Tuesday 31 October 2017

Democracy and Original Learning... (and play)

I have just read Peter Gray's post - Social play and the genesis of democracy
and found that it struck a chord with my thinking about both Original Learning and Together-led-play - (although I struggle a little with his use of stereotype gender descriptions - bossy Betsy and bully Benjamin - why not the same word for both, either would have done, to show the equality of how we view this kind of behaviour -  if we are talking about democracy then we are talking about equal values... and the words we use also have value as most have a history with the person using or hearing them).
We value democracy. As citizens, we want our children to grow up holding and abiding by democratic values. We know that democracy is not easy. Democracy implies freedom, but it also implies responsibility. The balance between the two is delicate and takes wisdom that can only be gained through practice. People in a democracy are free, yet they must follow rules, cooperate with others, respect differences among individuals, and recognize that their own needs and rights are no more valuable than are those of every other person. How do children acquire such values and learn to live by them? Peter Gray.
The above is the first paragraph from his article and this is why I think together-led play is so vital... it is a part of the adult relinquishing power over the children and taking on equal status - to avoid the "dictatorships" of schools that Peter Gray goes on to describe where "activities (are) autocratically run by adults". Children in preschool and schools need to be active participants in their own learning.

I also feel, like Gray, there needs to be more time for children/adolescents to engage in free play - but I am not sure that the school/preschool environment is the place that should be taking all the responsibility for this... as a whole society we need to value children's free play. We need to trust in children's competence and we need to trust in the society we live in... we need to communicate with each other better instead of small isolated pockets.
As a child I remember how the whole neighbourhood looked out for us... not control or supervise... but had an eye out just in case. It meant that we, as children, knew we had to spend energy on self-regulation - it was not just about if we did not play fair that others would not want to play with us, it was also the fact you never knew who was watching, and did you want that behaviour being reported back home? This does not mean everyone was always super nice to each other - social boundaries were tested, things happened, we got the opportunity to learn about who was fun to play with and who was not. The older we got the further we got to explore.

Tim Gill reflects on how children are an indicator species for a city - the more children you see on the streets the more the city is thriving - you can read more about it here  Rethinking Childhood:The child as an indicator species for cities
When parents today look out from their front doors, they see a world that is at best uncaring about their children, and at worst hostile to them. And no wonder, thanks to relentless traffic growth, run-down parks and green spaces, and eyeball-grabbing scaremongering in both the mainstream and social media  Tim Gill.
This  is something that we need to address as a whole community. As the saying goes it takes a community to raise a child.
The together-led play that I have been describing does not exclude the need for children's own free time to play and explore - if we are leading play together then we know when to back off as adults, if it is always adult-led then we will be afraid to let go of that power, and if we are only prizing children-led play then we will see adults only as interfering rather than as equal participants in the realm of play.

I state here again how using philosophy with children has helped in my process to better understand the power I have as an adult over children - as being a facilitator in the dialogue without an agenda other than supporting the children communicate their ideas and deepen their own understanding as a community of learners means you get to practice relinquishing your power and becoming aware of it.

Recently I held a philosophy with children session as part of the "board of children" project in Gävle. This time with 8-12 year olds. The other adult I am working with this on this project has not participated in this kind of dialogue before, and, despite us talking about it before, found it difficult at first - the children are new to each other, I knew the dialogue would be slow at the start (despite us having warm-up/team-building beforehand) not only because of their newness to each other, but also because this method of communication is new too. It was obvious that the children are used to being lead by an adult/educator, and I was only acting as a guide... I felt comfortable with the fact that there was silent patches that seemed to indicate a struggle, my colleague started to fill in with her opinion... which I stopped before she had come very far, reminding her and the children that this is a board of children, that it is ONLY their opinions that matter during our meetings, that I am there only in a capacity to support their thinking, and that my colleague is there to write everything down - like a secretary on a board.
When I asked the children about how do they learn (as the board's purpose is to help design a new education about water issues) they all mentioned reading, watching films, making presentations for their class - typical sit down learning that happens in a classroom... I had to push a little to find out if there was any other way that they could learn - despite the fact that they had already expressed that it was easiest to learn when it was fun. Eventually they came to play, experiments and hands on activities and suddenly the dialogue became animated - it was like watching them walk over the threshold of what they think we expected learning should look like to suddenly being able to see this is how learning could look like (in schools).
In a way, it was for the best that my colleague made the "mistake" and started to share her opinion, because it gave another opportunity to illuminate that this meeting really was about the children's ideas, and will continue to be in the future meetings. That we adults are there in the circle as equal members, not to share our ideas, but to share our experience and our knowledge. That by listening we can provide future meetings with the experiences and access to the information the children need to make better informed decisions. And many of those experiences will be play. It was clear from the team-building that the 11-12 year olds enjoyed playing just as much as the 8-9 year olds.
blowing bubbles is fun... apparently it does not matter how old you are!!!

