Tuesday 29 December 2015

Exploring the colour of Christmas

For the third year in a row I have asked the same philosophy question to this group of children I have been working with for three years...

What colour is Christmas?

The first year most of the children mentioned their favourite colour and could not come up with an argument for why the colour was Christmassy more than "I like it" - they were mostly two and three years of age at the time. Last year just under half of the group talked about their favourite colour - and this year just one child mentioned their favourite colour, but after listening to the arguments of the other children had a mind change and chose another colour  with the motivation that Christmas decorations came in that colour.

Six colours were discussed... and the group needed to work and discuss together to work out which three colours we would use in our Christmas painting.

Yes, we could use more colours, but the purpose of this activity is to get the children to work as a community of learners, to give argument, to listen and to decide together which three colours were the most Christmassy.

This year the children selected red (baubles, santa) green (Christmas trees) and gold (baubles) as the three colours for our Christmas artwork.

As usual the process art was about collaboration rather than individual works of art... a pole with a paintbrush dangling froma string was given to pairs of children. They stood on either side of the big paper on the floor and worked together to dip the brush into the paint and make marks on the paper... not so easy... and there was lots of giggling.

Some of the children had clear agendas, they used their verbal skills to communicate to their partner, others just jerked the pole here and there and hoped their partner would follow, and others just followed.

Its been interesting to watch the children's development over the years, and I feel quite sad, and excited, that this will be my last Christmas session with these children... as they will all start school after summer...

Monday 7 December 2015

Finding knowledge

The children have got a real interest in robots at the moment... as our Leonardo Da Vinci project has taken us there... and yes, he did design and build a robot in 1495, and this is what has inspired the children the most.

We have had dialogues about what kind of robots they would design and why, - they decided upon a robot that could do everything was the best... and then they were not so sure... maybe it would start playing the i-pad for them... and they were not keen on that idea at all.

After the half term break I thought I would try a new way of collecting the question for the philosophy session... by taking something the children asked about the day before with the group's consent that this would be a good question to explore.

The question was do princes have to marry a princess? They all showed great enthusiasm for the question as we chose it... but the next day during our philosophy session it simply did not work. The children had no real interest in exploring this question.

It had me baffled... the previous philosophy session had been amazing and the children were dialoging on quite a deep level with very little input from me... just as it should be.

But I had to be SO present, too present, in this dialogue, trying to ignite and re-ignit interest... and in the end I had to admit it simply was not going to work.

As I analysed the dialogue, the context, the question I found three possible answers...
After a week of me being away they were revolting!
It was a two week break since the last session, had they fallen out of a routine?
Was the question not meaningful enough?

After much reflection and dialogue with my colleague we came to the conclusion that it was the third option... the question HAD been interesting the day before. They were curious about the answer but its a different kind of curiousity than what is needed for a philosophical dialogue. And that despite the fact that sometimes I feel that I am making the decisions about what questions are being asked to stimulate the session they are being made after close observations of the children's play and their interests... I have learned what is meaningful for them and ensure that questions I ask are relevant to their thinking.

It means I will be taking control of the questions again... but always, ALWAYS, the questions comes from the children... the roots are there.

Anyway, we returned to robots again, as I knew they had real interest in this...
We looked at various kinds of robots... and while looking at a film of a robot that was sent to Mars to take images and samples and was then left there, the children felt sorry for the robot. It might feel lonely.
So we started exploring whether or not robots could have feelings.
The group was undecided.
So we explored where do feelings come from... the brain answered all the children... except for love, that comes from the heart.
Do robots have brains and hearts?
We did not know.
We needed more knowledge... so we have started to build a small robot spider... maybe there are some answers to be found as we construct...?

This robot that we are building is very simple (but the first robot I have ever built... so I am learning with the children - and the kits talks about red, blue and white wires... and there are only red and black... so I am going to have to experiment a bit with the children I think with the mext step hahaha).

I have seen that one of the legs has been put on upside down... but made the choice not to make a comment about it, or correct it... so that the children can discover the mistake once we have the motor attached.

I wonder if the children see if there is a brain and a heart... and what parts they think might be those..

Iwonder if it will give the children enough information to decide together their truth as to whether robots have feelings or not.

Next week we will be doing philosophy a little different. We will be watching Big Hero6 in 4 short sessions and chatting about the film afterwards... what has heppened and why they think that has happened.

We did this with Frost last year, and I found it quite surprising how many of the children were not totally familiar with the plot despite being able to sing the songs and quote parts of the film word for word.

Monday 23 November 2015

Developing the Third Teacher...

We all need professional development to grow, to learn and to be able to see things from new perspectives. The setting is also in need of this development... it needs to grow with the children, to adapt to the needs of the group, the individuals, the interests, the teachers, the context, the world we live in... etc.

How do we ensure that the changes we make in our settings... in the physical environment are having the effect that we hope they will have.
How is it being documented... and how is this documentation being referred to in order to support the third teacher's development. That is is not change for changes sake... but development.

