Saturday 31 August 2013

Collaboration between adults and children...

this image, along with many others from Busy Mockingbird started a whole train of thoughts

So how comfortable are you adding to the work of others...?

here is what some teachers wrote down at one of the workshops at Boulder Journey School this summer...

  • I appreciated having a blueprint or framework to build from/on
  • the work inspired me
  • it was an interesting concept to add to someone elses work/art - feeling like you were misrepresenting their idea
  • it makes me feel uncomfortable adding to or modifying someone elses work. Collaborating makes me feel more comfortable as the other individuals would be there.
  • I felt slightly uncomfortable to add to someone elses work. My addition was adding texture and ground covering below the tree house...
  • there was a lot of concern that we had copies of the children's originals - out of respect for their work, as a tool for reflection, will we show them these additions to them
The following questions were also posed... and answered
Do you prefer drawing or collage?
I preferred using collage materials that suggest movement
I wanted to use wire and string for the hanging vines and climbing roots

Can you represent your ideas and suggestions?
I enjoyed being included into someone elses idea and that they kept their original so they could see the "conversation" opening and changing while their idea remaining
from the workshop at Boulder Journey School Summer Conference 2013 - a participant was able to draw or add collage materials to enhance the tree-house design by one of the children.

I found it interesting to read Busy Mockingbird's blogpost - and it made me think of the workshop at Boulder and also how I have been using a similar technique with the children in the last few weeks as we work on creating a magic forest.

Firstly, I think the images are absolutely beautiful, but I am also reminded that not all adult/child collaborations are going to look like this as not all adults can draw like that (or have been given the time and encouragement to be able to draw like that)...
I found it interesting how it seemed much harder for the adult to share the process... even though the child did question some of the choices the mother made to "finish off" the picture...
I feel it would have been nice to have seen some of the images finished by the four year old and not give such a polished look (no matter how MUCH I love the aesthetics of the finished product, it does end up feeling very processed in the sense that the adult has again taken control of the child's thoughts...)

BUT I very much like collaborations between adults and children...
Many times I have been a part of, or observed/listened to discussions about adult involvement in the art process. Many times I have heard how the adult prevents the child from being creative themselves, of discovering their own solutions, or how if teachers/adults draw or make art with the children that the children will give up feeling disheartened that they can not do as well... I understand why some teachers can think like this, but I have not seen it...

I have often made art with children around me... MY messing around... many times I have no idea how something works and I want to test an idea - sometimes I do this on my own time and sometimes I have done this with children around me and have seen how they come to look and see me experiment, see me get frustrated, or satisfied as I experiment with a variety of materials... and how they have become inspired to then start experimenting alongside me - working together and we discuss together as we go along our processes...
I have been told off for doing this in the past... been told that I am destroying their self esteem - because my artwork might be more "realistic" or whatever - even when I have been playing with playdough and clay etc. Yet I have never seen a child get upset because of what I have been up to... I have seen children get frustrated because their artwork has not been "as good" as their friends artwork in their own eyes, and this we have been able to talk about and support. I never do things FOR children, but I will help them in their process...
...For instance a few years back the group of children I was working with were creating pieces inspired by Miro... I helped them paint a few of their details as my fine motor skills allowed me to use the paint brush to bring back to life the sketch underneath the watercolours... I did not create, I simply had the motorskills to stay on the children's lines... and I only did this for the very fiddly bits, the rest they did themselves, and it was always a choice to have support in this way - just about all of them asked for this help - and it would have meant about 3-4% of the whole process was done by my hand.

When I draw with the children it is sometimes to encourage the children to test out something new, to support them to focus on creating something rather than just experiencing the pencil on the paper (which has its value too, but not ALL the time). When I am creating with play-dough I find myself adapting according to what age I am with... the younger the child the more playdough balls I make for them to squish and the more playdough figures that illustrate a song so that we are all sitting round the table singing with the playdough...
...the older the child, the more challenge/provocation needed then the more advanced the playdough playing will become... but again, my playdough playing is often just THAT - playing... in the spirit of David Hawkins' "messing about" - if I am not playing and experimenting with the properties of playdough to find its possibilties and limitiations then how can I expect the children to do the same?

If we are afraid that our messing about, our play, as teachers, is going to have a negative impact on the children's learning, then how are we viewing ourselves as role-models? How are we viewing play - as only for children?

wow, this post is encompassing much more than just the process of collaboration - and not just that kind of collaboration where the children are working together but the kind, as in BJS where a child continues another child's work...

When I brought out the magic forest for the children to continue on, the children were quick to point out - "but that is not mine" and I explained how we were going to work on each other's so that the forest could belong to all of us, that our ideas and our creativity could be mixed together... the children listened, smiled and just got on with it... they did not question it, they accepted this as a reasonable answer (and believe me, these are children that would protest loudly if they did not want to share). On the back of each forest part I am writing the process story of who and how, and on Monday the final session of the magic forest will be available for the children to add the concluding part of the process story... BUT my mind is buzzing around, who will take this home? Should it go home? or should it become a part of the preschool? Much to think about.

