Thursday 29 March 2018

The story of a mother of a child with autism/ADHD

I am mad... so frustrated... so sad... so disheartened...
schools do not seem to be doing what they are supposed to be doing... learning is not for all...

the fact that we are STILL struggling to make my son's schooling situation work... that they STILL do not tell us about changes before they are made so that we can adequately prepare him, and then send messages home about how we, as parents, need to teach my son how to behave at school... I mean how many times, how many years, do we need to tell them that without adequate preparation he is not going to react well... I mean why blame us when they are making the mistake... we work out butts off to try and make it work... communicate changes at home so they know... which they ignore.
I have kept him off school on days when he is not able to manage anymore
and for the first time I have just kept him off school because i am so damn angry with the school's complete lack of collaboration to make it work... I mean if we collaborate then its going to be good for my son and the other children... but if the only focus is to make it good for the other children, and not collaborating with us... then we are never going to get anywhere...

and I care about the other children too... its just all the focus cannot be about fixing my son for the sake of them...

"an effective school" we keep getting told... "my masters - my research" we keep getting told... but effective for whom? Not my son that is for sure... is that research being used for my child and others with autism and ADHD - it doesn't seem the case... despite being told that the teachers do not have the competence to teach my son, not once have they been sent on competence training in this area...
despite me telling them that he learns through his interests - not once have they adjusted lessons - it's the same crap in a different room despite the school authority being clear in its documents that children with autism learn often best through their interests... and that training is essential... they are not even following the documents they should...
Since sweden has made the decision to make attending school a LEGAL REQUIREMENT - then this country needs to ensure that there are schools for EVERYONE - for all learning styles, for all abilities, for all interests - there needs to be educators that understand, trained and are given the time to be flexible to allow children outside the "learning norm" the chance to learn... I mean really learn... not just try to learn how to learn like the norm... that is NOT real learning. Sure to be aware of the many learning styles... but not to have to learn a specific learning style to get the grades...
OH I am so mad...
and after months of being ignored by this new head who runs an "effective" school... finally they have agreed to a meeting, that I said was acute - needed to happen this week or the day after returning from the Easter break, since they have changed his timetable for the third time within 2 weeks without letting us know beforehand, they changed his class without letting us know first, they changed the routines that he is to spend part of his days in a small group with others (and this they have changed twice in the last week, as to how often, and given me two names as to what it is called)... - The idea is that after the easter break we can start afresh... but oh no... we have to wait a week or two after the easter break before we can have that meeting... so of course probably meaning two weeks of a timetable that might get changed again... but the first date we were given did not work for us, as we meet the psychologists then... and a new date has STILL not been given...
Do we change schools AGAIN?
The school for children like my sonl is full... we have been turned down 3 years in a row now..
Please Sweden I am begging you... there needs to be more options so that there is a school that all children WANT to go to... not places I send my child against his will to do stuff in a way that is not meaningful... 

what about the rights of children? Doesn't he have the right to say NO, I don't learn like this...

the sad fact is that my child is seen as a problem... he is not loved, he is not valued... and they have made it certainly clear that he is not being REALLY listened to (they barely listen to us) - he cannot learn because he learns through play and exploration and that is not an option as a soon to be 14 year old in a Swedish school.
And on a side note: the fact that I have the masters in education, but that I have to give my husband the information and prep him before a meeting is just ridiculous... why doesn't society value my education as a woman? Why does it have to be delivered by my husband?
Equality has come a fair way... but there is still a long way to go...

The Art of Learning - part two

I realise now that my intent to write a post based on my presentation of the same name in Nona's studio in Israel is just going to be too big... so I am going to break it down into bite size pieces and make it a whole series...

Today I put together a film that I have been wanting to do since I was in Jenin, but have not had the time to do that until today... and this film ties in so well with many of the things that I talked about with the educators and therapists I presented for in Israel. Their questions of course impacting what I shared..
Here is the film of a collaborative art play

The art play had many purposes for me as a trainer...
I wanted to allow the educators to explore different mediums, I wanted them to explore social interactions, I wanted them to think closely about what they were doing - to be purposeful, I wanted them to discover the learning that is woven into both art and play.

This was the first time that both the advanced and introduction groups worked together... I felt that I had one full day play workshop to offer during my 10 days there, that it would be interesting to offer it to all of them at the same time (all the other workshops were half day). This not only gave me the chance to share more with them, it also gave the chance to expose the educators to how it feels for a child to have so many bodies trying to to the same play experiences or different ones in the same room. How did it differ from the small groups.

The art was the first thing we started with... and also what we finished the play session with before starting a dialogue about our experiences. There were several steps during the day too. The purpose was for the educators to see that an experience does not have to be a one day wonder... that it can be continued and explored in new ways, that it adds to the story, it allows for reflection of what happened before at the same time as focussing on the now... and maybe even inspiring imagination to kickstart and wonder what will happen next?

Some parts were done in total silence... so that the focus was on non-verbal communication... but also to take the time to listen to the rhythm of the art... how do the pen sounds on the paper, how does it feel in my hand... by taking away the verbal noise the participants (child or adult) develop a new relationship with the materials.

Also my choosing that certain materials may only be used in specific ways is part of the process of getting the participants to think about why do we use some things in certain ways, why can't i do something different... but also to encourage communication (either non-verbal or verbally, depending on the stage of the play/art) to learn about taking turns, about negotiations about the needs of others and also their own likes and needs. Most had no problem sharing and shared many times, one person did not share as there was full focus on what she was doing... these were all things we could discuss together and learn from... how did they make us feel... that only one person got to use a red marker... what made it special... did it feel as special when you started using it as you expected.

