Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Mediums...

It is the last few days that we, here in Sweden, can reflect and contribute our ideas, thoughts and reflections on the new proposed preschool curriculum before decisions are made and the curriculum is presented.

So I have been taking another look, reading, thinking, counting words - to see if that will help... and actually it does, sometimes you have a focus on a word that you think is not being mentioned enough or being used too much - so counting how often words are used can give you a healthy reality check... and sometimes it lets you know that your suspicions were sort of correct.

This post is focussing on the term mediums... because there are many mediums for learning... and in the curriculum we are encouraged to use many when working with young children. There is though a focus on using the digital medium. I wonder why there is this need to specify the digital - several times the curriculum writes - digital and other mediums (or something similar). Why is only the digital medium ever specified... surely the term medium is something that is discussed in the teacher training programmes, and that the digital tool is one of many tools that can be used to support children's learning across the curriculum.

By singling out "digital" are we giving this medium more status than others...
if we are talking about equality, diversity, equal value and democracy in the curriculum... then maybe the same should be done with the words and mediums being chosen.

This time I chose to count words in the second section - about aims and guidelines ( I would like to pint out that in Sweden we do not have aims for children, but aims for the education, care and the setting).
In this section the term "learning" is mentioned seven times more than "play/imagination" and six more times than "explore/discover", three more times than "care", twelve times more than "create". It is also used two and half times more than "communication/conversation" and 8 times more than "listen/reflect/question".

Yes, this is a curriculum so maybe learning should have the highest level... but in this count I have excluded the words, teach, education, develop etc... it is purely learn.

How does this all impact us as educators?
the more we read/hear a word, the more importance it is given. Why is the word play not used more often as a method of learning throughout the text... in the same way that digital is being used?
Play is a medium of learning.
Why is art (dance, music etc) not being used as a medium of learning... but just as one mention as part of creating... which is mentioned twice (skapande/skapa - not the kind of create in the sense of us educators creating a learning environment - but the children being creative with the arts as a way of learning).

I posted yesterday about how art allows children to look more closely, to explore an object or project in a new way... and yet this is not conveyed in the preschool curriculum in the same precise way that digital learning is being - why digital? Why? (you can read that post here - The art of learning)

I am all for using both digital and analog as tools of learning. But will the focus on digital in the curriculum as a medium mean that there is a biased focus on this particular medium? it is clear from images shown on social media that settings that show their digital mediums in action get a great deal of praise... and yes, it is amazing... it is such a fabulous medium to work with... but I can't understand this power it is being given in the curriculum. Why is the word play not given that same power as a medium, why is music and art, and movement not being given that same power.
A medium equality (jämdställdhet) - a medium diversity (mångfald). Mixed media. 100 hundred languages.

if we are focussing on certain languages on certain mediums, it means we are closing off our listening to the other languages, the other mediums. We need to keep ourselves open to the children's languages learning so that we offer mediums of learning that will allow them to enhance the skills, knowledge etc that they possess, challenge them in their weaker "languages" as well as introduce them to new "languages" - all at the same time as honouring the identity of the child, the group, and the community.

I have to admit that it concerns me that some areas are being lifted more than others... for me this should be a part of the teacher training and not the curriculum.






The Reggio Emilia Approach... the short version

Unlike many other pedagogies the Reggio Emilia Approach does not have specific models or written methods and thus makes it more tricky to define - especially if you want to keep it short... and over the years this has been a request I have heard being asked often.

This post has not been moved to my new blog




Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The art of learning - part one.

Over the weekend I have been in London with my daughters... we spent a morning in the Natural History Museum, and it has inspired this post...
I read the following...




 Which made me think of the Reggio Emilia Approach and the focus of the art studio/atelier as a language of learning. Using drawing and art as a method to look closer and to explore. This is something I have done over the years - myself as a child, and also as an educator. Art and creative expression has always been a strong path of exploration.

Below are some photos with comments about this art of learning...