 I do like the idea of photocopying the children's work to enable others to continue on the copy - which in turn  allows the children to see the process... to see the journey of the representation of ideas... to compare and to enable the children to enter a dialogue about the first child's intentions and the second child's interpretation... and how the children then feel about the process once the have learned more about the intention and the interpretation...

I remember doing poetry back in school (many, many moons ago) and that moment when the rest of the class interpreted the poems that you had written yourself... I remember thinking "wow, they see THAT in my words?" and I found myself nodding and enjoying the process of discoverying more about my creation... I often felt that they made it sound so much better than what it was... but I also remember that everyone else's poems sounded so great too - so maybe the same things were whizzing round their heads as mine - "why didn't I see that?" - but that is why I love art, literature and history so much because it is open to interpretation. Afterall I do have a BA in History and Ancient History (joint honours) - and I preferred the really old history, the type that required you to puzzle the pieces together, where there were lots of blanks and plenty of room for creative thinking within the frame of the evidence...
 and I can use those skills, as a historian, in my work as a preschool teacher. I take my observations of the children... and the blanks of not knowing where projects will go and add creativity to enable the transportation in our journey together... the children and me together.
I could not imagine a job without a huge portion of creativity. Its why I always had a hard time with science, because I felt there was not enough freedom - despite my teachers pushing me to do math and science (at the age of fifteen I was in the top 10% of UK in math, apparently, but it bored me to death, I could do it, but I had no motivation, and despite doing exams early and doing advanced math at 16 and teachers pushing me to work with math, I dropped it as soon as I could).
My relationship with maths also reminds me of how important it is to do something you enjoy, something that you are passionate about, because then it will not be a chore. I love to find out more about ECE ... I LOVED doing my masters in ECE - even though it was hard work to be a mother to three children and be responsible for opening a preschool - which required at least 50-60 hours of work each week. I look back and wonder how I EVER managed to do that... and realise I had that passion burning inside.

As a teacher of preschoolers it's about enabling the children to explore many avenues. To allow them to communicate in all their languages... to test them out, to find the ones that fuel them and not just the ones that they are good at.

OK - this post has taken a whole new direction... but maybe that is partly to do with the fact I was at a meet -up for all the teachers taking part in the course last spring about using philosophy with children... and how we talked alot about the role of the teacher in philosophical dialogues and that we do not need to be afraid to provoke the imaginations and thoughts of the children... and at the meeting we were teachers of one year old children all the way up to teachers of 16 year old children (the majority being the older children) - and yet we could all nod in agreement about how the balance between allowing the children to be free, creative and competent and our role as teacher as guide, provocateur and referee can be tricky... how much guiding before we are doing it for the children, how much provocation before we have made the children feel small and how much refereeing before we are solving their problems?
The problem is that it cannot be measured - for each group, each individual is so unique that each requires its own recipe for development and growth.

OK, time to leave this train of thoughts...
amazing what another blogpost can trigger...

Apologies for my ramblings and musings...

Thursday 29 August 2013

making wands in the forest...

after finding sticks in the forest the children were invited to turn them into wands using paint, glue and glitter on our "meeting rock". This is our starting point and also where we meet up again before the return walk to preschool.
to put on glitter it was simply to dip the tip in the glue and then dip in the glitter - a mix of silver, gold, blue and green. The wire basket I used to carry everything to the forest turned out to be a great drying rack when it was turned upside down.
It wasn't entirely easy for the children to remember to use one brush for each colour so that all the colours did not end up the same... but at the same time this is not a HUGE problem. BUT it is interesting to watch how the children are focussing on what they are doing... as the colour sorting does add a mathematic dimension to the whole process.
Not all the children wanted to make wands, some were just too busy playing and exploring the forest. The play, though, was most definitely influenced by the the wand-making and fairies...
I had a little giggle to myself as these two children discovered this log and one exclaimed "wow, what a HUGE wand!"

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Philosophical fairies - four and five

I will just quickly write down the children's words...
yesterday they were being observed by 6 adults which, of course, made it much more difficult to focus on the dialogue - as some of the children were more focussed on making contact with all the new people and others were a little apprehensive...

The warm up question yesterday was a reminder of how children think... the question was "what is your favourite place?" and we wondered if the children would say home, or where they had been on holiday, or maybe a favourite place to play... but we were totally taken back by most children's reply (just about all of them) saying the chair they were sitting on was their favourite place.

That reminder of how children are living in the here and now - not yesterday, not tomorrow, not even later in the day... right here and right now they were sitting in chairs in a circle - and luckily they all seemed to be sitting in the place they liked the best in that ring...

If you had wings, where would you fly?... Why?
  • I would fly to the theatre like them (referring to the visiters from the theatre)... because I like them.
  • to the theatre... to play... to read book
  • I would fly to town... because there is stuff there and to cook food.
  • I would fly home... to blow balloons
  • I would fly to a theatre to look at clowns... I was scared of clowns before.
  • fly to Barcelona ... to play, climb and build a mass of cushions to the ceiling.
  • to "The Globe" (an large spherical arena here)... to play with The Globe and to talk with The Globe
  • to far, far park it lives far away... because I want to play there and swim in the water.
As you see, the presence of the people from the theatre also influenced how they answered the question. It might be interesting to ask the question aggain another time, when we have explored Morocco a little more and maybe some other places...

