Wednesday 28 January 2015

Third day in Jenin

Another busy day.
In the morning we visited two early years settings, both located within schools… the first one being out of town … a large building with nature all around. The second one being in town, not in the centre, but not in the camp either.

One thing I have noticed with all the preschools is that they are not outside very much - some not at all - most do not have it as part of their daily routine. This, I understand, has cultural reasons… reasons such as the parents not wanting their children to be outside, especially in the cold and wet. There is also a lack of natural materials indoors, which is understandable if there is not the connection of outdoor play. So for me the materials/toys felt very plastic, as they were not balanced with nature… this has been the case with ALL the preschools.

Most of the preschools have many children sitting around tables to learn, as they do in school. We have been told that this is due to the parental expectation that the children must learn to read and write… and we were also told by one of the people we met that even the schools are requesting that the children arrive from preschool knowing how to read and write.

This indicates to me that play and learning are not seen as the same thing but as two very separate entities. What I do see is that many of the teachers/people working with the children in the early years settings are very interested in using play as the primary source of learning… where the whole child can learn, and not just a focus on the academic side of things. In that sense we are fortunate in Sweden to see the preschool years as a time for learning though play - although I have to admit that I wish this attitude to learning went even higher up through the ages… Malaguzzi said "nothing without joy" - and I am a believer that children learn better when they enjoy what they are doing.

Here are two photos from the two settings I visited today. The one below was the first time I saw that there were paints visible to the children, in most places they were either high up or in cupboards. Also the below setting rotated the children every 30 minutes, instead of always being in the same classroom… so that the children had access to different lines of learning… a role-play room, a reading room, a art/exploration room and a concentration room.

 In the afternoon I did a short workshop with the children from the women's co-operative preschool "Happy Kids" talking to the children to work out what kind of art we should do… they were interested in flowers at the time… so we painted with flowers… afterwards we talked about what we could see in the artwork. So wonderful to be able to take a small part in these children's lives… to go from the point where the children are shy and unsure of how to talk with me… to being able to communicate their thoughts.

And - lucky me - I got to use one of those sinks that I have been admiring so much… and also witness the fun the children had there too… but of course this kind of fun usually results in wet children. Having extra clothes is quite important to allow for these kind of explorations…

At the American School, where I visited in the morning they had a section of the wall that was carpeted and could be used for velcro stories - wonderful big space for story-telling - and also a great way to manage acoustics in these big marble buildings…

Tomorrow a meeting with the ministry of education here and then a presentation for many preschool teachers in Jenin.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Day two in Jenin

Today we visited two preschools… the morning a preschool in a mosque close to the Freedom Theatre and we also returned to the the preschool where we ate lunch yesterday to share some images of of our work at Filosofiska and to explain our approach. It was a great way to connect and explain and share experience.

Afterwards we played the bubble game (click here to find out more about the bubble game) together and shared laughter and happiness… laughter really does unite us, no matter what language we speak.

 I have noticed in several of the preschools these long sinks for washing hands - this one is outside, the others have been inside. I see so much collaboration opportunities here as well as play and exploration opportunities.

Monday 26 January 2015

Day one of exploring Jenin

A day filled with visits and meetings.

The sun shining warm and glorious, oranges and lemons growing on trees, flowers blooming a perfect start to the day.

We started by meeting all those involved in The Freedom Theatre's new play "The Siege" that will be touring UK later this year. The Siege - UK tour - if you click on the link you can find out more about the play - and also about a small piece of Palestinian history. I recommend you taking the time to check out this link, it will allow you to understand the background of where we are right now.

During the rest of the day we have visited three preschools..

The first setting we visited was a large Christian preschool open for all children aged between 3 and 5. Ninety children attended the setting and there were four teachers and two volunteers working there with the children.

There is a focus, we were told, on reading and writing as this is what the teachers in school expect (that the children already know this) and also what the parents are expecting - a visible learning, which is the academic learning of reading and writing.  So of course the rooms and walls reflect this expectation.