How do we inspire the third teacher?

I know that I have benefited from visiting other settings... looking around, talking with how the pedagogues use the environment, their thinking behind the layout, the structure, the design and the choices of materials available. I have appreciated taking photographs... not so that I can copy, but so that I can remember the processes, the feeling I had while I visited, so that I can continue my reflections.

I have visited places where no photos have been allowed (and I know this is the case in the preschools in Reggio Emilia) - and while I understand that they want to provoke thinking, and that those visiting make their own reflections and so not just copy and paste - I also feel that the chance to make deeper reflections go missing when there are no images to take back to colleagues to talk about, reflect with... for them to ask questions about the reasoning and to start making decisions about how to develop their own settings, their own third teacher.

Of course there will always be those who will copy-paste in the exact same way as there will be those who use templates without questioning them...

For me it is not about the copying, or the use of templates that is a problem... but the lack of reflection. And for me, in the start of a Reggio inspired journey you need all the support you can get... to structure the reflections, to dare to question what you know... to make those somersaults that take you from being a teacher where you follow the instructions to being a co-researcher with the children - where the children learn to learn and you learn more about the children and how they learn so that you can create the curriculum that will enable them to learn more and deeper.

The environment is a part of this process... your observations of how the space is used... your reflections about how to make the space interesting and available to ALL. Understanding how small changes can have big effects... and learning when to make them...

All of this takes time... it is a process. Especially if you want to understand.

I am still very much in this process of learning... of getting to know my third teacher... my colleague. Even after three years at the same setting, with twenty years of experience, I feel far from fully understanding this setting... but I am getting a grasp of it.

 To find out more about this visit to Ekudden... check this post
 To find out more about Boulder Journey School check out... this post from 2014 and this post on outdoor surfaces and this post about ceilings and this post about lighting and this post about water play
 The outdoor environment is an important third teacher too... the third teacher is NOT just indoors...
you can find out more... here, here and here - there are 19 posts on outdoor environments.
 Acorm School of Early Childhood - Boulder - is the post I first shared this image.
and also here in small spaces for quiet play
 Thsi is the atelier where I work... although it has evolved a little since this photo was taken... here is a post about the process of this space
 My visit to Canada was also very inspiring... I have many photos to refer to even though I did not make as many posts as i would have hoped... this post focuses on light
 My visit to Iceland was very inspiring... post about the dining area and also a post about the empty space... and use of it
Visiting early years setting in the refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine was also very inspiring. A completely different context from my own... and the need to walk in without judgement ... but to walk in with the desire to understand and learn.

 We can also temporarily chamge the environment to provoke thought and play... check out the light installation play... here, here and here

It is so easy to judge others based on your own context... but I feel this is a dangerous and counter-productive attutude to have. We need to always walk into a setting with the desire to learn... to learn how the space is being used by the children, how the space is being used by the adults, how the context of the setting impacts the choices, how the availability of materials impacts how the children can learn.
There is not always a great mass of materials at the disposal for children to explore and experiment with, sometimes you need to get creative... and in many places recycling junk is not an option because the whole city is littered with the stuff in such a way that it is something negative (and the junk everywhere was overwhelming - a reminder of oppression almost).
So we need to go into a setting to understand so that we can join them on their journey and enable them... not look down on them from our vantage point of a more peaceful context, or cultural differences, or the impact of poverty, or politics... or whatever it might be in any given place...
We need to be there and understand that these marvelous educators are doing their very best for the children in their circumstances.

For more posts you can check out the links conected to "Preschool visits" and also "The third Teacher"

A good one to start with is How is your Third Teacher Teaching

Sunday 8 November 2015

Structure for freedom

This post can now be found on my new website...

and it is important to remember that children are not just learning all of this for future use, but to be active social being right now too.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Making learning visible.... drawing to see.

Last week the children were talking about our trip to Skansen last spring and how we should do it again... the children were asked "why should we go to Skansen? What can we learn there?"
A few moments pause and the answer was confidently delivered
"We can go see the animals, and draw the animals like Leonardo Da Vinci did... we can learn how to draw animals".
Not only had an area of learning been identified it was also connected to the project we are in the middle of exploring... so OF COURSE, we must go.
The boat trip there was an essential part of the excursion... as was eating the food the children brought with them, with peacocks keeping us entertained as we ate.
Then we went into the children's zoo indoor exhibition and focussed on birds... just as we had read in the book about Leonardo Da Vinci.
Five pieces of paper. Five attempts to draw the birds (rainbow lorikeets) - and the children were amazed how they could see their own learning... each drawing had more detail, new information (as a Skansen animalkeeper came over and talked to us about the birds) and new skills allowed their pictures to express their birdness.
Yes, the children learned how to draw animals... just as Leonardo had once done 600 years ago... through observation and practice.

here you can see four attempts... the frustration of the first attempt of it not working as expected... the second attempt there was a dissatisfaction that it still did not look birdlike... in the third attempt the child felt pleased with the adddition of an eye and beak and that the tail was the right size... the fourth and fifth attempts were similar - with more details and birdlike form.

