Monday 30 September 2013

To help or not to help... that is the question...

To help or not to help.

We strive to support the children to be competent, to be confident in their abilities and to be problem solvers. So every now and again I feel quite frustrated (and do my utmost to hide that frustration) when children say "I can't..." without even attempting.

On Mondays we have children's choice - the children get to choose whether they are inside or outside during the morning (although even the inside ones do go for a quick run outside before lunch) - today just 3 of the 8 children that were with us today chose to be outside so I made the most of this opportunity by working on the procedure of getting dressed - as right now it is JUST starting to get cold, soon there will be MORE layers to put on to survive a Swedish winter.

I was met with that worst sound of all "I can't..." with maximum whine laid on thick...
"Have a try"
One of the three children has a try and succeeds...
the other two stand there looking at their outdoor clothes whining almost mantra-like "I can't..."

After realising the whole "have a try" approach was just not going to work I used the "Well how are you going to solve this problem?" approach
- child one (already partially ready) cottoned on directly and when it got tricky came to ask for help rather than saying "I can't..." loudly I answered with great enthusiasm, "Of course I will help you..." in the hope that the other two will stop focussing on what they think they cannot do and have a try at asking for help.
No that didn't work either.
So I had to explain to them directly - that since they did not want to try themselves, then they needed to solve their problem of getting dressed another way - and that asking for help might be a solution.

Then one asked for help - he received the help he needed with encouragement to try himself...

The last child sat and stared at his shoes...
"I Know you can put your shoes on..."
Now the two other children fully kitted out were beginning to get sweaty (and complained of being too hot and sweaty) - and my feeling of how do I proceed started getting noisier in my head - do I give up and just dress the child so the others don't sweat or do I perservere. I decided this time to perservere - we HAVE to practice, winter is coming and he is going to have to be able to do this... in fact he WAS able to do this half a year ago - so I was not asking too much of him...

Eventually after many reminders to do each getting dressed step and many reminders that he needed to ask for help rather than just say "I can't..." we were finally all ready.

We went to play at the children's favorite play area at the moment...

And as I observed I noticed how one child helped another up onto the structure and then tried to get up afterwards (the two children who had struggled a little more to get dressed)... and then asked for help up himself. The child already on the structure tried to hoist him up and soon discovered and exclaimed that he was "too heavy" - so he jumped down and pushed him up and then climbed up by himself afterwards.
The joy of NOT hearing the words "I can't..." Together they solved the problem themselves.
Now it is just a case of getting that to happen in the cloakroom...

But my thought is...
asking for help is actually a skill we need to teach children (and maybe some adults) and that the help that comes from this request is NOT compromising their competence - as we have in fact helped the child to learn how to solve a problem - of putting on tight jackets etc...
Learning to ASK for help can be just as an important skill as helping others.
There is a difference though between ALWAYS asking for help without ever trying and learning to ask for help when you need it... it's a balance, like everything in life...

Sunday 29 September 2013

Documentation - a first peek...

Here comes a picture filled post about documentation - but it will only scratch the surface of what documentation is about. Here in Sweden there is a continuous discussion about the difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation and trying to define what that difference is so that there is better understanding for EVERYONE.
I can only write as I have understood - as I have used and practiced and evolved in my own journey to understand documentation...

For me documentation is not just about putting things up on the walls or in files (portfolios) - it is about a whole process of learning - the children and me. When I am documenting I need to have an idea of WHY I am documenting - is it so that the children can use the words and images to prompt their own memory and offer an opportunity to deepen their own understanding? Is it so that the parents can see what we have been up to and why? Is it so that I can see the patterns of the children's learning and my own understanding of what individuals and the group are interested in and understanding at the moment? Or...? Sometimes documentation can meet several of these critieria at the same time. But for me the main difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation is that the latter is created AND used with the aim to learn from and to support how the learning and development journey of the preschool/ers should/could continue! I also feel that this kind of documentation needs the support of colleagues for it to be able to truly develop...
The stuff that is produced to put up the walls is the publication of the pedagogical documentation, your reflections, the children's reflections, the analysis etc...

By taking the time to critique each other's work allows individuals to not only see and be inspired by colleagues methods of documentation but also receive feedback about how their own documentation is viewed. This means that there should be dialogues about the notes, observations, photos and films so that you can analyse the data... and also the publication needs support... how are you putting the images together with the text... is the message you want to share clear to others?

I have done a course in museum studies back in the nineties where I looked at how young children were using museums and how museums were including young children. I spent quite some time looking at the information signs and posters that documented the history/activities etc of what was being displayed/available. This has helped me understand HOW children look at such museums and documentation, what sort of time people have to read this information and that we need to break it down into a multi-layered source of information - where the image tells its story, the title/heading can enhance that, a short paragraph can deepen that and then more text is available for those who are really interested. My experience from this course and my experience with my son, who is a very reluctant reader, shows me how TOO MUCH text can sometimes put people off from even attempting to read and explore what you know they would be interested in...