The second place we visited was a Christian setting for 0-3 yr olds - here there was a 1:5 ratio of adults children. There was little furniture and the setting had no access to an outdoor area. The teachers interacting with children believed in each child as a unique individual and that love is essential foundation in learning - if a child feels safe they are able to learn and build upon that. The largest rooms of the apartment turned into a nursery school was used for sleeping with mattresses and cots.

The last place we visited was a newly started nursery school with just five children and a teacher… there is room for up to 60 children, so there are plans to expand. They also have a large outdoor area, where only part of it is in use as a play area at the moment. We will be going back there tomorrow to see more. Today was an opportunity to meet the women's co-operative that has started this nursery as part of a way to support women - those without work, they also have a catering business - the idea is not so much to give women money, but to give them an opportunity to earn money.

Right now my head needs to rest after a whole evening reflecting on what I have seen today, and planning a presentation/workshop for the nursery school tomorrow based on what I have seen today. So this is all you are going to get for now… I have to get that presentation finished...

Sunday 25 January 2015

In Jenin

After a long journey of over 14 hours I am in Jenin… the weather was warm and sunny in Tel Aviv - a huge contrast to the snow and ice of Stockholm… but by the time we arrived in Jenin the sun had long gone down and the coolness of night had crept in.

Mountains and stones, meat hanging outside shop fronts, people grilling food, orange trees and fruit stands… these are all of some of my first impressions… skeleton houses too - and donkeys pulling carts…

I am looking forward to tomorrow to see everything in daylight, to meet the people and to start my Palestinian education...

Thursday 22 January 2015

Plasticine Portraits...

The portrait project has continued... exploring portraits through different mediums. The idea being the children can see themselves froma new perspective, learn about different art techniques, experiment with colour, work on their fine motor skills and build on their self-esteem... it also requires quite a lot of focus - and despite the fact they can stop and continue another day/later, the children were determined to finish their portraits today... they worked for two hours... TWO HOURS! I kept asking if they wanted to stop, reminding we could finish later, but no there was resolute determination.

At first they got the chance to just feel and explore the plasticine, to mix colours and to smoosh it on paper, to get an idea of how the medium works...

Then we started to think about creating a skin colour... mxing and testing until they got just the right shade... checking in the mirror to compare the colour with their own face... (I had put a laminated sheet over the same black and white photo we used before - so the photo was one guide and  their faces were the colour guide).

getting the hang of the plasticine

checking the colour... is that the right shade for my skin, for my lips, for my eyes... reflecting the paper with the tests on it at the same time as the face...

Then it was to start smuching the plasticine over the photo to create a colour/textured portrait. The children thought it was funny how they looked bald at first... and also thought it was hilarious that they looked like ninjas before the eyes were formed...

checking under the plastic to compare the photo with the budding portrait....

It took time to smush the plasticine, mix new shades, make some more when they ran out - it was definitely good finger training...

adding details
 Bit by bit the portraits became "alive" - after a while we removed the photo from under the plastic and had it next to them as they worked so they could see the details - such as shading

It was interesting to see how they worked with the shading - we talked about the form, shade and angles - also about highlights... the children were interested in doing parts of the shading and lighting... just enough so that they could "breathe" - ie their faces needed a nose!! The idea that a nose is not a black line on the face was a whole new concept... we looked at the photograph and their faces and saw that there were no lines... just highights and shading.

The whole time they had paper next to them to be creative on in any way they wanted with the plasticine, but there was the expectation that the portraits should be taken seriously. We had a lively discussion about eye-lashes - did they really go beyond the eye-brow, could you really see them on the photograph, where do you put eye-lashes if the eyebrow goes all the way down to the eyes? Lots of thinking, some scraping and some creative license as dark green eye-lashes appeared on the lower lid and a tongue stack cheekily out of the mouth...

We talked about a background - what colour would work best - not so easy if you want all of the colours - but I think with some help the background became all the colours instead of the brown is accidently became... learning processes...

