active indoors does not have the same effect as being outdoors for long periods of time. It is the time spent outdoors in a good quality environment that is important. This can be tricky when weather is extreme - either extremely hot or extremely cold and therefore limiting time that can be spent outdoors, but does indicate that it is important that we think about HOW we can lengthen time spent outdoors - appropriate clothing, shade, shelter etc. There was no more mention about routines in USA restricting outdoor play - this is something I will have to look elsewhere to find out more...

The article points out that children's night time sleep has decreased in many countries around the world in the last 10 years. Iglowstein et al (2) write that bedtime resistance has decreased significantly between 1974 and 2001 - could it be that our parenting techniques are in fact hindering children from getting enough sleep? Are we making a decision NOT to enter the whole bedtime resistance fight scenario and allowing our children to stay up longer (rather than deal with the tantrum) - since children still have to get up to go to preschool/school in the morning, parental wishes to avoid bedtime arguments could in fact be having a detrimental effect on our children's health through lack of sleep over 24hrs.? Lack of sleep, so I read, increases children's appetite and weight and occurrence of infections (1).

However, many parents experience
difficulties to put the child to bed for the night if the nap is
too long at DCC. At the preschools studied in United
States, the mid-day nap was mandatory for the
children. These children were much alerter at pick-up
time compared to their peers in Malmo¨ , as experienced by
the research team. We could be criticized for not including
the nap on the way home in the night sleep variable.
Children from high-quality outdoor environment had
however, even though they napped on their way home,
longer night sleep. (1)

Interesting to read that napping is mandatory in the preschools in USA, I would be VERY interested to find out more about how the napping effects the night sleep - but there was no more information about this in the article... But I interpret these words to mean that napping does not seem to impact night sleep as much as lack of outdoor play in a good quality environment.

Studies from United States show that children
from very poor areas benefit more from high-quality
environment compared to better off peers. Thus,
the relation between environment and health found in this
study would be even more pronounced with participants
from low socio-economic groups. (1)

The more ECE research I read the more it seems apparent that children from very poor areas always seem to be the ones that benefit the most from good quality settings which means that there needs to be investments made in all preschool settings, and not just the ones that can afford them.

Söderström et al have written several articles based on this research, I have included another one on the reference list here (3) where there is more information about how a good outdoor environment helps support children's attention levels. In this article it does go on to describe the "outdoor preschool" (UR och Skur/Forest School) as positive for most children as they are outside for long periods of time BUT that the long days for some children means that these children remain stressed - as "children cannot re-store their cognitive capacity beyond restoration" (3) - as a nature-like environment or environments with nature elements added to it, helps with restoration.

So I end this post with
  • we need to play outdoors in a good quality, nature like, environments to aid longer sleep
  • we need to make sure we adults take up the bedtime fight and ensure our children are getting enough sleep
  • it would be good to find out how long we should be playing outside for the children to benefit from the positive effects mentioned 
  • I want to find out more about how napping and night sleep impact each other
  • there needs to be a post soon about good outdoor environments...


(1) The quality of the outdoor environment influences childrens health – a
cross-sectional study of preschools
M Söderström (,2, C Boldemann3, U Sahlin4, F Mårtensson5, A Raustorp6,7, M Blennow8  October 2012 Acta Pædiatrica ISSN 0803-5253

 (2) Pediatrics 2005;115;233
H. Largo
Oskar G. Jenni, Heidi Zinggeler Fuhrer, Ivo Iglowstein, Luciano Molinari and Remo
in the First 10 Years of Life
A Longitudinal Study of Bed Sharing and Sleep Problems Among Swiss Children

(3) Outdoor environmental assessment of attention promoting settings for preschool children

F.Ma ̊rtenssona,C.Boldemannb,􏰀,M.So ̈derstro ̈mc,d,M.Blennowe,J.-E.Englundf,P.Grahna

Saturday 24 November 2012

Sleep and preschool Part 2i

On Friday I picked up the free newspaper, Metro, on the underground and I read about a research conducted over three years called Kidscape (ProjektKidscape.pdf) where preschools in Malmö, Stockholm, Sweden and preschools in North Carolina, USA participated.
The researchers, Boldemann, Söderström, Mårtensson, Dal, Blennow, Pagels, Raustorp, Wester, Cosco, Moore and Bieber have looked into how the design of outdoor environments effect children's well-being, including sleep.

It was noticed that in the outdoor environments that were classified as high quality - a stimulating area with plenty of opportunities for play as well as having natural elements such as bushes and trees which offer shade as well as variation that children slept better.