Some of the drawings included details such as sound coming out of the beaks... as these birds were very noisy... and drawings with the birds pooping... as the animal keeper told us that they poop alot!!

A great day out!

Sunday 18 October 2015

Seeing their learning

There are moments when it all becomes so incredibly clear that the children are understanding what learning is that you just want to leap for joy...

This week we were sat round the table eating lunch when the children started talking about the boat trip we made to Skansen in the spring, and how the water was so wavy that it soaked us head to foot as we stood outside.
They also pointed out that not everyone was with us that day (sickness, days off etc) and that we must go back to Skansen again.

So I asked "What is it we can learn at Skansen?" - I wanted them to argue their case...

There was a very short pause then the answer came...

"We can draw the animals there, just like Leonardo Da Vinci drew animals... we can learn how to draw animals".

Not only had this child found an area of learning that we could do at Skansen it was also connected to the project we are doing...

I was convinced... so we will be going to Skansen on Thursday...

For those of you wondering what Skansen is... it is the world's first open air museum, founded in 1891!! - You can find out more by clicking on this link.

And a few quotes to end this Sunday, and kick start your week...

Thursday 15 October 2015

Ideas... conker robots...

 Last week we travelled to Tessin park (it is across the city of Stockholm for us... two underground trains from us) so that we could collect conkers... also known as horse chestnuts. Basically we started at one end of the park... as you see in the photo, and before we reached the end of the grassed area you can see three 3 litre bags were filled (it didn't really cross my mind as we set off about just how heavy this would be for me to carry back... the bags were not strong enough to carry seperately, as they were just freezer bags... serious learning curve for me there).

 As we collected we started thinking about what we could do with them... and the children suggested robots...

As my colleague and I planned for the following week on Friday we wondered how we were going to include the robot idea into an already busy week... we don't like it to get too busy as we feel free play is  so important, so there needs to be plenty of time for that. Then we thought about using the philosophy session as a robot making session... a two part thinking session.

So this week the children drew a design for their robot protoype, we talked about Leonardo Da Vinci and how he drew designs and re-drew them until he felt satisfied... so there was no need to worry about having to get it right first time.. and how when he built his prototypes they sometimes did not work, so he had to go back to the drawing board.

We also wanted to use this session to gather ideas... as the children drew their robots we jotted down notes about what their robot could do and why they wanted this robot...

Ideas such as
"it needs to have arms that get longer so that it get get things from high shelves.... because I have always wanted to get things from high shelves"

"my robot can cook food.... because then I will be able to eat whenever I want to"

"my robot can do everything.... because then it can tidy up for me when I have finished playing"

Next week we will share the ideas about the robots and discuss which of the robots would be the most useful one to build... and why.

Once the design was made, and the ideas were documented the children started to glue together conkers to build their robots.

Here they needed to exchange ideas also... how to make the robots balance, to be quick placing the conkers onto the hot glue so that he was still sticky... they soon realised that slow work meant the glue hardened and was no longer sticky.

There was so much learning happening here... and it was very intense, and as educators we needed to scaffold the children's experience with the right balance, that they were allowed the space to test things out, without getting too frustrated that they wanted to give up.

At the same time we had visitors from Iran...  Yahya Ghaedi, associate professor of educational philosophy from Kharazmi University and partner were observing our philosophy session... so I tried to translate bits here and there, if there was time... but luckily had some time afterwards as the children were getting ready to go out to explain some more about how we have been working philosophically with children.

He was impressed with how the children communicated with each other, sharing ideas in a respectful and enthusiastic way and how ideas could be discussed through drawing, design and contruction and not always a dialogue as the children sit in a circle. After all verbal communication is not the only way to communicate ideas.

 I am looking forward to next Tuesday to see how this robot dialogue continues.

And yes, the children did come in contact with the hotness of the glue gun, but as they are low temp glueguns it was just a hot experience and not a burn. Risky play without the risk being to great.

And if you saw the video I shared yesterday on my facebook page you would have seen that the glue gun encounters were taken into consideration when thinking about whether or not is was a good idea to have eyes on your fingers and mouth on your hand....

Friday 9 October 2015


I marvel at how my group of children collaborate... and the joy they gain from this... but I also marvel at the egocentricity of this collaboration...

We travelled across town to Tessinpark (two trains on the underground system) as there are lots of horse chestnut trees and the aim was collect conkers (chestnuts)... and we collected a LOT (which my poor back felt when carrying them all back in the backpack on the way bakc for lunch). At the park there is an egg like sculpture that can be played in... very familiar to me as my own children have played in it many times as their preschool, when they were small, was close to htis park.