Today's question came after the warm up of "where do you live" again... I haven't had the chance to compare yet, but from memory I see that many of the children answered the same, and a few have changed their answer...

Do you believe fairies exist?
  • They live in a den. In a tree. One can open it if one finds it. If it is locked... one needs a key. One must know where the door is... one must find the right tree... and then they can go out and meet us.
  • I believe fairies exist. They live in the forest.
  • I believe they exist because I have seen them many times. At night with a torch. One needs to take medicine so that you can see them.... because they glow at night.
  • I believe they exist. And during the night they take off their pyjamas so that they can fly.
  • I believe they exist for real.they pick flowers like the ones on my dress.
  • yes... in town.

Today two new children have started too, this also affects the dialogue... we kept it short as we could see there was need to meet and play that was more important that the dialogue, but at the same time we were impressed by the length of the answers... it was obvious that the children had started to gather their thoughts and start to string some of them together...

Oh, and here comes an image of The Globe (Globen) in case you were wondering... it is a building that over the years MANY children have been fascinated by...
night time all a glow... can you see the magic?!!

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Painting Morocco...

This art session was preceded by a philosophical dialogue... but I will post that tomorrow... and to just let you know, the children were being observed by 6 other adults all morning. They came from Unga Klara, which is a theatre.
 It is always interesting to see how children react when they are being observed ... and it makes no difference how "invisible" one tries to be as an adult, children are very aware of what is going on around them...
... except -  when they are fully engrossed in an activity... and I do believe that there were moments of this art session when ALL the adults in the room became invisible to the children... it was the children and the paint and their interaction with each other and the paint... nothing else seemed to exist. It was marvelous to watch - and hear.

Of course not all children will react in the same way... I was aware that for two of the children, chosen to be a part of this group today, it would be more of a challenge ... the whole idea of getting messy... and the whole idea of not having your own defined space. These were the two children that ended their painting experience first - and lucky for me, I have a shower in the atelier so I can help clean up the children and still be a part of the process (AND there were 6 other adults there too). ALSO, lucky for me, the children seemed to finish one by one in such a rhythm that I was able to shower each child before the next was ready to be showered. After their shower they could move into the adjacent room and sit and play with the bendaroos and other loose parts that can be found there...

One of the wonderful parts of having others observe is that there is so much more learning for me - listening to them describe their interactions with the children has given me ideas about how to proceed with this project... but I won't go into that right now - instead its time to share some photos of this Moroccan inspired art

An artwork inspired by one of the children saying that fairies come from Morocco... and as we have a child with parents from Morocco it seemed a perfect way to naturally allow us to learn more about the cultural roots of one of our children...

For those of you with issues with food being used in art... 
there was a minimal amount of food being used here... the ginger and ground cinnamon were past their best before date. I felt that the benefits of using this food far outweighed the negative impacts of playing with food when children in other parts of the world are starving... put it this way... there was less food being used here than in the making of play.dough!

Monday 26 August 2013

Magic Forest part 3

This time I put twigs, seed pods and other bits and bobs on the table for the children to select and create a tree.
first the designed their tree on the table (after working out that to glue on trees onto a picture the trees need to lie flat rather than grow upwards like real trees)
Once they were happy with their tree design it was time to use the glue gun and attach it to one of the magic forest backgrounds...

this proved to be very popular... and as it was their first time to use the glue gun by themselves we did this one at a time so that I could support them. This meant that there needed to be a whole load of patience... luckily the whole procedure was so exciting that they waited with great patience ... but if I could introduce the glue gun with less children next time I think it would be a good idea!

they all understood it would be warm, and all used the glue gun with great care and with great pride. The children are 2-4 years old.
four of the the finished forests

the fifth finished forest. On the back of them is written the story of each one... last weeks painting - the child who painted, the date and the method used - and now also this weeks child, date and method used... so that when we are finished it will be a group art and each piece will belong to many children - and the pieces will be put together to create one pice of art. One more sesion left to make them even more magical...

Sunday 25 August 2013

the competent child...

 The competent child

This child is a central part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy - but have you paused to reflect upon what it really means?

I view this child as capable - capable of doing many things. A competent learner - given the right environment that allows growing.

Jesper Juul writes
       "When I say that children are competent, I mean that they are in a position to teach
       us what we need to learn. ..... To learn from our children in this way demands much 
       more than that we speak democratically with them. It means we must develop a kind
       of dialogue that many adults are unable to establish even with other adults: that is
       to say a  personal dialogue based on equal dignity." The Competent Child Intro
Jesper Juul also talks about how this equal dignity should not be confused with experience - an adult clearly has more experience and should use this to support a child. I remember listening to one of his talks (online) and he described how children do not have the experience to know the difference between what they WANT and what they NEED and that is how we as adults need to guide them, to ensure that the balance is right and that they are getting what they need and not just what they want, as part of our democratic dialogues with them. For example... allowing children to stay up late, night after night, because they want to, does not mean that you are giving them respect to make their own decisions as a competent child, but that you are depriving them of the sleep they need to be the competent child that they are... You can of course still enforce a bedtime routine that is of benefit for the child in a respectful manner.

