Saturday, 30 May 2015

Visit to Ekudden Preschool, Uppsala - INDOOR environment.

For quite some time, and with great joy, I have been following Ekuddens preschool facebook pages... seeing the children's learning being made visible.
They have four pages... Bubblan ...  Droppen ... Myllan and ...Gnistan
For me it was a clear choice to visit when Diane Kashin came to stay with me in Stockholm... a journey together to Uppsala to learn about how the teachers at Ekudden have been working together with their third teacher.

Our guides for the morning were Anna and Sabina who showed us around and explained the journey of each room - as well as many other ideas, strategies and the way preschools work in Uppsala.

I took lots of images, as did Diane, and I have been busy sorting out which ones to include in this first introduction to Ekudden Preschool - focussing on the indoor environment - leaving the school and the outdoor environment for other posts to come...

so to the images... as always enjoy the inspiration - and use them to kick start your own thinking about how your third teacher/environment looks - take ideas and build on them to meet the children and teachers in your context.

Myllan's room of exploration - light, sound and touch to be explored... there is both an overhead and projector that are used, depending on what kind of image they are wanting. Mirrors, cozy corner to lie down and explore - a box of light with items linked to the current project inside to peek at trhough windows. A room for the imagination. There is also string/rope going across the room so that material can be draped down and the childen can climb inside the light installation - very much like what I did with Vinden... see here

In Uppsala all young children are given a book "Knacka På" which is about knocking on doors... the pages of the book, and then seeing what is on the next page... it is a natural step to set up the book in large format in the environment of the youngest children at the preschool... a book where all the children can meet, as they all have the book at home. I love the fact that the city of Uppsala give books out for free for children (at various ages too... and when they are older they get to choose between two books) - I wish Stockholm was doing similar.
the children at Ekudden sleep in their own prams/pushchairs year round... they are parked under the shelter of the roof just outside the window. The children have the security of their own prams to sleep in, and can be easily rocked/rolled if they need some help to fall asleep.

Creating their own playspaces with cardboard boxes.
Between the two younger departments/groups and the older ones there is a shared space for for play and exploration. This is one area of that space with a sand play area

and this is another area of the same space - the bottle in the background of the photo are just off to the right of the photo above... This image shows one of several cubes the preschool has - both inside and out... which is essentially a wooden cube frame that can be draped with material etc and used in a variety of ways... imagination is the only limitation - from shops, to light installations and aquariums to castles to...
On the walls decorated lazy susans have been mounted for exploration.

there is a second shared space - another large room with areas for play and exploration... a light table to explore nature, a construction area and role play area... also several tables to meet, chat and work at their projects (as well as eat lunch)

In most of the rooms exploration islands were set up... not just the idea of a space to explore, but also so that the room says slow down, see what is around you, play with respect to other's play and exploration. Large open spaces can scream run run run to young children, which can make construction play difficult if people start running through it... The children get ample time to run outside every day - so running is not limited... but respect for play and safety is encouraged.
In the older children's area there is a large contruction area, whith many raised surfaces to build upon. Here you can also see the cube in its naked state. Anna and Sabina have found that the cube needs to be dressed differently from time to time to make it visible again - or to help stimulate the play... either deepen it or change its path if it has been stuck in the same play for a very long time...

The two older groups share an atelier together... it was a traditional atelier for paint and art - but as they realised they tended to paint in other areas of the preschool and the room was not being used to its full potential they changed the focus of the atelier - right now it is a atelier of construction and light - and there is the idea that this room will not remain static but will continually develop and change in its focus... a room to explore and be creative.
the older children have created a garden (with mud play before the planting). One child apparently guarded the garden with a stick and thus came the idea of protecting the garden with a wall of sticks... this very much reminded me of the mini medieval gardens I had just seen in Vinterviken Gardens earlier in the week with Diane - sadly I did not take photos then... but will head back and take some. Anna told us how lucky they felt acquiring the gardening table as they got it for free, including delivery, through a site called Blocket (similar to craigslist... so I learned).