As I have often written in my blog... it comes back to time... taking the time to allow children to play, taking the time to step back, taking the time to enjoy the complexities of learning and play and not feeling the need to simplify things so that it all gets done (in the sense of a one size fits all, rather than the diversity of real life)

I think this is the case for many adults too, raised without the being given the time and space to learn how to think.
If we do not how to do this ourselves as adults it becomes so much harder to be able to enable children to do this. Therefore time also needs to be spent on supporting educators to reflect more about their roles and actions in the classroom - as an individual and together with others.
if you don't know happiness, how can you provide it to others? If you don't know play, how can you provide it to others... hence educators need the time to play in order to better understand play. There needs to be joy... those who are learning and those who are co-learning/teaching.

Monday 30 October 2017

Original Learning - Together-led Play

During the last week I have written about both Original Learning and Together-led play as I try to explore more about how play and learning occurs both in the home and also in the early years setting and school.

you can read about Together-led play here
and about Original Learning here

I feel that both these ideas are very much bound in each other - children, humans, have a natural curiosity, a desire to learn, and play allows them to explore and experiment with ideas and experiences - independently and also together with others. There is a need for adults to offer new experiences, to participate and understand the play, but also to give space for the children to evolve themselves. It is a balance.
For me to be democratic there needs to be an equality no matter what age we are... and if we are purely children-led or purely adult led... then there is an imbalance... this is why I mean together-led... sometimes it will be the child, sometimes it will be the adult and sometimes it will be together... there creates a harmony in the play, a balance of power - a manner for children and adults to not only develop trust in each other but in themselves too.

At the moment I work as a substitute teacher, so I can work some days, and write other days.
It means that I don't always get to work the way I would choose to work, as I follow the routines and rhythm of the place I am at... and sometimes these routines are put in place because there is technically not enough space for all of the children at the setting... so the groups are divided into shifts half outside, half inside... there is no choice. When the children are inside they are divided into smaller groups... again with virtually no choice by the children.
I was with a small group of children in one room... some of them wanted to change room, so I asked the ordinary educator in the other room if there was space for some to come over... there was space for 2 children.
There were four children wanting to change room... all four said "me". I told them that they needed to talk with each other to work out which two should go  - the children continued to look at me. I looked at them and said I was not going to make the decision, they needed to talk with each other... they looked at each other briefly and then looked at me again. I waited a while. Nothing happened. I reminded them that they needed to talk with each other about making this decision. There was silence. I waited a while longer...
It seemed that the children were so used to adults making choices for them that they had forgotten how to do this themselves. I made the choice for them, based on my observations of their play... the two children who I felt needed noisier and wilder play stayed with me, where I knew they could participate in that kind of play freely and without an adult stressing about the noise or the movement, and also without them disturbing the other children... (there were two others that had found their play in a small corner of the room, leaving a huge expanse for these two to play in). I pointed this out to the children and sent the two who were seeking a quieter play to the other room.
It has been a long time since I worked with preschoolers that were unable to resolve the problem themselves in this way. This is a preschool that works with a children-led approach... so this is also why I think we have to be careful about how we use this term... just because we do projects that the children are interested in, or let them do certain things it does not mean it is children-led... it is barely together-led...
Very often it is adult-led with a thin veil of children-led that I feel is not about empowering the children but about being able to point out that the children are having an impact like the curriculum says they should. To me this is not really an impact. It is superficial.
I have seen at settings that some children take a lot more space than the rest of the group... for a variety of reasons.
Maybe we need to make a distinction between children-led and child-led?  Defined as children-led being part of a democratic play where all of the children participate and learn together with an equality - while child-led involves one or a few children dominating the direction of the play and learning but gives the educator the feel that the children are the base of the curriculum.
I aim to provide a together-led curriculum based on play - as I believe that is how children/human learn best - and at this point we have to reflect on the fact that play is one of those strange things to define really...
I mean, I will never forget watching a child follow my son and another boy, just far enough away that it was clear the child was not actively participating, but close enough to listen and watch - after a while the child's father asked about doing something else together... the child looked and frowned at the father and said "but I am playing" - the look implying that the father ought to have known.
Also on another occasion I was chatting to a group of children about their play I had observed the day before where they had been building a castle with magnetic-tiles, the children quickly, and unanimously, corrected me... no they had not been playing, they were building, they working. When I asked them more about this play-work scenario they stated clearly that they were working on the castle so that they could play with it.. for me it was all play as it was clear they were enjoying the whole process, but their definition means that we, as adults, are maybe defining play incorrectly?
They were enjoying building the castle, it was freely chosen and yet it was not play.
On another occasion a small group of children were playing/working - this time scraping ice off a slide in the middle of winter. They were very busy doing this, they explored different techniques and they had made it clear to me that this was play... another child asked several times if they wanted to play - they replied, "we are playing". I asked this child if he wanted to join in the play... his body language made it clear that he had not interpreted their scraping as play and went off to find something that fell under his definition of play. The child came back several times to ask if the others wanted to play, until I chatted with him about how the others were playing but that they were obviously playing something that did not interest him. He looked at the group, he looked at me, the group again and then went off to play elsewhere and with others.

