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

Sunday 13 September 2015

Reflections on the Through the Eyes of the Child Prototype week.

Maybe not the most attractive of blog titles... but it is what it is... this is a working, living document of my reflections of the last week.

The children were divided into pairs... sadly one pair was incomplete as a child was away... this child left on their own was given the option of choosing a fellow Vinden member to take photos with or to do it on their own... on the day the child decided to proceed alone... and I am rather glad the child did this, as it gave me an opportunity to see what would happen if the children worked individually.

Each day a pair was given the task of taking photographs of what was important to them... this could be things, doings, happenings, friends - anything they thought was important. As I have just 8 children in my group at the moment this was something we could easily do over a week... and then on Friday have a reflection session together to analyse the images chosen.

The first day I was quite surprised at how the two children started to take photos of things... not things that I would have thought was important to them... but things that were in the room we were in the time and they were desperately looking round to find something important to take a photo of...
I limited it to five photos a day... this was from my experience of the project last time when they could take limitless photos and then could not manage the sorting process afterwards... and also to get them talking about how to make the decision about what photos to take. After all this is not a project about their photography skill, but a project to get them thinking, reflecting and dialoging about this together.
Of the five photos they had they took just one of their friends doing things... the rest seemed pretty random and did not reflect what I thought they would choose as important to them.

Just before lunch we sat down togethr and went throught the five photos - which one would they select as the one that was the most important. It did not suprise me at all that they chose the one with their friends. They also answered the questions why was this one the most important and why did they not choose the other photographs. The second question was of equal importance I found.

The next two pairs only took four of their five photos... this was because once they get playing they are simply not so interested in breaking off to take photos. I found for all four days I needed to remind the children if they wanted to take photographs. I had the camera.. and they came to me to take the camera to take images... so we are thinking of doing another protoype week with the idea of having a camera that can be around their neck, or some other solution to make the access more easy, and that I would not need to remind them. That it comes wholly from the children. Maybe then no photographs are taken... but I am interested in testing this out too.

The child that took images by themself took only one... there was no interest in taking more and no motivation of being in a pair to take more either. There was also the lack of dialogue that the other pairs had about how to take the photos... should they have 2 images each and share one... or should one make all the decisions and the other take... or...? Which I felt was an important part of the process. As well as when we discussed why we chose the one image and not the other, the answers they gave inspired the other and made the dialogue and the reasoning richer.

On Friday we looked at all the images. I had them on a powerpoint with the children's words. I read them as they looked at the images. First time to just see and listen. And then we looked again with the idea of discussing.

My children had a hard time focussing here. They seemed to enjoy their own image and words but showed less interest in those of others... A few comments and links were made before I pushed it completely over to the children and said... "now you need to talk together and decide which one of these images feels like the most important one of this week".

At first there was a little chaos and the children talked randomly... then one child said... "Its no good if you you just talk 2 or three together, we will never be able to make up our minds... we need to all talk together". And that is what they suddenly did.

it turned out that all of them but one liked one picture... I asked them to explain why... and also for the one child to explain why, and if on hearing this anyone wanted to change their minds... all of the children except two moved to the one child.

The two looked VERY disappointed. I pointed out that changing their mind did not mean that their photograph was more important... since their argument for their photo had been that it was important to remember because it happens just once a week (the bubble game) that the finding the sun-eggs in the forest game has happened just once so far made it maybe for this week even more important as so not to forget... after all EVERYONE had enjoyed it, including these two. This they could accept.

I told them that I had learned very much from the week about what was important to them, and thanked them.

It made me realise that more than one image per child/pair was not going to be viable for their concentration levels... so when it comes to the full week session that the pairs would need to choose one image a day... and then on Friday one image from the week to present to the others. It was definietly easier to reflect on the images with the pairs than with the whole group... and this is with a small group of max 8 children (one was away, so there were just 7 this time).

It is the process that matters. The feedback I got from the pairs and the dialogue I had with the pairs was very positive. I felt the Friday session was more chaotic... was it just because of their form that day? Well another prototype week would help me out on that. But on the whole I felt it was a very positive experience...a nd hopefully next time they will understand the process a bit more themselves and be able to dig deeper into their own reflections...

We will have to see.

The top right and the bottom left were the two most important for the group... the oranges being the image that in the end felt the most important for the group for this week.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Maths in the forest... Beskow's "Sun Egg" inspired.

The International Fairy Tea Party is next week and to get us into the mood for our Elsa Beskow "Sun Egg" inspired Fairy Tea Party we went on a sun egg hunt in the forest. I also thought that we could turn this into a maths in the forest session too... so ten oranges and two baskets were needed.

It gave us the opportunity to work out how many oranges were left to find, which basket had the most oranges which had the least... if one basket had three and the other had four, how many in total do we have...? The children were totally engaged.

While my colleague read the story to the children, sitting on the sun stone (a big rock in the forest bathed in sunlight) I hid the oranges. Most of them were on the ground, behind trees, in the blueberries or close to a rock... I tired to get them higher up, but the branches were just not working with me and the ornages kept thudding to the ground... I managed with one tree... just not the one in the photo - that one plopped out of the tree shortly after taking the image!!

