Saturday, 30 September 2017

Border Crossing... from analogue to digital and back...

In the last few days I have been reflecting on a post shared by Sue Martin on my personal facebook page about teachers being replaced by "inspirational robots" - you can read the article here...
What I found is that I answered not as I or Sue expected... as I am rather an hands on person (but in no means adverse to technology) - but in this case I was actually in favour of these robots - as long as they do as the article explained... they learned to adapt to each individual child's pace of learning, they learnt how to challenge each child without overwhelming, they learned what interested and motivated the child to learn, it meant learning was more effective and the school day could be shortened... which for me, means there would be more time for free play and human interactions. It also mentioned that the learning would occur in many forms... so closer to the hundred languages than most schools are offering today.
For me the school system is limited... it is not able to reach all the children, not even the most talented teacher can engage all the children all the time... far too many teachers do not have a proper understanding of how the brain works and how learning happens... especially when it comes to children with autism and ADHD - and believe me I have first hand experience of this as I struggle to find a path for my son that will enable him to learn in school (the standardisation of schools is a mire of misery that seems to be drowning any enthusiasm my son had for learning).
Often I find that screens are being used as an alternative way to teach my son - but I would like to point out that it is the exact same standardised crap except in screen format... technology is not expanding learning possibilities it is being forced to conform to the school system that is not working for all children. The school law, the school curriculum talks about inclusion... but the system does not allow it to happen with the standardised approach.

So the idea of a digital system that will allow my son to learn with all his learning languages (and gain more... so not JUST a screen) - that is tuned in to his brain and how it works, and tuned in to his interests to motivate learning, and allows him shorter days so that he has free time to be himself... then these inspirational robots cannot come soon enough...

Screens should not be a form of child-care... used to keep a child quiet so that teaching can happen (this is happening a lot with my son - and I know this is the case for others too). Screens, apps, computers... the digital world is simply another language - not the main language, just another one that can and should be used in learning... digital does not have to mean children are using screens all the time...

The Reggio Emilia exhibition  Border Crossing shares experiences of exploring nature using digital tools... that the digital enables children and adults to see a new perspective of the world around them and to then explore nature in a new way...

At the exhibition there is the chance to explore various techniques where nature and technology are used... where technology is used outside to explore nature and then brought inside to continue the experience and also where nature is brought inside to explore technology... it is not a one way exploration... hence the name of the exhibition crossing borders... the border between analogue and digital, the border between nature and technology, between outside and inside, between real and imagination...
By combining technology with nature, of analogue and digital, there becomes the possibility to explore imagination and the real world... to be able to explore the imagination in new ways, and also to explore the real world from new perspectives..

I feel that technology, the digital world, is sometimes elevated a little too much as a language of learning... where in a sense it takes too much space... it is sometimes too loud so that other languages are not being heard. Its is a fantastic language to learn and explore... but as educators we need time to explore this language, to master it somewhat, to feel comfortable with it, to understand the potential for learning, play and exploration before we use it...

In that sense I can recommend going to Border Crossing to see how digital and analogue are being used as a bilingual approach to exploring nature... it is not so much about crossing the border, and more about blurring the edges of the border and to get the best of both worlds...

I am about learning with all of our senses, with all of our hundred languages... and the digital language is here to be used as one of them... it is exciting... but it is important to remember in this excitement that it is not more important than all the other languages, and it should not have the higher status that it sometimes gets, so that the focus is on the digital product rather than the child's experience and process.

Educators need time to play with this language and all languages to understand better how to weave it into the fabric of their community of learners...

Below are images from Border Crossing and a short film with some glimpses of the borders crossed...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Philosophical photos 2.

To continue the posts of photos that can stimulate thinking, reflection and dialogue with young children. I am back at Fotografiska (The Photography Museum) here in Stockholm as there are two new exhibitions to check out   Paul Hansen's "Being there" - series of photographs from his work as a journalist (I got quite emotional in this exhibit as there are a whole load of war-torn images) and found I could not look at the whole exhibit in detail as it was a bit overwhelming for me (and plenty of images that are totally unsuitable for young children to explore, but for older children and young people there are some excellent images that should and need to be reflected upon)
There is also an exhibit called "Last night in Sweden" a response to Trumps statement "last night in Sweden where Trump implied there was a terror attack/unrest in the country - instead this series of photos (and a book) show what happened on that evening around the country... lots of non-front page news... just life!