BUT what is competent?
The Oxford Dictionary gives the following explanation


  • having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully:a highly competent surgeon 
     [with infinitive]:make sure the firm is competent to carry out the work
  • (of a person) efficient and capable:an infinitely competent mother of three
  • acceptable and satisfactory, though not outstanding:she spoke quite competent French
  • (of a court or other body) accepted as having legal authority to deal with a particular matter:the London Stock Exchange is the competent authority under the Financial Services Act
  • Biology & Medicine capable of performing the normal function effectively.

I also noted that the word derives from the latin "competere" which means "be fit or proper" and interestingly "competere" is also the root of compete!

competent to use real tools...

Essentially, though, we are talking about the child that is born and lives in the world with the "necessary ability, knowledge, or skill", but lacks the experience to know how to use these. They are NOT empty vessels, as Carla Rinaldi describes as the opposite of the competent child, but that children ARE competent and just require the right circumstances to allow them to develop the experience that will hone their abilities, knowledge and skills. (see film at end)
If we do not provide risky play, provocations or listen to the children.... then we are doing the opposite of "filling the empty vessel with knowledge" we are actually taking away learning opportunities from the children  - opportunities to create their own knowledge, their own understanding, to test their own abilities and develop their own skills.
We should not be taking away from the children. We need to be providing these opportunities - allowing them to be competent and capable in accordance with their experience and abilities.
Jesper Juuls mentioned that children are often viewed as potential rather than as people - what does this mean? What about all the talk of children's potential and supporting them to reach their full potential? I don't think that is what he means - he is talking about children not being valued as children, as people ALREADY, but the fact that they are potential people, potential grown-ups!
We need to value children for who they are. To see what they are already capable of, and to learn from that. YES, we need to learn too. As adults we have the chance to re-learn everything. To get new perspectives on life and our own personal truths - if we allow ourselves to be open enough to HEAR what the children are saying and showing us...
Annika Månsson desribes "competence" as "potentials, to avoid the essential view on children, where the ability and the power to act are embedded as natural instinct" (The construction of the "competent child" and early childhood care.) 
So what does this mean? We have returned to the word potential again. But this time it is referring to each child's potential to be who they are, the need for support and guidance to attain that... and that we should not think that competent children means we can leave them to their own devices and they can work it out for themselves.
Månsson goes on to describe the importance of allowing children to be active in the daily routines to allow children to try out their competencies. 
Over the years I have heard many teachers discuss their dislike of daily routines - eating, washing hands, toileting and nappy changing etc as getting in the way of the learning (the latest at the conference at Boulder Journey School this summer when I was talking with other participants - this is what I said to them..)
The routines ARE a part of the pedagogical day... they ARE opportunities for learning, opportunities for the children to develop their own skills, their own abilities to do things for themselves as well as help others. It is the time of day when children can learn about responsibility, about co-operation, about patience, about hygiene - and also to feel a valued member of the preschool when they are allowed to help with setting the table, scraping their plates, setting out matresses for rest time etc... 
 The routines are just as valuable as the learning activities... they are not gaps between the learning. Learning happens ALL the time - not when the teacher is teaching - as John Holt said
     "We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn 
      and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far 
      as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering 
     their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are 
      most interested in.
competent - to be a part of the routines such as tidying up and cleaning equipment

 We need to think about the difference between children's rights and children's needs - children need love, food, sleep etc - they have the right to be respected, the right to be valued as a person, the right to be provided with situations that will support their learning and development etc
        "In a practice where children are allowed to and able to act, they can explore, 
        experiment and investigate different possibilities that confirm or contrast their 
       own notions and thoughts. Dunne argues that this pedagogical attitude 
       toward children’s strength and potential is opposite to the one that turns 
        children into consumers and teachers into intermediaries." Månsson

As teachers we are not intermediaries ensuring we fill the children with knowledge and skills, but we are on the learning journey together WITH the children, using our experience and gathered knowledge to serve as guides. We want children to be active learners not passive learners... this means we have to provide situations that enable the children to learn - by believing in their competence to learn. But if we do not belive the child is competent then there will be the tendency to do the learning FOR the child and then expect the child to acquire it by listening to the the teacher - they are being taught rather than learning...

It is just to look at the children involved in the learning experiment of Sugata Mitra where as an adult he provided the learning environment for the children... and they rose to the occasion... they learned, without adults, to navigate the computers and to share their growing knowledge with each other to develop their understanding of the computer and also of the the world ... the children were competent learners... they just needed the right learning environment/ resources. (Hole in the Wall experiment)

So what is "the competent child"?
Possibly we could define the competent child as a child with limitless potential to expand their learning and understanding of the world around them. A competent child is not a child that can do everything and know everything already but is the child that has the potential to achieve this... teachers we need to provide the circumstances that allow children to be who they are, to allow them the right to follow their own path of learning, and that we, as teachers, are travellers with them making suggestions about which road to take, pointing out the possibilities, challenging their choices so that they do not ALWAYS take the path of least resistance, so that they can reach their own personal destination/ potential - and then to begin to explore that...

