Sunday 31 March 2013

window shopping - gathering ideas

Sometimes its fun to just stroll around the shops and get inspiration...
Some things can be made, or similar things bought and adapted...
here are some ideas I got today...

in Bolia - a furniture shop I liked the idea of dividing a room with bamboo - it definitely softened the room and made interesting shadows, it also moves, as it is not absolutely fixed. Its a room divider, but still there is possibility to see through...

Bolia again, baskets attached to the wall for storage

Asian store (there are many around town) check out the bowls - great for sorting, storage, displaying

Granit - another natural touch for the preschool with these bark containers - can be used for pens etc - or even as part of the construction corner

Asian store - natural cutlery...

Granit - clipboards in a variety of sizes - smart idea to have smaller ones for smaller hands...

Granit - I liked the table - a big round tray on metal legs (it was stable enough - at least more stable than a similar one I saw in Åhléns) - it would make a great sensory table both indoors and outdoors...

Asian store - really BIG lazy susans - great idea for all sorts of projects, but also for nature tables, art tables etc, to allow materials to be accessed more easily. The bigger ones have a tyre going round the outer rim...

Friday 29 March 2013

Gender dialogue...

 I have spent some time today participating in a dialogue of sorts in a Swedish Reggio facebook group. The dialogue is focussed on gender, and how we work with it and is based on a blog by Cristian Fabbi - What do we talk about when we talk about gender education in preschool?

And boy oh boy has this got me thinking - and replying a whole load...

here are some of my thoughts from that dialogue...

Sometimes I think the discussions about gender are wrong. I feel that somehow the focus is always about giving more to either boys or girls (there always seems to be a focus on one of the genders) or at least this is how so many are interpreting it - and this I think can cause friction, as there is often the feeling that if you are giving someone something you are taking it away from another - in other words that if we are giving women power it means we are taking it away from men or vice versa. 
I believe that the focus should be equality - that there is no taking away, that there is only adding on

In the preschool arena this can mean that we do not take all the pink and girlie things away to make them equal to the boys, but we ensure that there is enough of all sorts of toys/materials and enough access to all the the materials for all genders.

 I remember in the early days of my preschool teaching life that I found that my attempts to create equality was to make it more boy-like. On Fridays we had film time at one preschool I worked at, and a lot of thought used to go into what film we should watch. I ALWAYS excluded the Fairytopia films (that were very popular with my own preschool-aged twin girls at the time) because they were so "girlie", and then I realised that it was not fair to either the boys or girls that I did this - so I brought the Barbie Fairytopia film and the children watched it - and it was the BOYS who showed the greater interest in the film - suddenly a whole new world was opened up to these 3-6 year olds with a variety of characters and a female as the lead role who showed fear and bravery, generosity and friendship - and yes its coated in a thick layer of pink. 

Recently I put fairies in the magic world we created at preschool where I work now - and watched a car-crazy boy lovingly pick up the fairy, give it hugs and then proceed to play - there were also cars available and it was a girl who had the fairies driving the cars. 

  • By adding lots to the scene I am contributing to diversity, to the opportunity to try out new things and to express more "languages". 
    Lotta Rajalin (who is head teacher for several preschools on Stockholm, including Egalia BBC article about Egalia - oh and they say Egalia is the Swedish word for equality - JÄMSTÄLLD is the Swedish word for equality - think egalité and you realise the word means equality - but not Swedish... talks about a spectrum with girlie girl on one end and boyish boy on the other - and on this spectrum we can all be found, regardless of our sex. It is our gender that can be found ANYWHERE on the spectrum, so a child who is biologically a boy can be found closer to the girlie girl end than the boyish boy end - it doesn't make him any less a boy - this is his sex, but by limiting what he can do, like and have access to, does limit him as a person, it makes him less true to who he is - and the same applies to the girls. 
    Just like a rainbow merges from red into yellow through a whole variety of orange shades, and from yellow to blue through a whole variety of green shades and then back to red through a variety of purples - this is how we are as gender - some are clearly primary colours we see the likes and interests and we can see them as typical boy/girl (the girlie girl and the boyish boy)- but the majority of the rainbow is made up of all the other shades - and by treating all children as a primary colour we are robbing them of their complexity.
     Maybe, and now I am rambling my thoughts somewhat - we are all white light... we are the WHOLE rainbow - just as there are 100 languages.  
    Having worked a year with Lotta Rajalin it has certaily influenced how I think and feel about gender...