So here are three photos I have chosen from these two exhibits...

Paul Hansen.
where do you think they are going?
why do you think they are all on the bike?
How many people can ride on one bike at the same time?
How many people should ride a bike together?
What do you think is in the container?
What do you think they will do with the contents?
if you have bikes/trikes, how many can ride at the same time, how easy is this?
take paper outside and paints - use bikes to paint on the paper
go out and look at transport, how do most people get about
find films of people doing tricks on bikes, think that bikes are used in many ways
get the children to design a bike that would make it easy for many to ride at the same time
listen to the sound bikes make on different surfaces.

Jonas Lindkvist (Jönköping)
are mermaids real?
what is happening in the pool here?
Are the mermaids captured?
is it OK to catch mermaids? or anything?
why would someone want to put mermaids in pool?
is this a mermaid prison?
Why do you think people want to dress up as mermaids?
Do adults like to play? Why?
Are adults allowed to play? Why? When?
if you were to be a mythical/magical creature, what would you be? Why?
read books about mermaids
try moving on the ground like a mermaid, maybe even try to negotiate an obstacle course as a mermaid (with legs together)
draw magical creature, let the children explain to you their powers
can these creature be connected and create a story as a whole group?
Use figures and small world scene to create spaces for imagination play
dress up clothes, scarfs etc can also offer the chance for story telling

Izabelle Nordfjell (Arjeplog)
is this a pet or a wild animal? How do you know?
Is it OK for wild animals to be inside?
Why do you think the reindeer is inside?
If you could choose any animal to be your pet what would you choose? Why?
Are there any animals that you should not have as a pet? Why?
Draw your favourite animal (the children can always explore lots of images of photos of a variety of animals to widen their knowledge of what animals they have a choice of) Let the children tell you why it is their favourite, or if it is their favourite today, or if it was hard to choose as they like many animals etc
go looking for animals in nature... think about how it would be for these animals inside at the preschool, would they like it there?
look for animals tracks outside. Use animals figures inside to make tracks in clay or with paint.
let the children bring a stuffed animal to school and create your own safari experience. You could make interesting fact signs for the animals like you would find at a zoo... get the children to group the animals... do they sort them by colour, or by size, or by the climate they live in... you could sort by all methods bringing maths and also natural sciences into the play.
read the book "Dear Zoo" by Rod Campbell - can the children make their own lift the flap book together using inspiration from their own favourite animals or photos of their stuffed animal? The children can take their own photo of their toy.

When it comes to the questions the idea is that you do not have to use ALL the questions. They are just suggestions to get you going... especially with the  mermaids, the questions I have shared have several threads of thinking... you really don't know what direction the children might take the dialogue, and it can be good to have a few extra questions up your sleeve just in case it takes an unexpected direction...

Hope that gives you some food for thought...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Play and the new proposed Swedish Preschool Curriculum...

Yesterday I wrote some reflections on the draft of the preschool curriculum that is being shared with those working in the field to reflect and respond to...
I quoted the section on play and on my facebook page received this feedback from Sue Martin in Canada... that got me thinking yet another rotation - and it really does rotate... making links to the school curriculum...