From the black and white with the thin red lines the next stage was colour...

Colours to explore how they mix and change. But also to see how they would make decisions. There were 2 colours in the first colour session with 5 participants... they could all freely choose their colour, but they had to stick to that colour with that paintbrush... they were given one brush each... so it meant swapping to change colour... and also change thickness of the brush...
Only one chose yellow... despite now being allowed to verbally communicate there had been no reflecting together about the impact of four taking blue (there was the same amount of blue as yellow, and when the paint was gone it was gone) - so of course the blue was finished first and only thr person with yellow could continue... those with blue did not need to swap brushes, now there was a big desire to swap, but no motivation for the yellow to do that... except for being an understanding friend...
it allowed us to explore the need for planning, for communication with others, for problem solving... so much learning in this art play... just because of how the materials were presented and the directions.
I am all for free artistic expression too... I am by no means suggesting all your art sessions should be done in this way... but this is a great way to support the children you work with to practice their planning skills, their communication skills, their problem solving skills in a safe, creative and enjoyable manner. Some participants might need more scaffolding during the session than others... the second group with the warmer mix of colours did not end up with the same problem all all but one using the same colour despite it being a larger group... this group communicated before they started.

It was interesting to talk about different techniques afterwards... how some painted freely over the previous marks, others were influenced by the marks and coloured them in or followed them... and others painted things - like a house... despite the challenge being to not paint things but to feel the movement of the paint and emotions they were experiencing.
Some moved all over the paper, while others stayed in the same spot.
So much for me as an educator to learn about my students and how I could challenge, support, encourage them in the future to try new artistic expressions, test new perspectives...

After much play with shadows and other sensory materials we returned finally to the painting to paint silhouettes... connecting their shadow experiences with a new perspective... learning about the difference between a silhouette and a shadow, that was a new concept for some, that they had never taken the time to consider.
And this is in part what this play and art is about... taking time to explore and discover new things.

Here they had to think about their own city - to rethink the traditional shape of a house (with a triangle roof) because those sorts of houses don't really exist.. the roofs are spaces to walk on and live on - as there is not the snow and rain in Palestine that is the case of triangle roof places on the whole (unless they were colonised by triangle-roof rainy countries). So again learning is coming into their art. To collaborate with each other about what they are painting... which side is up and which is down... how many mosques, where are the trees etc etc.

The educators here also learned that the same piece of paper can be used in many ways... it can be recycled... that it can connect to history... with the lines being like archeological finds under the city... the history of the art... like we all have our individual histories and collective histories.

So this is an insight into the art of learning - from the perspective of a play workshop.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

The Story of Sustainability

Sustainability is a part of the Swedish preschool curriculum... it is also an important part of our shared future on this planet of ours... images of Wall:e sometimes come into being as I think about sustainability and we consume... I include the trailer for those who have never watched the film abut how mankind left earth because it was overrun by rubbish and left it to the robots to clean it up...

So in our quest to create a sustainable preschool and teach sustainability to the children (for the sake of all our futures) we need to ask the question "process at all costs?"
By this I mean, I have seen experiences for children online where I question the sustainability of the activity... I am all for the concept of process over product... but surely we need to be thinking of the products we are using in those processes...

Process not Product
Its the process not the product that matters

The above are two posts that discuss this idea of process and product - the latter from the early days of this blog and the first a recent post.

I have seen in various countries around the world an activity that uses cling-film (plastic wrap, or however you call it) wrapped around an inverted table legs for children to paint on - I have made the decision not to include an image but an example can be viewed here...
In fact this VERY example became the start of an amazing dialogue about our responsibility as teachers to use materials sustainably you can see full dialogue here (you might just need to sign up to the Reggio Emilia Approach facebook group to do so though... and if you do, please answer the questions as you will be included much faster that way into the group)

the original post in the group was written as below
I was criticized (in a nice way)for the attached post and so glad that I was!
After seeing a viral video of children painting on cling plastic, on an upside down table, it bothered me that so many people are now offering the same experience and being wasteful! I realized then, that we are responsible for what we post on social media because others may follow!
Our alternative: we hung a huge plastic vinyl in our playground where the children can paint everyday. The children loved it and do choose to paint on it everyday! But soon I realized that we are wasting water -everyday! Paper would be the same.
We are a school that supports recycling and highly values recycled materials. We also support the exposure to new experiences. These toddlers paint everyday, on different surfaces. The attached post was not an art project but more of an experience with paint and magnets. I saw the cling plastic being used but did not say anything...but wait, at home, everyone throws away the cling paper after its first use, so what’s the difference if it’s still being used but for a different purpose?
So how do we support creative experiences without being wasteful? Are certain art materials less wasteful than others? Are you mindful of the materials being used? Please share your thoughts.
Having been in Jenin during the last 2 weeks and seen the high level of one time use materials in everyday routines and the way that the plastic and waste is just thrown onto the street without a second thought has made me even more sensitive to the materials we choose to us. Also my work with Gästrikevatten (Gästrike Water Authority) has made me think much more about this too from the persepctive of how do we keep our water clean.

I will include a few quotes from the dialogue as a way to reflect... as they have given me food for thought, taught me new things and triggered my own reflections...