So concludes this first taste of Ekudden preschool... a preschool that has just celebrated 10 years of working with children... and their journey was clear... throughtful consideration of their thrid teacher - and important colleague who needs to be regularly consulted so that the children are empowered.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Observations... the Sherlock Holmes approach...

Sometimes something catches your eye and you just have to read it... my two 14 year old daughters love Sherlock Holmes, so when I saw the post by Brain Pickings on Konnikova: Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes, I just had to give it a read.

... and I am glad I did... as I started seeing parallels to my work as a preschool teacher... in that observations and how we observe and analyse what we have seen can allow us to deduce what is the best continued path for the children's learning journeys.
Konnikova writes:

Observation with a capital O — the way Holmes uses the word when he gives his new companion a brief history of his life with a single glance — does entail more than, well, observation (the lowercase kind). It’s not just about the passive process of letting objects enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit? And how do you take in and capture those details that you do choose to zoom in on? In other words, how do you maximize your brain attic’s potential? You don’t just throw any old detail up there, if you remember Holmes’s early admonitions; you want to keep it as clean as possible. Everything we choose to notice has the potential to become a future furnishing of our attics — and what’s more, its addition will mean a change in the attic’s landscape that will affect, in turn, each future addition. So we have to choose wisely.

Choosing wisely means being selective. It means not only looking but looking properly, looking with real thought. It means looking with the full knowledge that what you note — and how you note it — will form the basis of any future deductions you might make. It’s about seeing the full picture, noting the details that matter, and understanding how to contextualize those details within a broader framework of thought.

In other words it is important to know why you observing and to take the time to think about how you are observing - especially when it comes to documentation... after all documentation is a collection of your observations... unlike Holmes there are few of us that can remember everything and recall it at will... therefore there is a need to document... there is also the need to document to make the observations visible to others, not least to the children themselves.

This brings me round to another important element of the "Holmes Approach" - that we need to be objective - we need to think about our mindset from the beginning, not only being objective but also selective in what we are observing... after all it is not going to be possible to observe everything. By knowing goals beforehand can help direct our attention resources properly, but this does not mean that you go looking for/reinterpreting facts to mesh with what you want or expect to see - thinking objectively means being open to what you see and not clouding it with your own perspective.

Four years back I was running a bilingual preschool here in Stockholm and I set up language weeks (twice a year) where all observations were concentrated on the children's use  and understanding of language. It was a fantastic way to learn more about the children, but also about observations and documentation as every memeber of staff was observing the same thing in the children and we were able to share strategies of observations, documentation and analysis of the collated information. This enabled the staff to become more proficient in their every day observations of the children and their documentation of them - it also enabled them to deduce how to meet the needs of the children's language development.

I have often approached documentation/observations in this way - from the perspective of gross motor skills, gender equality, fine motor skills etc etc - by focussing my attention for a short period of time on one particular area of a child's development then I give myself a better chance of really understanding it.

Observation means paying attention and paying attention is about every one of your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. It is about taking in as much as we possibly can.  It is about learning not to leave anything out — anything that is relevant to the goals that you have set. And it is about realizing that all of our senses affect us — and will affect us whether or not we are aware of the impact. Of course this must sound rather strange after writing about being selective - but it is not so much about not leaving anything out, I suppose, as to not leaving out any of the senses in the observations that you are making - and to being open to all possible observation eventualities. Listening, for example, is done with more than the ears - as I have written in many posts previously and talked about at workshops... listening with ears, eyes, heart and mind contributes to our observations in order to understand and to collect the information and to make deductions - we are trying to deduce each child's learning and how to best offer provocations, challenges and support to ensure the children continue on their learning journey.

We need to recognise the complexity and capability of others... never underestimate them.

Understand how to read a situation - the Sherlock Holmes way. There are three parts to reading a situation:
  • See. What do you see that is happening?
  • Observe. What do you notice that is different?
  • Deduce. What does this imply?
 I think this could be a good approach to have in our own observations of children - what do we see them doing... does it differ from previous play/learning?... does this difference imply anything - that the child needs more stimulus, needs more support, needs new materials... etc etc.