"Thank you for your reflections. I have only my small phone to read and comment as I'm in northern Ontario right now. However, my immediate thought was that, although the inclusion of play was a great step forwards, the description sounded rather adult led and directed. I might have picked up the wrong idea; i wish I could ponder in this properly. I'll have to wait. Thanks."
Here is the excerpt from the proposed curriculum again
Play as a basis for development, learning and well-being
Play has a central role in education and promotes children's development, learning and well-being. For children, play itself is important and it can provide joy and well-being. In play, the children are active participants, they mimic, creative and process their experiences. In this way the children can form an idea of ​​themselves and other people. Play stimulates imagination and empathy. Play challenges and stimulates children's communication as well as the ability to symbolize thinking, cooperation and problem solving.
A learning environment and an attitude that encourages play confirms the importance of play for the child's development, learning and well-being. The staff should ensure the conditions for play and lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play. The staff will also ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in communal play based on their conditions and ability.
Staff should notice factors that limit the play and develop working methods and learning environments that promote play. The physical and conscious presence of the staff leads to the support of communication between the children and the prevention of conflict situations. The play should be seen and heard. Playing children and adults should be given time, space and tranquility to find games, experiment and experience.
As you can see it states that staff should "lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play." For me as a person who is an advocate of free play and children's right to their own play it was clear to me that this implied that children have access to play that is inspired by themselves (with the adult on the outside) and also play that is inspired by and with adults... BUT it does leave room for other interpretations that adults should be leading all the play. And while I feel that play is the essence of learning in Swedish preschools, it might be worth ensuring that this is preserved and that the curriculum also supports the need for free-play within its learning frame.

I think preschools are very much an adult steered realm, no matter how much we strive for equality with the children that we work with, there will never be a true equality... Firstly the children have not chosen to go to preschool (there are of course those who love going to preschool) the decision has been made by parents who, in Sweden, have made this choice due to the need to return to work (by the age of three 90% of children attend some form of care, mostly preschools).
Children do not decide how long their day will be... preschools in Sweden are, by law, open between 6:30 and 18:30 (they can open later and close earlier of there is no parental need at their setting) - over the years I have encountered children who have 10plus hours in a preschool setting - much longer days than is legally allowed for adults to work (and this can be from the age on one).

I will say that preschools strive to make their settings the best place they can for the children... not just from an education point of view, but also from a care point of view... if a young child spends 30-60 hours a week in preschool there needs to be care (read more about Professional Love, Jools Page)
The word "omsorg" is used a few times in the text (means care) but maybe not as much as it should be... as if there is not this care, there is not the feeling of safety then there will not be any learning. A safe environment where each child feels cared for is essential for a child to develop, to learn and to evolve as the person they are.

In my quote about LOVE is the first word. Care is essential
I have now gone through the text and started to count certain words to se how often they are mentioned... with the idea that the more they are mentioned the more focus the curriculum has on them (or the bigger the impact they have on us - which made me sort of laugh afterwards as the word UNDERVISNING (teaching/Education in the sense of instruction) had had a massive impact on me and yet was only used twice... the word UTBILDNING (education) was used about 34 times (this was not an exact counting).
This is a preschool curriculum - a plan of learning - the Swedish word is "läroplan" (learning plan) so it is hardly surprising that this is a text that contains the words undervisning and utbildning so many times... the words "lära" and "lärande" (learn/learning) are used 19 times and develop/developing (utveckla/utveckling) are used about 23 times.
Play is used 19 times, the majority of those times within the paragraph above (13 times in the Swedish text, in one of its forms) so only 6 times in the rest of the text.
Care (omsorg) is used just five times as is "trygg" (safe/secure) - although there can be references to these states through other means... for example... it states that the preschool should together with the home create the possibility to develop based on their own needs/abilities... this could mean the need for security in order to be safe...

As for play being the children's and not adult steered... then there are sections of the text that refer to this... not as their play but in their right to learn through their interests... and since play has a "central role" in learning this must also imply the play is child lead and not just adult lead.
"The education should give space for the children's own intiatives, imagination and creativity in play and learning indoors and outdoors. (Utbildningen ska ge utrymme för barnens egna initiativ, fantasi och kreativitet i lek och lärande såväl inomhus som utomhus.)"
It also states that there is a need for educators working in preschools to explore the meaning of knowledge and learning as part of their ongoing work and that knowledge is not just facts but also comprehension, skills and familiarity...