At the moment our projects are shown visually on a digital screen, on the notice board with short explanations and in files with more detailed information including access to what the children are saying in the philosophical dialogues. This allows the parents to find out what their children are doing based on how much time they have... the children can see the first two easily but need to ask to see the latter as they are mostly words and they need an adult to read for them (especially as the dialogues are simply notetaking).
We also have weekly documentation of what we as teachers see in the group and how we can proceed to support the children... these we can return to to allow us to see the group's journey. We have just 30 minutes a week to do this together which is not a lot of time - but our priorities are the children and being with the children and as we work in a preschool that is open for more hours than any one individual works then we need to have shifts to cover the day. This means that finding the time when we are together and there are still enough staff to meet the needs of the children is a puzzle that not just my preschool tries to piece together, but every preschool I have ever worked at - and at most other preschools...
Fulltime work in Sweden is 40 hours a week - preschools are legally required to be open for 60 hours a week - and not all staff work fulltime either - so, as I wrote, finding time to document, reflect and plan is a puzzle. When I did my thesis for my masters in ECE I focussed on what preschool teachers believed quality is and how it can be achieved - this need for planning/reflecting/documenting was an important part of achieving this quality but there was a concern that this also came at a price that when teachers had child-free time to document, reflect and plan they were very aware that the teacher/child ratio was affected and also had its consequences. There was a slight jealousy that school teachers were afforded child free documenting/planning time knowing that other pedagogues were taking care of the children and that the teacher:child ratio had not been affected - and why were preschool teachers not afforded this same possibility? Of course this is a question that is much bigger than individual preschools - as it is something that needs funding...

But now for some images (some images have fuzzy areas - this has been done by me to protect the privacy of the children at the preschools - on the walls the images were with fully recognisable faces for the children to see and appreciate)

this wall of documentation not only shows the development and inspiration of the space project over the years but has also influenced the colour of the walls in this area of Boulder Journey School (BJS). The beauty of NOT taking down documentation at the end of the school year but to leave it in place to inspire children, to allow them to see and listen to the words and understandings of previous children at the preschool and for them to build upon this

here the teachers have used tape directly on the wall to make a child's drawing of a tree to become huge and more tree-like by its size. As you see there is lots of small text next to the tree to allow parents (and visiting teachers)  to read and understand the process. This was one of many parts of the documentations about trees and leaves that were bordered by this tree and another at the far side. BJS

a documentation showing the elements needed for creativity. This not only allows the parents to see how the school is working with the children and their processes, but also allows the teachers to focus their own thoughts. As all teachers well know, there must have been a lots of discussion and exploration of "what is creativity?" before being able to reach the conclusions that these are the elements that are necessary. This documentation allows new staff to be able to see the thought processes of what has been discussed, and also afforded the opportunity to build upon them - just as the documentation will also serve as a memory for those partaking in the discussions - a continual reminder of the complexity of planning activities and the need to be open ended and multi-layered.... (BJS)

more details could be read in files about what was going on in the classrooms and the learning and interactions and the teachers' reflections (BJS)

inside the files you can see the sort of reflection that was being documented supoorted by photographs (BJS)

here again the documentation is presented on a the wall in large format in a way that is not only interesting to the parents but also to the children. This was not at children's height... in fact a lot of the documentation at BJS was not at children's height... there can be a lot of discussion JUST about this. But my own feeling is that I personally do not want to have EVERYTHING at child height - I want to vary the height and the position of the documentation to encourage the children to look up and around them - and not to be simply fed with what we want them to see but to encourage them to discover...

this was a part of the tree display at BJS - and as you see there was information that is shorter and easier to read if you have just a few moments to spare - and not the mass of text that was on the previous photo that requires more time and concentration...

the teacher's reflections were created into books (BJS)

here the children are able to revisit the process of the art we made together - and also  how the different groups of children explored the spaghetti in the artmaking. The children frequently spent time looking at these images and talking with each other about who was doing what and also with a teacher who could ask more questions about what they remembered and felt about the process and the finished product. You can see the curled up edges of the paper after a lot of poking and inspecting of the photos, and also as the written text is read back to them like a story - and just as children like to be read, and re-read a favourite story so is the case with documentation on the wall. I tend to write this kind of documentation like a story, to appeal to the children and the adults - and also to illuminate the learning processes for both parents and children. I am a big believer in a sustainable preschool and can sometimes have a hard time in using a lot of paper. In retrospect I would have liked to have mounted the documentation on 3 big sheets of dark blue to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but the need to be kind to the planet sometimes gets in the way of that... there were also images to the left of the children looking at the documentation... (mine)

in May on National Preschool Day here in Sweden we set up a whole load of activities on the square that our preschool windows face out onto. So we used the windows to show what we had been up to since Christmas - the artwork, the projects and the documentation showing the processes and the learning.... this is quite busy, but it a selection of one group's interests over five months - in reality this work was spread out to give a more gallery-exhibtion feel rather than this quick "shout" of what we have been up to. BUT I have this image here to show the difference in purpose ... the purpose here was to give a quick and intense display of how busy the children had been and of all the learning that has been occurring. The purpose was to show how much the children had explored, just as an abstract covers the content and the richness of the paper to come in a few short words. This is, though, not how I would want to always display the children's work - I much prefer to let each story unfold in its own area - and sometimes that means bringing down one story and storing it in the children's files for later to allow new interests to replace them... and sometimes to allow work to remain knowing the children will be returning to it. To some extent it will depend on how much wall space you have that can be dedicated to documentation - and also to sense the boundary between inspiration and over-stimulation. (mine)