Say it aloud.

Holmes and Watson, talking it through.
Holmes talks to Watson about everything.
The telling helps, Holmes says. "Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person."
"Stating something through, out loud, forces pauses and reflection. It mandates mindfulness. It forces you to consider each premise on its logical merits allows you to slow down your thinking." 
I totally agree with this - by entering a dialogue with colleagues we are able to understand our own thinking btter... not only by hearing your own words out loud, but also by being questioned and having new perspectives shared with you.
An observation can then be more easily deduced and the way forward to meeting the needs of the child can be more easily reached.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Images to support Listening workshop reflections May2015

The following images will help those people who have attended one of my workshops to reflect on the experience... there will be no words... (except a few links to previous posts I have written) - as the idea is that the images support individual thinking and reflection of the day and to hopefully deepen that by a second chance to see the images...

I am not even going to put them in the same order... as I want to shake it up a bit ... and some images cannot be shared online - I only have permission to use them in workshops...

 2015 - a year to listen

reföections on a project  how listening is woven into our daily routine

The importance of the spoken language   - a post about listening being more than words...

 The bubble game - here I wrote about how we play it...
 but it DOES keep developing...

 Listening and interpretation

 Together on the Square Project 

 The Together Painting
 Kandinsky inspired art

A hundred languages ...  a hundred ways to listen

 read Listen Dance for more information

for more information on this activity please see best position for listening

Well I hope this is enough for some good reflections... and please take the time to explore other posts here... there is lots on play - indoors and outdoors, philosophy and many more on listening... plenty of my Reggio journey, visits to other preschools, etc etc etc....

Saturday, 9 May 2015

more inspiration from Milan

Here are a few more images from Milan that have inspired me, so I thought I would share them with you...

I have always wanted a series of shelves with various seeds and spices etc in them.. side by side  for myself and children to be inspired by the colours and textures of nature. This image is from the shop of the future at Expo 2015.

 I loved the use of the mirrors in the ceiling and floor together with the flowers hanging down. It created such a sense of magic. But mirrors and reflections - and deceptions are always very intriguing... the feeling of endlessness - and the use of light together with the mirrors. The image is taken in the Morrocco Pavillion at Expo 2015
And yes, that is me and my husband...

This was taken in the Slow Foods area of Expo 2015... a simple food art - a table painted with blackboard paint, some chalks in a brown paper bag and a selection of beans, lentils and seeds to create with.

Not quite sure how this will be sorted every day though... on this large scale... but this could be doable on a small scale, as sorting the beans/lentils afterwards could be a part of the process.

This painting by Gino Severini, called La Chahuteuse (a dancer, who danced a more raucus version of the cancan) got me thinking about the portrait project I have been doing and will no doubt do again next year with those children who will begin their final year at preschool. I looked at this and wondered if it would be possible for the children to look at themselves through a kaleidascope and draw their self portrait as they saw... all defracted... and if I purchase a few different kinds then we could really get a few interesting ways of seeing themselves. I am all for one at introducing new ways of looking at things... and I am curious to see whether the children would draw themselves similar to this, or piece things toegther and draw as usual... and also what they would think about seeing themselves so different...

Anyway - these are just 4 images... I still need to get a whole load from my husbands phone... as I took too many films and things so I ran out of batteries before half the day was over... Not just to share on the blog, but to share with my children at home and at work... there are many different reasons to take photos and films...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Me and my autism

 There is more and more research about autism available to read and to gain a better understanding of what autism is like.
Yesterday I linked up this post from Nursery World "How children with autism see the world"
as someone who has autism myself this makes so much sense... it has never been about just seeing details... even though detail has been clear... the problem has always been filtering out stuff...