 Does the learning justify the waste??? 
This idea that the learning justifies the waste came up several time in the dialogue. But my question is, can the same experience be offered in another, more sustainable, way? If so, should we not be doing that instead?
The intention is what's important. Instead of focusing on "should I be using plastic", you can go back to your original intention - "What is the experience I want the children to have?" and then brainstorm different materials you could use for that purpose. If you want children to experience painting or using magnets on a transparent surface, start thinking of transparent surfaces, it doesn't have to be disposable plastic wrap.
Of course brainstorming requires time... do all educators get the time they need to reflect responsibly, or is the age of pinterest and facebook images too much of a temptation that we just follow without questioning?
Informed and intentional choices are a must as we try to send “the right” message to young minds. 
Informed choices are what I strive after at all times... for myself and also for the children I work with... so if they were to see an activity that used this quantity of cling-film then I feel it is my responsibility to inform them of similar alternatives and the various impacts they all have.

I often have to remind myself "it's not wasting if they're using it". If they are using the materials and learning from it is it really a waste? Sometimes we use lots of tape, or glue, or water, but the children are learning from the experience. Plus they see you recycling and conserving water in other ways and you can talk to them about it and teach them the values and importance of conservation.I think there's some different issue of "waste" that are being talked about. One is using a lot of material in a way that adults don't typically value it - for instance, "wasting" tape. Another is the issue of the impact of "wasting" that material. Creating a transitory experience using material that will end up in a landfill, is a different issue than using materials that are compostable, or that may be used multiple times before reaching a landfill. The use of a resource can also be considered "waste" depending on the scarcity of that item. Water play in a geographic area that is experiencing drought is wasteful - a precious resource required for life is being diverted for a transitory experience that is less important than people having access to drinking water. But in another geographic area where water is plentiful, it might not seem as wasteful. I think it is a reasonable thing to think about - how can we create meaningful experiences for children while being conscientious of scarcity of resources and environmental impact?

We need to reflect, to take the time, to explore materials and understand the impact they have on nature, and also on our own health. Many plastics are being removed from preschools due to their harmful impact of the growing body... cling-film is made from PVC, one of the plastic types that is being removed from preschools in Sweden - so it seems rather odd that we actively use a plastic we are being asked to avoid due to the impact it has on the growing body (particularly hormones). So this is NOT just about are we wasting materials, but also about how do the materials impact the children we work with and also impact the planet afterwards... cling-film cannot be recycled, this means the chemicals in the plastic are leaching into our planet and water supply for years and years once it is in the landfill.

I think that if we are to be responsible leaders and educators, we have to be conscious of the impact that our practice has on children and other adults...adding to your blog from yesterday (one of my posts about our responsibility of what we share in the Reggio Emilia Approach FB group): ideas that are shared on social media, what we like, pictures that we choose to post, even what we don’t comment on, does have an impact on our world. When someone questions our work, thoughts, pictures,’s a gift to us as it gives us the opportunity to grow. In this case, the question of cling film has brought on a discussion to help us brainstorm ideas so that we can in turn, be conscious of the materials that we use within our settings.
So our responsibility maybe is not just to the children we work with, but also to others... I have seen this activity with plastic wrap in Sweden USA and Palestine without looking for the activity... it just popped into my feed... I live close to where Alfred Nobel had his dynamite factory... it is a short walk to see his test sites for the explosive material... His intention with dynamite was to prevent death... he also believed that with a weapon that was so destructive no armies would go against each other... that there would be peace... He regretted sharing his invention... as have other scientist... it always makes me think about how we need to be responsible for what we share - to think about the whole story... to see how other think, to consider possible impacts.
Sure dynamite and cling-film are not at all in the same category... but this is how my mind works... using the concept of responsibility of what we share with others... especially when some "others" do not take any responsibility - or regard for the planet/human life. We all need to reflect on what we share... we also should reflect on what is being shared.

My thoughts on this are kind of a pick your battles/weigh the benefits approach. People like doing things that they can physically see make a difference, regardless of if it actually makes a difference or not. An example would be recycling paper. People do it because they feel like they're making a difference but in reality, the energy it takes and pollution produced to recycle a stack if paper is far more than the energy and pollution from making fresh paper, plus the lumber industry in this country is all farmed trees and they plant more than they cut down. But that's not something you can see in your every day life, so it gets ignored for what SEEMS like the better option. Another example is reducing paper use is great you can cut your paper into halves or quarters and have the kids use that instead if whole sheets or butcher paper. But when you do that you limit their creative space and hinder children that don't yet have the fine motor skills to write in such a small space. So for me, the benefit of using big paper outweighs the negatives. 
I think art is similar. First you have to look at what is actually being used/wasted. If you're concerned about water use, I suggest looking into agricultural practices, giving up eating meat and petitioning for agriculture to start using water wise practices because that's where the majority of water waste is and will make a bigger difference than depriving children of an experience. But there are also ways to clean up while using less water, they're just going to take longer. Like use a bucket and sponge instead of spraying down an area. You're not using much water at all. Then you can weigh the benefits of the experience vs the materials being used. Also, not everything has to be done every day. If a paint project like this uses too much materials for you, then make it a sometimes project.
I also think, in general with all things, we need to look at the word waste vs use. If you just leave a hose running on the ground for no reason, then you're wasting water. If you use the hose to fill a water table, then you're using the water. Same goes for classroom materials and supplies. I've seen so many teachers "save their good supplies" because they dont want them to get wasted and then the supplies just sit in a cabinet forever, never getting used. Using something for a purpose isn't wasteful, it's just using it.
I appreciated this part of the dialogue to add balance - we need to think about where in the world we are, what is our context, and how we are impacting th world with our actions. it also shows that we all want to be seen to be doing the right thing... even when we do not fully understand what the right thing is.