 The children were eager to get going - and the first seven ornages were found fairly quickly - the last three were more of a challenge and the very last one even more so... the one up a tree. The children kept walking past it all the time. In the end I gave them some clues... and with some team work they managed to get it down from the high branch (easy for me, who is rather tall) but quite tricky for them.

The children then thought it would be a great idea if they took it in turns to hide an ornage for the rest to find. This went quite quickly except for one child... no-one could find it... despite clues being given. In the end we asked the child to show everyone where the orange was ... and the child could not find it again... it became a BIG mystery... where could it have gone... did some animal come and take it? So we decided to let the orange be and use another one for the last two children to have their turn... as we returned to the sun rock I suddenly spotted something orange... and exclaimed I could see it... the children rushed to my side, looked, and the orange was retrieved. We had a good laugh... it was exactly as the child said... behind a rock... there were just so many rocks in the forest!!

We shared two of the oranges... the rest of them were saved so the children could take a sun egg home with them.

Then there was just over an hour left for free play... the children dedicated their time to blueberry picking and eating... and tree climbing... lots and lots of tree climbing. We talked about surface... if the surface under and around the tree was hard and rocky then the children should not climb too high, as any fall would be bad... but if the area under the tree was soft and earthy then they could climb higher. We also talked about making sure the branches felt sturdy before putting their whole weight on them. The children learned a great deal about risk assessing today. They also challenged themselves with how high they could climb... there was a great climbing tree where one child climbed so high that she gained the attention of all the blueberry pickers so that EVERY SINGLE child felt the need to climb that tree...

"its a great view from up there"

There was also a swinging tree where the children hanged and swinged and did various tricks - lining up to take turns.

It was a good day in the forest.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Big portraits

Last week we used the photo portraits I had taken of the children as the base for the children to draw a portrait... putting plastic over the photograph and giving them a permanent pen to draw around the outlines.

Thsi proved an interesting task... not only to see how thir fine motor skills were doing, but also to see their language development... following instructions of drawing around the face and explaining how this could be done gave me a wonderful window into their language comprehension.

All but one enjoyed this task very much, this due to a child feeling his motor skills prevent him from producing the image in paper similar to that he has in his head... this time I did the task for him... as i knew this was just step one in a long series of steps and I wanted him to be able to participate in the rest of the steps in what will be a group piece of art.

Today we put the  plastic portraits on the overhead and projected them onto a big piece of paper on the wall (which I had divided into 8 equal rectangles). The children worked in pairs to draw around the outlines of the portraits.

The child that has struggled the first week, struggled also this week... but this week really tried to have a go - so it felt like progress... next week I am hoping for an even longer try and also I think there will be completion of the task... I am feeling positive about it.

Once all eight portraits were pencilled in on the wall we took out the back paint...

Again they worked in pairs to go round the outlines...

Until all of the portraits were completed

This was a much enjoyed project by the children... and the one child that received adult support was pleased with that support, is proud to share that fact with others and feels included. It always concerns me about how much should we help children... and when I know that they can... then they are given all the encouragement they need... but when I feel the encouragement will not support, but will be an added pressure, then I feel I need to change my tactic and just allow the child to feel included and support until they feel ready. Its a tricky balance, and I feel that knowing and working with these children for almost 3 years has allowed me an insight that hopefully has given me the knowledge to support this child in the best possible way.

All of the children recognise themselves and comment on how beautiful their own portrait is, so the adult help of this one child has not phased the other children at all.. they have complemented each other a great deal which has been wonderful to hear.

As we have been doing the "Through the Eyes of the Child" project this week, the children have been working in pairs to and taking photographs of what is important to them... one pair for each morning this week (it's prototype week - where I am testing it out). The pair today took most of their photos of this session, and their final image for the show on Friday was from the session - as "this was important" to them.

Next week we will start with colouring the background.

The portrait project links to our Leonardo Da Vinci project...

Saturday 5 September 2015

Books about fairies...

Here are some suggestions for books about fairies... I have not read all of them... but I am sharing a variation so that you can see what is out there... I am also thinking alongs the lines of sharing books that do not have a GIRL focus, but focus on children, play and imagination. I have linked to Amazon.UK - for ease, I am not endorsing Amazon in anyway other than living in Sweden this is the easiest way for me to get books in English...

How to find Flower Fairies

Freddie and the Fairy
Tooth Fairy
(because boys and girls like the tooth fairy to visit...)

What in the world are fairies?

What do fairies do all day?
Rainbow fairies
This is a whole series of 7 books (and there are other series by the authors... I have read these to BOYS and GIRLS and all have enjoyed the stories)

Fairy House Handbook

How to see fairies
This book is pretty good for allowing the children to see fairies in a new way... not just as pretty things, but as something quite different and ususual.

There is the Artemis Fowl book series, for older children than preschoolers... but most certainly fairies are there in a non too traditional girlie sort of way.

There is Peter Pan and the fairy/pixie Tinkerbell... and it does not have to be the Disney version There are many other versions out there... and that is what makes this fun.... challenging the children's conception of what fairies are... are they real, what do they look like.

We have had some amazing dialogues about whether or not fairies are real... the children presetning and defending their theories...

If you have any fairy books to recommend... then please share in the comments...