Thursday 26 February 2015

Papier-maché portrait continues... EYES

We might be talking about listening at the moment in Vinden... but that is not just ears... we also listen with our eyes... and today there was a focus on eyes in the papier-mâché portrait making.

We took a close look at our eyes... the pupils... what colour are they... are they just one colour... what other colours can you see there. We then used this knowledge and applied it in our eye-making.

Using a glass bead for the eye... turning it over so that the concave side was faced down and the flat side upwards to paint on - just like the eye is also concave.

We kept looking at the eye the right side up... holding it in the air to see if the colour was right - and more and more paint was added until there was satisfaction that the eyes looked right.

Personally I would just love to make lots of eyes... and not just for humans but to try my hand at various different animal eyes... even mythical beasts too (alright, you have me, I want to make a dragon's eye!!).

The eye turned out way beyond my expectations... I hoped that it would look amazing, but to be honest I was not sure... I gave it a try myself yesterday with a bigger bead and just a few seconds to see if the paint would remain on the bead once dried (I used tempera with acrylic metallics) - there was no problems with the colour staying on the bead. So I had an idea of how the eye would turn out, but I was so happy to see how the eye was such a focus holder - pure concentration and enthusiasm... and this is really reflected in the end product. Of course the prcess allowed us to take a closer look at the eye and see details usually missed.

Then we continued with the papiermâché head... we mounted it the cardboard ring/centre from used tape and then with cotton wool built a nose and a chin, to create a 3D effect. There was great joy in using the glue and getting messy - and our listening project was evident here too... as there was great delight of exploring the sounds hands could make when they were covered in slimey wallpaper paste!

The idea was to fix the eyes today as well... but the head started to get very VERY soft dues to the enormous amounts of glue being explored and used... so we will wait until the head dries and hardens before attempting to fix the eyes.

The head has also been covered with a layer of white tissue paper, so that it makes painting the head slightly easier.

Light play

Sometimes there is time for me to play... rather unexpectedly, when there are many children on vacation or sick or both - and many children that come a little later than usual too... this creates a moment for exploration...

The children are interested in writing, and I want to be able to give them different experiences where writing and play weave together - and also other learning elements and discoveries...

I put a clear plastic box on the overhead and then put a mix of lentils and coloured rice into the box. The idea was to be able to draw and create shapes in the lentils. I loved the colour and the texture, but it was just not really working to create light shapes - you really need to swoosh your finger round and round to make it defined... and when you tried to make details the gaps soon filled up with lentils again.

So then I tried some coloured salt (light blue and mixed with some glitter - the glitter though does stock to fingers, which I found a bit irritating later in the day as I picked bits out - and no matter how I washed my hands (which was very many times as I got quite messy with papiermaché later on) there was still bits of glitter.... but I guess that is glitter for you.

Only a very thin layer of salt was needed to make the wall black - and it was very easy to write and draw in - of course there is that great surprise that it is upside down on the image on the wall.

With a slight shake you could even the salt out and start again. it did require a bit of technique in wrist action to get it evenly across the base of the box though...

A child (age 3) came in to watch what I was doing... just after I had drawn a circle and a triangle... the child exclaimed that it looked like roads...

Then he started to play - creating roads and parking houses(apologies for the filming... my focus was on the child and not on the filming quality)

and then he started to write words - making symbols and sounding them out... and then he started to count...

The child looked at the wall more than at what his hands were doing.

Sunday 22 February 2015

playing with Plasticine

I am lucky, my daughters sometimes come to spend time with me and my preschoolers - something that is much appreciated by the children - other older children taking an interest in them.

On Friday we played with plasticine in the afternoon... my 14 year olds playing and experimenting with the 3-6 year olds - enjoying each others company and sharing ideas and inspiration with each other...
The preschoolers tried out all sorts of different ideas and techniques... smooshing on paper, creating models, jewellery, using straws as tools and acessories, mixing colours - in patterns and to create new colours.

 My girls created flowers and a crazy pig - sharing their techniques.... as well as their interest and enthusiasm to search for information... how does a poppy look if I want to make a poppy?

It will be interesting to see how the plasticine interest carries on and how the children want to continue their explorations of this medium... and also how I can provoke the children to explore more, deeper and find even more ways to express themselves through plasticine....