The children needed to collaborate to be able to access it... to not only use their backs as a step up... but also collectively their arms to assist their friends further up the egg. The children lined up and took it in turns and collaborated well...

BUT when I said there was time for one more slide each before we would move onto the playground the whole collaborative system broke down... as soon as the children had had their turn they became restless and wanted to move on... played at the edges and forgot to help those still waiting for their turn. From being ALL hands on to help it changed into ME reminding that friends still required help...

I can find parallels with dialogues... often over the years, and still do, I see how children when they have said their part, their idea, switch off and not bother listening anymore...

This is why I do the bubble game... with many turns in a row for one person (so that no child is absolutely certain that it is not their turn next) and also why I seldom go round the circle or make sure that everyone talks before they get to speak for a second or third time... as making it fair with the number of times we talk or the order we talk in can switch of the co-operative, collaborative and listening child...

This was so obvious as soon as I mentioned "one more slide" - it was as if saying, when you have had your slide then it is over...

So maybe what I have to think about is how am I to phrase this next time... so that they understand that it is not about when "you" have had your lest slide it is over... but when everyone in the group has had their last slide... so that the are understanding that this is a WE situation and not a ME situation.

BUT I am still really proud of the collaboration... and of how when another preschool approached the egg, as we sat on the rocks eating apples, and they struggled to climb up... my group simply walked over and showed them how they needed to work together to get up and enjoy the egg.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Original Play

I have just been to a lecture this evening where Fred Donaldson talked about Original Play... from the very start of his journey into play 40 years ago.

There was very much that struck a chord with me... the importance of play, the need to release fear and let love guide decisions (as there are more choices available when thinking through love than there are when thinking through fear). That we can learn about children, humanity through play. The importance of imagination and the importance of feeling safe in order to play and learn.

There were times when I felt disconnected to his words - either I have not reached this place/space where he finds himself - or they are not on my play/learning journey, they were interesting words all the same...

If you are interested in learning more about original play... then why not take the time to watch this film and see what you make of it...

I feel I need more time to reflect... and to also reflect together with my colleagues who also attended - so I can get a fuller and richer perspective.

I come to this post again one and half years later... having reflected on this lecture several times.. I agree with the need for children to play, I agree that play fighting is a part of this play, and that we need physical contact, and also to learn limits... that it is play and not hurting each other...
BUT I struggled with his mysticism... the stories of being bitten through the hand while he played with hands but it let no mark because of the power and magic of play... that if we looked in one eye rather than the other eye of a person it would make the person and yourself feel different.

I also am not keen on the fact that he has chosen to trademark play... for me play is for everyone... this man who learned to play with children through experimentation says others should only play like this if they have gone to his courses. I struggle with play being made to be a profit for someone... sure that courses are an option to learn, but not a requirement for play.
BUT these are my personal opinions.
I think it is important that rough and tumble play is given a higher status within the play spectrum.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Robot arm

Today was a steep learning curve for me... of just how much patience (or little) the children in my group have and how much interest they have in the project and in each other's participation...

The robot arm proved to be a slow process with much need for taking turns... and despite us only being 8 children it was still too large a group... and if I was to do this all over again I would have groups of two children at a time to build a robot, where I had the parts already cut out... the measuring process and cutting out process was not something that interested the children all that much... while the hot glue gun and threading was to their taste...
Waiting in line for 7 others to have a go was just too much for some children... and taking time to watch what the others were doing was of NO interest to half the group... it was either play or do... no watch...

I found it interesting, and frustrating... they had shown great interest in wanting to build a robot arm... in fact the two that had shown the greatest excitement bailed out first - and proceeded to make a whole load of noise that disturbed some of those wanting to concentrate...

Yes, I would do it differently next time... and be able to adapt each build to the interest of the pair I work with...

Once the robot started to get to the phase where it could be moved there was more interest... so maybe subsequent robots would be easier now... and we could see all our mistakes... from too fat fingers, to the straw pieces being a little tool long for proper bending... and this gave us the chance to talk about how Leonardo Da Vinci did not get it right all the time and that he learned from his mistakes... that next time WE could make slimmer fingers, cut the straws into smaller pieces... maybe make the arm a little shorter to make it slightly more child friendly... these are four and five year old arms after all!!

The children saw how we worked from sketches and measurements... so hopefully this can help them in their thinking about design in the future... we will have to see where it goes...

We did not finish off the arms... I made the executive decision to stop, put the project on pause and go out and play... returning when we all had more concentration... and I felt a little less frustrated.

I don't like it when I get frustrated but today I did... not that the children were not all focussed... but that several of them had little regard for their friends trying to concentrate - so much better to abandon the plan and regroup at a later date with more patience and with group adjustments...

Thursday 1 October 2015

Professional can we grow as early years teachers...?

This is a post where I am going to muse somewhat about how we as teachers can support each other to grow... both as colleagues at the same workplace and also as online colleagues... afterall the world is getting smaller and there are forums where we can "meet" and discuss online ideas as well as challenge and support.