    I think it can be very hard, even here in Sweden, to have proper discussion about gender equality when the media still represents women and men the way they do - how do we support the PARENTS to allow their sons to dress up as princesses (I seldom find parents worrying the same about girls dressing as knights as they do worry about boys dressing as girls - and this is probably due to the fact that males still have a higher status than females) - how do we give teachers and parents the tools to question what they see? There are too few of us to influence now much more than what we are doing already - but we can influence the future - and I mean too few of us in the sense that the MEDIA is just so enormous, that culture is more than skin deep and ways for thinking for many are very hard to change (there is the saying, you can't teach an old dog new tricks) - which is sad - I think there are many brilliant people working for the gender equality - but they are often met with hostility - as there is that fear of taking things away - they feel the word "hen" (a gender neutral way of saying he/she in Sweden, instead of saying hon or han) is taking children's identity away (and yet forget there are many languages that do not have separate words for he/she). 
     When I worked at Lotta's preschool there was never a focus on using the word hen INSTEAD of hon/han but as a compliment, as an extra word, adding on to our language (or the Swedish) to enrich it - to give the opportunity that the plumber that was coming to fix the pipes could be male or female - we are allowing the children (boys and girls) the possibility to envision that THEY can fix the pipes - that all types of work are a possibility for them, that there are no men's jobs and women's jobs.
    At my work I try to do the rough and tumble, the picking up and stuff my dad did with me as a child (not my mother) - I want the children to see that strength has nothing to do with gender - mind you my height has always given me the edge for that - I have worked with 13 male teachers over the years - only 3 of them have been taller than me! (I also think that children need plenty of positive body contact to feel safe). 

    A few years ago I worked at a preschool where we had a consultant that came once a week to help us with our work with gender - and she came into my department and criticised the dress up clothes in the role-play area - "there is too much pink - what are the boys going to wear?" - I looked at her and said "why can't boys wear pink?" - again back to this thought that making a preschool gender equal is making it gender neutral - I DO NOT WANT a gender neutral preschool - I want to work at a place that celebrates all the differences that we as individuals bring to the group - to embrace these differences, to allow each individual to reach their own potential by having access to a rich diversity of materials - to find their voice, their multitude of languages, and to hone the one that they themselves feel is true to them as well as test out new unexplored areas of themselves... a gender neutral preschool does not allow diversity it is yet another way of cutting a child's unique shape into the conformed square of social acceptance - it is not the child that needs to change it is society that needs to change.