The education should be based on the children's needs and interests, as well as the knowledge and experience that the children have previously been able to use, but also continually challenge the children by inspiring new discoveries and knowledge.
So even though it talks about the teacher leading the play and creating the learning environment it is something that needs to be rooted in the children - to create a space for individual and group learning.
While I personally like the curriculum as it is open to interpretation and I have a strong play-based/child-based approach to learning then it suits me well... the concern is, can it be interpreted to bring the rote, teacher-down learning that is found far too  much in schools, where children are sitting at desks... because the school curriculum has a similar text at the start of it's curriculum  (it mentions that joy is important for learning, but not play). I counted the same words and found the results a little surprising...

As you see above the word education (utbildning) is used in the preschool curriculum far more than the school curriculum in fact combining the words teach, learn and education then school has only 58% of the learning and education mentions compared with the school... somehow I thought it would be the opposite way around. That there would be more focus on learning, education and teaching in the school.

So basically I feel what we could say is let's revamp the school curriculum to look more like the preschool curriculum... I mean there is more learning going on, there is more safety/security, more development and more play... and as educators in early childhood we all know that joy is found through play, that self directed learning can be found through play...

I am not for taking away the learning from the preschool curriculum, as long as we ensure that this is done through play, through the children's choices, through equality with the educator as their pedagogical guide...
what I want is a bigger focus on security and care as being essential for learning... without out this there is no foundation for learning... and also my experience in the Palestinian refugee camp also shows that security and care are essential for being able to play and imagine too.

And my dream is that we take play up into the school, we take this form of learning higher up so that there is not this hierarchy of teacher down instruction (there ARE school forms and school teachers that are doing remarkable work with democratic classrooms - but I see these as more preschool inspired than traditional school)

So back to the original reflection about the teacher leading the play... 
I think we do need to always reflect on the power we have as adults... and how that impacts on us as educators. I know when I first started exploring listening I was fascinated (slightly horrified) by the way children would listen to my voice more than their peers... that already by the age of 2-3 years they were trained into giving the adult more value.
In a way it takes courage to empower children, to trust in them, to see them as competent and to be an equal with them, when at the same time you have to keep them safe and guide them pedagogically... as it is a fine balance and you have to be aware of it all the time. The great thing is that the more you work at it the easier and more natural it feels... but that you still always have to be aware of the power you possess as an adult...

Sunday, 17 September 2017

proposed new Swedish preschool curriculum - some reflections...

Here in Sweden at the moment those working within preschools are being given the opportunity to read the first part of the new edition of the preschool curriculum and to have our say.
You can check it out here it is, of course, in Swedish.

I have already read it and expressed my opinion in the format that they have given us... a kind of questionnaire.

But I thought I would share some of my opinions here...
As before the curriculums first sentence is that the school systems rests upon democracy... there is though a much bigger focus on the word "undervisning" which google translates as teaching... but there is another word for teach - "lära" - and this new curriculum has chosen to use the word "undervisning" which is a much more schoolified word and has a bigger connection to instruction, while "lära" is more connected to learning... as the word for learning in Swedish is "lära sig". The word "undervising" is made up of two words - "under" which means the same thing in both English and Swedish and "visa" which means show. So the word, for me has a larger connection to a hierarchy and not the equality of learning together that I (and many others) strive for within early childhood education.

The word popped up many many times and there began to be a feel of unease, despite all the wonderful descriptions of children's rights, and creating a space of equality and respect for all.

Then, about half way through it states...

Play as a basis for development, learning and well-being
Play has a central role in education and promotes children's development, learning and well-being. For children, play itself is important and it can provide joy and well-being. In play, the children are active participants, they mimic, creative and process their experiences. In this way the children can form an idea of ​​themselves and other people. Play stimulates imagination and empathy. Play challenges and stimulates children's communication as well as the ability to symbolize thinking, cooperation and problem solving.
A learning environment and an attitude that encourages play confirms the importance of play for the child's development, learning and well-being. The staff should ensure the conditions for play and lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play. The staff will also ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in communal play based on their conditions and ability.
Staff should notice factors that limit the play and develop working methods and learning environments that promote play. The physical and conscious presence of the staff leads to the support of communication between the children and the prevention of conflict situations. The play should be seen and heard. Playing children and adults should be given time, space and tranquility to find games, experiment and experience.