Working with the water authority I have learned a lot about how a little bit does make a difference... as there were some comments that leaned towards well in the grans scheme of things its just a little bit... but lots of snowflakes can make an avalanche... it kind of has the snowball effect...

its just to look at the kilometres wide plastic islands floating in the sea to see that we are having an impact on the planet that we are blind to.. check out the blow film... one of many you can find about the impact plastic has on the planet... and how long it is being a problem... Or watch the latest series of David Attenborough's Blue Planet to see the impact it has on wildlife. And this is not where it ends... there are teeny tiny microplastics, not visible to the naked eye all the time, that are floating in our waters, and almost impossible to clean up... so basically we are now drinking plastic infused water!

We need to think of the product from start to finish... as the below quote states...

I think more than just being wasteful, we should consider what had to happen to get the product. I’m assuming the manufacturing of the plastic wrap is worse for the environment than manufacturing paper. We try to reuse stuff for art. I get a lot of donations and find stuff at thrift stores. If the item already exists, it seems less wasteful than buying new.

We must take the time to think about the learning processes... what processes are we actually offering... why these processes... and can they be done in a more sustainable way?  Of course we need to bring wonder into the lives of children... but wonder can be offered in many ways... we need to think about this wonder, and the importance of the wonder... is it just an event or is it the start of something... why this wonder and not another?

I think if we start analyzing what the experience actually is then it might make it easier to work out if it is waste or use???
 I think sometimes there is so much focus on offering children an experience we forget to analyze what that experience is and what learning it can offer - and then through documentation and observations see what learning actually happened so the experience can be expanded upon
As the below statement shares... one of the properties of cling-film is its transparency... there are other materials to explore this that are more sustainable or can be re-used or recycled.

The fascinating property about cling plastic and similar materials is that they're transparent. To be more environmentally conscious, instead of using new materials, reuse. I use the trimming from laminator paper to paint on or draw with sharpies. Stores often use shrink wrap around goods that are shipped on pallets - you could ask local stores if they could save it for you. There's plenty of plastic out there, and better to use it as much as possible before it's thrown out.

I have done activities that others have asked me about the sustainability of - one of them being swinging with paint as seen in the film below

Quite a lot of paint was used... and I had been putting it off for years because I was concerned about paint usage... but then decided that the children were exploring movement and that this was a great way to do that... all the paintings that we created on this day were used in other ways as we continued to use the paper and colour to create yet more art from the art exploration. So in other words this one day of paint usage supported two more months of learning where the paper was being actively used and reused. It was my conscious decision about what we were doing and how it impacted nature... the children were a part of these thoughts  - of why we re-used the paper as background and to cut out etc rather than just taking fresh new paper.

As a final thought... when you see an image on social media think about the following

The image shows the product and we are not privy to the process 

You , as an educator have the responsibility to think about the process... and how that would look for the children you work with. You have the responsibility to work out why you are choosing this activity and not another. You have the responsibility to think about the impact the materials have on our earth and whether or not you prioritise a sustainable approach to learning and play. You have the responsibility to consider the impact the materials have on the growing child. You have the responsibility to understand the learning and the benefits.

You need to take a risk assessment... are the risks worth the learning benefits? Is the margin wide enough to justify using a single use material? they might be... I am not saying that they are ALWAYS wrong... what I am saying is that we need to think about what materials we choose, and what activities we offer children.


The Story of a Project

When in Israel I was asked about projects... what do they look like, how long do they last etc etc

So this post is about how I have interpreted projects and how I have embarked on projects with children.

This post will also link to previous posts I have written on the subject which you will find at the end...

For me a project is a bit like the stage for a performance... there is so much that goes on behind the scenes... and on the stage the children play, explore, sing, dance, learn, experiment and interact while we teachers do the work behind the scenes to enable this... as Malaguzzi writes above... "the central role of the adult is to activate, especially indirectly, the meaning-making competencies of children as a basis for all learning" - the project "activates".

Or you could say it is like the microphone/megaphone - it give the child's voice more power to be heard - it gives them a focus to explore complex ideas, and for us as educators to learn with them.

Or that it is an adventure... a learning journey that can be of short or long duration and with detours here and there too to explore mini-projects and ideas and interests.

I have had projects that have been a week long, some that last a few weeks or a month or several months.. or even a year or more... a week long project is maybe more of a detour within another project... and it could be like yesterday's post about connecting dots... sometimes these mini-projects connect to the original long term project but you simply do not realise it until afterwards when you reflect on it and see that the children have been exploring the same ideas just from another perspective/theme.

In the posts below I have also linked in observation and also pedagogical documentation as posts to explore to better understand a "project". There is a lot of information exploring projects, my reflections on them - before during and after... so you get to see the whole process in a way.

Thinking about projects - exploring projects from the perspective how much is a teacher allowed to direct/lead a project, exploring the image of the teacher and not just the image of the child. About being open and also perceptive... about working with the children. About the project being the work of the educator... the children play and learn.

Progettazione - this is the word used in Italian in Reggio Emilia settings... and it has been translated into project... but it does not quite translate directly like that... so take the time to read about it... as it is almost a project for the teachers to learn about the children, about pedagogy etc... but this is done with the children too.

Observations... easier said than done - this post explores the start of a project... our observations of the children - to see what they are interested in, how they are evolving, what support they need, and what kind of project frame would allow us as educators to meet all these needs...

