Thursday, 30 May 2013

skipping rope

Look at this fab idea Ellen, one of my colleagues, came up with - using empty bubble containers as skipping rope handles...

bubble containers left over from National Preschool Day celebrations

it does require some drilling - a hole at the bottom of the container suitable for the choice of rope. It is then just to feed the rope through the hole and make a knot or use silver tape, or both to keep it in place
and then its just to replace the lids. If you are worried about the lids being taken off and popped in mouths, then it is to just to get busy with the glue gun... as long as you are observant there are no problems with one year olds using these without glue - learning to open and close the lid is a great fine motor skill opportunity added to the gross motor skill possibilities of the rope...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Fire Fire

When we were in the forest today we discovered a fire that had not been put out properly - there was the risk that it could re-ignite, so we called the fire-brigade
while my colleague went down to meet up with the firefighters some of the children started to immediately process the situation - they walked over the the same spot the original call was made and pretended to call the fire department!
It didn't take long for them to arrive, and one came up to asses the situation - he soon radio-ed his colleagues to bring the fire-engine closer
We watched as the fire-engine drove across the play area to reach the edge of the forest
and up the hill the came to waving children and to be greeted "hello fire-engine" (I think we will be talking about the difference between fire-engines and firefighters in the coming days!)
they started to put out the fire with water and a gardening fork - there was lots of steam and smoke
They then analysed the situation and decided they needed to foam the area as the  heat had travelled deep into the ground - and fire requires just three things - oxygen, fuel and heat - this meant all three ingredients were still present.
so they went down to bring up a hose to foam the area
we could hear the fire engine motor start below as the pressure in the hose started to build up - and then out spurted lots of white foam.
It turned the area into a winter wonderland - but it certainly did not smell like snow - much more bubbly!
we went down the hill and saw how the water ran from under the fire engine crating small rivers on the play area (for ball sports) - these were great fun to jump over and splash in.

Then it was time to say good-bye to the fire engine and the firefighters.
It was a good thing to stay and watch the fire being extinguished - it gave the children the knowledge and understanding that the fire had been put out and that it was safe in the forest.
For some of the children it had been a little scary.
A small book of the day - not unlike this post was created for the children to read and look at in the afternoon - and to show their parents when they were picked up what they had experienced. This also give the parents a better chance to support their children process the experience - should they need to.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Summer Spaghetti Painting - part 1

Four different greens - the green on the right eventually got some black added to it, so that there was more contrast.
A pile of spaghetti and paper.
This is a movement painting - its not just about the spaghetti moving on the paper to create patterns but that the children move to. And to do this they need to cooperate.
At the start the children were trying to work out who was going to have which green - and no matter how many times that I said we are all sharing it took a good 10 minutes before it sank in that four greens would not be enough for five children to have one each... oh, sharing....!
The idea that of not having a fixed place while painting was also another challenge. At first the would not move - they stretched across each other trying to reach the spaghetti, the paint and the paper - eventually working out that if they move around the table it made everything so much easier.
And so the spaghetti dance began.

the spaghetti tap danced across the paper - one of the children noticed the noise and pointed it out to the others... "listen listen... "

the paper slowly filled with colour and movement

Here is the final image of step one. Just greens. Tomorrow we will be observing the colour of flowers when we are outside in the forest... and the spaghetti painting will be continued using the flower colours we find...
afterwards there was time for exploration - to use the paint and the spaghetti - to squeeze it and create new sounds...
and to admire the transformation of hands 
time to create spaghetti burgers, spaghetti cars, spaghetti rain...