As one of the admins of the facebook group "The Reggio Emilia Approach" I felt compelled to pin a post reminding members to critique each other with respect... but that also we need to be critiqued in order to grow... that being defensive about others thinking differently from ourselves does not leave us open to learn but closes us off.

Recently I saw this image on facebook...

Not only did it remind me of Malaguzzi's a hundred languages of children... but also that we have a hundred languages of teaching... there is no one perfect way to teach... we need to find our path up the mountain that is the most suitable with our knowledge as teachers and also with our understanding of the individuals that make up the group of children we take care of...

What I feel is that we need to be open to the other pathways... maybe they would suit us better... maybe we can try them out and fail and then take another route... maybe we know that we need to obtain new knowledge to be able to take that route...
But what I do feel sure about, is that there are few that feel good about being told what to do by those who have little to no knowledge or understanding of the situation we find ourselves in... that are just running around the mountain telling everyone their path is wrong without taking the time to think about what possible path might suit that person/group...

How can we, as early years educators, support each other to find all those paths? How can we make appropriate signposts? How can we share knowledge and maps?

Online sharing IS a marvelous way to share... ideas, inspiration etc...
but I feel we ALL need to be open to the idea of being challenged... "have you thought about taking this path rather than that one?". If we are only open to one route to climb the mountain think of views we are missing, think of the fun of the challenge we might miss, or the opportunity of finding an easier route? And this is applicable for everyone... those who are nervous about trying new paths... and those convinced they are already on the right path... there are ALWAYS new possible routes... and if the weather is bad then we might need to change routes... if there is erosion we might need to change paths... there can be a myriad of reasons for reflecting on why we do what we do in the way that we do it... and if we are open to that kind of reflection then we are more open to new possible routes... to either take, save for later, or dismiss as not appropriate right now...

Recently I also read the following article Winning hearts or minds which also got me thinking about how we approach sharing our ideas... what do we want to achieve with our sharing? AND in such large groups as The Reggio Emilia Approach on facebook with its close to 17,000 members (now over 20, 000 at the start of 2017) from around the world it is always going to be tricky to know your audience... whether to appeal to the mind or to the heart...

I shared during the week a post about how we as teachers/educators co-exist with our professionalism... and how that can affect us...what it takes to be a preschool teacher shares five circular models where our personal, theoretical and practical beings need to co-exist in our profession, and how different proportions of this can impact how we react and interact with children. colleagues and provocations...

As a result of this post... Kristín Dýrfjörð from Iceland shared some more research with me

This is an image that comes from "The ‘shape’ of teacher professionalism in England: professional standards, performance management, professional development and the changes proposed in the 2010 White Paper Linda Evans* University of Leeds, UK"... also showing how there are three components to the professional teacher... like I had shared with my circles
She also shared this paper with me where the abstract is as follows...

"This paper reports on data drawn from an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project investigating the experiences of UK-based students training on level-2 and level-3 childcare courses. We focus on the concept of emotional labour in relation to learning to care for and educate young children and the ways in which the students' experiences of emotional labour and the expectations placed upon their behaviour and attitudes are shaped by class and gender. We consider the ways in which students are encouraged to manage their own and the children's emotions and we identify a number of 'feeling rules' that demarcate the vocational habitus of care work with young children. We conclude by emphasising the importance of specific contexts of employment in order to understand workers' emotional labour and argue for more recognition of the intense demands of emotional labour in early childhood education and care work. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]"
Being ‘fun’ at work: emotional labour, class, gender and childcare Carol Vincent a * and Annette Braun b  British Educational Research Journal Vol. 39, No. 4, August 2013, pp. 751–768

I think this is important in our learning journeys to recognise the emotional journey we take as educators of young children... we need to involve ourselves with their lives on a personal level and therefore bringing our personal self to the educational table is an essential teaching tool for the very young... but it also brings about an enormous vulnerability. We need to find that balance where our personal knowledge, understanding and experience is protected by the theory and practice so that we are not worn down... and that we can remain open to growth. At the same time is "feeling" taking too much space so that not enough room is left for theory and practice by the fact that gender and social status also affect who works with young children?
I find it all very fascinating.
How we can we support, according to this study, those with big hearts to grow without feeling personally threatened by pedagogical and professional challenges and critiques..
Of course this is a UK study and this will not apply to all countries... but maybe an element of it? What do you think?
it states... "...dominated by a female, working class, poorly paid workforce, which has a relatively low level of qualifications. Indeed a recent report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commision (2009) suggests that in the UK "white working-class gilrs are four times more likely as white middle class girls to expect to work in childcare (p.26)."
Do you agree with this... does this describe the situation where you are from...?