Three very different scenarios of play. And yet there are so many, many more. That I sometimes wonder why we adults are trying to define it with one sentence, when it seems to be so flexible in its definition. The same children saw building with blocks as work, but not scraping the slide (which I saw as hard physical work). Play can also be just standing and watching.
When I talk about together-led play it means that as adults we need to be open to these different interpretations of play - to learn when to stand and watch, when to work as play and when to play as work etc etc etc. I do not imply that every moment is a "we" decision...

Peter Wohlleben has written a book called "The Hidden Life of Trees" and it reminded me so much of learning and schools... and I can also make a connection to both Original Learning and Together-led play.
He describes a natural forest, a virgin forest, where the trees are in communication, where there are old trees and new trees, there are a diversity of trees and other plant-life - there is a connection, a togetherness. He also describes the new forests where just one tree type is grown in rows for economic convenience - the forest becomes quiet. In a way I see this like schools were there is a one size fits all system, where children are divided into classes of the same age, where there is not the together-led learning but a teacher-down teaching.
A connected forest is not just about the young... it is about the whole. Saplings have different needs from the older trees, different species also add their different elements to the eco-system, strengthening it.

For some reason in education there is this need to simplify things. What is play? What is learning? Standardised testing which means standardised teaching... and companies that produce materials to enable exactly this... not giving the educators the time to get to know how the children they work with learn and create the materials with the children to suit their learning, but fills their time with the need to understand these commercial tools and standardised tests. Neither the educators or the children are being trusted. The teachers are being put in a position of those children I described earlier... so used to having decisions made for them that they have become unsure when finally given the chance.
And one chance here and there is not enough for things to really change. There needs to be real change. Real trust. There needs to be more time for educators to understand the play and learning that the children are engaging in - that needs to be done not only with colleagues, but also with the children.
Together-led play. Original Learning.

Ubuntu - take the time to look up this word. The idea of not being able to be human in isolation - that I am because of we.
I have written about "mwe" before...
and I will return to this idea as part of together-led play and Original Learning.

Saturday 28 October 2017


During the last few days I have encountered and participated in discussions and dialogues about child-led play and adult-led play... and usually the "adult-led" play is being somewhat looked down on...

And I get it... there is a lot of adult interference, and adults controlling children (of all ages) - in preschools and in schools...
But I just don't see play as this black and white... and I also think that it is neither valuing educators or children if we can only see these polar play styles...

I truly believe that there is something called "Together-play" - that children and adults are collaborating, they are co-researching, co-learning, co-documenting... so why not co-playing. Not adults hijacking children's play, but listening to the children, understanding their play and their needs and creating situations that allow the play to develop on the children's terms... tis can mean that adults will go in and share their ideas, or enable new play through introducing new materials, or scaffolding the play/behaviour, or introducing games that can be played that the children can then take and re-create in their own way...