this school I visited several years ago is probably pretty typical for a British primary school in the sense that the walls are utilised to the max. There is no space left for the children to rest their gaze and just think as they are being bombarded with information. There is obvious pride in the way the children's work is displayed and I LOVED visiting the school and it' obvious dedication to the children, but all those words at the top of the room just make it feel TOO busy, even though I understand WHY they are there. AND it would be nice for the displays to have gaps between them instead of each display being snuggled up to each other, even when there is no connection except for the fact that it is the same children learning...
In this sense BJS was also quite busy, but they had managed to get the balance of a lot of documentation and the need for eye-resting space to work for them more harmoniously - especially in the classrooms - the corridors tended to be more busy (but this can also be to do with the fact that a lots of space was being filled for our (the visitors) benefit, in pretty much the same way that my window display was a "shout" about what we had been up to, BJS was also intensifying their documention presentation to meet the hungry needs of conference-goers wanting to consume as much inspiration in a short time as possible.
documentation does not need to be an image of the children with a description of what they have done... but a series of questions based on observations of the children - questions that can get colleagues and parents involved in the project. And the more actively involved the more possibilities and the more inspiration that can guide you in a project direction of discovery together with the children. By getting parents on board with questions can also open up the learning possibilities at home too. (BJS)

Capturing children's language - each week the children are documented at Täppan preschool in Stockholm. This allows the parents to see what the children are saying at preschool, it allows the teachers and parents to see the language development as these pieces of dialogue are collected over the child's preschool life once a week. It also allows the children to see that what they have to say is valued by the adults that surround them.

the children also document their learning at BJS - and these are collected into small books. Some of these books were in the reading areas in the classrooms and others were collected and stored in the preschool library for all children to access and appreciate just like real books.

areas of learning are simply documented with words and images to allow children and adults to see the learning in their play and to develop their vocabulary together. (BJS)

one of the documentations that I felt was put up for our (the conferenece visitors) sake at BJS

it can be important to think of allowing the parents to see how you  have been developing your skills as teachers, and how this knowledge is being shared too. If we are to value children's learning and to be great role-models for them too, then why not let the children see how you as an adult continue to learn?

the dragon skins were photocopied and then a dragon template was used to support the childrens' continued understanding that this proces art was to create dragon skins. By not labelling the dragons it also became a game - could the children locate which was their dragon by the skin markings? - or identify the others? It was quite tricky, but for those children who had chosen a colour VERY different from the others it was much easier of course. By displaying the children's art like this (and with images of the process next to it) the children have an opportunity to continue to interact with their art and to revisit their memory of the process. (mine)

another BJS documentation to show the connection of early mark making to writing and idea collecting. As teachers we are aware of the processes and the incredible importance of the little things as BIG contributers to skills that have high value in society - such as writing. These early steps should not be rushed, they should be valued as important steps for children to become comfortable with their budding skills and to understand them. It is not enough to just be able to do things to please parents, children need the time to comprehend what they are doing so that it can be applied with greater wisdom and a true passion rather than a "have to".

So this brings me to the end of this first peek at documentation. It would be great if you could share documentation on either my facebook page Interaction Imagination or ECE - Inteaction Imagination Group. It would be great if you could share strategies for creating time to document, reflect and plan ...
all inspiration and feedback warmly welcomed...

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Every child is an artist...?

Every child is an artist. 
The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. 
Pablo Picasso
I have just come back from the dress rehearsal of "Häst Häst Häst" (Horse Horse Horse) - a play, or rather an experience directed by Suzanne Osten and about an artist called Leonora Carrington (for information about her click here).
The whole performance is aimed at teenagers (15-18) primarily with the aim to get them thinking - and the character Leonora is played by 3 women at the same time - showing the complexity of every person and the different elements we need to manage different parts of our life, to experience them, to deal with them and to see them with different perspectives - and also shows how one and the same person is never just ONE person - as we are constantly changing and evolving to meet the needs of our surroundings and situation...
Very much in tune with what one child asked me a few weeks ago - "Did you exist when you were little?" - and when I was asked this again later in the day, by an adult, it made me think deeper (it's why it's so important to ask the same question many times) - that yes I existed when I was little - it was me, but NOT the me that I am now. Once we move out of fairies and flight this is a question we want to pose to the children... to ask them what they think  their parents were like as children - and what they think THEY will be like when they are adults...

But I am going off in another direction ... so I will pull myself back to Picasso (who Leonora had a connection with - she seemed to have met many powerful and influential people in her time)...

the art work produced during and at the end of the play/experience

After the play/experience there was time for everyone to meet the actors, add to the big painting and talk with the director... I went to huddle with a few to listen to Suzanne Osten talk about WHY she had chosen to direct this experience and her connection with Leonora Carrington...

and during this talk I got mentioned - that when she and the actors came to observe us at Filosofiska  and watch us get creative (Morocco inspired painting) that her talk with me afterwards had helped her solve a question/thought she had been pondering for quite some time - that children are artists...
She recalled how I explained the process behind our Australian Dot painting (you can check out that activity here) - that the children had been unable to create dot paintings because the process of experiencing the paint was too important - and that the first attempt with fingers together did not create dots (for long) using ear-buds in a small area did not produce dots (as the children painted with them like a brush) and that eventually bubble-wrap was used to meet the needs of the children's sensory exploration of the paint and the aim to create an Australian Aboriginal inspired dot painting.
Children cannot be expected to produce things without first being given the chance to explore and experiment with their tools AND to gain the motor skills to manipulate them exactly they way THEY want to...