On Saturday 3rd October (2015) we will be exploring these ideas of how we can support each other as educators... so if you have ideas about how YOU want to be supported, of have experienced great professional development that you feel others should experience... then please join the #ReggioPLC twitterchat on Saturday (22:00 Swedish time, 21:00 UK... 16:00 EST). Diane Kashin and myself will be co-hosting the chat... you can check out her blog via her facebook page Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research - where there are lots of great posts to inspire professional development and reflection.

Hopefully we can find a whole load of ideas so that we can all continue to grow as educators...

Wednesday 30 September 2015

The BIG portraits continue

Today was all about skin colour and hair colour...

The children looked carefully in the mirror at the colour of their skin... we looked to see if we were all the same colour or not... and we worked out that we all had our own special skin colour unique to ourselves. They ALL though felt that orange was the colour that they needed to start with... this surprised me a great deal - and I wondered if they would all turn out like carrots... but bit by bit the skin colours took their shade... with white, yellow, brown and red being added in different amounts until everyone was satisfied. They kept checking in the mirror, and even paiting a little on themselves to see if the shade was right..

The they got busy painting the skin areas of their portraits... different techniques, different amounts of focus and different amounts of verbal support needed. The child that had been so reluctant at first and that I had helped by drawing his portrait in the beginning has proved I made the right decision... (one does get a little nervous) he has thoroughly enjoyed the painting process and is not the slightest bit ashamed of sharing the fact that he did not draw the outline... he has taken a great deal of care in filling in the colour.

Compared with last year there is a huge difference between doing this activity with two children and seven children... there is not the same time and patience to enter the same depth of dialogue around the similarities and differences of skin colour... but there was still the opportunity for this group of seven to explore these ideas.

Afterwards the children admired their artwork and I noticed that they were talking about it on an individual level... that one is beautiful and that one too... I only heard positive comments. I dropped a casual comment about how I thought the fact that the whole of the group was represented on this piece of art made it beautiful... they paused and looked at the art again... yes there are eight of us... 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.. let me count too.... 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8... we are all there.

it is so fascinating to take the time to listen and hear how the children see and view what they are doing... since we were working individually, yet together the children had not seen the togetherness until pointed out... they had been so focussed on their individual efforts.

The individual and the group... that is what preschool is all about... This painting has a whole new symbollic value for me now.

Sunday 27 September 2015

What it takes to be a preschool teacher...

I don't think there is a specific recipe to be a preschool teacher... we are all different with our own personal experiences, our different combinations of theory learned as well as different practical skills...

What I think is essential is how we all combine these... not only so that we can be the best teacher we can be, but also receive critique and grow from it rather than it being a personal insult.

A long time ago I saw an explanation of professionalism as a series of circles... and I am not sure if I am remembering/interpreting it right - but this is how I have developed them.

model 1

This first image (model 1) demonstrates a teacher who has equal amounts of theory and practice. So not only is there plenty of hands on interactions with the children there is also equal amounts of reflection and application of theory. There is also an equal amount of the person coming to the job - with own childhood experiences and history that can enrich the role of preschool teacher.

model 2

 In this model there is a great deal of theory but not much hands on practice. Lots of reflecting, lots of theory being discussed but not so much of it reaching  and benefitting the children.

model 3

In this third model there is little theory and lots of hands on... the teacher is active with the children but is not taking time to reflct about
why or how this is affecting the children.

model 4
In this fourth model the personal side of the teacher is taking a large role. This means that when the profession is being critiqued it is taken personally as not enough practice and theory is there to "protect" the individual with professionlism. The arrow being the outside input. It can also mean that personal incidents can influence the children both positively and negatively.

model 5
And there is the fifth model where there is very little of the personal involvement of the teacher... the passion, the professional love, memories from their own childhoods that can be applied to understanding and empathising with children today.

For me, model one, with equal amounts of personal, theory and practice is what we, as teachers, should be striving towards. The arrow is the outside input... this can be both positive and negative... and when the teacher has a circle where the personal takes a large role it can mean that the teacher is more reliant on positive feedback to feel good and that critique intended to extend thinking and challenge the status quo is seen as more threatening. Provoking thought is never going to be easy, but if we are taking it as an insult whenever someone thinks differently from ourselves then it is going to make change all the more harder...

Working philosophically.. not only with children but also with colleagues opens up the potential to discuss ideas respectfully... to be aware of being open to other perspectives and to understand that nothing is personally intended but that ideas are being challenged, argued for and against and distinctions being made. This, then can be a great way at practicing to be model 1.

I am sure that there are not just 5 models... but for now i think they can aid you to understand not only your own approach to your work, but maybe also understand colleagues. And through understanding we can make adjustments in our communication and enable us all to grow and extend.

I hope these circles are helpful.