      I think CHOOSING to use the words gender neutral is so loaded - I feel its means taking away/restricting - think neutral colours - they are those colours that are not bright, vibrant - they are just PART of the colour scheme that makes up life - why only offer part of life? If boys are not getting to play with dolls at preschool and not at home then where are they going to play with them - when will they get the opportunity to test this language out? If we are going to take trucks and diggers away - what are we saying about that? WHAT exactly are you doing to create a gender neutral preschool? Is it taking things away? Gender codes are only codes if WE allow them to be - let us BREAK the codes instead of letting them to allow to continue. By making it neutral we are still allowing the codes to exist - by breaking them down and allowing these gender coded toys/materials to be used by all and in new ways - THEN we are winning... (challenging thoughts here)
    • Its funny because I am going round doing housework and this dialogue is churning around in my thoughts. Its made me think more about WHY are some people against gender equality - and I am beginning to understand that it is more and more this fear of "taking away" that NEUTRAL means that everyone has to be the same - I mean neutral is a little like that - its like taking away your opinion. OK, this is a radical thought - but Sweden was a neutral country during WW2 - what did this mean? - it meant that no side was taken - it meant that there was no agreeing with the Nazi point of view or with the Allies point of view (and Reggio started from the rubble of WW2 - if it hadn't been for the war maybe the need for the approach might not have arisen...) BUT back to what I think neutral is - in a sense it means not making a decision - and really we need to be making a decision about what gender equality is - we need to think do we agree with gender coded toys or not? Do we want to do something about it? Do we accept how we view females and males? Do we want to do something about it? If we are neutral we are allowing everything to continue - but within the preschool (within Sweden during the war) there will be those who believe in one of the approaches and who will maybe follow that, maybe in secret - as there is no openness to discuss the codes, and what they mean and how they should be challenged.  ... just as in Sweden there were those who helped hide the persecuted from the Nazis and there were those who helped the Nazis persecute those deemed "unsuitable". We hide behind neutrality and maybe think we are doing something about gender equality, but I feel like its more of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand - if you can't see what's going on...
       I feel like shaking up everything and that we need to look at this different - I saw the effects that other's fear of neutrality had - Egalia had real threats because they have been open about their gender equality - that OTHERS are viewing as gender neutrality - and this fear of making neutral children I think should be REAL - we should not be creating a society that produces neutral people, but a society that is allowing all people to be EXACTLY who they are, and that we can accept all the colours of the rainbow, that we can accept that the girlie end of the spectrum is of equal value to the boyish end of the spectrum so that regardless of sex, a person is valued for who they are rather than where they find themselves on the gender spectrum. I feel passionate about equality in ALL its forms - not just gender - gender is only a part of it...
      Reflection December 2013When I read this I read it with passion every time. I really do feel frustrated when I discuss with others about the word "hen" and they roll their eyes... OK, I will never replace the words han/hon (he/she) with hen - but at times I find it really useful - especially when I am writing about or talking about a child and I don't want others to make assumptions based on the child's sex but on the child's actions - it DOES make a difference. It is why when I write I TRY not to revela if I am writing about a girl or a boy - so that you as a reader can make your own assumptions on the work based on their skills... sometimes though it IS important to reveal more about the identity of the child than just the age...I do think though I wrote plenty here - and that to develop this further and deeper I need to be a part of a dialogue - which is where these thughts started... in a facebook group chat with preschool teachers from all over Sweden, and a consultant in Reggio Emilia...

  • Thursday 28 March 2013

    What about me?

    I have got a feeling that this post is going to be rather unstructured and just a chain of thoughts...

    Over the years there have been many discussions with parents (and reflections of being a parent myself too) about getting angry - and that somehow its taboo to get angry with your children - that we need to remain calm and collected and pedagogical ALL the time - but is that really staying true to who you are? Am I being false by hiding my own emotions?
    Sometimes we get angry with children because of our own fears, sometimes because we are tired and sometimes as part of setting limits - usually it results in tears... but maybe we should not be afraid of tears. I am by no means saying "go out and bully your child into submission" - its a relationship we have with our children and relationships require time, effort and a whole load of listening skills, and our children need LOVE, SUPPORT and ENCOURAGEMENT.

    Sometimes I wonder about whether we are reading all these parenting tips right? I mean I get it that we are the adult, that we need to be the calm one, that we need to lead by example - but how do we help children learn how to to feel loved even when it feels like the world is against us? If we never get angry with our children how do they know its OK to disagree in a heated manner and STILL LOVE SOMEONE?

    I remember (more than half a lifetime ago) dating a guy that was an only child, and it stressed him when my sister and I would fight of trivial things... he simply could not understand how we could love and like each other even though we could say some pretty nasty stuff to each other... the words were about the disagreement, not about each other... we had learned that during our childhood, by being given the freedom to quarrel with each other, but also by having a mother that was generous and loving but could get real hopping mad at times. As a young child I do not remember once doubting my mother's love when she got angry (- sure preferred when she was not mad though).

    But I think, if we, as adults, allow ourselves to show all our emotional range, and how we recover from them - or how we can accept that some were inappropriate or misjudged and can apologise after reflection - then I think we are giving our children healthy role models.

    If we are swallowing our anger and negative thoughts then where is it going? How is it going to be channeled - when will it explode?