Suzanne Osten then went on to say that we are probably wrong to say that children are ARTISTS - but that instead we should see children as CREATING - and that being in artist is more of a conscious awareness.
 Maybe, then, what Picasso actually means is that the artist within us can only bloom if our "creating" nature is allowed to continue without restrictions of getting it wrong - that we dare to express ourselves and possibly challenge what is expected - and that we are given the time and knowledge to master the tools. And once we have mastered them we can play with them. For instance once you have learned to ride a bike - which takes practice and practice we are then free to play with the bike - some will go on to use their bike to cycle up mountains, others will use their bike just to get from A to B, others will race and yet others will start doing tricks - a kind of art if  you might with a bike... The learning gives us the freedom to play and choose. Just as our supporting children to master artistic tools and materials will give them the freedom to play with them and be the artist. It also means we need to give these tools and materials value. It also means that we need to give it time. Because if there is neither time nor value then how and why would EVERY child want to be an artist?

When you read about Leonora you can read that she became an artist against her parents wishes... it feels like something you hear a lot with many of the arts - that there is so little value given to them that children are not encouraged to pursue them and are directed down other avenues... this is why it is hard to be an artist when you grown up, because you have not been given the time or the encouragement to explore and learn, you have not been given the time and skills, you have not been given the time and value that art needs to thrive and grow for every child to become an artist.

As a child I drew and painted and created a LOT. It took time. I was given the encouragement by my parents and I was given the tools to explore - but there was NO-ONE to give me the skills - those I have had to piece together myself - and I am still putting it all together and I am learning all the times. BUT you have to have a passion - like Leonora - I spend a lot of time collecting ideas and ideas and ideas and process and skills - and then mixing and playing and trying and experimenting - if you don't have a passion how would you manage to do all of this?
I have a passion for early childhood education - and I do the same there - collecting ideas and ideas and mixing and matching and playing with possibilities and learning from experiences - my own and others...
My art these days is not my own - my art is through others. I express myself through giving children opportunities to experience art - and my challenge is, I feel, to help children become familiar with new tools, materials and techniques - and for this experimenting and playing with tools, materials and techniques will result insomething meaningful for the children.

My aim is not for them to be an artist now - but to expose them to everything they need to create the foundations of being an artist - and that means not just time in the atelier - but also time learning to observe, to listen, to question and to think, time to strengthen muscles so that their motor skills become better at controlling the tools so that they are able to produce what THEY want and not just what they are capable of (I remember my own childhood and the frustrations of not having the skills to get my images in my head down on paper - these days I seems to have less images in my head and more processes - but I think my photography is becoming my art, - in a way).

OK I knew this might be one of those post that would ramble a bit... so i am going to leave it here... I have too many thoughts bubbling and trying to reach the surface - and I thought that this would help them simmer down so I could sleep but instead its waking up more bubbles...

PLEASE PLEASE give feedback...

If you wish to see images of Leonora's artwork check here on Unga Klaras pinterest board
one of the paintings created by Leonora Carrington to be found on Unga Klaras Pinterest Board

Tuesday 24 September 2013

taking a vote on a philosophical question

As you may well remember that last week our philosophical dialogue finished with one of the children saying
"I have thought a little - I have an idea for everyone - how can we become small for real? How can we get there (to fairyland) They are so far away. How can we make ourselves into fairies?"

So today the children were reminded of what this child asked and that we had also said that we would take up her questions... and it is important that we do this - to ensure the children that we feel the importance of their words and ideas.
So I read out what she said and then continued that I could see three questions:
1. How can we make ourselves small for real?
2. How can we get to fairy land?
3. How can we become a fairy?

The children were allowed to vote - and the right to vote for every question if they so chose - and four of the ten children did.
It ended up with question 2. receiving five votes and questions 1. and 3. both receiving seven votes each. So there was a new vote - this time the children could ONLY vote for one question... this was much harder - especially for those enthusiastic children who like to stick their hand up for everything. BUT in the end question three received more than twice the votes of question one...

So today's philosophical question was chosen by the children...

How can we become a fairy?   thought pause for 30 seconds using an old fashioned timer
  • that you could use fairy dust - and then you wish - "I wish one is a fairy and can fly" (with fingers crossed)
  • I want to be a fairy that is gold - you need to glitter on - and sugar on - and on your dress
  • (does this mean you need to paint yourself gold to be a fairy?)
  • yes
  • one has to go up there (pointing to fairy door) one has to make magic so that you can fly (Can you make magic yourself?) - yes , hocuspocus and so you can fly...
  • I can magic, I can magic, I can magic everyone so that they can fly (If you can fly are you a fairy then?). I can magic (the child says all the children's names) so that they can fly...
  • isn't Suzanne going to fly?
  • yes
  • why didn't you say their names - Ellen and Suzanne?
  • we shall fly to my balcony - and then I will magic them and then they can't fly.
  • one can go to another land - where XX lives - and take a photo and then you become... One needs fairydust - in the eyes and in the body - and I want xxx to be with us and be a fairy.
  • where do you get fairy dust from?
  • From the fairies - and you need to ask nicely. And then put fairy dust in your eyes and on the head and then you become a fairy for real.
  • you can magic yourself into a fairy - I can't because I am not a witch (do you need to find a witch first?) yes (how do you get there) with the underground train (what should you do so that the withces turn you into a fairy?) I am going to magic the witches away - but the fairies don't want that (how will they turn us into fairies?) you have to tell them.
  • it is because - er, I... one has to fly up and... and... and then comes a feather and helps her to fly.