Raw Planning - once I have observed the children, know their interests and understand their needs... then I will start collecting ideas and questions and sort them by the curriculum (of course some ideas are not just one part of the curriculum but are cross curricula). This is a first initial collection of questions and ideas that then got expanded... I also know that not all these ideas will be used... but that I have them ready to work with the children. I also know beforehand how all the ideas connect to the curriculum to make sure I am giving the children a good foundation in accordance with the Swedish School Law

Reflecting on a week - spending time to regularly reflect on the course of the project is important... to ask yourself more questions about how the children are reacting to the project... what ideas are standing out the most, and why? do we need to change direction or not... can new ideas be incorporated into the current project concept? and what have I learned as an educator so far about the children, the way the week is designed etc

Reflections on a project - this post is my reflections of a project that lasted from mid August to the end of December... and shares that sometimes a project is more of the wrapping paper, or the outlet for deeper learning... in this case the magic powers project was more about the children being empowered.

Reflection on Through the Eyes of the Child prototype week - this was just a one week project that nestled itself within the International Fairy Tea Party exploration.

Beginners guide to Pedagogical Documentation - this is one of five posts... but if you click on the youtube version of the film you will also find the links to the four other sections of exploring pedagogical Documentation and how it can support you in your projects with children.

I hope these links gave you an insight into the potential of a project... it is not simply following the children's interests, but utilising those interests to frame their ideas, the development, their learning, their play. It is most certainly a collaboration with the children where the educator is as important as the child... that all voices need to be heard and respected. That we empower children to make decisions, to participate, to take responsibility, to play and learn... but we have the bottom line responsibility... in what we choose to provide for them, how we see ourselves as educators, how we view the child, being aware of the impact of all our decision making... keeping the children safe so that they can take risks.

Below are some quotes for further reflections

remeber listening is an important part of the project... to listen to find out what project, what direction, the needs, the ideas, and if a new direction is needed, or a new stimulus... etc etc... and listening happens in many ways... not just the words children say.

To the right you can see in the list of tags various projects that I have done while I have written this blog... you are welcome to check them out...

Monday 26 March 2018

The story of a dot...

There have been several metaphors that I have been coming back to time and time again during my visit in the Middle East and that is the idea of joining dots...

Making connections - not just human connection, but also connecting ideas, connecting knowledge, connecting experience, connecting culture, history etc... and the interconnections.

Learning is like a giant dot to dot... I loved them as a child... following the sequence of numbers to discover the image at the end... The idea that many parts make up a whole picture. Which brings me back to the idea that if we are only supporting one or two of those dots... then a whole picture cannot be made... ie the hundred languages of learning. There are many ways to learn.

The above is an extremely detailed dot to dot with well over a thousand dots - but I have taken rather a large number of the dots away... so if you were to print this image out and try to join the dots together you will struggle to get the whole picture as it is... either you will give up, or invent where dots should be... these inventions will of course impact how the image turns out - you might be be to guess correctly... but it is more likely that your imagination will result in something very different.

Trauma has been something we have talked about on many occasions in Palestine - how to meet the needs of children with trauma... how to help the children connect the dots so that they can process what has happened and not start imagining what those dots are themselves and maybe create a reality that is even more nightmarish to process. We do not need to go into too much detail, but enough so that the children can make those connections without the need for invention.

Then there is this thinking of connecting dots in the sense of neurons... encouraging children to think, to reflect, to experience - to learn with their whole brain (which means signals from their whole body)

image found on

So what we need to be doing as educators is providing experiences that allows every child to make connections in their brains... to evolve, to develop... to learn...  to play. We need to learn about how the brain develops, how it works, so that we can support the process. We need to be aware of sensory impact, including how the room impacts the child - how the sound impacts (is there constant noise, how loud is that noise... is it sound pollution rather than a healthy stimulus?); is the room visually over stimulating, or maybe under-stimulating, does it allow the child to feel competent or dependant, does it make the child feel significant or insignificant, does the child have an opportunity to experience diversity, how is the lighting etc; how does the room smell? Is it an inviting smell, or one that is disturbing - smell has a bigger impact than what you would think; is there space to engage the sense of touch, access to different materials etc access to gross and fine motor movements (engaging the outside as well)... is there space and time to engage the sense of taste?
Is the room designed to encourage social interactions - how do these interactions occur? Is there space for a variety of interactions - from small groups to larger groups? and even time to be alone when needed to process...
Are we as educators inspiring wonder, encouraging curiosity and giving time for risk and reflection - to allow those neurons to keep connecting...?
Each decision we make as an educator in how we design the learning space, what experiences we provide, what time we make available for a diverse play diet... will impact how those neurons connect... see the film below...

As teachers we also need to keep on connecting dots...

The above image is a little something I put together to try and explain my thinking about this - that we can have various ideas and theories, experiences and knowledge  - but by visiting new places, participating in new experiences, interacting with others and sharing ideas we are able to make those blue links... making more connections between our own ideas... making more sense of the world as we experience it.
Play is a powerful tool in making these connections... for adults and children alike.... In this sense we are talking about Original Learning again...
original learning
This original learning is about connecting dots... and PLAY is one of the best ways to incorporate ALL of the above with the understanding that we have created a safe place for play and learning.

In the coming weeks I will be writing about the dots and the connections I have made in the last 2 weeks... and also have been asked about to explain in more detail so that others can make connections that I did not have time to help with the connection at the time...

posts that link to this thinking...

Original Learning

Original Learning and Together-led Play

Metacognition and the Preschooler


Process not Product

Tuesday 20 March 2018

The learning in a story

Today I worked for the last time with the advanced group. After playing and exploring the learning and then creating plans together they were given the challenge to read a wordless book and explore what ideas could be found for play and learning.

The group was divided into three groups... and the books used are

Flotsam by David Wiesner
Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith
Journey by Aaron Becker

There was 45 minutes to explore the books and discover the play and learning potential. The idea was to find as many as possible - to look closely at the images, at the ideas, at the details and to see how we could interest the children as well as follow their interests by providing materials and play/experiment/exploration opportunities.