time to explore the strength of spaghetti
and their own strength... when does the spaghetti break - is it easier with a few strands or many strands... lots and lots of testing...
and when it came to cleaning up the mix of water and bubbles created a new texture - perfect for writing letters in - loud exclamations of joy as recognisable letter appeared from skating fingers in the mess...
This session was part of the children's choice morning - where we offer two choices - the last few weeks it has simply been inside or outside - this week was the first time we offered specific activities - mostly as we were curious to see if this would influence how the children chose...
Five of the eight children chose to be inside and do the spaghetti painting - three went outside to play with cars and look for snails...
There were 2x two year olds, 2x three year olds and one four year old.
None of the children put the spaghetti anywhere near their mouths - at the start the four year old asked if they could eat the spaghetti - I answered that today the spaghetti was like a paint brush and not meant for eating.
The child that spent the longest time painting was the child my colleague and I had discussed last week as to not painting much and how we could make painting more attractive - I guess we succeeded! The three children who paint the most often were the three that finished first...
One of the children does not like to get messy - and yet during this activity relaxed the messy barrier and enjoyed the process.

This was most definitely a wonderful process with lots of sensory learning and oodles of social learning!

When the painting is complete I will show them some images of painting created by Jackson Pollock - and see if they think there are any similarities...

Sunday, 26 May 2013

more thoughts on listening

Just been thinking about listening... again.

Sometimes I feel that there is so much focus on children expressing themselves that we are forgetting that we need to support their developing skill of listening.

If we are wanting children to grow up and to have the power to express their opinions we also need to ensure that we have children growing up able to listen to all these opinions. There is absolutely no point in giving children the power of voice if we are not giving the an equal measure of the power of listening...

I believe that children and adults will express themselves more if they know they have a respectful audience - it is through listening that we can encourage children to express themselves...

I am in the middle of doing a philosophy with children assignment that I will present with one of my colleagues on Wednesday. The more I look at the dialogues we have documented, look at the patterns look at the learning, look at their behaviour during the dialogue - the more I see the need to listen. The more I realise that listening is a fundamental skill that children have the right to - and that we NEED to scaffold in order to equip future generations with the power to speak and be heard - with the power to express their true opinions...
... and listening is not just hearing the words, but taking the time to understand them, taking the time to reflect upon them. taking the time to listen with respect so that your own ideas and opinions can expand.

In the Reggio Emilia Approach there is a great deal written about listening - that there is a Pedagogy of listening - check out my post The Art of Listening where I connect Reggio and listening...

...without listening a dialogue becomes merely a series of monologues with only the teacher listening... and this means we are supporting our children to rely on adults to listen... we are actually taking the power away from them... what happens when they are adults - who listens to them then?

Listening is by no means an easy skills - and maybe its something that children HAVE to train at.
We have a magical cone - whoever is holding the magical pine cone is the one that can speak - and the others are the ones that listen - its not easy (not even for adults) - and maybe if the adult needs to question the child in order to support the continuing dialogue, maybe there should be two magical pine cones... and eventually these cones are only possessed by the children who can not only express their opinions but also ask the questions to support the dialogue - the ability to ask questions requires that you are listening to be able to ask questions that CONTINUE the dialogue or extend it, or enrich it...

Hmmm - will return again to this next week - as I will share findings from the presentation...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Getting the right tools... supporting children

Now here comes a more personal post...
... but if it can help others, then its totally worth posting...

"and here I become angry"

Since my son was 2 years old I have known his approach to life was different...
The spring he turned 6 we went to the Child and Youth Psychologists (BUP) to see what could be done before he started school. His preschool continuously said there was no problem - and yet there so obviously seemed to be one - I mean for years I received little positive feedback when I picked him up. He needed his routines, he had a hard time with transitions a VERY hard time with instructions - especially if they are said to a group or there are more than one instruction at a time. He also had a hard time with things not going his way.
The psychologist said that it was ADHD or Aspergers or both - but the preliminary meeting there was not enough to make a proper diagnosis (4 meetings and an observation). They said he had the cognitive skills of a 9 year old but the social skills of a 3-4 year old...(he was 6).  They also said that I knew enough to be able to support him - and that a full diagnosis would require lots of meetings and at the end I would only get the knowledge from them that I already possessed. So it was left with a "if it doesn't work out in school give us a call again...". They also said that there was probably a meaning that he was "given" to us... because we had the love and capacity to meet his needs... it was a HUGE thing to hear, that we were doing things right, although life would have been easier if... but I would also not be so wise as I am now - he teaches me many things...