It is clear that our friend that has moved to USA recently is still very much a part of the children's lives - it is also clear that magic spells and flying (as well as fairy dust) are all important elements forthe children... as well as the underground train as this has popped up throughout the dialogues.
So now feel like a good time to take an excursion on the underground.
This makes me nervous... as I am not ENTIRELY sure how this group of 11 children would be on such an excursion (I have used public transport a lot with preschools over the years) - but another part of me feel that this could be EXACTLY what this group NEEDS to help them with their excursion listening skills. An opportunity to show us just how competent they are...
I want to take the underground - my gut feeling is that this will work - but there is that niggly worry of there being a healthy percentage of the children with a delightful natural curiosity which involves their ears stop functioning! Which is fine when one to one or in a family sized situation, but more tricky when it comes to larger groups...

But my gut feeling is saying... do this... let them surprise you... let them show you how much they have grown - let them see your trust in them...

Maybe its a case of taking a deep breath...

Lucky that Thursday and Friday are planning days (no children) so some serious time for Ellen and I to talk about this - and to plan it thoroughly... I am actually feeling VERY excited... I think this post has given me the confidence to do this...

Reflection REALLY is a wonderful thing...
a little time before the start os the dialogue while still waiting for everyone to arrive - three of the children explored a chair's alternative potential - or at least one chair alternative (100 language of chairs)

Saturday 21 September 2013

Celebrating International Fairy Tea Party

After six weeks of philosophising about fairies and basing activities on the children's ideas the day for celebrating children's play and imagination came...
We celebrated International Fairy Tea Party together with other children around the world... and it has been fabulous to look at all the photos from around the world of the other celebrations on the facebook fairy tea party page.
the map of all the parties that have been acknowledged to happen around the world - although I would like to point out that Queensland should be on here too, but the marker went off on an adventure with a toddler... I hope to print out some of the photos from the fairy tea parties and put  them on this map so that the children can REALLY see that we were not the only ones celebrating a fairy tea party!

Over the years I have always seen an interest in fairies and princesses - so I knew there would be an interest in fairies. My colleague was more sceptical - and a non-believer - but is now admiring the wonders of fairies. We have learned so much in the last six weeks - not only about twhat the children think fairies are, but also about the children and our own relationship with the children and the project.
Fairies have let us explore magic, size, gender, nature, similarities and differences, cultural backgrounds, our senses, math, friendship, problem solving, listening skills, international awareness, creativity...etc etc - it has been more multi-layered than I had imagined - and the Fairy Tea Party does not signal the end of this project, but we are sensing a slight shift of focus as the children begin to show an interest in fairy flying power - and Ellen and I have discussed pursuing this to bring in some technology, design and science into this fairy project too... the abandoned broken bike that we have found could be a useful part in a design/creative display of flight... how do fairies fly? How do other things fly?

But back to the Tea Party and some images of our celebration...

we made zucchini fairy cakes - the challenge being making inclusive fairy cakes that not only followed the preschool policy of no sugar but also not containing any ingredients that any of the children had allergies to. An experiment for sure - and it probably needed some tweeking for sure. The topping was made from cream cheese and puréed rehydrated dried blueberries.
the great part of baking is that it really gets the children using the play dough in a more thoughtful way... there is always a food-making theme somewhere in the children's play-dough play - but it was VERY evident after baking in the morning. This dough was magic as I hid the colour inside a ball of plain playdough and then they got to sprinkle fairy dust onto it!
there was a lot of delighted sighs when the children saw the fairy land - the background being the artwork the children have made based on the philosophical dialogues over the last 6 weeks with the children. Check out the posts under the label "Fairy Tea Party" to find out more about all of this.

a detail of the fairyland - the fairy boot in the background made by my daughter that she thought that my preschoolers would enjoy - she was right - and they were so pleased that she had thought of them. Fafu hats make very good fairy houses and fairy mountains...

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite was being played in the background and all the fairies started to dance and twirl to the fairy music

testing out their fairy wings - and of course this testing allows the children to test out elements of risky play - how high to jump/fly from, how hard the surface to land on, can more than one child jump at the same time, and how can that be done?

fairy picnic with the fairy cakes that we had made the day before - also with rainbow fruit kebabs and mini- sausages - just as the children had told us what fairies like to eat.

adding fairy dust to each child - would it allow us to fly. This was edible glitter and we sprinkled some onto the food too!

of course not all children could see the house in the Fafu hat - and popped it onto their heads instead to give them fairy play power... The table is covered with a silver survival tent, and there is a tree stump there as well as lots of pretend flowers and jewels. We used a darkened room at first and the glowing light-table as the children had said that fairies come out in the dark.

a image of the whole scene - the pictures on the background are images of the children where I had used "PicMonkey" to make the images magical and give each child wings. Today was the first time the children got to see themselves as fairies (apart from the invitation where they were so small on that it would have been hard to see the details - and I also wonder if the parents showed them this image - and I also know that one child/parent DID not take their invite home). I asked the children before they started to play with the fairyland how they thought it would be best to play there as fairies would not want children arguing over who was playing with what and when. The suggestion by one of the children was that first they all come to the fairyland and just look at it for a while together. They all agreed - and the play began from there...

so now there will be some serious though about how we can challenge the children's thinking and interest in flight so that we can learn more together...