    I am not saying that we should all go round expressing our every emotion, but what I am saying is that we should not have a guilty conscience about getting angry with our children - and I feel that most parents do feel guilty about this - yet another negative emotion to stock up on. 
    Why not allow yourself to see the outburst as a learning opportunity - to show your child how to apologise, to offer an explanation as to why you got angry, to have the chance to reflect and think up new ways to deal with a similar situation in the future - and if its less taboo, then there is the opportunity to talk with other parents to get support and tips...
     but what parent wants to admit they get angry with their children - these days it almost feels like admitting to being a failure as a parent.
     I admire the parents who have the strength to say it as it is - as probably 99% of all parents experience the reality of parenthood. 

    So what about me? What about my right to be a human as well as a parent? 
    I have quite a lot of patience - BUT its something I wish I had more of... I use a whole load up at work, another load for my children - and there's next to nothing left when it comes to my husband... he has learned that when I start getting short with him - that it's best to take the children out to his parents and spend a weekend there - allow me time to breath, to listen to silence and to re-charge my batteries. I reckon that being short with him is my "batteries at 20%" sign. 

    Oh, yes, I get angry with my children. Sometimes to set limits. Sometimes because I simply do not have the patience to deal with it as I would like to. We ALWAYS talk about the outbursts afterwards - their's and mine - and hopefully together we become wiser...

    I told you it was going to be a train of thoughts... Might have a go at writing this from a child's perspective over the weekend... not sure if I can - but will an enriching process all the same...

    Wednesday 27 March 2013

    Easter Painting and EGGsperimenting

    An activity chosen, not merely for its Easter connection but mostly for the interaction skills needed. Working in pairs the children moved the box together - collaborating to see how the boiled egg rolled, trying to be careful so that it didn't smash, choosing colours together...

    Interesting to see the patterns develop as the egg rolled - back and forth and from side to side depending on how the children moved the box. Being careful was not so easy when testing was more important - how fast would the egg roll? How much banging would it tolerate?

    Not surprisingly only two of the five eggs survived the artistic movement!

    of course broken eggs and leftover paint is a recipe for experimenting - and that is exactly what the children did...

    But it didn't take long before experimenting and role-playing blurred into each other - and the children started cooking Easter food. This time was another great opportunity for the children to learn how to collaborate - to ask and to share each other's colours, to all contribute to the painted egg mess in the bowl, to be inspired by each other's ideas of what to cook...
    the "eggsperiment" certainly changed colours... as the yolks, shells and different coloured paints all mixed together...

    here is one of the finished products - an easter egg painting!

    as we only had two boxes in use we also had a Easter window activity -  using sticky back plastic taped onto the window with the sticky side out, and a whole load of feathers. It can be hard for children to take turns when they are first exposed to new material or a new technique, but with teacher support they can all get the time to experience and test it out...
    and of course Easter would not be complete without chick yellow playdough and feathers!

    Tuesday 26 March 2013

    Mud Mud Glorious Mud

    The snow and ice are finally starting to melt... and new opportunities to play arrive...

    under the ice you can see bubbles of WATER

    SOOO exciting, time to break the ice and find the treasure under...

    Certainly worth the effort

    armed with buckets and spades the children began to collect water and mud, individually as well as collaborating with others

    It was so interesting to see how focussed the children were - usually they play all over the park in different groups, today all 8 children were playing in the same small area working/playing intensely with the mud and water

    Not only was there mud and water collection but also problem solving - when one of the small sand forms got stuck in the mud in the bucket its always good to ask a friend for advice...

    buckets were filled with mud, snow, water and ice
    I find it interesting to see how young children fill and fill buckets, even when they are already full, and how they overflow. This bucket started with ice and water and then filled with more and more mud, pushing the water out over the rim until there was mud oozing over the edges

    jumping in water is a must - wearing the right clothes is essential. Luckily all the children were well equipped and could experience the mud and water on their own terms.

    the bigger the splash the more the fun

    Some children wore mittens, others worked bare hands (and got cold and wore their mittens on the walk back to warm up their hands again) - but the benefit of wearing mittens today was being able to really see how the water moved.

    Now I know I shouldn't complain about the snow and ice - there are some great things to play in it - but I am SOOO ready for mud and water (and looking forward to some warmth too). Today has brought with it that sparkle of hope that spring is on its way to Stockholm!!