I believe in an equality between children and educators... and if we have that kind of equality then there is not a teacher down kind of structure to learning or play.
I found working philosophically with children helped me enormously to develop this together-play... where there is room for me to guide the children and for the children to guide me... that there is play that I help them with and at the same time ample time and space for the children to take these ideas and make them their own...

If the fire is their learning... then I could be a spark, or fanning the flames, or maybe adding fuel (materials) - also time to be quiet embers to reflect on their play and how they want to evolve it (as I don't want a raging forest fire that engulfs everything without respect for everything else there... peers, nature, materials etc etc etc).
At the same time I want the children to be able be their own spark, fan their own flames, add their own fuel and also to self regulate so that they don't burn-out.

This means I have to listen to know when to be a spark and when to let them, when to fan the flames and when to let them, when to add fuel and when to let them go looking for their own fuel, when to help them self regulate and when to let them experience how a burnout might feel...
in the sense that risky play is not just about falling and physical pain, that sometimes emotions can get hurt, and that is part of the risk taking too - I can't wrap them in cotton wool.

if my relationship with children is based on trust 
if I see the children as capable and competent
if I value the children's play and exploration
if I respect their opinions
if I feel comfortable with risky play
if I take the time to listen to understand
if I am prepared to let go of my agenda to embrace the children's agenda
then I do not have to fear adult-led play as something that is taking over the children's play, but is simply a part of me facilitating their play.

I think it is possible for educators to be co-playing with children without it being specifically child-led or adult-led but that the play is being democratically led by the group as a whole, adults and children alike.
Surely this is something we should all be striving towards? Democratic play?
Where all ages can interact with each other with an equality. Where there is no age discrimination. Where knowledge is valued. Where experience is valued. Where the sparks of newness is valued.
That we see children as knowledge bearers with their own experiences - and we can also see ourselves with sparks of newness - and that we can pool all of our experiences and knowledge and imagination together.

Surely in the sense of Original Learning this is part of that very essence. That we as adults are open to the new, that we value the opinions of others and see their competence, regardless of age... and that we encourage this spirit of listening, respect and value through play.
That we are able to give children (and ourselves) the time and space to explore ideas and concepts, to mess about (as David Hawkins writes) to play. Vygotsky's zone of proximal learning should not exclude adults but it should always remember the power of peers and how children learn from each other.
Hawkins "I, thou, it" is about the need to learn through a shared interest - this can be an adult or a child (in the sense that the educator can actually be a child), but that there is an equality in this learning even when there is not the same knowledge base possessed by the individuals involved. We do not have to be the same for there to be equality.

Vygostky also talks about how children recreate their experiences through play... for me this means that my role as an adult is to provide experiences for the children to recreate in their own way... and to be sensitive to what kinds of experiences the children need or want - to allow time for the children to repeat and repeat and repeat the same play, as well as offering appropriate challenges that will extend their thinking, their play and allow them to add nuances to their existing play if they deem it appropriate.

It really does come back to listening. We need to learn to listen to each other, to listen with respect, t listen to understand, to listen with curiosity, to listen to learn.... as Carlina Rinaldi writes below

I am very much in support of children's play and their right to play... but I also see it as a human right. Play belongs to us all. It is not just something that belongs to childhood - but it is an essential part of childhood, as it is an essential part of learning - Original Learning

Saturday 21 October 2017

Original Learning

During the week there have been several threads of thinking going on in my head... several posts starting to grow... Metacognition and the Preschooler, Child of our Time but I have ended up with the idea of Original Learning taking priority in my thoughts and forcing its way into the written language.

A couple of years ago I attended a presentation about "Original Play" two words that Fred o. Donaldson has trademarked these words... and to be honest I don't think play should be trademarked - but this is something that he has chosen to do. You can look here on his website to find out more. And while I agree with a great deal of what he has written I still struggle with the idea of play belonging to one person... it is such an "adult" thing to do, to own and control something that should be free to all people... I also struggled with the mysticism he went on to share about being bitten through the hand by a wolf at play and that the magic of play meant that there was no mark left on his hand.

So when I write "Original Learning" here I am not writing this as an idea that is mine, but planting a seed that we can all share in the dialogue of, share responsibility in helping grow - as two words that can be a basis to understand education today and where we want it to go.