Michael loved his first year of school - as it is preschool in a school environment - plenty of play and not so much traditional school learning. I had also met the teachers before hand to explain about how important it was not to see Michael's misbehaviour as a child acting up, but as a child not understanding  the social codes and not able to control his impulses. The teacher's were wonderful - and my beautiful son went from a child that HATED going to preschool with a passion to LOVING to going to school. It was a huge sigh of relief.

We had regular dialogues with the teachers asking if they thought all was well, and if they thought he needed extra support. There were strategies put in place - like in the cloakroom he needs to have a spot away from the others so he can focus on putting on his clothes to go outside, and he needed to be addressed individually - as we soon discovered that he is not called "ALLA" (EVERYBODY).

Then it was time to start first grade in 2012. REAL lessons - lots of MUSTS, lots of have-tos and in things that do not interest him AT ALL. He is an intelligent boy - he learns things that interest him - and he LOVES to draw - but HAVING TO - is just not him. School is just not designed for Michael.
He flatly refused to learn to read and write - it was boring...
... as parents we ended up making the choice not to do the homework and informed the teachers that we felt it was more important to foster a positive attitude to reading and writing than forcing him... a year later we have been proven right - he reads EVERY night before he sleeps - and when motivated he can write a lot too. He can also read in English despite never being taught how to (just listened to me reading -  this was the same for his sisters too).
But still the teachers said there was no problem... no need for support... we asked... and we were grateful for the time and energy and their positive view of Michael, but at the same time I wondered why they thought everything was OK...

Today my husband and I had a long meeting with his new teacher (since January)
this time it has resulted in is calling BUP again... and we await the letter now for suggestions of a first meeting to get things going again...
Yesterday he tried to run away from school... he got so angry that he just did not want to stay any more. Luckily there were great teachers that listened ("with zipped lips and big ears") and supported him and calmed him down. Its a case now of working together to find a strategy to get Michael through school - the teachers are quite confident it will go well for him afterwards - he is creative, and when he is motivated he will work hard - and he is popular with others who enjoy his creative games - and all goes well as long as he is leader... and he has control of the rules...
My emotions are all over the place. It was no easy thing to move from that meeting and to go to work. I wanted to cry. I agreed with EVERYTHING the teachers said, and it was no surprise - BUT after 7 years of knowing that Michael would not just fit in - finally there is the confirmation - I am not just an hysterical mother... BUT with that confirmation also comes that knowledge that life is NOT easy for my son... there are many EXTRA things he needs to learn.

Control is an important thing... and finding ways for him to gain control of his life and yet still be under our "control umbrella" (to keep him safe, to support his learning - cognitive and more importantly social) - is something we have to continuously work with. Ensuring he gets to bed on time so that he can sleep enough - even though he does not want to go to bed - is a fight we take every night more or less - and he is asleep within 10 minutes just about every night - but if he doesn't get  enough sleep - then all HIS problems become bigger and feel impossible to deal with - which means he get frustrated, angry, sad - or all of them - and they all look like loud shouting anger...

Transitions are still hard... but we are getting better
I will never ever forget being in Manchester Airport - alone with the three children - Michael found it stressful that his suitcase had disappeared, then he had to put his rucksack through security (I had to remove it from him) - and then they expected him to go through the photo security one - he just collapsed into a ball and refused. The security guard looked at me and asked "Madam does your son have a learning difficulty?" - I nodded, dripping with sweat in my own trauma of the situation - trying to keep calm for his and the girls' sake... luckily they could resolve the situation and we could go through security and onto the plane to return to Stockholm.