 And as promised some films to watch...
a film of Alex Cruikshank from Boulder Journey School talking about the competency of children


Saturday 24 August 2013

magic forest part two

My aim was to encourage the children to draw trees onto the paint and tissue paper forest base... but I soon discovered there was not enough interest in this - yes one of the children was interested in looking at images of trees and then having a practice at drawing a tree of her own before drawing a tree on the fist part of the magic forest. The others also had a go, but soon gave up, preferring to just let their pen scribble all over the paper...

So OK, the focus to DRAW trees is not there yet...

back to the drawing board for me... my idea now is to get the glue-guns out and let the children glue on bits of trees onto the background instead.

I did, though, successfully plant the idea of each background not belonging to an individual child, but that they belong to all of us and that we each create a step in the story of the magic forest. And there was no problem for these children to have someone else continue on their background or for them to work on someone elses backgrounds... although only two of the children felt that they were ready to go from the practice stage to the draw on the background stage. The others looked at their "scribbles" and realised that they had gone from drawing a tree to dancing with their pen and creating something else - they could all tell me what they had created - and they were not trees and therefore they did not want to draw trees on the background...

No interest. So we leave this step. And we will see if the glue-gun and tree parts (twigs, cones, seeds etc) offer the children a better opening to creating something forest/tree like...

I think, to be honest, I knew this would happen... I knew they were not really ready for this... BUT I wanted to chellenge them. I did not want my presumptions to limit them. I wanted to give them the opportunity to show me their growing skills. So even though this did not work as i hoped it did sort of work as I expected, but that I was leaving the door open for the children to prove me wrong...
AND that door has to be left open... I have to remember to keep challenging the children in a way that allows them to grow but not to make them feel small...

A VISIT TO - The Acorn School of Early Childhood Development/Wilderness Early Learning Center - BOULDER

Time flies by so fast - I can hardly believe that it is a month ago that I was in Boulder soaking up the hot sun and breathing in the dry air (and dealing with the altitude - it took me almost two days)...

I remember my visit to The Acorn School of Early Childhood Development with great affection, the warmth and enthusiasm of Debbie, my guide around the setting, and everyone I met there ensured that this was not just a setting that was thinking about how the environment can meet the needs of the children, but also how they themselves need to be warm, loving and enthusiastic... the living part of the setting - the heart and soul.

Sometimes when we see many of these beautiful settings it can be rather intimidating/overwhelming - how can we make out setting look THAT beautuful - and how does it look when it is being USED, does everything EVER look messy?
Sometimes I have to admit I have felt that visiting other families, especially when my twins were babies and a group of 10 mothers met at the clinic and became a group to support each other (the clinic arranges this) - I would go to their immaculately designed and kept homes and wondered how it could look so perfect when my home seemed to be in a permanant state of clean, lived-in chaos compared?
This is, I have to admit, a little bit how I think about about some of these beautifully designed preschools - of course its easier to make it look amazing when you don't have the children in the middle of it playing there... but still... where is the time?

What I saw at The Acorn School is that it was a setting that was PLAYED in, LOVED and that everything had its place but that there was also the room for the children to influence this too. It felt like a setting where the children and the adults created their setting TOGETHER, rather than a setting created FOR the children.

Oh and the enthusiasm and energy - have a mentioned that already? Well let me put it this way, whenever I think of this school I smile... I can't help it, a big smille spreads across my face... I mean I am sitting here right now with a big smile as I write this!

here come some photos...

I just LOVED this smart way of storing the matresses for rest time... it was used in all the rooms that used matresses for rest/nap time. It certainly allows the storage to be used BY the children rather than using cupboards which takes space that cannot be used by the children in their play.

I love love love pestle and mortars - the potential for imagination and experimentation is just enormous. I also like the tree stump table.

This play frame has been designed incorporating the children's ideas as well as observations of their play. The bucket with pulley system was added when the teachers noticed the children's needs to hoist things up to the upper deck... and they have also observed how the children have learned that standing just under the bucket is not the best place to wait for loads to come down... The use of natural materials adds to the aesthetics and also how the climbing frame fits in naturally in the playground.

a small bridge for the toddlers, this allows them to see out of the window, train their gross motor skills as well as having a little creep-in underneath and the place to experiment with a tube velcroed to the side. I think the fact that the steps are carpeted and the top is wood also adds the interest of various textures... imagine if EVERY step was covered in a different texture - as many small children climb with both feet and hands this could really add to the sensory experience... In the middle of the room was some carpeting that was made of small squares with different colous and textures - each square could be changed and replaced. The wall at the top of the steps/bridge is made of clear perspex - allowing the children to look out on their room from a new vantage point.

letting the third teacher talk... this group of children were having problems settling down to eat... always wanting to wander off to play... so for now the eating area is sectioned off, so that the room lets the children know that its time to sit and eat rather than the teachers having to repeat their words over and over again... much better when teachers can focus their energy on the children and the food rather than encouraging them to stay in their seats when the teachers KNOW they are hungry.