And I felt a kind of relax... although it does not say that "undervisning" is performed through play, it does imply that. There needs to be a huge focus on educators exploring play and understanding how learning occurs in the play in order to fully use it as a "lessons" which is the kind of teaching undervisning implies. Play lessons, lesson in play... but at least play is mentioned more than previous curriculums and is stated that it is central, even though the word "undervisning" feels to be used more... maybe I should take the time to count how much both words are used?

Another point that I feel is important that we working in preschools here in Sweden should find out WHO exactly is responsible is this phrase...

An equal education
According to the school law, education in preschool should be equal regardless of where in the country it is organized. Education in preschool shall be characterized by the care of the individual child's well-being, security, development and learning. The education should be accessible, taking into account the children's different conditions and needs, and adapted to all children in preschool. This means that the education can not be formulated in the same way everywhere and that the preschool's resources should not be distributed equally.
This intrigues me... how are they going to find out where all these resources need to be... is it only the money that preschools apply for to meet the costs of having extra teachers to support children as mentioned above... or are they actually going to visit preschools and really see the quality of the teaching that is going on and therefore give more finances to those preschools in need of a pedagogical lift?
There are HUGE differences in the quality of preschools for a variety of reasons... and if they REALLY mean that there should be a quality equality throughout Sweden they need to be able to see what this quality differences are and have a strategy as to how to create an equality...
In the section at the end of this first part the curriculum refers to who has responsibility... that the owner has overall responsibility, the director has pedagogical responsibility and the educators (teachers and assistants) have professional responsibility that the education is of a high standard... but where is the mention of who has responsibility of ensuring that there is equality of quality in all preschools throughout Sweden?

I wonder how such big difference in quality occur... since private, state etc preschools all receive the exact same funding from their local school authorities there is the opportunity for equality that might not be found in other countries where private settings can charge parents more money to attend their educational facilities... that does not exist here.
So it has always surprised me that there has been such a large difference in quality at preschools I have worked at and visited over the years as well as talked about with friends and colleagues.
So what strategy will be put in place? That is something I am eager to find out... as there are many preschools with great potential that need the support to lift their educational standard (and this is for a variety of reasons).

Anyway these are my first BIG take aways from reading the new curriculum draft - I am so glad that educators have been given the opportunity to make their opinions heard... I am curious to see how it will impact the final product...?

And so a collection of quotes on play and learning to finish off this reflection...

Friday, 15 September 2017

A relationship with the third teacher...

I have been very fortunate to have been able to visit many preschools over the years... and to also interact with the educators working there. I have also been fortunate to have worked at a variation of settings allowing me to see different perspectives of how educators and children develop a relationship with the third teacher... their play and learning space.

Not all places that I have visited have been Reggio Emilia inspired, but there has still been an awareness of the way rooms are designed impact the children...

Over the years I have seen that sometimes (maybe too often) there is a gap in that theoretical awareness and it being practically applied... and also the idea (that I have referred to many times in this blog) that the Reggio Emilia Approach is so much more than developing the pedagogical environment and making it look beautiful.

Children and educators are making a learning journey together. If we left learning footprints then we should see them walking side by side with an equality. I think though sometimes the adult is having such an impact the the children's footprints cannot be seen. The adults, in their well-intentions, have created beautiful environments based on their own perspective of childhood - and the child's perspective is hard to find.
This does not mean that the children will not enjoy the environment, find it stimulating, be able to play and learn there... it is simply not my idea of what the Reggio Emilia Approach is about.
For me it is about the relationship between the third teacher and the children... and its relationship with the educators, and the parents and society... it is also about the relationships between the people...

As I mentioned in my post the other day about Border Crossing, it was the interaction with the people there that really opened up the exhibition and allowed me to take a step inside and make new discoveries... I was invited to leave my footprints there together with my guides (those I was learning with).