There are words that physically affect him - the word B L O O D will make him have a physical reaction - which has made doctors etc rather tricky... oh and his operation.... another nightmare situation - despite me talking to the doctors beforehand that he would not go in quietly they still thought they could convince him - in the end it took 5 adults to pin him down as he screamed hysterically and I whispered sweet nothings in his ear until he was under anesthetic - I walked out of the room shaking and crying. The irony was that when he woke up the first thing he asked was "how far did I count before I feel asleep?" (- as I had prepared him that we would count to see how far we would get.).. he remembered NOTHING - it was me that was left with the trauma - he STILL thinks he counted...!!!

OK so the point in this post....

I Love my son. He is wonderful, creative, funny, loving, he teaches me so much - and I am so proud of him - I also know he needs help.

I work in preschools and so many times I have heard the phrase "we shouldn't label children"... and this has made many teachers (I feel) afraid to say - "this child needs help". if a child is short sighted - he is labelled short sighted - and he is given glasses so that he can see better. I feel my son deserves the same - he needs a label - not a stigma - a label - so that he can get the right tools to make HIS life better (and that would probably make the lives of others better too).
I feel we should be like the police... in the sense that they say - "we would rather that you call us out 10 times too many than once to little" (- this is what was said when we were in the park the same time as a mother lost her 5 year old child... he was found, at the other side of the lake by the time the police arrived on the scene (and they arrived fast)).
I feel we should be doing the same with children... putting in extra resources at the first sign of a possible problem ... as I have said to many parents over the years - extra support never harms a child... no support can... AND sometimes a child can NEED extra support just for a phase in their lives... it can be extra time, an extra strategy, or maybe shorter days for a while, or maybe an extra person....

I want to shout out that there is NOTHING WRONG with children with a diagnosis - or the possibility of a diagnosis - these children just see/experience life in a different way from the average person... and they can find it hard how to work out how to be like they are expected. The art is to find a method that allows each child to keep their gifts and talents but to also understand what is expected of them according to society - to give them strategies to make THEIR lives easier and flow with less friction.

There needs to be more knowledge, more understanding to help these children. There needs to be more people who see these children positively - who see their talents - who truly understand
There are no problem children - only problem situations.
More people who strive to create the right situation so that ALL can learn, ALL can play - that ALL are included - and by that I mean that sometimes a child will need time apart so that they can learn strategies and develop the self-esteem to be with others.
I see how my son's self esteem was knocked by his preschool years - the sadness I felt when other parents came to me informing me that their children had told them that one of the teacher's did not like my son - I mean if other children could sense it - what would my son sense - well he sensed enough - as a year later we saw a woman who looked like that teacher on the same bus as us - Michael cowered and held on to me and said "its a witch"...

This is my cry out to teachers around the world -
Take new eyes - take another look and forget the problems - see the talents - see the positives - and focus on building them. Take the time to work out what triggers off a reaction - what situations help - FIND THE KEY to help each child unlock their potential.
And remember to say something positive to the parents about the child's day... that will also help you see the positives especially when some days are tough...

Its not easy. Its not meant to be easy.
As Dumbledore said "Its time to choose between what is right and what is easy"

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


We're going on a snail hunt... we're going to find a big one... a small one... a tiny one
We're not scared (well not all of us)
Uh-oh a puddle - a big, deep puddle
We can't go over it, we can't go under it
Oh NO! We have to go through it...
splash splash splash....

What's that...?
It's got two wiggly feelers
Its got one stripy shell
Oh No - ITS A SNAIL....
The big bad snail... one of them at least

the children were VERY excited - we had found one snail last week - and since it had rained all night I thought there might be the odd snail out and about... there were LOADS of them

here is the small garden we went snail hunting in

the snails was not the only fun to be had - making water "jewels" roll was also fun

Getting wet, getting close up - and for some trying to over win fears that snails bite

and for others getting tickled by a snail

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Silver and sand

emergency shelter (picked up at the pound shop place in UK - for, funnily enough, a quid!

we started of with the THREE LITTLE PIGS - its s story we have been telling and reading for a few weeks and last week we went to a little theatrical production of the story where big soft puppets were used. This time I left the houses at preschool and the children had to think what could we do to help the pigs? Ideas came - and we will elaborate later - this was just to get the thoughts going...

we then opened up the shelter so that it became a tunnel (it is tube like in its form) the children got the chance to crawl through. It was shiney and magical - and as the tunnel folded on itself a little it required a pinch of bravery for some children

But they went through it many times, laughing with excitement. The shelter proved to be very robust.

and as you can see it has a slightly transparent  feel to it when you are inside - so not TOO scary!