We also talked about that this was our first time of using plasticine like this, and that if we were to do this again, and again, and again, they would learn more about how to create with greater ease - this time there was MUCH to learn all at one go...

Both seemed satisfied with their portrait... I put it into a glass frame to preserve it (like I did with my daughter's plasticine art at home a few years ago and is still looking great) - and then we went out into the snow to let off some steam!

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Suggestions for Reggio Emilia Books

Over on the Reggio Emilia Approach facebook group there are often requests about books... what to read to get inspired by RE and to learn more about it... here are some of those suggestions...

I have opted not to go for links... this way you can choose yourself which company and where in the world you choose to purchase from...

Reggio Emilia and the very young

Reggio Emilia

Reggio - in the studio/atelier

Reggio - The Third teacher

Loose Parts


If anyone would like to add their favourite Reggio Emilia book, please do so in the comment and I can add the image to the list here... and any comments about your favourite book and why, would also be wonderful... in that way we can build up a bank of knowledge that we can share educator to educator....

THEN if there are any other ECE books out there that you feel should absolutely be on this list - then I have the heading "other" waiting and ready - I will also drop by this post every once in a while to add another book to one of the headings...

Thursday 15 January 2015

Another way to listen...

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I have a son with autism/ADHD - this has been a whole learning journey on its own... not least when it comes to listening.

When he was younger he did not like to wear dress up clothes - I did not know why, but I listened to his distress when it came to dress up days and I would buy a t-shirt with a ghost on it for halloween and his tomte suit (santa suit) for Lucia I bought as pyjamas for him  - so he always thought he was going to preschool in his pyjamas. When he was five he asked me "Will I still be Michael if I wear dress up clothes?" - his dislike of dress up clothes had actually been a fear of being transformed into something else, probably with the added worry of wondering if one could transform back. This experience has given an awareness of listening for these worries in other children too...

Early in the mornings he would run into our bed (sometimes in the middle of the night) as he had woken up and was afraid of being alone in the dark. He would lie next to me and settle back to sleep - but it was important that I faced him - and if I turned over to get comfortable he would say "mummy you need to look at me". It was not until a few years later that he asked "mummy do you still love me when you look the other way?" (talk about a heart-breaking question - all those years of not understanding why he did not like me turning his back on me). This really allowed me to understand that we do not all interpret body-language in the same way - for me rolling over was just about comfort, while for Michael it was a signal that I was no longer interested in him. This means that I need to be aware that children are not going to interpret body-language in the same way as me, or each other... and that this can cause problems and conflicts - my awareness can help me learn about how other children listen to body language - it also means I point out body-language to children
"look at what her body is saying to you... it is saying that she does not feel comfortable with you playing with her hair..." etc etc depending on the situation... this allows the children to better understand the codes of body-language.
My son, even now as he approaches 11 still wonders about this... he still comes into our bed when he is scared ... but now he says "I know you still love me even though you turn around" - needing to say it out loud every time to reassure himself.

Over the years there have been many complaints about him not following instructions... and there are a whole variety of reasons for this... my favourite one was back when he was 7 and his teachers complained about how he would never help to tidy up - I asked about what was being said... "Can everyone tidy up" (ALLA being the Swedish word for everyone) - I pointed out to the teacher that Michael is probably feeling pretty sorry for the child called Alla who has to tidy up all the time and suggested that they go over to him and ask him to tidy up by his name... it turned out to be a winning concept - as once he heard his name he also listened to the rest of the sentence and could hear the instructions...
This understanding of Michael's need to be personally addressed in order for him to surface from his play to listen is something I keep in mind all the time. A reluctance to help might just be due to the fact that they have not tuned into the instructions and you need to communicate in a way that they can hear.

Of course learning to listen to over-stimulation is very important... and learning to know when to find a quiet corner or maybe leave is a skill we are learning together.

Of course there are many other things that he has taught me, and continues to teach me... and I continue to learn more about listening...

after all if there are a hundred languages in children's learning and communication etc... then I need to learn a hundred ways of listening...