I entered a dialogue today about  children and bullying... and how ti seems to be more prevalent in schools than preschools here in Sweden (at least those places I have visited and worked in, and knowledge from friends and family)... is this just because younger children don't bully or is it because in preschools there is an active attempt to create an equality with the children... whilst in schools educators do not strive for that... there is a distinction - could this be why hierarchies also start to develop amongst the children - as they emulate what they think being an adult is?

Tom Shea in his filmed interview about play (your can see it HERE) mentions the trend that school education style of "TEACHING" is being pushed ever further down in years and into preschool settings, while he strongly believes (and I whole heartedly do too) that what should be happening is the "LEARNING" should be pushed up in the years and into schools... that play and relationships with the world around them should take a much bigger part of education than teacher-dominated teaching. We should be "enabling" learning.

So back to the third teacher... this relationship we develop needs to help the children to learn and play and explore and experiment and interact - and as educators our relationship with the third teacher needs to support us to enable the children to learn and play etc.
And just as educators need professional development so does the third teacher (the third educator maybe). We need to take the time to observe how it interacts, what sort of relationship it has with the children. We need to listen to the children and their thoughts about the space (both indoors and outdoors... I am a BIG believer that the third teacher is not exclusive to the indoor environment) - we need to reflect on how we adults interact (educators, parents, cleaners etc) - we all need to develop a positive relationship with the space we work and play in.

So what is needed to help those who need to make the leap from theory to practice...? Or are blinkered and think they are doing what they preach when they are not (and admit it, we have all met at least one of these educators). What can we do to help develop the reciprocal relationship with the third teacher... and to understand that it is one of many interactions that make up the Reggio Emilia Approach. We work as teams... so how can we strengthen the team.
Well I will leave you with that thought... my thought too, to ponder over the weekend. Not sure if I have any answers... maybe you have some ideas...?

The below images I have decided NOT to add the locations, because sometimes I think that adds status to some environments... instead, take the time to look at each image and see if you can see the child and the adult with equality... what is it in the image that makes you think that thought about it... Can you understand the philosophy of the learning space by just observing?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Climbing Trees... to do or not to do

Before we start I will say that I am very pro climbing trees... I climbed them as a child, and I encourage the children I work with (and my own children) to climb trees... so this post will be mostly about the benefits of tree climbing as I find it hard to not see the benefit of tree climbing...

But there have been times when I felt tree climbing feels like too much of a risk... I will check the terrain... if the child is to fall is the ground safe enough to fall on... for example some trees have rocks and stones underneath... if I can move them I will, but otherwise this is not a safe tree to climb in the sense that a fall has the potential to be dangerous...

As children, my sister and I jumped off swings A LOT... and fell a lot - but once my sister broke her arm - and that was when the ground presented a danger rather than a risk (of course there were no parents around to get us to reflect on that) - I was seven and my sister was five... I still remember the feel of my sisters broken arm in my hands as I held it as we walked back to our parents a 5-10 minute walk away at my grandparents house.
The arm healed, and we learned that lesson that we check the ground before we jumped... I was lucky I learned that without breaking my arm - but it took the break for us to learn.

I am all for the small scrapes and bruises as part of the learning process, maybe the odd fracture - as part of the process of learning and keeping our bodies safe... children that have been exposed to risk as young children (evaluated risk - not danger) are less likely to expose themselves to potentially more harmful risk as they get older... as they have learned the impact of falls, and learned how to control their bodies when the falls have been small, and bones heal faster (bones heal slower and slower the older we get).

As a mother of twins I had to deal with the fact that my two had a method of divide and conquer... they would explore the playground at age 18 months by going in different directions and climbing and testing everything... they fell and hit their heads and threw up and I felt like my heart "failed" so many times... but they taught me a thing or two about resilience... the "heart failure" was my own panic and anxiety and desire to keep my children safe... it had nothing to do with them... they demanded a hug to reassure all was well and then got back to playing ... but with a greater awareness. By 20 months both my girls negotiated play-spaces better than the other 20 month olds around them.... because I could not lift both of them, I could not prevent all the hurts... they had the chance to explore and to play and discover their own limits and also develop their body strength to manage climbing. This impacted me as an educator.