In this session we explored the buildings of Stockholm... first the children explored google images to find a building that caught their attention and wanted to draw (as part of a background for a film we were making). The image was then printed out and the children drew and coloured them.
It gave the children an opportunity to explore architecture and how it has changed styles over history - as some chose building several centuries old, while some chose building that were decades or even a few years old. We saw the different shapes, and different purposes... gone were the basic square house with triangle roof.
We also took trips out to "find" their building in real life. To understand the size. The children developed an attachment not only to their own building choice but to all of them drawn by the group... and the parents all gave feedback on this that the children had become more interested in buildings, showed pride and knowledge about their buildings and the group's buildings and also had a greater understanding of the layout of the city that they lived in. So much learning triggered by drawing buildings... so much interest and curiousity sparked into wanting to know more





drawing maps was also a great way to develop a greater understanding of their local area... each child, together with their parents, drew a map of their route to preschool. We then created 3D maps with loose parts, and then also followed the map to each child's doorstep. The children learned so much about representation... about how they could draw a route, how buildings could be represented as squares etc. This encouraged the children to draw more maps, and also ultimately to start making their own designs/plans.
using a photo as a background enabled a child to better sort design ideas. To think about perspective, even if not fully able to use it yet. To think about the idea that people need to get from one side to another. This was the first of many designs that became more and more refined. Drawing became a way of learning how to incorporate all ideas, or of all ideas were worth incorporating or even feasible.


a vase of flowers in front... to learn that flowers are not always a circle with five petals around it... that there are many ways to draw flowers... as there are many different kinds of flowers... this is image one, where the child discovered that the first big flower made it hard to draw the whole bouquet... the solution was to draw extra flowers in the centre of the first large one... 
drawings can be a way to document a day, this is the drawing of my daughter aged 3.5 remembering the playground where she had been playing. I simply wrote down the words she instructed me to write.
learning to draw... both images are drawn by the same child - with a HUGE amount of frustration in between. The child was not happy with the fact that the drawing did not look like a cat, but a sun instead. So we took some deep breaths and I guided the child through the process... slowing things down and helping to sort out what could be seen. What shape is the head, how many eyes, and where are they, where do you find the nose, what shape is it, where is the mouth, is it happy or sad, what about ears... are they in the same place as your ears... can you see anything else that you want to put on your drawing (whiskers).
Afterwards the child was extremely pleased. This child needed support to take the time to observe and break down the observations into manageable pieces of information to draw.
learning to observe... not to just draw a horse with four legs because you know that horses have four legs... but to take the time to draw what you see... not all children could see all four legs depending on where they were sitting. This was a way to learn about perspectives... that we can all look at the same thing but see it in a different way.

the primary learning might not always be about the object or subject... it can be the social interactions... what happens when several children draw together... which side of the paper is up? How do the children collaborate so all ideas are represented... how do the children negotiate the space so all can reach... inspiration images were given (you can see a little of one to the left) but it was up to the children to work together how to be inspired and what to include... using previous knowledge of maps and buildings.

taking plans outside and drawing in a new way... plans on paper can help children learn to an extent... but using new methods the children are able to deepen their own learning... is their space for everything, do some things get in the way, why are they in the way.


using drawing to explore ideas... this was drawing how we listen. Instead of just talking about listening the children explored their ideas themselves through art and then explained their art to each other. This enabled the children to sort their thoughts - a bit like taking notes to a meeting, except this was with pre-writers.


drawing BIG outside - this is a drawing of me... the children drew round me in the gravel... they have then added wings as a way of transforming me into a fairy.



Sadly this post had a whole load more images, with notes about self portraits and other drawing  situations... but the images just kept disappearing and moving... so I took it as a sign that they should be saved for another day. When this sore throat of mine has gone and there is more time to reflect on the concept of the art of learning.





Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Learning is FUN

Yesterday I engaged in a small exchange about the fact the word "fun" is being used as a key word in the new preschool curriculum... that school/preschool should be fun. The thought being should this really be a key word? School and preschool is about learning (preschool is learning through play and exploration rather than the formal learning of school) not about having fun. The educators are not trained in how to entertain the children and keep them happy... the educators are trained to support the children's learning.

This is not to say that learning should not be fun... but how is learning fun?

Let's keep this to three points...

For me the first thing we need to do - is create a place where all the children feel safe to be who they are... where they dare to communicate their ideas and express their emotions... without a safe space it is near to impossible to children to be capable of learning and having fun, of experiencing joy. Children need to feel accepted to feel safe. They need to feel cared for. They need to have people interested in them and invested in giving them the time and space to evolve.