Sunday 20 September 2015

International Fairy Tea Party Celebration 2015

This year, like last year, we had plan A and plan B... plan A was a fairy celebration outside at the edge of the local forest... so we could do all our fairy activities in the forest and also on the grassy area at its edge. Plan B is the same activities, with small adjustments, indoors in the preschool if the weather was rainy... as this is a day for the children to wear their wings... some with bought wings, others with wings made from paper, paint, glitter etc made at preschool - non of these wings would fair well in the rain... especially the home-made ones.
We had also made an enormous orange from plaster of paris (round a balloon mould) that even though I had tried my best to seal it and make it water proof (ish) I knew it would more or less dissolve in the wet... the ornage was an important part of the fairy theme, as this year we took our inspiration from Elsa Beskow's picture book "The Sun Egg" - where a fairy discovered an orange for the first time lying in the forest and mistook it for the sun's egg. Eventually they discovered that it was a sun fruit and drank the juice inside by pushing a grass straw through the skin.

This was something we wanted to emulate in our celebration... and as it was raining, and had been more or less all week... we went with plan B.

While the children had a song meeting, two of us set up the fairy celebration so that when they had finished singing we could shrink the children with a pinch of fairy dust as they walked into the the magic forest where the giant orange was...
The children were amazed and even more amazed by the fact they could suck real orange juice up from it!!

During the morning the children would return to the forest and take a few more gulps of juice...

At this point they also received a magic wand - filled with grapes... a fruit snack to keep them going. And as they munched on the grapes the children were presented with all the fairy activities...

In the atelier tha children could paint a magic forest with seven different kind of green. A chance to be a part of a together painting as well as explore many shades of green. They could also paint a fairy house and corks. If this had been outside it would have been a big plastic sheet fixed between two trees for the children to paint on... it was fabulous last year as the children could see each other through the plastic and the sunlight poured through the colours and made it all magical...

Fairy tea in the fairy tent...  Here the children slowed down.. their language changed and there were lots of please and thank yous and could you pass the tea please... as well as trying out nature's fairy sweets... homemade sweets made from dates etc... no sugar! beautiful tea pots and tea cups to create a magical feel... and magic tea that required imagination, otherwise it just tasted of water...

Fairy wand making... a choice if stick and then there were pens, glue, glitter, wool and ribbon to choose from.. the children were free to decorate their wands... great fine-motor skill training. Had this been outside the children would have found their own sticks in the forest first.

Fairy face painting... we kept it to natures colours... greens, yellow and white so that faces could be designed with a nature feel of forest fairies. A wonderful way to paint and explore their own faces.

Fairy dancing - with magical fairy landscapes prejected onto two mosquito nets hanging down from the ceiling... there was also an overhead projected on the wall above a bouncy mattress so the children could pretend to fly in the magic light. This was amazing to watch the children venture into the landscapes and play with their shadows and with the light. There was music playing with a magical feel. The younger children mostly explored... the older ones (who have explored this before, danced). If we had been outside the dance was to be on the grassy area with bubbles being blown to make it magical.

Fairy potion making. Lavendar, flowers, plants, juniper berries, bicarbonate, vinegar, coloured water - plenty to mash, whisk and mix to create magical potions... plenty to talk about... what are you making, what magic will it do.. and why?
If this was outside the children would have had the chance to collect more ingredients themselves to add to the potions.

 The fairy morning flowed beautifully... and as we rounded off to prepare for lunch I moved the orange back to the staff room so that there was space for the youngest children to sleep after lunch... one of the children watched and suddenly exclaimed "Its not a real orange... you have been fooling us" with big wide eyes!!

My group of children headed outdoors for just over an hour of outdoor play in the wet... wings left inside... but pretend wings on!

On Monday I will be sharing some images of the fairy tea party with the children... not only from our celebration but from those shared in the International Fairy Tea Party facebook page from around the world. So wonderful to be a part of this celebration of play and imagination shared with others who believe in play as much as us!

Wednesday 16 September 2015

International Fairy Tea Party 2015

On Friday this week we will be celebrating International Fairy Tea Party - this will be the third year of celebrating.... it all started here - where I got inspired by an image, mistakenly the wrong image... but, well it got me thinking and I reached out to see if there were others that were also interested... fortunately Tom at Fafunia believed strongly not only in faeries but also in children's right to play... and so International Fairy Tea Party became a celebration for the first time in 2013.

It is exciting to see how the celebration is spreading... more countries joining in this celebration of children's play and imagination.

A question was asked on Filosofiska's facebook page (the preschool where I work)
"Så spännande! Blir nyfiken på hur ni tänker kring lärandets objekt, vad är det ni vill synliggöra för barnen med temat?" Which translates as
"How exciting! I'm curious how you think about the learning purpose, what is it you want to make visible for kids with the theme?"

First and foremost I think this is a celebration of PLAY... it is pure play not to focus on the learning... but children's right to play... yes, learning happens but what the fairy tea party is about, for me, is for us adults to be reminded about the value of play... the power of play... and creating the time for children to simply play and let their imaginations fly... and for us adults to step into this world of imagination and play with ideas and possibilities and enjoy the play.