Tree climbing has been part of their childhood, including their younger brother...
I know that it strengthens the entire body... arms, hands and fingers that need strength to be able to hold a pencil and write when they start school, also strengthening the core muscles... because if children have to sit down to learn in school then they will need the muscles to enable them to do this... sitting down practice is not going to give them the tone they need to be able to sit and concentrate...
It is also problem solving... working out how to get up... and importantly how to get down... learning about branch strength, risk taking, learning about their own limits...
I have experienced plenty of children that are great at climbing up but not so much the coming down bit... and I will only guide them down verbally, placing my body underneath so that they feel security. We will then talk about only climbing as high as they dare to come down... so to be aware of their limits... and also to push those limits bit by bit in an appropriate manner. I have encountered children that have become paralysed by fear and then I have physically helped them down... either by moving/guiding their feet and helping them find a route down and as a last resort carrying them down - luckily I am both tall and strong and this has not happened often... most can be guided down, and feel that sense of achievement. BUT it does require that you the adult/educator needs to keep calm so that you do not spread fear.

There are many times when I  feel anxious... mostly when I am taking care of other people's children... partly because I have a responsibility to keep them safe... not just for the children's sake, but for their parent's sake and also for the sake of the reputation of the setting I work at... sometimes I think that added responsibility feels limiting - so I have talked a lot with parents over the years about tree climbing and risk taking... explaining the benefits, that this is training pre-writing skills (always a winner with the parents) etc and also about the risk for falls, bruises and scrapes and to find out what their opinions are... usually after the chat they are fine with the risk that the odd bruise and scrape will be a part of the learning... almost like taking home a picture... instead its art on the body in form of a bruise!!

I will NOT help children up trees... they have to work together to get up the trees... if I need to help then I feel they are not ready to climb that particular tree... we are always on the look-out for good climbing trees...  the children are made aware of the ground under the tree... I tell them the story about my sister breaking her arm... and that if we had checked the ground then her arm might not have broke... I feel that this is a knowledge they do not have to find out themselves...
I also talk with the children that scrapes and bruises are a part of learning, a part of gaining control over their bodies and not always a bad thing, and that often they only hurt for a short while... the children need to dare to make mistakes too! Mistakes in all areas of life... and as I mentioned before when you are young the mistakes tend to be smaller than the ones made when you get older...

Again, it is MY responsibility to ensure I am not exposing the children to danger... that there is only risk.. or phrased another way - chance taking - a chance to get it right, the chance to get it wrong etc...

Trees often require turn taking - taking turns to go up and down, helping each other... maybe building a den in the tree where several can hang out at the same time. There is a great deal of social interaction around tree climbing.

There is also that amazing sense of achievement of climbing a tree (and the frustration leading up to it) - and that marvelous feeling of being up high and seeing life from a  new perspective.

Then there are the benefits of climbing TREES rather than climbing frames... it is getting children out into nature... they often discover things as they are climbing that we can then go on to learn more about. There is the chance to learn to love and value a good climbing tree... developing a positive relationship with nature. From a sensory point of view the texture and smells of the forest are going to be much more stimulating than a man made play-space. There is also the perspective that they learn respect... to take care of this living tree... not to destroy branches.
Trees and nature in general have a more calming effect on children (all people) and can contribute to a more positive atmosphere in the classroom.
Trees also provide great shade on sunny days... and this shade is complex and there is research that shows that shadows of this complex nature is good for cognitive development... I have written about this before... you can check it out here