Secondly the learning needs to inspiring... it needs to awaken the children's curiosity, it needs to get them excited to learn more, it needs to ignite the children's desire to explore the world and everything in it. This feeling of wanting to explore is often connected with enjoyment rather than being forced to learn something they are not interested in, which seems the opposite of fun.

Thirdly it needs to be motivating... not only to motivate the children to try new things but also to complete the tasks they have started... not by force, but because the children are motivated to do this. In the sense the the learning is meaningful.

IF these three elements are in place then the learning is going to be fun.

of course I think that the first point - being safe - is one that should not be a point at all in preschools and schools... it ought to be a given... as it ought to be for the whole of society, for the whole world. yet we do not live in a safe world... so we do need to focus on creating a safe place for learning in schools.

As educators we need to facilitate the children's learning - not teach what we think they should know... but guide the children to discover the world around them and their identity within it, as an individual and as a member of a variety of groups (family, friends, preschool/class, clubs, neighbourhood, town, country etc etc).
learning can be frustrating and hard work at times... it should not be fun all the time... but it should be meaningful, the child should feel motivated to exert the effort to endure the frustration and the child should feel safe to be who they are, to get it wrong without admonishment and to feel the power and wisdom of trying again.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post A successful child is a happy child - reflecting on how there is a focus on trying to keep children happy, and that a parent or teacher feels successful if their child is happy. It is NOT about children who are successful are happy...
I think there has been a focus for a long time on trying to make children happy... hence the focus that preschool should be fun, learning should be fun-filled in the Swedish preschool curriculum.
But if we are always focusing on the happiness of the child, then how will the child learn to manage their other emotions... how will they learn to overcome challenges... how will they learn to compromise and interact with others if the focus is on having fun and being happy?

Challenge, frustration etc do not have to be negative parts of learning if they are part of a inspiring, meaningful learning experience in a safe environment - the children will overcome the challenge and feel empowered by the experience of their own success. Instead if everything is geared up for the children to be having fun - how will they own their own successes in the same way?

Learning can be fun. As Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - but for me joy can be only experienced is you feel safe, accepted and competent - and a curriculum based on fun is not going to enhance the children's feeling of safety, acceptance and competence - while a curriculum based on feeling safe, feeling inspired and feeling motivated will.

The learning should not be hidden under a layer of entertainment (although this can be a language of learning... but just one of the 100 or more languages).
Our focus should not be on providing a place for the children to have fun, it should be a place that allows the children to evolve and to be empowered.





Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Intersubjectivity

When we listen to children we need to pay close attention to how the children make sense of the world around them in order to be able to fully understand what the children are communicating (when I talk/write about listening... I mean the kind of listening we do with our ears, eyes, minds and hearts... so we listen to non-verbal children as well as verbal children). Often I hear that we need to listen with objectiveness - which really is an impossible thing to do... as we always come to every situation with a subjectiveness - the children also come to the situation with a subjectiveness. Instead of objectiveness we should use intersubjectivity - that we as adults use our experience and knowledge as humans to imagine our way, or to share the child's point of view. This is a way of listening to the children that allows a greater depth of understanding - it is a form of interpersonal sharing.

The philosopher and psychologist Peter Hobson wrote (2005, p. 190): 
To perceive a smile as a smile (to take the simplest example) is to respond with feeling, in such a way that through the smile one apprehends the emotional state of the other. In other words, there is a mode of feeling perception that is critical for establishing intersubjective relations between people, and it is a kind of perception that establishes a special quality of relatedness between the individual and what is perceived—in most natural circumstances, a person.


I am a big believer in listening... not only the adult-child listening relationship but also between the children too. Empathy is built on this intersubjectivity - our ability to understand others and to connect with them. Empathic listening is the listening with the heart... of using emotions to hear what is being said... while intersubjectivity is more complex it is the mind imagining as well as the emotions.
Children also need to develop this intersubjectivity - this will help with conflict resolution, with play development together, idea building etc etc...  Intersubjectivity is much easier with neurotypical children - as it is easier to imagine the subjectivity of another. But with neuro-divergent children this might be more tricky as it is a way of thinking that is harder to imagine for the adults around them and also for the other children around them. Children who are not neurotypical will probably not perceive themselves as different, at least not as first... and therefore they will also struggle with imagining how others think.