Thursday 19 September 2013

International Fairy Tea Party excitement and Philosofairy

Today we did some baking in preparation for tomorrow's Fairy Tea Party - the children are excited - as are we grown-ups! Who would have known that there was so much learning potential in a project about fairies... and there is still plenty left - so it is just to see where it will take us - but there is a sense that flight might be an area to explore...

Here are this week's philosophy sessions


  • a moon. Because it is dark.
  • I would wish for a princess that had glass shoes and flowers. Because I want to be beautiful.
  • Gröna Lund. Because I like Gröna Lund (the funfair in Stockholm)
  • I would wish for a princess in high heels, lipstick and a dress. Because I like make-up
  • I would wish for a princess with a long dress. I like make-up and lipstick and jewellery and long hair down to my bottom and I like long dresses.
  • I would wish for a cat... that I would buy. A kitten - and an elephant too, and a dog and a tiger and an elephant and a... because I want to hold them and have hair down to my bottom and a girl with a frog in her pocket and an elephant - and up in the sky and up on my head...
  • e rat. Because I like it (what would you do with the rat?) play with it.
  • truck. Because I like it. I would play with it.
  • a moon. Because I like it.
  • I would... if I found it... I would call you... I would wish that everyone got wings and could fly to xxx- And ask how is everything and ask how she is. Ask if she can say English now and if she has got the song we are going to send.
  • it does not have leaves and it can talk. They have branches but no leaves - and they don't have normal leaves - but magical leaves that can open fairy doors.
  • pink and yellow and green
  • a wishing tree look like my nail varnish (dark pink)
  • it looks like - pink, yellow, black and green
  • it looks like... like.... like... I think that it looks like a white colour
  • it looks like Muck. It has branches and Muck in the tree and Scoop and they are high up in the tree
  • Do you mean like a Christmas tree with small figures hanging from the tree? Small figures of Muck and Scoop
  • (nodding with a big smile?)

  • it is actually like this... they are actually a boy and a girl. They can have dresses. And fairies can talk and there are real fairies.
  • fairies usually always dance
  • a...a...a.. fairy has a dress and lipstick and high heels
  • a boy
  • I beleive that they are... are a boy. They are like me. (are you a fairy) No (does a fairy have something that you do not have?) - don't know
  • mmm, they have small shoes and they look like... they also have wings that we do not have... almost like us, but they are older. And xxx is going to meet them in USA - and we are going to take pictures.
  • .......
  • but you need fairy dust too - in the hand - and you take it up from the moon and then we see better and then we can come through the door.
  • I can fly then - and if you get sticky hands then you can open the door
  • I am thinking of... fairies look like a girls with a Hello Kitty top like me... and trousers like me..
  • yes, I am a fairy - a hello kitty fairy
  • Suzanne will be this big (stretches out arms) and then hokuspokus - and you will be a fairy - I will "trolla" (perform magic) one must breath out and trolla trolla trolla troll and you will become a fairy
  • I am also a fairy. I magic myself into a fairy
  • I have thought a little - I have an idea for everyone here - how can we be small for real? How can we get there? They are so far away. How are we going to become fairies?
  • we take the underground train to the fairies
  • we could have a philosphical discussion out in the forest while we wait for the fairies...

As you see the discussions have really started to evolve  - the children's answers are getting longer - they are starting t use terms like "I think" "idea" "I have had a thought" and "philosophical discussion" - they have also started to ask questions. This feel very exciting - and I am looking forward to next week when we can ask those questions asked by one of the children at the end of Wednesday's session.

AND how will the fairy party tomorrow influence (if at all) their answers.
AND we have some new fairies at preschool - and I presented a theory that while there were no children at preschool they were alive and played and moved around. So they wanted to test the theory - the fairy dolls were put in a plastic box -
this morning one of the children came excitedly to me showing the empty box - what did this mean? They must come alive. Where have they gone? I don't know.
Half way through circle time the fairies were spotted up on high on another shelf - and they looked like they were playing hide and seek... they children started thinking about how they got up there and how they were going to get through the door that was just the right size.

The dolls have been moved again at the end of the day... let's see if they notice that again...

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Wishing Tree

Yesterday while using the story cards ( check Amazon to see what I mean ) the story paused for a moment as we wondered what we would all wish for if we found a wishing tree...

Today we returned to that question as part of our philosophical circle time and included the question, why? and what would the tree look like? (as we were going to look for the tree in the forest afterwards). Tomorrow I will share the findings of this week's philosophical dialogues, as usual.

In the afternoon I cut out a left over piece of "tree trunk" painted as part of the Painting by Letters session last week... I pinned it, for now, on top of our spring painting with a vague idea of transforming spring into autumn at another session in the atelier to deepen the children's awareness of changing seasons and the changing colours and temperatures that go with that...