So as you can see there are many reason for climbing trees.
Yes there are reasons for not climbing trees... maybe the risk is too much for YOU to cope with, or there is danger rather than risk... but remember to really evaluate this.... how much hurt is OK that it is a valuable lesson rather than an incident that results in a serious injury or puts the child off trying again (this is something you really need to explore as an individual and also as a team of educators). ALSO your own approach/attitude to play and risk taking is essential... children will pick up if you are a nervous wreck (yes some anxiety will be there... I have it - but I know that the benefits far outweigh the small risks of a bruise or at worst a fracture). So you have to be comfortable with this tree climbing too... maybe not start too ambitious, just small climbs and small trees until you, too, feel confident and can offer encouragement.
I also do not run the risk of being sued if a child gets hurt... so maybe this is a reason for not tree climbing... but I think it would almost be better to write tree climbing into some kind of policy/waiver so that parents are on board for the whole tree climbing experience, see its benefits and will not sue... of course I am not talking about a free pass for accidents... but an opportunity for the educator to relax enough from one of the many responsibilities that can sometimes weigh down and prevent the children from accessing the freedom they crave and need...

Below are some tree climbing images

this is in a playground... and still children decide to climb the trees

not just climbing trees... but trees provide all sort of other wonderful resources to play with, to learn from, and to collaborate around.

daring to climb REALLY high--- and swinging from branches, daring to be upside down... inspiring each other, sharing techniques etc etc (4-5 yr olds)
fingers and hands being strengthened

agility... the whole body is involved... and then there is also the chance to find treats in a tree... apples, pears... or even olives!
then there is the chance to make your own calculations... is it too high to jump... do I dare, what will happen if I jump...

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Border Crossing... a quick peek...

As I have not quite got to the place of unpacking everything from my visit to the Reggio Emilia exhibition yesterday in Haninge community I thought I would share just a few photos to give you an idea of what I am trying to unpack...

There was lots to see, to read... and there were plenty of staff available to interact with too...

You can find out more about the exhibition here in English Reggio Children - Border Crossings
or in Swedish here... Haninge the host of the exhibition right now..

I prefer the Swedish description of the exhibition where it explains it is about the journey children and educators made together exploring nature and the digital world... this is what I expected when I got there and this is what I saw... when I returned I looked up what Reggio Emilia had written about it... and I felt less connection - maybe because I was mentally tired, or maybe because it was more "beautifully" phrased rather than connected to the people it is about... children and educators. I am not sure why there tends to be this need to make project titles so fancy or explanations sound like prose... maybe its supposed to elevate the whole status of what children are learning... personally I always feel that is kind of distances it from the children with these adult labels... but that is just my personal opinion (I still think they sound amazing, I just find the connection to the children more distanced).

Anyway I went there together with Eva Tuvhav Gullberg who works at the amazing Sensory Lab I have written about at Överby Preschool in Vaxholm... as I have learned that it is of great benefit to go with someone and learn from their perspective through dialogue and shared experience... and Eva is an inspirational person and I feel fortunate to have visited with her.

Nettan Taberman (Haninge Preschools) met us there, she has had an active part in setting up the exhibition and it was an absolute joy to be shown around and gain further insights by her explaining the processes of the set up - and all the learning the educators were involved in to bring the exhibition to Haninge...

Yes, the exhibition was great to visit. BUT in the end it is the people that make it amazing. Nettans energy and passion filled every corner of that exhibition for me... I let myself see it through her eyes... the pride, the joy and the wonder of learning shone through. We asked questions, we interacted with the materials... but just like in preschool settings it is the interactions between the people that is essential.

It made me think if Hawkin's  I, Thou, It (you can read more about the theory here at The Hawkins Center webbpage)

I have phrased the "I" as the child or learner and the "thou" as the educator or adult... but it could be two learners as well meeting together...
The importance is that all three meet - that it is not just two people trying to learn about something that does not interest them, or only interests one of them... and also that the relationship between the I and the thou is genuine - then real learning can happen.

For me at the exhibition I knew i would find the materials exciting, and I knew Eva would too, but what made this experience so special is that Eva and I were the "i" and Nettan was the "thou" and her connection to us and to the materials was passionate, genuine and reflective - this meant the whole experience was so much more enjoyable and so much the richer and deeper for it.

So here are a few photos until I have time to unpack more thoughts about this Border Crossing - and my heartfelt thanks to Eva and Nettan for feeding my mind with such wonders and treasures I can feast upon for some time...

In the next post about this exhibition I will explore the title and how it impacted me as I went round the exhibition.