I feel very fortunate to know many people around the word that are engaged in children's learning through play, that are wanting to make change, that are against standardisation that are advocating children's rights to play and learn... hence the title ORIGINAL LEARNING - PLAY
Some of these people I have only met virtually, and yet have found a strong connection - and I am so grateful for this, as alone our voices are feeble, but together we can become loud enough to start a ripple effect that will get noticed and others will start to join in.

I would like to define Original Learning in this space as an organic manner of learning through observation, imitation, and practice through play... as babies will play and explore their hands their world, they will imitate and listen and experiment through ideas... they learn about causality, language, how their body works... and this goes on throughout life... we are continuously learning in this way but prioritise this learning less because we have been taught that learning happens in specific ways in schools in a set manner...

Processes of learning and the transfer of learning are central to understanding how people develop important competencies. Learning is important because no one is born with the ability to function competently as an adult in society. It is especially important to understand the kinds of learning experiences that lead to transfer, defined as the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts (e.g., Byrnes, 1996:74). Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school and home, and from school to workplace. Assumptions about transfer accompany the belief that it is better to broadly “educate” people than simply “train” them to perform particular tasks (e.g., Broudy, 1977). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School: Extended Edition Consensus Study Report
I see schools focussing on teaching rather than on learning, on preparing for tests rather than understanding, of teaching to remember rather than the transference of learning from one problem to another. That the standardisation has meant that to prepare for tests the lesson planning and the resources too have become standardised - and also a multimillion industry (in whatever money you use...!!!) so there will be a resistance to changing the educational system if it means losing access to all that money.

In my news feed recently has been Dandelion Education ltd who have just won Nursery of the Year 2017, of Enabling Environments 2017 and Highly-Commended for Health and Well-Being 2017 ... what this early years setting has focussed on is play - is an outdoor preschool using nature to allow the children to explore, to strengthen their bodies and also P4C (Philosophy for Children) to strengthen their minds and their interactions with each other... and those of you who follow my blog regularly know philosophy and listening is something I have been passionate about... as well as outdoor learning, the voice of the child - well basically learning rather than teaching.
So I find it very encouraging that this early years setting has been given such fantastic recognition.

I am not an educator that believes in an outdoor only education as I believe not all children thrive in the outdoors - but there again their opening times are much shorter than those we have here in Sweden - they are also closed certain times/weeks of the year and during other school holidays have even shorter days. It is also for children from three years of age and upwards rather than from age one that we have here in Sweden... so there are quite some differences (plus the fact English winters are neither as long or as cold as the ones we have here in Sweden). But back to the being outside all the time... as a child the outdoors was much more overwhelming than a familiar indoor environment for me. Don't get me wrong I loved being outside and I was outdoors a large part of my childhood, but I also had a huge need for the indoors too...and I see the same in children I work with.
I think the need for all day outdoor early years settings these days derives from the fact that children are not outside themselves when they are with their families, and that settings are now needing to take over this responsibility. (Dandelion Education do give children the option to be inside). You can watch the below film to get an idea about the outdoor aspect of the setting.

If adults are focussing on a specific standardised form of teaching as being what constitutes learning then this outdoor exploration, this Original Learning is not being valued or truly understood as learning... and by adults, I mean parents and policy-makers - I have found that many teachers desire a change in the educational system to be able to teach the way children learn.

During the last year I have visited a variety of early years settings across the area and what I have noticed is that in many of these places there has been a focus on the teaching in the sense of school book training rather than Original Learning - and while those children have been picking up information and stuffing knowledge into their backpacks they are struggling with communication, with positive interactions, with self-regulation and their executive functions... all of these I find children learn through play.
The Swedish preschool curriculum is in the process of changing again with even more focus on the "teaching" which both excites me and frightens me... as I meet up with many amazing educators that understand how children learn and react to this and offer the children the chance to explore the whole curriculum - but I have also met plenty of teachers that are proficient in teaching but are not open to the children's learning - so I fear that subjects will be taught in a non-meaningful way that gains a great deal of adult approval - because it is product based rather than process based.
I also see preschools that have far too many children in their space... and they have resolved this by the children having to be outside or inside at set times... for me this is not responding to the children... Dandelion Education Ltd has an indoor area that can be used but tends not to be... but having to be inside or outside at set times to manage the number of children in the space at a time is not listening to the way children learn... or what their bodies need... I have seen children who need to be outside to play in the BIG manner their bodies want to explore... but it is not their turn to be outside... and vice versa children who have to be outside because its not their turn to be inside yet. For me this is not creating a positive relationship with the environment around them and also we are not listening to the children's needs and how they need to learn right now to make sense of the world.