Saturday 21 February 2015

Portrait Project... papier mâché

The process of starting a self portrait with papier mâché has started... I have been looking forward to this part for some time... since being inspired by this film and others similar to it...

We started with a balloon to get the head shape... and worked with strips of paper and wall-paper paste... we tested all sorts of different ways to use the paste... with brushes, with hands, on the table, directly on the balloon, dipping the paper etc etc... the only instruction was to try out many different ways as possible... to share these methods and then to work with the one that feels best for you...

So now the head shape is ready... I might just show them the film before starting out on the next part... decorating the head with facial features... to get ideas about how to make those features...

Looking forward to seeing how these will turn out... and what we will learn together on the way...

Friday 20 February 2015

winter mud play

For a few days the temperature has gone above zero... meaning the snow has been melting, and the ground no longer resembling concrete... it also means the return of mud... a great play resource!!

The children SOOn discovered the thick ozzy muddy patch otdoors today... at first just with feet... and later a hands on experience...

They got quite messy for sure...

To clean off... well we have no hose to wash them down outside... but I took some warm soapy water out so that they could wash the mud out of their mittens and wash the mud off their arms and legs... and once they looked fairly OK, I poured the water down their legs to  get that thick layer off to make sure the overalls could be put in a washing machine...

I think the children had just as much fun washing the mud off as they did playing with the mud...

Monday 16 February 2015

Playing School

Last Friday the children reflected on their week of play and decided that they wanted to play school - how this idea exactly came up I am not enitirely sure... but it got mentioned and it took off as an idea with great excitement with all the children. They took home small notes that they would need a school bag and gymclothes.

So today we have played school... the children were far too excited to wait for the "PE/gym lesson" to get changed... they more or less got changed as they came through the door... and as we were playing school this was all part of the fun.

There was free play until everyone arrived... and the children were well into the school roles by then, carrying their bags back and forth and feeling really rather very important. We then asked for all the school children to hang up their bags in the cloak room. When they came back they were asked to line up at the door... and they were greeted one by one with a handshake to mark the start of the school day... this is a common thing in many Swedish schools...

We sat on the mat for our morning meeting to explain how the morning was going to work and that all the children would get to the chance to test everything out. The children were divided into three groups of three... by saying 1,2,3 round the circle - the children needing to remember what their number was - and with a little help from each other they were all able to find their first activity/lesson.

Art was one of the lessons... a basket of animals was put out and the children could choose and animal to draw - it started off by the children doing this as a still-life, some of the children decided that drawing round the animal would be a good idea... and this included the feet... there are, afterall, many ways to draw around an animal... and over the years I have seen children do this and then look in surprise at the image on the paper wondering why it does not look like the animal they have drawn around... to then work out why....Two of the children chose to draw a snake... both for the same reason... it was the easiest thing in the basket. Assessing the situation and working out how they could be as successful as possible in the "lesson".

The other two "lessons" were maths and Swedish... the Swedish being writing practice. There was special paper to help form letters on, and a sheet with the alphabet and a bowl full of names so that the children could choose how they wanted to play school writing. They could do as much or as little as they wanted... the most important was that it was fun.
Maths was addition using one of the games that was bought in Jenin, Palestine (Not to Forget Women's Society). This proved to be a popular activity.

The children were busy at each activity for 5-10 minutes - we rotated as we saw the groups were ready to test the new "lesson" out. Once the children had the opportunity to do all the lessons it was time for the long awaited gym/PE lesson.

We started off with doing PE as I had seen the children do it in Jenin, Palestine... in rows and copying what the teacher did - apparently this was called "Swedish gymnastics" - either that or someone was pulling my leg...
here you can see them in long rows doing their exercises in the morning.

Then there was time for PE that is seen more foften in Swedish schools... especially with the younger years... with running round (without crashing into each other), jumping, balancing and breathing exercises on the floor with some stretching... not just great physical exercises but lots of listening skills being put to the test too! The children were having a great time... so much laughing

Then it was time for a shower... under the hulahoop with water sound effects...

Then it was time for break/recess - the children informed us that school children do not wear high visibility vests when they are out... so for this outdoor adventure to the square the children did not wear vests. They continued to play school though.