New sand was delivered to the park as we played in the tunnel - and the JOY to be the first ones to play in the sand
great ridges to walk up and down and explore - testing out motor skills.  By the afternoon this sand was flattened...
making small holes, planting tiny gravel "seeds" and then covering them up - "there will grow pink tulips"
water the gravel seed...
makes you wonder...
The situation reminded me when my girls were 2-3 years old and we were eating lamb stew. Isabelle looked at me holding one of the bones and asked if she could plant it. I asked her why she wanted to plant the bone. She answered "because I want to grow a sheep"...
... of course!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Work and/or Play (elevating the status of PLAY)

Yesterday I got thinking about the words we use to describe what children do at preschool... the whole idea that children "work". And I think it is important to reflect on the words we use to describe children and what children do - and how it impacts how we subconsciously view children...
play - learning (I see so much learning going on here)
but are they working?
Would they call it work or play?

I totally get why the word "work" is used to describe children's play - I use the term too, but I feel I want to move away from this description as it really belongs in the adult world not the children's world. I understand that by using the word "work" we are trying to show the importance of children's play - that play is as valuable to children as work is to adults - BUT play in the adult world is often seen as a waste of time - time that could be spent more constructively "working" and earning money....

If we are calling play for work are we then classing some forms of play as more important than other forms of play? And what signal does this send to children about their own play?

Children do get an enormous amount of pride when we call their play "work" - elevating what they have done to the same importance as adults, as their parents.
 I mean, work is so important it takes parents away from their children every day - and as was pointed out to me by Leigh Ann Yuen, parents can often say "I'd much rather stay here and play with you, but I have to go to work". What kind of message does this send - that work is something we HAVE to do and that work and play are two separate entities.
I wonder why it has to be work or play - why they have to be two separate entities - why not work and play - why not elevate the importance of play rather than describe it as work?

And play - well there are many types of play - adult lead play, child-lead/adult supported play, free play (and in the preschool setting this play is observed to see the learning going on and these observations can then be used to scaffold the children's play/learning)... And it is OUR work as teachers to see the learning - and to provide learning opportunities through play... and how children view play can be very different from how we as adults view it. I remember vividly how a c. 4 year old girl followed and watched my son and another boy play. She did not participate in their play at all - just watched. When her father came over to ask her to join him and her sister she replied "NO, I am playing!". It totally took me by surprise - it certainly did not look like play. This means it can be rather difficult for us as adults to define what play is - and if we are calling play "work" as well, then it will be even more difficult.

I remember discussing learning with a group of 3-5 year olds and one of them piped up "but we haven't been learning anything" (he had an older sibling in school). So I took them on a tour of the documentation and the paintings and projects on the walls and shelves around the preschool and showed them how much learning they had been doing while they were playing.
In a way I liked that they were unaware of the learning going on... that they had enjoyed the projects so much that they had classified them as play. At the same time it makes me feel sad that children see learning as work - something that happens in school, not in play. This greatly undervalues PLAY.

In the adult world team-building exercises are often based on play - doing assault courses together etc etc etc - and there is plenty of learning going on - not only the social learning but also the learning of new skills to complete the course or the activity chosen - and yet STILL play is not valued in the same way as work despite the fact is is widely used in the world of adults and children as a learning tool. WORK still takes precedence -

school work and homework - are seen as ways of learning - what about "playwork" - or what about school-play or home-play as learning of equal status?