Also if we are viewing "learning" as a school sort of learning - behind desks, learning how to write, read and remembering facts then we are not valuing other forms of learning - and I can understand why there is a reaction to preschools in Sweden having a pedagogical environment for the whole day... since we are legally open for 12 hours a day every day of the year except for national holidays (which are DAYS not weeks) and four planning days a year.
But if pedagogical is interpreted as Original Learning then we are doing that all the time... it is not about lessons, it is about creating interactions with people, with materials, with nature, with the indoors, with time, with themselves that allow the children to learn naturally and at their own pace. It is about creating space and time for the children to use their imaginations so that the learning from one situation can be transferred to another...

This brings me back to why I chose the words Interaction Imagination as my blog name... as I find them so essential for children to learn... they are most certainly essential for Original Learning.

When it comes to play I am not just talking about free play and child lead play... but a vast range of play types and experiences... I want to offer children a 100 languages of play if not many many more!
This means adults are allowed to be a part of this play... but just like a healthy diet we should not have too much of one food type I feel it is the same with play... we need a healthy play diet. If adults are controlling play too much then children are not getting to explore all their other play languages... children need space and time to be able to explore their other play languages. They require adults to trust them too - they also need to be able to trust in adults - there needs to be a need for mutual trust for children to engage in risky play that does not expose them to danger or fatalities... and adults need to trust in the competence of children.

Original Learning.
This is a post to open a dialogue...
There are plenty of us that want to make changes to the educational system... but what are we going to change it to... let's see if we can put those ideas into words so we can disseminate our ideas to an ever wider audience... to create that ripple that will eventually make a difference...

how do you want to learn... how do you want to teach?

The up and coming posts - Metacognition and the preschooler and Child of our Time will continue these discussions... keep posted.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Board of Children

I have just started a project with Gästrikevatten  (Gästrike Water Authority) in Gävle (north of Stockholm) to start up a board of children (barnstyrelse) as a way to learn more about how children learn and how they can be informed about water issues.

Instead of adults thinking they know best about how to teach children abut water this will be a collaboration with 10 children aged between 8 and 12 living in the town of Gävle, the suburbs and neighbouring villages all serviced by Gästrikevatten.

The aim is to have a mix of ages, a mix of genders, a mix of where the children live and go to school, a mix of children with confidence and children that seemed a little shy, a mix of children who seemed to know a lot and children know little but are curious to find out more. At the same time trying to create a mix that will create a positive space for interactions... a space where all children can take space, where there will be mutual respect and also where the children feel competent...

The idea is that I will  present challenges and questions like a piece of gravel in their shoe... just big enough that they will notice, but not too big that it overwhelms and hinders progress... but not too small that they don't notice it at all and its all just too comfortable and no progress is made.
Through activities and philosophical dialogues the board of children will explore ideas relating to water, with the aim to try and find out optimal ways of sharing this information with others...
During the dialogues we will discover what we need to learn more about... and we will turn to experts to find out more so that the children can make informed decisions. The activities will be designed so that the children can gain hands on experiences, not only about water but also about ways we learn.

We will be exploring ideas about what is a board of children, what is learning, what is teaching, what water issues are important for us to inform others about and why... they will also learn about using philosophical dialogues as a tool to explore ideas...

Patricia, who works at Gästrikevatten, is my partner... I will be taking the 1.5 hour train journey to Gävle 1-2 times a month to met the children and hold the dialogues and then plan the next session based on what I have learned form the children. I am fortunate to come into this project with no agenda other than facilitating the children's dialogues and explorations of water... to ensure that they have access to the knowledge they need to deepen their dialogues, to ensure that it is a respectful and inclusive environment and also to provide new experiences for them to try out
Patricia does have an agenda... and that is to try to find out how a better education about water issues can be created.
It means we both have to listen... but we will be listening in different ways... and in ways that will support each other, the children and the whole project.

Children are competent... we need to give the time and space for their voices to be seen and heard (I am a visual listener) and I am so excited to be a part of this project where space and time is being given to children. That their opinions will be being genuinely valued.