When we returned indoors the planned part of the play school day was over... lunch, rest and then the afternoon was left... the children were already planning as they took their snow suits that they would continue the school play in the afternoon.... and they did.

Saturday 14 February 2015

The Teacher-Child Balance

On Saturday February 21st 2015 - there will be the next #ReggioPLC twitterchat - Laurel Fynes of This Kindergarten Life will be guest moderating with me... as Diane Kashin will be mid-flight unable to make this global chat.

The choice of chat topic is the teacher-child balance act... this is something that I have been thinking a great deal about - and I have been looking back through my blog to see what posts I could share to get people thinking... to provoke thought one way or another...

So this post is not so much an exploration of that balance... but a series of links to posts that relate to the balance of teacher-child... so why not take the time to read as many or as few as you like... and then join Laurel and myself next Saturday to explore what it is all about...

Scaffolding - this post is exploring why we have rules and routines... and how the children need to be involved in the process.

What about me? - an exploration of whther it is OK for adults to get angry too... what is the balance with emotions

Do Templates Kill creativity? - How much adult preparation is appropriate? How do we get the balance right?

Collaboration Between adults and children - the artwork collaboration of an artist and her child got me thinking... about how much should an adult create with a child... does it harm a child's creativity?

To help or not to help? - a post exploring the benefits of stepping back as a teacher and letting the children work it out for themselves... finding the helping balance

If you can't beat them join them - letting the children inspire the play... but in an appropriate way

Does boredom give birth to creativity? - an exploration of time and creativity and boredom... and balancing how much space we give children.

Thinking about the comptent child again - I keep coming back to this theme of what is a competent child... because it is very much about the balance of teacher-child. How much do they already know, what can I expect of them, and what is appropriate - too much teaching, too little? It requires contant listening to find the balance...

A bit more thinking about the competent child - this continues the thinking... especially after being in dialogue with others... this post was fresh after meeting Debi Keyte-Hartland.

Childhood - of course it then came down to childhood... maybe it wasn't the word competent I need to work out, but the word child... and what has that come to mean... do I need to understand my relationship with that word (and the relationship of others with that word) to be able to fine tune my teacher-child balance?

The competent child- inspiration from Alsion Gopnik - mixing ideas of child and competent with a huge helping of Gopnik.

Progettazione - thinking about projects... - this post was inspired by Diane Kashin... and has a focus on the role of the teacher... very much an important part of the child-teacher balance...

Malaguzzi's Three Children - and exploration not only of the three children... but also what the three teacjers would be ... the balnce teacher-child

Making Decisions - the process of supporting the children to be more active in the planning and decision making of preschool... and really I need to write a new post about this... to reflect on how it has all turned out 6 months later... as it has been a great learning journey together

Child perspective and Child's Perspective - looking at the difference between having a child perspective and looking at things from a child's perspective... and how this makes a difference on the child-teacher balance

Learning to Listen - really, it would not be right if I did not include at least one post about listening... as I think this is an ESSENTIAL part of the child-teacher balance.

OK... so that should get you going...

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Playspace in Jenin

One of the things I noticed in Jenin is that there were not many areas dedicated to children's play - and with streets being filled with cars going by - and also with the occasional gunfire (you heard it in the city several times a day) and also with the cultural fact being on the street was not always socially acceptable for women this made street-play not as desirable as what it might be in other countries… I have been following how street-play in the UK has become a project to get children playing outside more… see Play England website for more information. Could a similar project be something for Jenin? Or is there a need to start with the play-spaces?

Most of the play-spaces I saw there were in conjunction with a school or kindergarten/preschool - and were not available to the general public… this is quite different from here in Sweden where everyone has access to preschool play areas on weekends and other times when the preschool/school is closed - AND there are lots of purpose built play areas to…. AND most apartment complexes with have a play area in the garden if it is large enough (there is a sandbox and playhouse next to the lawned area where I live - and we live about 50 m from a huge green area with a large play-space).