The idea was to practice making plans, to be able to create play opportunities and to better understand the learning that happened within them... to not only increase their own knowledge of how play and learning walks hand in hand... but also to arm them with the knowledge they need to let parents know that play-based learning is real... that there is no such thing as just play - and just for laughs is no "just" thing either... as laughing is essential - to create safe relationship where there is trust, to create a relaxed atmosphere where a child can feel safe to learn and also laughter boosts the immune system, so keeping them healthier.

I was great to see how the educators used their knowledge of the play we had participated in the previous days - the play allowing them maybe to see details in the book that they would otherwise have missed...

and things like birds and flowers have become more of thing for many of the educators because of my fascination with them... I am continuously stopping to take photos... bird nerd that I am... no expert just love to watch and learn
myna birds watching the city of Jenin
At a later date, when my notes of this meeting are put into more oder... I will create the activity/play/learning plans that we came up with on this blog for all to take part in.

Monday 19 March 2018

The story of a room...

Another short blog today, as the internet is being temperamental.

Today I have been sharing many images of preschool settings around the world with the educators here in Palestine... with the words do not try to copy this, that I am not expecting them to agree with what they see, or what I show is the right thing... merely that I show them many spaces designed in many ways... so that they can see the possibility of what can be done.
A learning space does not have a fixed look.

I talked about the importance of observing how the children use the space they have, are there areas that encourage the children to run and maybe crash into other children's play... and how can furniture help them create spaces where children cannot pick up speed... but at the same time being aware of providing a space and time for children to run freely.

I talked about being aware of colour... that it is not enough to choose bright colours just because it is thought children like them... that as educators we need to reflect on how colour affects the brain and affects the learning... colours that aid learning, that aid focus should be chosen, not colours and colour combinations that overwhelm, over-excite and overstimulate... sure these colourful moment can happen, but not for prolonged period of time.

I brought up how noise impacts children's learning... and if too loud impacts their hearing, and if really  loud (like it often is here) can actually cause permanent damage. We talked about how materials and furniture can be added to help absorb some of the sound, so that walls do not just bounce around and add to the problem.

I brought up the need for small spaces so that children have the opportunity to get away and be calm for a while, or engage in play with just a few other children. The need to bring the ceiling down in at least some areas so that the children can feel bigger, more powerful... many places here have high ceilings - very high ceilings... which is great for me as a tall person.

We talked about the availability of materials... how are they being displayed and how the room helps you as an educator to support the children in their play and learning - to be independent and capable.

We also talked about using the outdoors as a learning space, and the importance of being outside for full body play and learning.

The idea was to share lots of inspiration and thinking so that they reflect on the children, on what works... and of creating a learning space that is more Palestinian. Many spaces have Disney and Spongebob on the walls rather than taking advantage of the beautiful traditional Palestinian patterns to accent a room... also many of the learning materials are downloaded from the internet and tend to be incredibly American based... so I talked about the the dangers of a single story... that if their Palestinian children saw stories, films, and learning materials from only an American point of view, then this will become their inner story too... learning cards etc should not be blonde blue eyed children and police cars and buses and doctors of an American kind - but they should be images of how they look in Palestine.
In the same way Palestine is so much more than just fighting, guns and bombs - it is good food, beautiful nature, music, singing, stories, ancient history, embroidery, laughter, love and life like in any other country... they have many stories to tell...
and in this blog I tell the story of Palestine and early years teachers and play.
The room should be a Palestinian colleague - that can share about the world... but not an American colleague that forgets the story and beauty of what Palestine has to offer... even the educators here have been amazed at the photos of flowers and nature that I have been taking... they too have forgotten some of their nature story...

In Sweden, my room/learning space for the children should reflect our common Swedish story... with a window out to the world... always open to learn and to encompass, but never forgetting who we are. And sometimes who we are in a group is international and that should be reflected in the room too... not single story...

images taken 3 years ago at a center for young children here in Jenin...

Sunday 18 March 2018

From play to learning...

So today here in Palestine, the advanced group has been reflecting on the play we have been doing all week with light and shadows and analysing it to discover what we have been learning... and with this knowledge we have written plans...

pointing out that these plans are not about how to make learning fun, but about allowing the educators to better understand the learning that occurs in play... so that when they offer play situations, or offer certain materials they have an understanding of the learning potential.
This means that the educator can better observe the children with an open mind... knowing that there can be many avenues of learning that the children might focus on, instead of having an agenda and steering the children into a specific form of learning.

Understanding the play... and combining this with their knowledge of the children - as individuals and as a group (through their observations over time) they can then make decisions that might allow certain learning areas a better chance than others...
for example
The light and shadow play might be used as a tool for helping children overcome their fear of the dark... then it might be a good idea to have small groups in order to adequately support the children to self regulate and learn to enjoy the joy of play even in the dark... OR it might be that there is a desire for the children to use their collaboration skills and negotiation skills... and therefore a larger group is used to expose the children to a possible social chaos - the educator supporting the children... the educator will also know how large this group should be to create a manageable chaos for the children to negotiate... learning will not happen if it becomes overwhelming.
Also what combination of materials are put out will affect what potential learning naturally occurs in the play... setting up things for shadow theatre is more likely to support language and literacy on a higher level than math... I say more likely, because children can often surprise us with what they learning.