This will be a year long project... and there is the hope that it might be continued beyond a year - in what form I can only think might be better or improved as we learn during the coming year.

Monday 9 October 2017

Oral Language... the verbal child...

Oral language is such an interesting topic... as a mother of twins where I was told they would pick up language slower... and then being a bilingual family (English Swedish) where I was told this would also impact negatively their language learning I focussed a great deal on language... When the twins were infants I would have them up in my lap one at a time for "language" training... which essentially was interacting with them and letting them see how my mouth moved - thus seeing how sounds are made... I also reinforced the sounds that they made... if it sounded like a word then i would repeat it as a word... and of course sometimes I just made the sound... and I talked and read and sang a lot with them (although I think some of the singing was for me to keep calm as the two infants cried in the process of being tired and wanting to sleep and getting them into bed...) We lived in Australia for a while when they were 6-12 months... and what I noticed there (where we spoke nearly only English and no Swedish) was that they started making the sound "titta" which means look in Swedish, but due to the fact I did not reinforce this sound as a word (through my body language or verbal language) this sound disappeared from the repertoire... but came back again when we moved back to Sweden. This has given me a practical understanding of how my interaction with children is essential to support oral language development. All three of my children have English as their mother-tongue, despite living in Sweden... all three picked up Swedish silently - understanding what others said, but replying in English... and all three started speaking Swedish fluently all of a sudden... the girls at age 6 when they started a Swedish school, and my son at age 4 when wanting to communicate with a Swedish child in a playground (all three went to an English speaking preschool, although the girls attended a Swedish preschool for a year, where sadly they picked up no Swedish, which concerned me, and surprised the English preschool when they started who had expected the girls to have extended Swedish language and limited English... had no-one interacted with my children at that preschool...? as their English repertoire had been very broad and Swedish non-existent. My husband took some convincing to speak Swedish with the children, as he felt that he was missing out on communication... later he realised that he should not have worried and should have spoken only Swedish with them much earlier... hence the difference between my son speaking Swedish at age 4 and the girls at age 6).
I have found singing to be a great way to learn language... especially action songs... I have mostly worked with Swedish preschoolers... but all have picked up English through the songs I have sung with them in English... it is a joyful way to learn, and they get to sing if they want, not forced to learn... so there has always been the enthusiasm from their side to pick it up... I might not be the best singer in the world, but I sing with joy and enthusiasm, and this is contagious... 
Reading stories, new stories as well as the same one over and over again, and then messing about with words and the plot has been a great word to expand the oral language...
Rhymes and rhyming words and basically just messing about words has also been a great way to support children with their oral language development...

"Have you seen a whale with a polka dot tale?" "have you seen a rat with a stripey hat?"
and in Swedish... "Har du sett en råtta sitta på en potta?" "Har du sett en hund går på Gröna Lund?"
Then it is just to make up more and more together... and laugh together. I think laughter helps a lot.

Over the years I have worked a great deal with children with a language that has been different from the rest of the group... and have found that through songs and stories the children have soon been able to develop an oral language to play with the other children... but role-play as also worked there... and I would support at times with some "sports-casting" to provide the link between the children when language was proving a barrier... 
Also helping the other children to pick up a few words of the new language so that it was inclusive... as oral language is about interaction and conversation...about being inclusive... I have also worked philosophically with children, where i wrote down their words and ideas verbatim at every meeting. The clear structure of the meetings has also been a great way for children to develop their oral language... that LISTENING helps them... Often the youngest children are good at listening, as they use this skill to pick up language... but then the focus is always on the voice and expressing and the art of listening is forgotten. By helping the children to become better listeners they also become better talkers... the children become teachers for each other in their language development.

I also think that learning about language development as an educator is important... as part of my masters i focussed on language development and was fascinated by the pragmatic language development as I felt is was often over looked by educators... children can sound like they are picking up an oral language and communicating with others... they have vocabulary, the grammar is developing, and pronunciation is on par with their age... yet there lacks a red thread... they can often go off on tangents in a middle of a conversation, often misunderstand others, struggle to keep the red thread of longer dialogues etc...
My research into language development enabled me to see things that I had not really been looking for... and this is why it is important to keep reading and keep learning.
brain research is forever discovering new things about how the brain works and how we learn... which is so important for us as teachers - after all we are there to enable learning.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Reflections on PLAY and peace...