Why am I talking about the importance of play-spaces in Jenin? It is because I believe these are important places for learning… for building up hand-strength for the hand that will write, for developing balance, for problem solving, for social and cognitive development… play is essential - and outdoor play is an important part of a child's play repertoire - and therefore I deeply believe in the fact that by investing in play-spaces a community is also investing in the education and well-being of its children… its future.

Here are some articles and research about the importance of playgrounds for children's cognitive and social development - it is not just me that believes this, and there is much evidence to support it…

The Benefits of Playgrounds for children aged 0-5… Imagination Playground
The Importance of Outdoor Play - Community Playthings
The Importance of Playgrounds - Kidsafe
The Development Benefits of Playgrounds - Ooey Gooey (book review of the same title by written by Joe Frost, Pei-San Brown, Candra Thornton, John Sutterby, Jim Therrell and Debora Wisneski.)
Matching Children and Play Equipment: A Developmental Approach - Early Childhood News
Landscape Design for Children and Their Environments in Urban Context - Habibe Acar

I got to visit one of the few play-spaces in Jenin - one that The Freedom Theatre together with local children worked hard at fixing up…. taking away layers upon layers of rubbish, fixing swings etc - the hope was that the city would continue with the work of revamping the park… sadly that has not happened and the enthusiasm of the local children was sucked right out of them.
How then can the children of Jenin get the play-spaces they need - if there is no real value seen in playgrounds - as the educational value of them is not seen. It is, though, important to acknowledge that play is not meant to be educational. Rather education flows naturally into the environment of a child at play. So the idea is not to construct a classroom in the play-space but for us adults to be aware of the natural learning that accompanies play. 

Here are the images of the play-space I got to visit dying my week in Jenin… I am aware of one or two other public play-spaces which I did not have time to visit.

 As you can see that during the months since The Freedom Theatre and the children worked hard to clean up the play-space it is slowly becoming a place for rubbish again… this of course was a problem in the whole of Jenin and not just the play-space. Swings have been fixed the best they could… and the two slides were missing the sliding - just the steps up to the platform
 There was an area for basketball/football - which obviously has not been used for some time - there was a spinner (bottom left) I saw these several settings in Jenin. None of the equipment had soft landing space under, but this actually was not my biggest concern (after all soft landing hardly existed in playgrounds when I was a young child either) - I was more concerned about its ghost/skeletal quality - a playground devoid of play - no children and a huge sense that play was not being valued as something important.

The location of the playground was stunning - an expanse of nature behind the play-space to explore and have picnics, and in front was an amazing view over the city of Jenin - and Nazareth on the hill across the valley (so it was a hike, or a drive, to get to the park) - the park had beautiful trees and plants to play and explore in… perfect for hide and seek - but also so that quiet corners could be found too. The space has FANTASTIC play potential. Potential for children's gross motor skill development, for their understanding and appreciation of nature, as a place for social interactions.

Imagine if it was possible to set up a system like we have in Sweden - a Parklek (click on the link to learn some more) - where the park is staffed with play workers to support the children in their play, to ensure the play-space maintains a high standard (is not pulled apart/damaged or littered too much) - and becomes a place for families to enjoy play together, a place for children to feel safe and to play - and also a possible excursion destination for kindergartens and schools to experience a playful hands-on learning through team activities and other games?
Is such a dream too big? Can such a dream happen for the children of Jenin - and for children living in similar towns around the world where play is no longer seen as important.

Over the years I have blogged I have returned to outdoor play-spaces quite often… here are some links

a collection of ideas for outdoor play and learning from various locations around the world
Shade - I include this as many forget the importance of shade - not just to repent you getting sunburnt - but also the neurological impact it has…
Outdoor water Play - maybe more difficult in a place where water is a premium, but it does rain in Palestine too.
The many hops of hopscotch - the idea that sometimes the simplest of play-space equipment can offer you enormous amounts of play and learning potential… this could also be drawn into sand/mud/earth with a stick
Children Learning together - Iceland - this post shows that play does not require a great many things… a place space can be made of recyclables - this post also clearly shows how much learning happens through play… and maybe the children do not always see this as learning - they see it as play… it is STILL learning.
Parks and Play in Stockholm - I am slowly visiting various playspaces in the Stockholm area and documenting them - here could be elements of ideas for a possible play-space