This is one of my favourites when there is a door that allows the children to decide whether they play inside or outside. Here the big window allows the teachers to be able to see inside and outside, as well as the children too - this allows them to feel connected to the group as a whole and for the outdoor teacher and indoor teacher to stay connected with each other too!

each outdoor area also had a gate which enabled the areas to open up to each other so that there is a choice of small group play and also for groups to play with each other. I also love how each area had access to outdoor water and how the wall serves as a great work surface for the adults should it be needed.

the toddlers also got their own platform. It was quite a big step up, so there is some real gross motor skills that are challenged  to get both up and down... and again the use of the fabrics outdoors to create swings and shade etc - the fabric was strong, all weather and also transparent enough to be able to see through - so it gives a hidey feeling but at the same time the abiltity to still feel connected with the group as a whole...

and then there were plenty of blocks to be used outdoors - of different types - and that the toddlers had access to big blocks too to test out their strength and design skills... how do things balance, how does it feel if I drop it, how far can I carry it, ? etc
This is just a selection of the photos I took at The Acorn School of Early Childhood Development which is a part of the learning experience behind Wilderness Early Learning Center. As you can see the setting has a beautiful connection between its teachers and its third teacher... that they seem to be continuously working on and learning more about too. I have enjoyed watching their outdoor area develop and I am looking forward to phase three of its development...

And a small film to share the happiness of Acorn School

Friday 23 August 2013

Fairy philosophy part 3

Yesterday we had our third and final philosophical dialogue for the week and despite a fragile start for a couple of the children we noticed that the routine of the chairs in a circle and the candles provided a calm environment and focus for these children to forget how much they missed their parents and what to participate and from then on had a great rest of the day!

The rhythm of the dialogue flowed better, although there are two children that has not found their philosophical groove yet... but maybe if we place those two near an adult for support and NOT with their backs to the mirror (there is a HUGE need to check themselves out) it will be easier for them to listen to their friends...

We started with asking about what we had talked about the previous day

  • where we live
  • fairies - they can travel by car and underground train.... underground train, car and bus is what Annabel* said.
  • where we live
  • fairies... that they... that they hide in a smart smart place
*no actual names I will just make some up to let the sentence flow!

The warm up question today was

What is your favourite food?
Four of the children liked spaghetti and meat sauce, two liked spaghetti and meatballs, two like sausage and macaroni, one liked pancakes and one liked apple.

What do you think Fairies eat?
  • mini-sausages
  • fairies eat bananas
  • fairies eat animals... pigs
  • I think they eat... sausage
  • mini-sausage
  • spaghetti
  • sushi
  • pancakes
 What do you think fairies wear?
  • fairy clothes... they look like... Tinkerbell... have a green dress... but she's quite stupid because she pulls hairs when she is angry.
  • fairy-dress. fairy-shoes... they are blue. like mine, the dress is also blue
  • pyjamas
  • dress, I think that Tinkerbell has a pink dress and is kind towards her friends
  • clothes... socks.... clothes... different things.... they meet a lot of animals
Do they have arms, legs and a body?
  • I have seen a film and they have small legs and small arms and small heads and small feet... like us, but small
  • Lipstick, and lipstick on their legs and nails on their legs
  • yes (they have arms and legs) and wings and they eat oranges
  • big
  • they look like me, but they have a light pink dress and light pink lipstick
  • the teeth are white and the body is brown, and they have a dress on their body
  • they have a dress like me with butterflies, high heels and a crown.
As you noticed the children were able to concentrate for three questions today, but we had pushed it a little and we could see they were ready to go outside and play by the end of it... instead of reading their words back to them I asked  how many would like to stay and listen and that those that did not could prepare to go outside... just one of the ten children wanted to listen... and piped up proudly everytime her words were read out.

Tinkerbell was mentioned for the first time - both as stupis and kind - and the use of films as a source of fairy information.

Sausages are definitely recurring frequently, so our fairy tea party food should contain them. Fruit has been mentioned before too - and now bananas and oranges pop up. I do notice how the warm up question is influencing their answer... and we have chosen the warm up question partly for this reason, to aid the younger children to find the words and ideas to contribute. There is an obvious disadvantage with this of course, but over time this hopefully disappear as we are interested in using the same warm up questions - about 10 of them - and rotate them to see how the children answer. Will they reply in the exact same way or will they change their answer - and will we be able to talk with them as to why they have changed their answer? I am very interested to see if I can see the children's development through these warm up questions, and also interested to see if they notice that the questions are repeating and are curious about how they answered before.
The aim is to have 2 philosophy dialogues a week, so this means there will be a five week rotation of the warm up questions... will any of the children notice at the end of September that we start with the first warm up question again?