Learning happens... I have seen the learning happening within the children's fairy world...
And the learning is not limited to the children... it has been for everyone that has been open... Here are some links to previous posts... so learning can be made visible...

BOYS AND FAIRIES - we discovered quickly that fairies are not just for girls... that boys have enjoyed this realm of magic, with flying, spells, wings, fairy dust, being small etc etc just as much. The children have been allowed the chance to experience gender equality in the sense that we are not dividing play into categories for boys and girls. STORYCARDS have been created to allow the children see fairies in many ways (there are also storycards with other themes to with norm-critical thinking applied to them) - the idea is that there are fat fairies, skinny fairies, angry fairies, kind fairies, babies, old with and without wings, ugly, beautiful, those that look real, those that look likema child or old person dressed up, different ethnicities, different sizes, different genders, hunters, warriors.... the idea is that the idea of fairy is not a fixed idea but has many possibilities... just as a flower is not a circle with five loops around it (as is often drawn) but comes in many sizes, colours, shapes, just as we humans come with out many variations... we learn to accept differences as natural, not simply tolerate differences.

FAIRIES IN THE FOREST - it has been a great way for the children to get out into nature and to make new observations... we had talked about "what is a fairy?" and the children described them as very small and with wings and magic... so when we went looking for them it was small details they suddenly saw... the small tiny things that had gobe unnoticed before... and this has been the same every year... forest fairy math

THE START OF A MAGIC FOREST - this post is one of many where we explored the fairy world through art... not just representing their ideas articistically, but also scientifically exploring colours and texture... we also explored the cultures of where the children came from, learned about limits and how disregarding them affects others, there were opportunities to develop motor skills... including blowing through straws to aid oral muscles for pronuciation.... Morocco inspired fairy art ; adding more to the magic forest ; Fairy sky - windpower ; Painting by letter... testing boundaries ; Fairy Portraits ; winter magic forest ; WINGS for fairies ; transforming friends into fairies ;

Philosophy - we have also explored fairies through philosophy... the children learning about respect for each other, listening to ideas, developing their own, developing their language skills, their social skills, their critical and creative thinking, - are fairies real? Which looks most like a fairy? Whats do they eat? Where do they live? Are there bad fairies? etc etc... following the children's interests we have explored the imagination and the reality of fairies... using activities and play to explore further and test ideas we have discussed.

MAKING WANDS IN THE FOREST  - we have learned about how we can upcycle things from the forest to create something new... with the fairy project we made wands... and then there was so much role-playing of transforming each other (and us teachers) into animals, objects etc, that made us laugh, and tested out our gross motor skills too.

FAIRY DOOR - maths has also been a part of the fairy exploration... forest math

Fly jumping - risk assessment has also been an important part of the fairy project... especially as they have wanted to test out their flying skills quite often...

WITH AN OPEN HEART - books have also played an important part... storybooks with their tales to play, to hear words and to share with others... aslo fact books (or fact like books) where we have explored ideas about the fairy realm, have we also noticed those things outside... allowing the children to see the world with yet another perspective... allowing the children in this instance to listen to the forest... Books have also inspired the children art, as in this post - where the focus is not on the resulting artwork but on the social process of the art. Sun Egg inspired math

DANCING ON RAINBOWS the children have had the opportunity to influence their own experience and learning... by collaborating together to make decisions and as the teacher I have scaffolded their ideas and enabled them to come to fruition.

Another important learning area of being a part of the International Fairy Tea Party is learning more about the world we live in... there is a fairy map... and all the parties are located on the map... we can see where in the world our party is, and where in the world others celebrate... we learn about the names of countries and towns that are meaninful to us. We also get to see images of the celebrations... we get to talk about similarities and differences... and opportunity to see play around the world... this year we can learn more about South Africa, Nepal, USA, Australia (my children here in Stockholm are fascinated by the fact that Australian and New Zealand children will celebrate in spring, while we celebrate in autumn, yet we celebrate on the same day), Canada, UK, Iceland, Costa Rica... etc. It allows us to make the world a little smaller and our play a little bigger...

Here is my raw planning from a year ago... so you can see how I am connecting the play and the learning...

Every Friday we have had a meeting to talk about what we have learned during the week... sometimes it is as simple as . "I learned that if you wear welly boots without socks you can get BIG blisters" - so sock wearing with wellies has become a big thing now... important lesson learned... often we have learned things that are not directly related to fairies, but our fairy play has allowed us to learn it... and for me that is what it is all about... the learning within the play. We are not learning ABOUT fairies... we are learning about LIFE within our fairy play. And the children are doing this with GREAT JOY!

 The International Fairy Tea Party a celebration of CHILDREN'S PLAY and IMAGINATION
Celebrated close the equinox... so that all children around the world are united through play, imagination and number of daylight hours... we will all have different cultures, different languages, different resources and opportunities... but we can meet and share daylight play and imagination!

Learning is not the agenda - but learning flows through children's play.

Let the children play