This image popped up in my facebook feed today... and it got me thinking about how I use my voice...

The reason I blog is to some extent speak my mind... to share my thoughts... to make a stand for children's rights, for play, for risky play... etc
to encourage listening - real genuine listening... not to just answer, but to understand...
making a stand for quality early years education... but also for education throughout life... it HAS to be meaningful and joyful... we need to feel safe to learn...
and this world of ours is starting to fray at the edges - as safe is not what it should be for far too many people around the world.
my thoughts are with ALL of those who endure violence - physical and psychological... in the home, on the streets or conflict areas where war and fighting have become the norm...
I send strength
But I wish for peace... and my contribution is not to pray... but to act... albeit very small. (this blog, my work in Palestine, workshops etc).. to share strategies that will help us raise a new generation of world citizens that will listen to each other, that will be more accepting of each other... and I know there are other educators that strive for this too...
Play for peace... real play for real peace... not adult controlled play for the appearance of order...

I think far too often there is a desire for order, yesterday I came across this in my facebook feed...
And it makes me think of the classroom... many educators want to create a democratic classroom where the children are co-learners and co-researchers and are central to their own learning - but I also think far too many go for order rather than peace... that there is the appearance of peace, because the classroom sounds and look harmonious... but it is due to the fact the classroom is being controlled by the teacher rather than the children self-regulating...

There needs to be justice in the classroom, in the ECE setting. That means listening to all sides of all stories to understand. To value all with equality. To not take all the space as a teacher... but to enable the children to be active participants...

To create a brighter. better and more peaceful future, where people (and I include children in the word people) are more accepting of each other, listen, respect but will also think critically and not follow blindly... we need to give children the skills to self regulate 8to be able to listen to others) to develop their empathy, to be able to think critically and to act respectfully even in a disagreement...

I am not saying we have to agree on everything, but we need to be able to explain why we don't agree and also be open to the opinions of others and that they might expand our own thinking.

We also need to learn how to work collaboratively... and that can be done through playing collaboratively...

play is essential

In another facebook interaction there was an exploration of play-based curriculum and what it means... it was asked by a person who then later went on to explain their very own strong opinions of what play-based was... in the sense that it did not feel as if this person had been open to the replies of the others... so I wondered why had this question been asked at all? But maybe it is also indicative of today's way of teaching... there is such a strong focus on getting people to express their opinions, to know their rights and not enough focus on how our opinions affect others, how we can listen to others and how our rights belong to us as a group and not just as a series of individuals in isolation... there is a competitive spirit fostered with grades and the present schooling system that maybe is not conducive of a collaborative and peaceful future... just thinking out loud here...

as for play-based...

I am not the one that likes to use the term "play-based curriculum" because I think there are so many interpretations of what play is and who it belongs to...
For me play belongs to us all and not just to children... play comes in many many forms and children (all people) need access to as many of these forms as possible... and to be exposed to new ones if they are not yet familiar with all of them...

I have worked with children in refugee camps, children in poverty stricken areas in Sweden and also in the wealthiest areas of Sweden all have been able to play... not all of them have had a full range of the play languages... I have also worked with children with special needs (or rights, depending on how you like to see it or phrase it) and have seen that many of these children have needed support with their play languages...
Whether a diagnosis or not there have been children that have needed, for a variety of reasons, support with their various play languages.. very often social play has needed support... as children have needed to self regulate, build language/communication skills etc - and all of this can be supported through play, but play that is lead, and designed by educators 

So careful setting up of the spaces, of material choices and activities to support and stimulate their learning and play needs to be planned. Through listening to the children and their needs and their interests, and by learning when to come in and support and when to back away and let them play or try themselves - are all part of the process in my approach as an educator of young children...

Play is an incredibly important word, it is central, but it is one of the words I use to create a curriculum with the children

are also some of the words that are central and important for me... especially for creating a peaceful classroom rather than a controlled classroom.

But in another dialogue today the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk has been raised by myself and others (Tom Shea, Sue Martin) that we need to put all of this into action... not just talk about it and understand that all of this is important, to to ensure that this is happening in every classroom and in every ECE setting.
A respect for children and their competence... AS children. To value their learning, to value their play.