But as I looked at the photo of the tree on the way home (the commute is my first photo editing session) it struck me that this should be the wishing tree - and that the ideas and suggestions made by the children during our philosophy dialogue this morning should guide us as to how to proceed with this artwork. I am glad that I took a quick snapshot of the tree now, even though I was not entirely sure what was going to happen with the tree - as the photo documentation became fuel to a new idea as I reflected over the day and looked at the images...

So now I am rather excited about presenting this idea to the children to see if they are interested in making it an autumn tree or a wishing tree (or maybe they have a whole new idea ... maybe a fairy house?). I can add on some more branches to make it less hand-like and more tree like... but there again, maybe a wishing tree should be hand shaped?

I also like to re-use "old" artwork... to develop it further... it feels a natural part of a sustainable preschool. It also shows the children that we can return to art and add to it, change it etc... until we are satisfied, and that it does not all have to be finished in one session but that we can take time, and pauses...

We have a spring/summer spaghetti that is just waiting for a layer of autumn colours - and at the end of the year for a layer of winter colours... maybe this time we could try string painting?

Monday 16 September 2013

Snail Party!

The Snail Park lived up to it's name well and truly today...
after a downpour of rain we went outside in the hope to splash in puddles and get wet in the downpour - but as we went out the downpour stopped and the sun tried to get out... the path turned river that we had thought of playing with vanished as quickly as it had appeared - the water was evaporating before our very eyes... so what about snails... maybe we would find a few today...

A few..
in the end we lost count... but it was more than 50 I can tell you that...

the children were fascinated about how they would climb over each other - were they fighting, or hugging, or just not aware of each other?

We were also fascinated by the variety - not only of the beautiful shells with their different patterns and colours - but also their slimey bodies came in different colours too! And some were big and some were middle sized and some were REALLY small!
there was a lot of gentle touching... the children are more familiar with the snails now - and even the ones that had shown a great deal of fear or disinterest before the summer break were now fully focussed on getting to know the snails.

after a while some of the children started to do their usual climb walking - from one end to the other of the fencing... this time they paused - MORE snails and they were feasting on rosehips by the look of things...

the children decided that all the snails should get to try the rosehips - so all 50 something snails were transported over - ALL the children were involved in this.

and here the snails got to have their party. PLENTY discussions about whether snails HAD to be at the party and whether or not they were free to leave when they wanted... and did the snails really want to be placed on top of each other like building blocks, or would they want more space... not easy questions to answer...

There was also spiders to be spotted, woodlice to follow and the rain had also given us the opportunity to play with the water on the leaves.

A busy morning in the Snail Park!

Reflection December 2013
Without a shadow of a doubt the snail park is the children's favourite park... even now when there is virtually no vegetation left, we don't really find snails or other forms of wildlife (although the bushes are now filled with birds (sparrows) seeking warmth together). Ellen and I have often wondered why THIS park is their favourite - maybe it is because this is the "park" we visit the most as it is closest - when we don't have much time to walk to the park and play then we play in the snail park. This means the children have developed a relationship with the park - and this relationship offers a kind of security that allows their play to develop rather than always discovering. New parks ARE fabulous for meeting the new and challenging - but they do not always allow children to deepen their own understanding of their own play - of trying things over and over and over again - and adding new twists and adding new challenges...
Looking back at the snails I see that interacting with wildlife is an excellent and natural way to help the children develop and act upon their sense of empathy. It's a shame that we are unlikely to see snails again until late April (if we are lucky) or May.
Animals ARE a great way for children to develop their sense of empathy... so maybe I will have to see if there is a way we can inorporate that into our routine and include it in the project "Tillsammans på Torget" (Together on the Square) - again I am thinking big, and I am not sure of time, possibility etc etc... but rather too many ideas to choose from than no ideas at all...

Sunday 15 September 2013

Happy Birthday ME!

Last night the children spent the night at my in-laws and I was taken out for dinner by my husband - I had no idea where - and I was told to take extra clothes as we would be spending the night out - as my birthday would start with a hotel breakfast. The meal was a pre-birthday treat.

My husband knows I am hopeless with surprises - I am like a little kid desperately wanting to know - but this year I was totally calm (to my husbands dismay I think - I reckon he has always enjoyed my probing and wanting to know) - I think it suprised myself too - does this mean I have grown up (yikes) or does it mean that blogging and fixing the International Fairy Tea Party has just filled my time so much that I have not had the time to spend energy on working our where we were going to go...

But he chose well...

AND he kept laughing at me all the time as I kept picking up things and examining them and saying "oh I so want this for my work"

I realise I do this a lot.
Wooden plates. Little glass tea pots....
and then today we wondered around a department store with several interior design/kitchen areas... and again, yes I see what I like for my home and my children and my self - but the preschool children are there in my thoughts too...

a clear coffee table from Habitat - a lamp inside - making patterns in layers using the lower inside shelf too - or a child lying inside the table while friends paint on top... etc etc etc

Now I am wishing I took photographs of everything I saw - my own little documentaion of things I like... but that could be a fun thing to do on a cold winter's day!

But for now I am off to enjoy my birthday!

Saturday 14 September 2013

Book Study - "Ready for Kindergarten" by Deborah J Stewart - I NEED SLEEP

It seems very obvious that I should choose to write about the sleep section of Deborah Stewart's book
Ready for Kindergarten. I was sent a copy of the book as a part of participating in this book study.
All opinions expressed are my own, with some support from my sleep researcher husband.