Cecilia Boldemann is quoted "we can conclude that children are more active, receive less harmful UV radiation, are slimmer and sleep better due to a good outdoor environment"

The researchers have gathered facts about how long the preschool children have slept, how many steps per minute they took and how much daylight they received. The weather was better in North Carolina than in Sweden, but routines in the USA tended to limit how much time was spent outdoors.

Some questions arise from their study

  • whether children are less active on rainy days or outdoors less. 
  • why staff mobility did not increase in the higher quality outdoor environments
  • why are boys allowed to move more than girls
Some tips for outdoor environments from the metro newspaper - to make yards richer
  • GRASS: Take away the asphalt, in with grass and other material
  • NATURE: take nature in and bring the wild into the yard
  • NATURAL MATERIALS: use tree stumps and natural material
  • BUSHES: replace fences with bushes and vegetation
  • MORE SHADE: Save trees and bushes which give shade and play possibilities.
OK this is just a brief mention of their research - tomorrow I will spend reading the actual article - so far all of this is based on the metro article and the little bits of information available online about the research. So this was just to whet the appetite... I will get back with the details then...

Friday 23 November 2012

holding a pen/crayon

 Every now and again I take a whole load of close ups of children's hands when they are writing and drawing to see how they hold their pens - as well as observing how they hold their cutlery. The idea is to se where they are in their pen holding development and what kind of activities I can offer to support this (like more fine motor skill activities). I like to document which hand is the dominant hand, if they use both knife and fork, and how, as well as how they hold writing utensils - in the hope that I will learn more about what activities support the children in the eating and writing - beads, tweezers, painting - sometimes gross motor skills need to be addressed to help the fine motor skills...

 One thing I noticed in my close up sessions was that if a child turned the crayon onto its side the child could no longer hold it in a full hand grip. The photo above and below is the same child at the same session of drawing ice and polar bears. The same goes for using crayons that are VERY small (or pencils that are VERY small) the children can no longer hold them in a whole hand grip and are forced to adapt their grip to one that is more ergonomical.
Check yourself - hold a pen with a full hand and you will notice that you write from your shoulder, hold the pen with your middle finger controlling the pen and you will notice that you write from your elbow, and if you hold your pen with your index finger controlling the pen you write from your wrist. The latter being the most ergonomical.

I don't want to force children into holding their pen correctly, but I would like to encourage it in a playful and natural manner. No doubt I will learn more and more about holding pens and crayons as I take more and more photos over the years.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Harry Potter Party - the power of Imagination

all the food served at the party could be found in the HP books
 A few years ago my girls wanted a Harry Potter party - they invited their friends who were also HP fans for a sleep over party and to watch 6 films (all that were available on DVD at the time). This post is to show that children's imaginations can be stimulated with essentially quite small measures - and also the process of creating a part or role play areas like this can be a learning rich situation - where to find all the things, how some things can be adapted, what kind of foods, how to make cockroach clusters without using cockroaches? So sometimes it can be fun to surprise children with a new environment, sometimes it can be be better to get the children involved in creating the new role-play environment!!

the snack trolley on the Hogwarts Express - cockroach clusters, chicken and ham sandwiches,  Bertie Botts every flavour beans, pumpkin pasties....

broomsticks - since spending 2 days watching all the films means a lot of sitting around - then there was a need to get the children out and play a game of quidditch - absolutely hilarious running around chasing balls with a broomstick between your legs!!

cauldron cake for the birthday cake - a ring cake filled with edible glitter and other stuff, glasses with mermaid markers on so everyone knew which was their glass, Umbridge style cups and saucers from the charity shop /(they were part of the party favour bags) - all the children pulled a label out of a "sorting" hat to find out which house they were in!

the girls room became the Gryffindor common room

the kitchen window was the herbology greenhouses

the hallway had HP film posters instead of the paintings in Hogwarts - sadly they did not move!

the living room window was the potions classroom

Michael's room was Ravenclaw commonroom

we turned the desk into the transfiguration classroom
Most of the transformations were small details but just added a magical touch to the sleep over party. It also shows that with simple measures and a whole load of child imagination a project can get a real lift just by providing small environmental touches. In between films the children went into role play and used all the corners...

Never underestimate the power of imagination - children really can transform an apartment into Hogwarts, or whatever project that is underway...

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Reflecting on the usage of the light table...

kidney beans
The latest light table experience has been kidney beans - and I think in a way it has demonstrated how children need guidance and can not simply be left to investigate new material on their own.

The first few groups I worked with worked very well, yes beans did end up on the floor with all the pouring and exploring, but the children understood that if they heard the pitter patter of beans on the floor then they needed to pick them up again. There were no problems - they excitedly jumped after the beans and collected the cheeky ones that tried to escape.