We also took the time to explore how the play/learning could be extended - what extra materials could be added, how would different locations impact - introducing new facts, how would that impact the play... asking specific questions such as "Does light travel? How does it travel?" to get the children thinking on a more abstract level... and also to fuel the imagination... allowing the children to come up with their own theories and these theories being the basis of future learning, future experiments and future play possibilities...
it is important that we do not just have a series of amazing events that look cool online when shared, or that the parents will be impressed by... there needs to be time to reflect and to return to the same play in new ways... and also in the same way sometimes.  A series of cool events means the children just get to see the tip of the ice-berg all the time and not discover all that is hidden beneath the sea...
By thinking up a long list of possible extensions it allows the educator to be open to the possibility of any direction the children might take them. If during the introduction play of shadow and light the children show most fascination for making stories... then maybe a shadow theatre is the next step... if the children are more interested in how light works, then maybe reflections and sorting materials into opaque, translucent and transparent... if more interested in making the shadows large and small then maybe the opportunity to take in pens and start drawing around the shadows and measuring them... or checking how the sun creates larger shadows in the morning than at midday... this in turn will lead to new discoveries and new possible extensions...
And the time being open to the possibility of discovery new extensions, new materials and new possibilities to add to that list, so that in the future your planning resource becomes a better and richer support.

extending the learning... session 1 - light and shadow with torches and blocks and loose parts, free play. Session 2... with the instruction of creating scenes for a story - linking the shadow play to story telling, art and language. Session 3 introducing coloured light, mirrors and on a larger scale. Session 4 outside using natural light.
If I had more time I would allowed hands-on learning for some of the extensions they thought of... to see how they work in action.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Play play play - why I hold play-workshops

Today we played a lot... and I mean a lot...

And I know now, that I am not going to be able to upload the photos that I want to in order to write the post I want to right now about today... so I will write some other reflections instead...

About how we have reflected on the importance of joy rather than fun...
The idea is that we want to create a sense of joy within each child ... in their play and also in their learning - because then the learning will be genuine, rich, deep and more likely to be long-lasting...
Learning that is made fun (and then often called play) is not going to have the same effect - in a way its more like sugar... it gives you a high but the learning is not going to last as long.

What we want is slow learning - that the children have time to process it, they have time to explore it, they have time to see it from other perspectives and share ideas with others... they have time to repeat and test out theories they have already tried and add new ideas to it in order to see what happens...
If learning is made fun then there is more likely to be an agenda... less likely for the learning to happen in multiple ways, less likely for the children to discover new perspectives... less likely to come to a new conclusion than the one the teacher has already thought up...

The workshops I hold for educators are designed to get the teachers thinking on many levels... not just exploring play, but also exploring what it is like to collaborate with others like children do (in large numbers) - explore what it is like to have free range of materials and what to do with them... and then some activities are designed to be done in a specific way. Various forms of communication are given space to be used... hence the first activity was done in silence, so that they communicated with body language.
Some items are only given to one educators... as a test of how does it feel when not all get to try...
so it is an exploration of emotions as well.
Of course there is time to talk about all of this, reflect and return to the activity...

For instance today was the third time one of the groups worked with shadows and light... each time I have added something new... either new material or a new thought/direction... each time they have discovered something new about what they thought they had already fully explored.

It is so important that we as educators play with materials... explore how they work, how they interact with other materials, their relationship with other materials and the world around us - what learning can be found within this play. But it is equally important to do this with others and to reflect together with others... as alone we see with just our own perspective... but together we see so much more...

Original learning is for adults too... not just children...

I so long to share images from the workshop... but I realise this will be best done when i return home, as the on-off on-off internet makes it so hard to upload photos on my blog.

I guess it is about patience

light and shadows... and how different coloured lights make different coloured shadows... more about this in an up and coming post

bringing the sunlight in... in the end it took four mirrors to bend the sunlight to find me...

Friday 16 March 2018

How I ended up in Palestine

I have been asked on several occasions how I ended up in Palestine... the journey has been shared, but over a period of three years... so maybe not so easy to track it down.

So I thought I would make things a little easier, and give a short story about how I come to be sitting in a refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine, right now... and for the next five days. I have been here for a week almost.

At the end of 2014 one of my work colleagues at Filosofiska (where I worked then) had connections with the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and suggested a collaboration. The owner of the preschool, at the time, was interested in spreading his passion for improving education globally and so applications for funds were made to The Swedish Institute, so we could make a trip to Jenin to investigate the current state of preschools and schools, and how best we could be of help...
we had two ideas - first - setting up a preschool which was play-based and where the children were empowered in their learning and
second - to work with a preschool in existence to work with a more play based approach and not the academic, strict approach that was visible in many settings -  this is partly due to how they have always done it, and partly because of parental pressure to make their children school ready.

In January 2015 I came to Palestine for the first time and visited many settings. I was impressed by the passion the educators have to give their children the best start possible... but of course there were things that were harder to deal with - the way play was being interpreted (in other words they were making learning fun - through race competitions and other means - rather than seeing and valuing the learning that happens in play). I could see that children were being controlled through physical punishment in many/most of the places I saw - not hard hits, but small taps (for the most part - but there were stories that horrified me) - and this did not sit with me well. BUT at the same time I am coming to another culture and I need to listen to the whys - not just impose my views of childhood...

I held a couple of workshops for one of the settings and also a presentation about play for educators... it was clear during and after the presentation  (especially of the images of children jumping in puddles in my presentation) that I had shared more than what many of the teachers were willing to listen to.
This is why it is SO important to listen first... and to introduce what the learner is ready for and challenge thinking appropriately. For children it is often about social/cognitive maturation and also physical maturation that makes it appropriate or not... with adults culture and history (both communal and personal) plays a huge role too - maybe a pivotal role.