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Snow on the Square

Its not been much of a wintery winter in Stockholm so far - but on Saturday the snow came... the perfect kind of snowman making stuff... today it snow again... but since it was -10°C this morning it was far from snowman making snow... it was light and fluffy - if you have a handful and blow it is like a fine powder of beautiful crystals floating in the air...

It warmed up to about -4°C and started to snow some more...

We spent the morning out making the most of it... exploring the snow -  light fluffy snow covering snow boulders created by the snow ploughs during the weekend's snow... perfect boulders to collect and build with, working out how best to balance them... they feel off the wall that was being built and a new place had to be found... they worked and worked at it. Feeling pride when they managed to carry over an ever bigger block of icey snow.

light fluffy snow that did not settle on the manhole cover - children and teacher gathered round exploring.

Light fluffy snow that was perfect for creating rainbows in - two rainbows joyfully shared - faces beaming with pride.

Snow mountains to climb on and slide down. I wonder how big they will get this year - and how long they will last too?

Ice under the snow - to skate, to slip and to fall over giggling a hundred times... although at first there were a few tears, until the play potential of falling over was discovered... some complete clowns, I was in stitches with the children. (ie laughing)

Snow being cooked and baked into all sorts of delicious foods for pretend babies, big sisters and big brothers and parents (and I think there was a witch or two there as well)

Snow... perfect for many types of play ... too many to include all of them here...

Friday 9 January 2015

An interview with Ellen.

Today was my last day working side by side with Ellen.
There is a feeling within me of sadness - to not have her there - but there is also a feeling of excitement... as I know this is a start of new adventures... for Ellen who will embark on a masters in philosophy and also for me as I work closely with Lena again.
And I also know that Ellen will never leave me... all those dialogues, thinking together, challenging our thinking, finding common ground that we could both wholly believe in, our fearless belief in testing things out together with the children... of failing and succeeding with the children... all of this will stay with me and in the many posts I have written in the last 18 months about our adventures and our learning journey.

I wanted to "interview" Ellen today about philosophy within our preschool... here is that interview... we had just 20 minutes at our disposal...

Three key words
  • listening
  • taking a step back
  • imagination
Three positives
  • to really question, from the foundation, the relationship between adults and children - between children and children... relationships with each other
  • insights into the heads of these small people - their thoughts - that often become insights into my own thoughts
  • the whole thing about logical thinking as a term that needs to be positively problematised, and explored - how do we think logically, and what is it?
Three negatives
  •  the conflict between having a complete/finished/set idea about what thinking is and creativity and openness. (we talked about how sometimes our adult need to see things as open and creative actually closes our thinking, as we have a set idea as to what that creative and open thinking is)
  • the form of the dialogue does not suit all children (we talked about how we have tried various forms of philosophy over the last 18 months - from sitting and talking, through art, through movement etc etc...)
  • maybe that I never got to test that the children asked questions (questions have always been based on the children's thinking, play etc, but they have seldom come with their own questions... although lately have started to show interest in this) - that it might be coming to the right time soon.
Maybe these responses are very much about my role (we then discussed that our roles are important and that reflecting upon how we feel about our roles is then of equal importance, and not to just reflect on the children and the activities)

Words of Wisdom (with reference to philosophy means "love of wisdom)
The first I think of is to allow the small processes to take time - to pause - it is "asviktigt" ("really important" in Ellen language) that the setting is soaked in philosophy and I believe that everything, no matter how small, even the dustbunnies - that we should not let the small things pass us - to not stress. That not doing something is doing something.
To not be afraid of letting things flow - that is where creativity is born. 
To dare to make mistakes with the children "we didn't manage to do anything" - to not always push forwards on principal but because it is meaningful. We need people who put on the brakes. (We talked about how often it feels like people do things to document about them rather than document the learning journey)
We need to take thinking pauses in our daily lives - and often.
The adult perspective of having to sum up each day - adding up what the children have achieved - that should not be the goal (the genuine, meaningful learning should be the goal).