On offer were spoons, ladles, bowls, cups plastic plant pots, funnels and tubes - all to experiment with, and experiment they did.

Later a group of children had access to the beans on the light table without adult assistance (although they started with a teacher but she left to do something else...). I could hear in the background the rhythmic pitter patter of beans on the floor - not a few at a time but like someone was creating a rainstorm. I could hear children crying out "not on me"... the teacher returned and swept up and threw away the beans - and in those seconds of throwing them away their was another shower of beans...

So I wondered...

  • these children did not learn responsibility to pick up their own beans - so it was quite easy for them to just be reckless with beans again... after all someone else fixed it for them and will do again
  • the children who were asked to pick up their first few beans they dropped were then careful of how they poured etc, their experimentation was more thought through
  • there obviously seems a needs for a "wilder" bean play - I need to think if that is something that can be arranged without the tidy up part hindering exploration
  • new materials need to be explained - how are they to be used, what are the expectations when finishing off a session (does it need cleaning, putting away, throwing away rubbish etc etc)
  • while free play to discover between children is wonderful, often a teacher does need to be there in the beginning to supply new vocabulary, new techniques, to ask questions to deepen the experience etc - and through observation the teacher will know and understand each child to be able to do this in an appropriate way.
  • is a light table with a various props enough as a third teacher for the children to understand how to use it?
  • what are our expectations as teachers? Are they reasonable? Who/what are the main expectations for - to help the child, for safety, for ease for the teacher? etc etc
I am quite sure more thoughts will pop into my head tonight when I am trying to fall asleep. But for the moment, these are my reflections. It will be interesting to return to this post in a week and a month - to see if I have had further reflections or have managed to offer the children a wilder variation of the bean play - and whether it is something the children need? 

Tuesday 20 November 2012

to share with the world...

This post is to keep a promise I made with a child today.

He spent almost an hour working on a lego artwork and came to show me, he wanted to share it with everyone... I said I could share it with the world if he wanted - and he did!

This was something he started himself and worked and worked at it. He told me there was not enough green lego available to do another green line so that was why there is only one. I admired his pattern and told him that patterns like this is a part of maths - he puffed up with pride (I know he has heard that word from his older brother who goes to school).

So, world, admire an afternoon of dedicated work...

leave a comment of where you come from - and I can share with him the world that has seen his lego pattern...

Fruit and vegetable painting

carrot and lemon colours
 The dining room at the preschool did not have the best acoustics so we set about decorating material to absorb sound - and since it was for the dining room a food theme seemed the best idea!

discovering paint
 Despite the children having access to lemons, carrots, potatoes, apples, parsnip and pears the children soon abandoned the idea of making prints with them - it was SO MUCH MORE FUN to make prints with themselves.
 The excitement was tangible and even the children who were reluctant to take part at the start were whirling and swirling on the material (an IKEA duvet cover that I had never used). The great thing about working on such a big piece of material is that there was plenty of space for everyone to move and, more importantly, it did not become slippery like it does with wet paint on paper - so it really did lend itself to dance and movement.

end of stage one

lemon and carrot details

lemon and foot detail
 Once the first part of our dining room painting was dry the oldest children came in and used black paint to create fruit and vegetable shapes - quite a few discussions about what foods were fruit and vegetables - and it took quite some discussing between the children to work out that singoellas (a type of cookie) is in fact not a vegetable!
a carrot


carrot, lemon, potato

apple core, banana

clean up time - learning to respect your tools
the finished artwork

So now the art hangs from the ceiling to the floor decorating the room and absorbing sound. here are some photos the children took of fruit and vegetables prior to making the painting. It was interesting to see which fruits etc they chose and how they took advantage of the zoom (which I had encouraged them to use) for some truly terrific photos.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Why "Interaction Imagination"?

Choosing what to call my blog was both difficult and obvious at the same time. Coming up with a good name is not so easy when there are so many great blogs with names that you would have liked to have used - but when I thought about what it is important to me the choice became obvious...

providing the right materials to allow the imagination to play
 IMAGINATION is considered "a power of the mind," "a creative faculty of the mind," "the mind" itself when in use, and a "process" of the mind used for thinking, scheming, contriving, remembering, creating, fantasizing, and forming opinion. University of Chicago

Imagination helps provide meaning to experience, and understanding to knowledge. It can be seen as a fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process. Imagination is a necessary part of creativity.