It was only a few years ago that my autism became apparent, through the diagnosis of my son, and understanding my brain was autistic was like switching a light on. It was not about understanding myself... I know who I am, I am used to how my brain sees the world... it was the realisation that others did not see the things the way I saw them that was the game changer... stuff made so much more sense. And I am still picking things out from my childhood where I realised that my autistic reaction was not the usual reaction... I mean honesty, despite being something that many people desire in a friend, is really not want people want... they want people to say the socially appropriate thing, while I was just honest - and that was not always the best thing for me! I can laugh about it now, but it was not always fun as a child or young teenager.

I have been lucky, I have been able to use my intelligence to break the social code, and also to understand intersubjectivity by closely listening. It is also easier to learn to understand neurotypicals because everything is written from a neurotypical view point - the norm. So even though I did not know I was autistic I was still managing how to interact socially on a intellectual level.
I like being social. I like being with people. I love dialogue and balling ideas with others. But many hours of social interaction are exhausting. I have learned to plan in downtime, so that I can fully enjoy the social time. it is not a case of its a nice rest - it is essential to have the downtime to be able to function.

But what I find is that there is always a need for those that are different to work harder at the intersubjectivity than there is for neurotypcials or those people that fit the norm...
What we need in society is a greater understand of the different - the divergent thinkers and all of those that do not fit the norm... the minorities.

Neurotypical adults need to take more time to try and imagine how divergent thinkers perceive the world in order to be able to fully listen to these children. This means, firstly accepting that we perceive things differently, secondly taking the time to discover how the child perceives the world - and from there imagine how learning, how experiences are affecting the child.
I have read many texts about autistic children lacking empathy and imagination - and yet my observations of my children, and the understanding I have of my own emotions is quite the opposite... there is too much empathy and too much imagination that sometimes it has to be switched on to mute, or even off just to be able to survive the social situation we are in. Objects do not demand that kind of empathy, so they are safer... quite often this is the case for animals too, they are less demanding in their social expectations. The fact that there are many children with autism, or other non-neurotypical diagnoses are not able to communicate their emotions or ideas in the same way as neurotypicals should not preclude that they are devoid of empathy and imagination. Maybe their imaginations is so strong that they would rather stay there then participate in the loud, bright over stimulating world around them... and with the state of the world as it is, can you blame them at times?

We need to take another look, spend more time listening with intersubjectivity - to try and understand the learning needs of each child/student we meet as educators.










Hobson, R. P. (2005). What puts the jointness into joint attention? In N. Eilan, C. Hoerl, T. McCormack, & J. Roessler (Eds.), Joint attention: Communication and other minds: Issues in philosophy and psychology (pp. 185–204). Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:o so/9780199245635.003.0009

Monday, 15 January 2018

Metacognition and the preschooler...

This post can now be read in full over on my website...
Interaction Imagination...



This is a post I have been thinking about writing for some time after reading a comment that preschoolers are not capable of metacognition... and yet I have seen young children thinking about thinking... and using it to their advantage. I would say that metacognition features strongly in young children's learning... it may not always be verbalised the way adults are used to being able to recognise it as metacognition.

For instance children, from the very start, observe and learn. They watch others, test things and adapt what they see to their own context. This is easy to see when young children are trying out knew motor skills... they observe others doing something and then make the decision to try that out for themselves - they have to think about the movement, they have to consider whether they want to also try it... and then afterwards they assess whether they were successful or whether they need to do it a different way to be successful. Children are clearly thinking about their thinking and not just their actions and the experience.

With a group of preschoolers this thinking about thinking through physical activity can be supported as an educator by scaffolding the children to scaffold each other... some children learn to master climbing a wall, stone, tree or climbing frame faster than others and it is of benefit to encourage them to explain to their peers how they managed it... they think about their actions, they reflect on why it works and they share this and show this to their peers.
The advice is not always going to work (sometimes there are physical differences, for instance a taller child is going to be able to reach a better foothold that a shorter child cannot) - but they then think through this together and try to devise a new way for success.
I often film the children in their attempts... so they can look at what they are doing and learn from the footage. What they thought was a good idea does not look as successful on film, and sometimes what feels hopeless in real life suddenly looks more hopeful on film.
Getting the children to pause and reflect on their activity - not only opens up the opportunity to think about their physical thinking, but also creates a space to calm down and allow frustrations to die down so that only determination is left. Frustration can be a good thing - as long as it does not get overwhelming.

........