We are also going to play with the set up of the dialogues a little to see how the size of the group influences how the children talk and interact with each other and the question. To have the full group, to have half groups by age, small groups by interest - for one teacher to take a group each for a week or two and also for one teacher to take both groups in two sessions to be able to see how the same question is approached differently and similarly... Ellen and I have talked about experimenting with the philosophical dialogues group wise to find a method that suits the children the best, which could either be one method or a pattern of methods...

The chairs, the candles and the talking rings will remain staples of our philosophical dialogues.

I noticed that the children seemed more fully acquainted with the word "fairy" and were no longer calling them moose! (see the last post to find out more) and that they were not only remembering WHAT was being said, but who said it too!

If you refer to our planning you will see that we are still in session one, and that it is not fully explored yet. We are following the children's pace... to ensure that these dialogues are positive, and that they are challenging but not overwhelming. We have no deadlines, its just a case of letting the project unfold...

On another note...
this afternoon I shared the fairy door with some of the children*... and there was a great deal of excitement and they thought that our fairy figures lived there...
I suggested that the fairies came to life at night... and this idea was snapped up and excitedly explored.
How could they fly up to the door?
Well if they came alive then their wings came alive.
Yes, yes of course.
And why won't the door open for you Suzanne?
I don't know, maybe because I am not a fairy, or I dont have the key, or because I have no magic?

Then they busied themselves with the figures again, taking one of our loose parts and transforming it into a key to unlock one of the blocks, which was really a fairy house...
the key to the fairy house
* the fact that none of the children noticed the fairy door, which IS quite high up has made me think I need to help the children lift their eyes upwards. To give them the gist of curiosity in all directions and not just what is in front of them...
maybe we are "serving" the children too much? In the sense that we offer provacations at preschool and at home they have their toys etc etc - when do they get the time to go looking for their fun, to discover their own adventures. Maybe by having everything at child height is creating children who forget to look up and around and just wait until they stumble across something at their height... hmm just thinking aloud here...

Wednesday 21 August 2013

More fairy philosophy...

Day two.
Another question to continue yesterday's philosophical session about fairies. Again the chairs were set up in a circle andd there was a bowl of yellow water this time with candles floating in it.

We started up with asking what the children remembered about yesterday's philosophical talk -

"moose" was the answer... not such a strange answer when you realise that the Swedish word for moose (plural) "älgarna" is not so dissimilar from the Swedish word for fairies - "älvorna".

We did the warm up session again... this time the ring was passsed round and the children answered the question - "where do you live"... (to tie in loosely with the fairy question to come)
it was interesting to hear their answers, those who knew the name of the area they lived in, those that described their house,  the child that said Morocco (as we had just been informed by the parent that morning that they will be going there in December so it was an important subject for the child) and the child who was the neighbour of this child who tried to make sense of her neighbour's answer by adding Morocco to her street name...

Today's fairy question was...

"Where do fairies come from?"
  • from the forest
  • really far away, you have travel by underground train, bus and then car
  • from the forest and they hide in a smart smart way... because they are teeny tiny small... and there are some that do not have wings and live in water.
  • in the forest
  • the forest
  • I think they come from Enskede (where the preschool is located) but then I did not have place there... there is traffic.
  • from traffic lights
  • from the forest
  • they live in a little house far away in a beautiful day - there live the fairies...
  • they usually live in the forest and fly... they live in a tree, they have their own tree. Some can fly and some cannot.
  • they come from Morocco and then they travel by boat to the city... and with a swim-ring in the water... and then the sharks come and eat up all the fairies... and then they get to the city.
At the end I re-read their word back to them, laying the talking ring on the paper... as it was the paper now saying the words that the children had said. Several of the children said "I said that" as I read it, with a BIG proud smile on their face.
the fairy door - right above where we had our philosphical dialogue

 Most of the children showed improved listening skills today... and in ALL children wanted to participate in answering the fairy question - yesterday two of the children did not wish to.

The forest is popping up again, as well as more talk about wings and flying ... so I see some art possibilities there, as well as trips to the forest and some flying experiments. I also see some possibilities to do some light experiments too if fairies come from traffic lights...? Far away was mentioned as well as Morocco... so we could weave some concepts of distance... what is far away? Morocco is much further than a underground train and a bus away... and Morocco allows us to explore another country and culture, one that belongs to one of our preschool families, so this could be an excellent way of allowing them to share their culture with all the children...

As yet the fairy door that I put up yesterday when all the children were out has not been noticed...
I planted a seed in one child... at the end of the day... and it is to see if how this seed will grow and devlop tomorrow, if at all...

So my mind is spinning for the art session on Tuesday that will be based on these dialogues, tomorrow will be our last dialogue for the week and then it will be time to gather materials and see what we can create with all their ideas...

In my mind now is a seed growing of creating a BIG painting to represent Morroco... have some more thinking to do though...

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Playing Philosophy... the first fairy session...

Today we had our first philosophical dialogue with the 2-4 year olds at Filosofiska. Yesterday had made me a little nervous, it felt like most of the children had left their ears at home... so there was a whole load of thinking and planning to work out how to make this morning meeting different to set the tone of our discussion.

Ellen and I put chairs in a circle (we normally all sit on the floor) and I lit some candles that floated in a bowl of coloured water in the middle.