Then there are ideas from elsewhere… for recycled play areas…
How to build a playground out of recycled tires
Playgrounds made from junk
Is this the perfect playground, made from junk?
Kids don't need fancy toys to have fun - just junk

So there is potential for creating exciting play spaces - but how to do this in a place where there is junk scattered all over the place - and probably not safe junk at that - how do the children learn the difference between up cycled, safe play junk and dangerous junk? Do the children need more investment in their play-spaces to be shown that they are valued members of society? Do they need a cleaner look to their play-space for it to have more value from all the empty spaces that tend till fill with junk and rubbish of various kinds and aromas?
At the moment I have absolutely no answers - just a million questions - and a longing to understand a city so that play can be injected in a meaningful way… so that the context is right.

Do you have any ideas?

the one year old exploration of sand can teach you many things...
to see the complexity of sand... the many coloured individual grains...
the speed sand can fall depending on the angle of the hand...
the temperature of the sand depending on the weather (today it was lovely and warm)
can it be squeezed and made smaller?
and why does it stick to fingers covered in drool?
Slow careful observations by child and teacher...

Sunday 8 February 2015

Learning to listen...

In the last year I have had the great honour to have visited early years settings in Canada, USA, Iceland and Palestine, as well as here in Sweden. I also have the great fortune to collaborate and be inspired by educators around the world... through global #ReggioPLC twitterchats, this blog, the facebook page connected to the blog, through various groups on facebook in both English and Swedish... many ways to learn and be inspired.

What I have found is that we have many different ways of viewing early childhood education - various different approaches, different cultures, different education laws and requirements and different expectations of teachers and children.

Sometimes I find there is a lack of tolerance in some of these groups and pages I follow on facebook... and in the last year I have actually withdrawn myself from some of these groups and pages because of the comments made towards others for having a different approach/opinion.

I think there needs to be more time learning to listen to each other... respecting where we all come from, enquiring as to why we think differently - learning how we can lift each other... because, for sure this is a profession that needs lifting - we should not be sinking each other. Early childhood education is important... it is a part of the foundation of the child... the foundation the child will build his/her education upon, the foundation the child will build his/her whole being upon... we need to get it right... and right is not going to look the same in every place we visit.

Context is SO important.

This means we need to learn to listen.
We need to learn to listen to understand and not to insist what we think is right - by listening we can expand our own thinking either with new ideas or by consolidating what we already believe - or maybe even doing a complete rethink...
We need to listen to the context of others... by understanding the context we can understand how to lift each other, how to inspire, how to share...

I don't believe in telling others that they are doing it wrong... because it just means I have not taken the time to listen to their circumstances. I truly believe that everyone working for/with  children are doing the very best they can. Of course there are those who maybe don't want to be in the early childhood setting... but I don't believe they are working for/with the children they are simply working at the setting - and we need to listen to their story too... why are they there when maybe they should be somewhere else?

Interestingly Erika Kyrk Seger wrote about this recently - Lärande Framtid is the name of her blog, I linked it to my facebook page this weekend as it resonated with me so much (as this post has been brewing for quite some time - and even more so since my visit to Jenin). Erika quoted Kierkegaard - which I want to aswell... but for this post the whole poem, I feel, is useful.


If I want to succeed
to bring a person
towards a specific goal,
I must first find her
where she is
and start from there.
Those who can not, is fooling herself
when she believes that she can help others.

To help someone I must
certainly understand more,
than she does;
but first of all understand
what she understands.
If I can not,
it does not help that I know more.

If I still want to show how much I can,
it’s because I’m vain and conceited
and really wants to be admired by the other
instead of helping him.

All genuine helpfulness begins with humility
in front of the one I want to help
and therefore I have to understand,
this with support
is not wanting to rule
But wishing to serve.

Can I not do this
I can not help anyone.
 The poem tells me about the need to listen. That everyone needs to learn to listen - to listen to understand and not to answer... as the latter is just showing what you can and is not taking the time to know how to help.

This is something that needs to be done with all people - no matter what age - whether classified as child or adult.

Today I shared an quote by Vea Vecchi on my facebookpage...