The book has also allowed me to see the differences between what is expected of 5 year olds in US about to start Kindergarten and five year olds in Sweden who will have another year left of preschool before starting a preschool class/kindergarten year at age 6 and then finally starting school at age 7. It has made me very grateful that I live here in Sweden, where neither children, parents or teacher's feel pressured to think about that phrase "what children should know" which is used throughout the book.

Things like knowing how to distinguish between the girls and boys toilets for young children is completely foreign to me now that I have lived in Sweden for 20 years - there is no real need to separate them in an early years environment - and children will, of course learn about reading the signs in real life when using public restrooms with parents. AND there is no NEED to ensure that children should be able to read/write etc before starting kindergarten/school here in Sweden either - instead we support a child's interest in this - and as the children start later here in Sweden there is ALWAYS some interest (some more than others) so that most do start with  number and letter literacy based on their interest and readiness.

BUT since in the USA there is an expectation that the children "should know" many things before starting kindergarten then it is useful to have a book to help parents to support their children in a playful manner - and THAT is what Deborah's book offers. From learning how to use the taps to wash hands and being competent to take care of of their toileting, taking care of their bags and coats etc to their fine motor skills, gross motor skills and their developing cognitive skills...

"The kinds of playful and nurturing experiences offered by parents and caregivers play an important role in helping young children reach their greatest potential during these critical years of development"

Chapter 18 is about sleep, nutrition and exercise and I have been trying to work out whether it's placement at the end of the book is a good thing or not - should it not be the MOST important part of the whole child's development and therefore the very forst thing mentioned - as learning is SO dependant on the child having good sleep, having the nutrition to fuel learning and excerise to help with sleep and motor and cognitive skill development - EVERYTHING is dependant on chapter 18. BUT there again, maybe the last chapter is the right place to have this information - as the last resounding words of how to support your child's learning.

So to sleep...

Having a good going-to-bed routine is important - and sticking to it is equally important - and this can be done TOGETHER with your child. For example my son DID NOT like the fact that bedtime came with so many instructions -
"put your pyjamas on"
"clean your teeth"
"go to the toilet" etc
He felt as if he was lacking control in his life so we made a bedtime chart - there were four elements that needed to be done before bedtime - toilet, teeth, pyjamas and story/cuddle - he drew pictures of each scenario on small paper (or you could cut out images/photos of each stage) and he then got to glue them in the order that he wanted to do them. This was then fixed onto his bedroom door so that instead of telling him what to do I could ask him "where in your bedtime routine are you? what do you need to do next?" It took so much stress out of the bedtime routine as he felt in control of it. Whila at the same time I enabled him to get into bed and get enough sleep (Fridays and Saturday nights have always been nights where we could push the time limits a little, although rarely both nights when they were younger - and we ALWAYS ensured that nights before preschool/school were always early).

It is also important with a fixed time - and even though you are probably not going to get them into bed exactly at that time every night you do make sure that a sleep routine is being established.

My husband believes in naps and rest for 1-6 year olds (well for everyone really) and if the kindergarten is NOT providing an apportunity for rest after lunch then it will be even more important to ensure an early bedtime for your child's emotional and cognitive development.

Having plenty of OUTDOOR exercise is also important for healthy sleep - ensuring that the body is exposed to sunlight to help with the biological clock - after all, all the artificial lighting and screen time will effect a child's (all people) sleep rhythm. Blue light - found on screens (TV, Computers, i-pads etc) should be avoided before bedtime as it stimulates the brain instead of helping it to wind down - having a bath, reading a book, or listening to a story will help with the winding down process so much more...

Jesper Juuls writes that there is a huge difference between what a child wants and what a child needs and that parents DO need to empower themselves to realise that THEY are responsible for ensuring the child's needs are met - even if this means it is not what the child WANTS! Bedtime is not always a desired thing amongst children - there are just SO many exciting things to play and test and explore - and while a parent might think that they are allowing their child to be competent by choosing their bedtime, it is not a good thing to allow children to sleep less than what their body needs - it will result in the children becoming less competent as their tired nature will mean they will emtotionally reeact to situations instead of having the enrgy to react with thought and consideration; it will mean that your child will not have the same focus to learn during the day as the child will be tired.

It would be different if youur child did not have to follow the kindergarten routine (or school or parent's work routine) to rise early, and was able to sleep later in the morning to ensure the adequate sleep - then the child could be offered more choice into bedtime... BUT when Kindergarten etc dictates a starting time to the day - you have to work out what time do you need to get up to get there on time? and then to work from THAT time backwards to ensure that your child is getting adequate sleep (10-12hrs).

Even is many parts of the book "Ready for Kindergarten" by Deborah J Stewart is not as relevant for parents of children who start school later and obviously do not have the same demands on what they should "know" before starting as American children have, there are many elements of the book that are useful - not just to parents but also for preschool teachers. Plenty of suggestions about how a child's motor, cognitive and social and emotional development can be supported in a playful manner.

Take the time to pop over to The Teach Preschool page by Deborah to not only see her explanation of the book but also to access the links to all the other blogger who have been focussing on different chapters with their opinions of the book and their experience of testing out the activities found in the book - it will give you a clear idea about what the book offers...