imagination to turn sticks into a house 
 Malaguzzi saw the importance of imagination's role in creativity -
 Each 'nest' has an atelier, a large studio/workshop-like artroom, and an atelierista, an art teacher, who works with the children and their teachers. Instead of taking formal art lessons, the children learn to develop various symbolic languages, drawing, painting, constructing as a way of learning to understand the world around them and of expressing their own ideas. The children are encouraged to use their imagination to express their view of the world around them.
The Independent 1994

imagination to transform your home into Hogwarts
 Role-play of course being a great process to exercise imagination - in the role-play area, small-world area, when making small figures out of plasticine and then wanting to create your own film. Listening to and telling stories is another great way to exercise imagination. Imagination is needed to create theories. Imagination is without limit - it is what we need to tap into to be creative, to test, experiment to discover if we can do what we have imagined. It is... what could be, what might be. It is the potential to be whatever you want... BUT there needs to be interaction if we are to support the learning processes of the child's imagination.

imagination needed to hear these birds talk

We consider relationships to be the fundamental, organizing strategy of our educational system.
Loris Malaguzzi, 1993, p. 10.
The metaphor of education as relationship provided Loris Malaguzzi with the fundamental premise for his philosophy and pedagogy. The child--seen as powerful, rich in resources, competent, and social--seeks from the beginning of life to find out about the self, others, and the world through interaction: knowledge is co-constructed. Education, hence, must focus not on the child considered in isolation from others, but instead on the child seen as interconnected with particular others in nested communities: home, classroom, school, neighborhood, city, region, nation, and eventually extending out to include the whole world.

 "Vygotsky proposed that social interaction, especially dialogue, between children and adults is the mechanism through which specific cultural values, customs, and beliefs are transmitted from generation to generation" (Essa, 1999, p.115).  Piaget's point of view was that the children not only develop and learn through a series of developmental stages, but that the children learn by constructing their own knowledge as they come in contact with the environment (Seefeldt & Wasik, 2002), suggesting that children learn through interaction with the environment as well as with people. 

a bus on the balcony - INTERACTING with the furniture, using IMAGINATION
 Interaction is necessary to learn, the interaction between children, between children and teachers, between teachers, between children and parents, between parent and teachers and between children and the world around them... As teachers we need to see the whole picture, the whole child,  and that is why interactions with parents are so important for children to be able to learn, to reach their potential. If we cannot see the whole child how can we scaffold the child's learning? How can we entice the child to extend their interests and theories?
We as teachers need to interact with parents and each other to be able to better understand each child and the group. Then there is international interaction - by reading blogs, books and research, by entering dialogues with other teachers around the world we can further open our eyes, and our ears, so that we can be better equipped to see and hear the children.

interaction - with an adult to learn how to catch a ball.
 There are many things in life a child needs an adult to interact with - to learn skills such as throwing and catching a ball is much easier when there is an adult involved - as adults have developed their throwing and catching techniques that will allow children to learn confidently - the ball is thrown to the child with the right amount of force so that it reaches the child without hurting - also it can be aimed to optimise chances of the ball being caught - this is harder among preschool peers.

interaction with EVERYONE to share finds
 Then there is the need to share experiences, finds, discoveries and theories with everyone around - children and adults alike. Interacting with the environment will help a child understand many things, will help a child create own theories, but getting to talk to others will deepen the learning, and by having adults at hand who can guide the child in their learning will further extend the learning. Creativity requires that we interact with others - that we challenge our own perception of what we have seen and experienced, of what we have imagined... so that we can develop them further...

interaction with animals to learn about nature
 Nature is truly a fabulous way to learn, and I love the fact that my own children have had ample opportunities to interact with nature on many levels - including watching calves being born and how cows are naturally curious and want to check out the new born - that cows do not just eat grass - that eggs are warm when freshly laid...

interaction with each other, with adults and with snow, use of imagination to design a face etc
 Nature can offer many building materials which require imagination - what shall we build and how? As well as interaction with each other to make it happen. Then there is the interaction afterwards with the finished product - watching it melt, looking at photographs and talking about what they had done and what they would do next time...?

Interaction Imagination - two necessary tools for creativity, something every child, every human needs. How else can one imagine there might be a monster in the lake? How else can one be reassured? Without imagination and interaction - where would it leave the child?
interaction with adult and nature to find out more, build theories and to be reassured

Monsters don't have to be scary...
... and what else can be seen in the lake?
... also to understand and use water safety... etc

Edwards, Gandini and Forman (1998) The Hundred Languages of Children. The Reggio Emilia Approach - Advanced Reflections Ablex Publishing
Essa, E.L.  (1999).  Introduction to early childhood education.  AlbanyNew York:  Delmar.
Seefeldt, C., & Wasik, B.  (2002).  Kindergarten:  fours and fives go to school.  Upper Saddle
 River, New Jersey:  Merrill.