    Monday 25 March 2013

    Easter sensory play (Påsk"ris")

    Green and yellow coloured rice were added to a big box together with a big cardboard traditional Swedish easter egg that can be used as two cup/bowl forms to collect things; some mini eggs; some chicks; tea-strainers. My aim was to offer an Easter themed sensory activity as one of the activities on offer as we welcomed a new child to our group. (I did not notice the heart shape until I looked at these photos - I just randomly dumped the rice in quickly before the children arrived)
    The tea-strainers proved really fun (even for me - I just loved the way they suddenly snapped up a chick or an egg) and both the mini eggs and chicks fitted perfectly inside - although there were plenty of giggles every time feet got left outside. The children also tested using them as maracas - which had a variety of results as sometimes they did not seal properly as the odd rice corn would get between the outer lips and then rice would just shake all over the place.

    I added a mirror, as I saw there was an interest in taking out the rice from the box to put it on the mirror - much better to experiment and keep the rice contained. I can also recommend keeping hold of any HEXBUG tubes that you might get your hands on (they come in tube packaging) as this was great fun to play with.

    A couple of clean paint brushes could be used to sweep the rice of the mirror and then create the space to let it rain down again
    Of course the rice ended up on the light table - I mean who can resist? Not me at any rate!!
    What I thought would be an activity that would entertain for about 10-20 minutes entertained the children for a full hour, and they returned to it in the afternoon. Various play was happening - from just testing and feeling, to filling and emptying, to role play of feeding the chicks, to experimenting with sound, to making piles, to collecting eggs, to collaboration skills and language skills, fine motor skills (opening and closing those tea strainers was not that easy for little hands, took a great deal of concentration). There was also construction and early writing skills in the rice - but most importantly there was friendship making.

    Monday 18 March 2013

    How much do we REALLY laugh?

    During this last week I have read one of the many quotes that finds itself attached to a cute picture of children and is posted on many pages - it went something like - children laugh 300-400 times a day - adults laugh 20 times a day...

    OK, there must be something wrong with Swedish children, I thought - I certainly haven't met any that laugh THAT much compared to adults. So I have spent a few days watching, today I brought it up with a few colleagues at work - "is preschool a bad place? Are we stopping children from laughing as much as they should?"
    I have certainly never worked at a preschool where children are laughing so much more than the adults every day...

    I started to get concerned... Am I missing the laughter ... which would seem to suggest that I am not doing a very good job of observing the children (which feels a very frightening thought)? Maybe I am terrible at counting? or maybe children simply do not laugh as much as 300-400 times a day - I mean, sometimes I think I laugh more than the children!!! I LOVE to laugh. I really believe in the health value of laughing.

    This evening my feeling of happiness had a tinted edge - am I not helping to provide a happy environment for the children? Or is it, as we discussed today that children are so used to so much stimulation that it needs more effort to make them laugh? Have they become adults prematurely?

    I have not been able to let these thoughts go...

    So, I have been checking for information about laughter - and there are plenty of sites with the quotes children laugh 300-400 times a day and adults laugh 18-24 times a day - saying research says this - but not one of them mentions which research...

    I then came across the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor which debunked the whole 300-400 times and adults 20, and actually said that adults can laugh more than children. Here they do quote the research - even in its admittedly small scale (as measuring laughter is not all that easy, and what is laughter - is it one session, or each guffaw?).

    "They found that infant laughter increased in frequency over the first year and remained fairly stable during the second year. Between 1 and 4 months of age, infants laughed an average of only .08 times per minute during interactions with their mother. By 1 year of age, this had increased to .27 laughs per minute, and leveled off at .30 per minute by two years (equaling 18 laughs per hour). In contrast, the rate of laughter in the mothers remained quite stable over the two years, at around .55 laughs per minute (or 33 per hour). Note that mothers' laughter was nearly twice as frequent as infants' laughter (and was similar to the frequency of adult-to-adult laughter during conversations found in the previously-described study). Interestingly, by the second year, the rate and duration of laughter was significantly correlated between mothers and their infants, meaning that the more a particular mother laughed, the more her infant also laughed. Thus, laughter appears to be modeled by the mother during the first year and stabilizes in the infant by the second year."