I often think of Alison Gopnik when she wrote/said 

" Well if we want to think about a way of getting a taste of that kind of baby consciousness as adults, I think the best thing is think about cases where we're put in a new situation that we've never been in before -- when we fall in love with someone new, or when we're in a new city for the first time. And what happens then is not that our consciousness contracts, it expands, so that those three days in Paris seem to be more full of consciousness and experience than all the months of being a walking, talking, faculty meeting-attending zombie back home. And by the way, that coffee, that wonderful coffee you've been drinking downstairs, actually mimics the effect of those baby neurotransmitters. So what's it like to be a baby? It's like being in love in Paris for the first time after you've had three double-espressos. (Laughter) That's a fantastic way to be, but it does tend to leave you waking up crying at three o'clock in the morning. "

Alison Gopnik, TedTalk. How babies Think

It IS a great way to see the world... I see so much, feel so much all the time... and I have an ability to make the links between ideas... but it IS exhausting...

This is why rest time, being in small groups, often, even alone time fairly often, is important to recharge batteries. For the children I work with (whether or not they have autism) and also for myself.

My son with autism and ADHD shows this too... when school asked him to draw his home he could draw not only what was in our windows in our apartment building but also what was in everyone elses windows (along with extra crocodiles and lizards roaming the garden... imagination and reality have always gone hand in hand... as they have for me).

It wasn't until last summer that I made the connection that I had autism, but as soon as I did everything started making sense. Before I could never understand why when group decisions were made not everyone followed them - in some places I have worked I ended up being the only one following... I could never understand why people would agree to stuff they could not/would not do.
I could never understand why my husband could be so easy talking about things in the past... until I realised that when he remembered stuff he did not experience the same emotions as before... now this comes in handy as a preschool teacher, as I remember my childhood I experience the emotions I had then... it allows me to really understand children as a child with adult understanding - it really does not help when remembering stuff with negative emotions as reliving them is not always so fun. Big social dinners are awful because focussing on one dialogue when I can hear all of them is a nightmare... I actually have to work hard at listening... and I am exhausted by the end of it. It doesn't mean that I don't enjoy big social events... it just means I know I have to relax afterwards.

There is lots more I could write about as to why I realised I have autism... but I feel I don't want to really to go into detail here... but I will say it was like being freed when I found out... it was not so much a key to understand myself, but a key to understand everyone else... not so much my brain is wired differently (ie that I feel different), but that other people's brains are wired differently from mine (ie that they are different).

I feel I was lucky, I loved school, I could find my groove there... my son does not love school and, as yet, has not found the learning rhythm for him there.
I do remember that my teenage years were hard, trying to make sense of the social world, but I didn't know, then, that was what the problem was. I do have huge blanks between 15 and 21 where I don't remember events or people as a way of managing all the input.

Many people think that autistic children don't have empathy. It is certainly not the case for me, or my son... the problem tends to be there is too much empathy and to be able to "survive" sometimes you have to switch it off before you explode - or avoid certain situations. The older I get, though, the easier all of this is to manage. I remember my dad saying, when I was a child, that "The older we get the further we see" - and being able to see further has enabled me to have control over the now... many young children do not have control over the now (or feel worry over it) because they cannot see further down the line as to how it could be.

I feel the way my brain is wired is a gift. It allows me to be creative. It allows me to listen to children as both a child and an adult. it allows me to see the big picture... in great detail - and the support I have had in my life means I am able to put all of this to my advantage - to make connections. And support means I have always been given time... as a child I spent hours and hours daydreaming alone... and now as an adult I get regular child-free time at home to be on my own and recharge.

The purpose of this post?
Well, to share that autism is not a problem... it is everyone else that has the problem. Thinking differently is a gift to the world... it opens up possibilities, it allows us to see new perspectives. What people with autism need is the space and understanding to get on with their thinking... and that expecting them to always adapt and not everyone else adapting is not an inclusive world and means great wonders could be missed.

I have always been able to adapt... I feel lucky in that - and it is why I feel great sadness that my son is not finding it as easy to adapt... BUT I do know that things will turn out great for him when he his released from having to think in a specific way in school and allowed to use the full potential of his wonderful autistic mind.