Friday, 17 May 2013

adding water to the breakfast sensory table

The breakfast sensory tables were played with in their dry form for a week - and as we were going to use the sensory tables outside as part of our National Preschool Day Celebration it was a great opportunity to experiment - what would happen if we added water...? The oats and semolina is an eczema friendly sensory experience... (do not use if you have children with gluten allergies - look for gluten free alternatives)

dry oats
dry semolina

the oats and semolina had been mixed together over the week - when the water was added, bit by bit first it went into a dough like consistency and then into a gooey consistency.
the children did not seem at all keen to touch the goo - there were those that called it "äckelpäckel" (yucky) - so the spoons and other utensils were used to play with it.
more and more water was added - and interestingly the same phenomena as outside playing with mud occurred - filling the container with goo/oats (mud/sand) and filling with water - and continuously repeating the actions even though it flows over the edges until the container holds mostly solid
food colouring was added - green in one and red in the other.
The following day the children started to mix more with their hands (after watching me have a go - as I wondered whether the children were "reading" the available utensils as a sign that they should be used and not hands - after all at the lunch table we are encouraging the children to use their cutlery rather than their hands!!! We also added more water to make it sloppy.
It does have a strange elasticity about it, some children liked the smell, others did not - but I guess that depends on how much you like porridge - I guess if you wanted to enhance the sensory experience spices could be added - cinnamon perhaps - or maybe a liquid extract together with the water.
You could also experiment with the temperature of the water - warm and cold - if you have two small sensory tables like we do - then one could have warm goo and the other cold goo, giving the children the chance to feel and make a preference... and it might also effect the consistency (maybe getting scientific if you measure the exact same amount of liquid in both - and devise tests to check the consistency...)

Now the sensory tables are empty...
next week we are continuing with Three Little Pigs - so my head is spinning as to how to create a sensory table around this theme!!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Förskolans Dag - a story in pictures of National Preschool Day

The Hat Parade from the Square to the Park where we watched and sang along to a show - LOADS of preschools together from the neighbourhood.
Dancing dancing dancing - towards the end of the show we could get off our bottoms and really give them a wiggle.

and a lot of jumping

 Of course most photos I cannot put up as there are simply too many faces to post without permission. But there were lots of smiles and laughter - and what luck we had with the weather too!

In the afternoon Filosofiska Preschool played and had activities outside on the square for everyone to join in, and parents were invited to play too. We used the windows facing the square to display lots of our artwork, projects and documentation to give everyone a chance to see what we get up to.

we started with a picnic on the square - picking up food from Rainbow Café ( we have to have bars on the window not for the sake of the children but to keep the preschool safe at night and the weekend - some of the local shops get their windows smashed)

Ice activity - various ice shapes some coloured with food colouring, and then glitter, toys and beads were added too.

little fingers trying to pry out the marbles

can you see through the ice?

making ice towers

I taped an old sheet onto a table so that we could create a piece of art to remember the day - here you can see the ice just starting to melt
and as it melted more and more the colours spread out and started to mix with each other creating beautiful patterns

the children were fascinated by things being stuck inside the ice - especially the car - "how do we get it out" was the BIG question...

melted ice art

shells in the ice...

glitter and ice was a huge hit - especially when the children discovered they could make themselves all sparkly as the  melting ice released the glitter...

exploring the ice - the ice table attracted a lot of attention. It was fascinating to overhear a visiting older child comment "wow, so this is a real water exhibition... how do the little children manage... wow... this is even fun for me..."
we took the sensory tables out and put "Jelli Baff" in them - ooo such LOVELY slimey stuff!

it was so great for squeezing and squishing. There was plastic underneath so that all spills could be collected and disposed of properly.
bubbles bubbles bubbles... children running around laughing chasing and popping them. Children learning to blow bubbles instead of sucking on the bubble wand - lots of fun...
what a Happy Preschool Day we had!