    I have to say that I was enormously relieved when I read this research - that children do not laugh significantly more than adults reflects what I see too. Yes I see children laugh at different things from what adults would laugh at - enjoying the simple things in life - but at the same time the children do not laugh at what adults find funny! I also found it interesting that both adults and children tend to laugh the most when interacting with others - and that adults laugh more than children. I really think that adults sometimes believe that children laugh more because of WHEN the children laugh (being sometimes for no reason an adult can understand - but I can still do that now - burst out laughing for no reason at all - I used to do it a LOT when I was younger, uncontrolled laughter - and some school lessons were much funnier than others, and controlling laughter when you shouldn't be laughing makes it even funnier - I mean I CANNOT do yoga - I giggle too much!) - but if adults cannot understand where the laughter is coming from, may it is then perceived that children laugh more - I mean usually as adults we know WHY we are laughing, what was funny...

    So where does the whole 300-400 times a day come from? I mean the above research shows that children at age 2 laugh 18 times an hour - and if they are awake for 12 hours that means they are laughing 216 times a day - and their mother laughs (if taking the same 12 hours) 396 times a day (33 laughs per hour). Interestingly 3-5 year olds laugh 7.7 times per hour during play - which is 92.2 times per (12 hour) day.
    I looked a bit more for information and discovered that it...
    ... all started with a book published by Robert Holden, PhD, titled “Living Wonderfully“, in which he shared the experiences he had in his “Stress Buster Clinic” using laughter to cure depression and more in England in 1989. In this book he shared that according to his research children smiled 300 to 400 times a day, and laughed about 150 times a day (Laughter Yoga America)

    OK so I feel like preschool is not some terrible place that stops children laughing, and that I have not been missing things that have been happening under my nose (phew!) - and I can count (in several languages I might add!).

    I do, though, want to take a closer look at laughter. What makes the children I work with laugh? How often do they laugh? And when? What about my own children, who are older, is there a difference?

    I told Michael I was writing about laughter - he said
    "Oh I know a lot about laughter. It makes you feel good.. really good"

    It does. We laugh a lot in my home - and I know one of my girls has used laughter as a strategy when she feels nervous and uncomfortable - and therefore can laugh when she feels threatened - which got a bit confusing for  her teachers when she was 6-8 years old!! 
    Friday and Saturday the girls spend the night together ( we had to get a bigger bed - as we kept finding them squashed together in a little single bed sleeping) - and there is a WHOLE LOAD of giggling coming out of their room then! Good job its just on nights not followed by school - as its hard for them to stop laughing.

    And children's laughter really is one of the most wonderful sounds on the planet. Its pure magic.

    Sunday 17 March 2013

    The Great Create

    Today we have got creative at home. The children decided we needed to get out the paints, glues and  junk and just make and create - so that is what we have done. The kitchen table was cleared, the art supplies cupboard in there was raided (and we popped to the shop across the square to get a few more...) - and we got going. The three of them all had very clear ideas of what they wanted to do - and not included in the photos is fingernail painting - and also painting the rims of some 3D glasses (with the lenses popped out) - and of course we also did the eczema friendly sensory activity already posted today.... a great create day it has been!
    Michael has been busy with toilet rolls and all sorts of junks - and also got carried away later with the googly eyes - these are 2 of his creations. I promised Michael that these would be part of the blog post - he felt it was very important to share his creativity...
    Sophia tried her hand at making easter eggs from balloons and string dipped in glue. I think that the balloon may possibly have been blown up too much to be able to support the structure - but its only through trial and error that we learn... 

    Isabelle wanted to make a plaster cast mask - so were covered her face in vaseline before starting on the mask. Michael kept saying she needed cucumbers for her eyes - thinking it was some kind of face-mask!! Made us giggle a lot!

    Now its just to wait until it dries - and to plan how to develop it...
    Isabelle used the bouquet of flowers facing its last days to create a piece of art using acrylics and a variety of greens
    Creating the foliage
    Using a carefully blended pink to create flowers. I recommended that she tested it out on a practice piece of paper first
    which was just as well - as the tulip fell to pieces. 
    The tulip was created by printing with petals individually

    creating a flower with many nuances, just like the flower itself - but her own choice of colours...

    adding details - stalks

    The painting so far - now she wants to wait until it dries before adding some more foliage in a slightly lighter shade.