The challenge
To let all of this happen (each person (adult/child) make their mistakes, each person slow down and think and flow) at the same time as creating a group feeling...

Although, as I write this now, I see that Ellen's challenge is actually not something new - but a continuation of what we have been doing all the time - this meeting of individual and group - of slowing down to create time to think... but I believe we need to get better and better at it. It sometimes feels like the world is getting faster and faster... and there is less time to think and reflect - it is all about do-do-do. Yes, we want the children to be capable, to be able "to do" - but to do with an understanding of what it is they do - and the effects and consequences of their actions on themselves and others...

I also found it interesting that the problem with finding positives about philosophy with preschoolers was limiting it to just three... and that the problem with finding negatives was to actually find three. Which indicates that we are on a successful learning journey with the children...

Ellen, darling,
it's been a blast. I have learned so much and I am so grateful on this stretch of my learning journey that I have had you as my travel companion. I wish you all the best - and I know you will succeed at everything you do... no matter how many mistakes you make...
and if I have made any mistakes in translating your words and thoughts... just let me know in the comments... ;-)
Puss och kram.

Thursday 8 January 2015

art story - documentation

In the last few months the children have started getting rather productive on the drawing front - a whole new interest - previously they have been mostly interested in role-play. This has meant the atelier has been getting over-crowded with small nameless creations as well as a steady stream of activity between the atelier and the cloakroom where the children have been placing their creations on their shelves to take home. Not an entirely satisfactory situation with the constant movement through other children's play. Its taken some time to think of a solution that not only works for the children but also works in the limited shelving space of the atelier. At first I thought of putting in an extra shelf and each child having a small drawer like box to put their finished and half finished work in - but while I was doing a spot of winter break cleaning and sorting a discovered a box of unused files and felt that this would be the perfect option... several children have expressed an interest in making books and by storing their creations in the file it would feel like building up a book.

I cleared the atelier table of pens and paper that have always been there - but have contributed to a congestion and instead placed them on the shelf next to the table - drawing paper under the pencils (the felt tips have been taken away for now - as they had become a nag situation, and if the children are not interested in putting the lids back on the pens and taking care of them I do not want to be a negative force... let them draw with pencils, let them draw and draw and their focus be on that right now rather than pen lids... and when they have satisfied the drawing frenzy then there might be the time to think about taking care of felt tip pens). There are paper scraps (in many colours, sizes, shapes and paper types) below the scissors waiting for those children feeling the need to just cut cut cut.

Yesterday I introduced the children to their files - a few of the children individually early in the morning as they arrived (thinking that they would then be able to help the other children later on with the process... and this turned out to be exactly what they did).

So now when the children have completed a drawing/creation they collect their file from the shelf and take it to the "file station" (it doesn't really have a name yet - and it might not) - where I placed a hole-puncher. First holes are made in the paper, the file is clicked open, the creation fed onto the metal loops and then it is clicked closed and put back on the shelf.

It has been quite a process for the children to remember each of these steps... and feeding the metal loops through the holes has been by far the trickiest part of it. By keeping the files at the "file-station" means the table remains spacious enough for everyone else creating.

This process has also meant that when each child is finished their art/work is in their file (so we know who it belongs to regardless of there being a name on it or not) - and the table is clear and inviting for whoever else wants to get creative - before the children were just leaving most of their art, or practices on the table without a care that it was filling up all the space and making the atelier not feel available to all the children in the preschool.

The children know that if they want to take anything home they can come to their file and take it home at the end of the day. This also means that there is no more wrinkled up creations strewn over the cloakroom floor as they have tended to fly of their shelves as the children load and load them with creations.

The children have taken to the files well and with great excitement - yesterday they need some help... today they were in full flow. Each file has their name on it - I have varied the colours of the files and the labels somewhat on all the many names we have starting with S (although I did not point this out) - as all the children are pre-readers...  (but most can read their names and most of their friends names now without any problems).

We have ideas about how to develop this further... but for now we will let them enjoy and get comfortable with this process.