Last term we had introduced the speaking cone - that when you held the pine cone you were able to speak, if you were not holding the cone then you were to listen. The teacher leading the session also held a cone enabling the teacher to talk and guide the dialogue...
This term we had something new to symbolise the right to talk/be listened to (napkin rings - a clear one for the children to take turns with and a silver leader one... the aim is as the children become more confident with philosophical dialogues that the leader ring will be a child's responsibility too...)

just before the dialogue started

getting a chance to hold the talking ring before we started the dialogue

 There was a warm up session first where each child got a chance to hold the talking ring and share with everyone something that they can do...

  • can tidy up my room
  • can hang on a bar
  • can make a mess and blow out candles
  • can swim with waterwings (then all following comments were about swimming)
Then the dialogue started - Ellen lead the session while I wrote down all their ideas

"What are fairies?"
  • they bite, push, scratch shoulders and drink water - by themselves
  • they can fly with their wings. They are small. They are people. They can drink milk by themselves.
  • They can drink juice and water. They have candles on the table. They can swim and talk and play
  • they can't do anything
  • they... fairies read stories, books, read storybooks. They sing.
  • fairies bite, they fight.
  • They can live in trees, eat small sausages, they are usually kind. They live in trees. They usually meet some people in September - they are by the new pool, by the fountain. They are usually in the pool.
  • like in the forest, they go hunting. They have holes in the house.
 It was a really good first session with these young children... and it is really interesting to see how some children are influenced by what has already been said and others have their own ideas...
although I know where some of these ideas come from, having listened and observed them for the last week, and also realising how much they have been listening and observing me!

The "usually meeting people in September" I assume is one child's way of remembering us mention the International Fairy Tea Party last week, the sausages come from overhearing some other children talking with me about fairies go shopping for fruit and sausages.

The "hunting" I think might come from the fact we went hunting for fairies last week... but we will just have to wait for the next philosophical dialogue to dig a little deeper to find out what they mean...
"The hole in the house" bit could be that they thought holes in the trees where the fairy houses... but it could also be a possible opening for fairies in the house...

It was interesting to see how much focus there was on biting, pushing and fighting, so we will have to see how that develops - and it looks like we have our drinks for the fairy party sorted - water, milk and juice! But it made me smile that there was a focus that the fairies can do this themselves - there is so much talk about what they can do - and also our warm up talk had been about what each child can do!

We then went to the forest to have a good run around, play and explore... the children have free-range as long as they stay within sight of us teachers - and as we move with the children this does give them a large area to explore.
The play was fairies...
... they were either looking for fairies or being fairies, flapping their arms and swooping around the forest...

"look - I found an invisible fairy"

Three days in his "schooling in" and fully immersed in our project - "Have you found any fairies" - "No, I am a fairy!"
In the afternoon it was fun to see five of the children (although not all the five at the same time) form a circle of chairs and play "philosophical dialogue". They used a soft juggling ball as the talking symbol (so really showing they had understood the symbolic value of the rings and not that it needed to be something specific). They took it in turns to talk, the one holding the ball being the one allowed to talk - there was also some role-playing going on as I overheard one of the children saying "I am Suzanne" (feel VERY flattered that she wanted to be me... and was happy to see that I am portrayed as a nice person!!!!). As new children wanted to join there was some resistence, they moved their chairs from this newcomer to the game and put them against the wall... the newcomer did the same. I watched from the other side of the room, waitng to see what would happen and was so happy when the new comer was accepted and handed the ball to have her turn... and they did this "by themselves"

playing philosophical dialogue
I am smiling inside.

Monday 19 August 2013

The start of a magic forest...

Cardboard and paint - and lots of muscle power to squeeze out the paint...

the choices available were green, blue, yellow and white (the latter being an absolute must for the children) - all children in the group of five, that chose to be in the atelier this morning, chose to have all the colours avalable

it was interesting to see how body strength had a part in how much of each colour was squeezed out.

Then the MAGIC was interesting to see how some children this process was about movement, while for others it was watching how the colours mixed and made patterns

it was a also a challnge for two of teh children to fill the entire cardboard - something they had not done before - but were fully capable of hiding all the cardboard under the paint, and with pride... when encouraged to do so...

and for those who were quick to fill their cardboard there was time to make patterns with their paintbrush

then they had access to two shades of green tissue paper and some off-white, the idea was to place it on the paint and try and make wrinkles and an interesting structure - but for most of them the process of walking across the room to select a pice of tissue paper and place it on the paint to go and select again was much more important - so there was a refill of tissue paper and glue added.

step one finished.

another finished magic forest in progress
The next step will be to let someone else continue with this artwork - and that they will eventually be put together to make just one piece. The idea is to celebrate the individual and the group, that we all contribute with our ideas and talents. To find the we in me - and to find the me in we.

Maybe some fairies will occupy this forest - as yet I am not sure how the fairy project is going to move forward... so this could turn into something very different... especially as autumn comes and the colour of the forest will change and will be no longer green - how will the children then react?
Time will only tell....