Yes, it is a way of seeing... but also a way of listening... of learning about where the children are. I took lots of photos and short films in Jenin - most I will never share with others... the photos are all a piece of the puzzle to understand ECE settings there. Photos that will help me learn more about where ECE settings are in Jenin. I listened lots - and I will continue to listen - because it is only if I listen, and if I understand that I can be helpful. AND in the process I will learn more - about diversity, difference, ECE possibilities, culture etc etc. Learning is never a one-way process... whether it is with children or with colleagues (be they in the same setting or through social media).

The ECE settings in Jenin were in a different pedagogical place than the ECE settings I am familiar with here in Sweden... but what was the same was the passion of the teachers to be able to give the best learning environment they could to the children. The same desire to learn more about ECE and to expand their knowledge of young children and teaching and learning opportunities... this is something I encountered not only in Jenin, but also when I was in Rejkjavik, Toronto and Boulder.

So part of my year dedicated to listening is also about being humble... to accept differences and to learn from them. To find similarities and to grow with them. To find the common ground where we stand as equals and to start from there.

You can see some images from Jenin on Filosofiska's facebook page... here you can see me doing a workshop with a group of children in Jenin.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

a hundred languages...

This year I have decided to focus upon listening... to explore what it means and to get better at it...

I have also been reflecting upon the phrase "a hundred languages" and I am begining to feel that something is missing... that maybe we should not be focussing on the children's hundred languages... but on our adult ability to have a hundred ways to listen.
There is absolutely no point in the children having a hundred languages if there is no-one to hear them and understand them, to connect them to other languages, to see the learning and to interact with them...

So if the children are born with a hundred languages the problem is not the fact the children are expressing them but the fact there is no-one there to listen to them... children slowly stop communicating in the languages that are not heard...

How, then, do we train ourselves, as adults, to re-hear all these languages? Is it even possible to rediscover all of them? This is what I am going to try and discover this year... I want to open myself up to the possibility of hearing a hundred languages - actually not just hearing, but listening, understanding them... and to be able to communicate in all 100 hundred.

They [children] are autonomously capable of making meaning from their daily life experiences through mental acts involving planning, coordination of ideas, and abstraction.... The central act of adults, therefore, is to activate, especially indirectly, the meaning-making competencies of children as a basis of all learning. They must try to capture the right moments, and then find the right approaches, for bringing together, into a fruitful dialogue, their meanings and interpretations with those children.

I assume that I need to start with observation... to listen with my eyes. To see languages and traces of languages that I can explore and learn. And to allow the children know I am listening I need to make visible MY learning as well as theirs. I am a facilitator... which I feel my work as a facilitator in philosophical dialogues with the children has allowed me to hear the children on a deeper level... and also allowed me to practice bringing together the children's thoughts, allowing them to see the connections.

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults.
Another way to learn to listen in a hundred languages is to "mess about" as suggested by David Hawkins (you can read more about messing about here, written by Diane Kashin, who co-moderates the international #ReggioPLC twitterchat with me)... by messing about as a teacher we learn how to play with the materials... we relearn how to play, how to explore,  and in this way can discover new possibilities, resources, materials and interactions that we can offer the children.

Messing about also opens up the teacher to making mistakes, and the great power of learning that comes from making mistakes...

If nature has commanded that of all the animals, infancy shall last longest in human beings - it is because nature knows how many rivers there are to cross and paths to retrace. Nature provides time for mistakes to be corrected (by both children and adults), for prejudices to overcome, and for children to catch their breath and restore their image of themselves, peers, parents, teachers, and the world.

Alison Gopnik also talks about how humans have the longest childhood and the power of learning through play... you can read "this post" where I wrote about the competent child after being inspired by Gopniks Ted talk.

So my focus this year is going to be rediscovering the hundred languages... MY ability to listen to them.

This photo is symbolic for me... a child that did not fill the form with sand to make a shape, but placed the form down and placed sand on top. The child was surprised every time when the form was lifted and there was only an outline. The process was right - form sand, patting the form with the spade and lifting it up - but the order was wrong. I waited to see... I listened - and so did other children... they came and explained that the sand needed to go inside the form BEFORE turning over and patting. The "mistake" taught the children that a new kind of shape could be made in the sand - something they had not explored before... and then the sand was filled with 2D and 3D shapes... a communication in sand.