In April a small party of educators and others from the Freedom Theatre came to Stockholm to visit  various settings to be inspired about how another way of preschools could be... I also held two workshops... one inside exploring loose-parts and play... and a second outdoor workshop.

After these preliminary visits it became clear that the best option to move forward was a third option... to start a course for educators in Jenin.

So once again funds were sought after and The Swedish Institute were again backing the project.
At this point the owner of Filosofiska dropped out of the project and I have continued as a private person donating my time.

I then worked from Stockholm helping to set up and form the curriculum for the course and came to Jenin in January 2017 and April 2017 to hold workshops, and lessons about play, child development, neuroscience's impact on pedagogy, various pedagogical approaches, the third teacher  - looking at how the space can help the teachers and children in the learning process (most/all settings have big images of Disney and Spongebob plastered on the walls... I have learned this is a requirement to be able to have a license to run a preschool here... the idea behind is that it makes it obvious this space is for children... obvious for whom I wonder... but that is a whole other post)... I also held outdoor workshops, loose-part workshops and a huge focus on exploring the learning IN play.
It has been about listening to who there educators are, their stories and their needs and changing the course to meet them.
So basically I prepare for these sessions by reading widely, bringing lots of materials, collecting lots of images - and being prepared to use the bits that are needed... so when I am not with the educators I am preparing for them. It is intense.
I have also done presentations and learning dialogues via skype... this is something that is best done after meeting them because then we have established a relationship and we have a mutual trust that is so essential for learning.

In August 2017 the educators came to Stockholm for an intensive two weeks of visiting settings doing workshops as well as meeting people from the library for children, the teacher training college and first aid training.
I know that many of the settings have a lot of children and small indoor spaces... so there was a two day focus on outdoor learning... so that the educators could really immerse themselves in the potential of the outdoors and that learning really does not mean sitting at a desk.

Now there are two parallel courses. One for last year's cohort - to advance their thinking - 6 of the educators have the time and means to continue... and I have based this course on their need to help the parents understand the learning value of play, as this seemed to be the greatest obstacle. So we are doing hands on play sessions and breaking them down into areas of learning afterwards... Then we make plans... so work out a play idea/activity and again write in the plan the learning, the aims, the materials needed, the time and also how the activity could be extended at the time and in the future.

The other group I am starting in the same way as last year... with an introduction to play, neuroscience (to understand the child's reactions and learning) and to loose parts... giving value to things that they never thought to give value to - allowing them to see the world with a new perspective.
Because once you start seeing things in a new way you can go on yourself to make discoveries.

Why am I involved?
Well I am no rich person, so I cannot simply donate money to help others... but I can donate time and energy.
I also think that we cannot just feel sorry for situations in other countries... we need to be active about them if we are truly to make a difference (and it does not have to be in another country).
I feel coming here is appreciated by the women I collaborate and interact with here. My focus is always on listening and a democratic learning/classroom where i define democratic as equality, respect, giving others value, feeling value yourself and participation and responsibility... all of this makes freedom. By working together we can be free together.

These are people that do not feel free... and they are in a situation that is complicated in so many ways. What we want is to support the children to not just accept their status quo, to think creatively, with respect and empathy and are able to come up with sustainable solutions in the future that will benefit all.

That is why I come. Yes it sound rather over-ambitious. But I believe that peace is worth making a stand for - or in my case, worth making a journey for and sharing what I know.

Just as in Reggio Emilia the mothers wanted the children to have the power and belief that they could make the future a better place - so is the case here.

me recharging my solar energy...
it has become a bit of a joke here that I will stand in the sun and soak up a few rays while everyone else sits in the shade...
but I know when I return I have a few more months of winter before such warmth will hit my skin... for instance right now in Stockholm it is -9°C while I have a glorious  20 °C- with 28 predicted in a few days!!!
And a rare moment with my sleeves rolled up... they are down when there are men around.
photo by Suzan Wasfi

I was asked the following
 I wonder if you could share more about the process of understanding others' cultures (or maybe you already have and I missed it). You said it's important to listen...what, then, do you do when a teacher in another culture expresses a perspective with which you profoundly disagree? How do you move forward toward a shared understanding that benefits children?
At first I thought I would write a new post about it... but then thought it might be best to simply add it to this post, so that when others read this post and wondered the same thing... then they could easily find the answer

what I found is that first you have to build trust before you can start to question each other about things you profoundly disagree about... because then you know that this questioning, this discussion, comes from a place of understanding, a place of working together to make it better for the children and NOT from a place that I know better than you and you should do as I say...

it also means that you have to be open about what they are going to say... to ask more questions to understand, to share what you have learned and observed through your own experiences...

As I mentioned above, I struggle with the physical and mental punishment that is dealt out (in any form). In my first trip in January 2017 as part of this course I made the decision not to bring it up. I made the decision to focus on the positive things that I could share that would make a difference... for the educators and the children - and also talk about brain research, trauma etc - as a kind of seed planting for the future.
At the end of the second visit in April I was asked the question by the educators if I had any ideas how I could help them stop the children from hitting each other... I felt this was the perfect time - I answered that I did not think it helped that they saw and experienced adults hitting children... their answer is "we do not hit hard" and "it is so they learn right from wrong". I answered that children will try to emulate this strategy... they will make judgements about their peers behaviour and hit to "correct them" (I actually witnessed that happening - one 2 year old was doing something the she should not... a five year old went over and spanked her and said "la" - no). Some children will interpret that they are being hit because the adult does not like what they are doing... so they will hit other children when they do something the child does not like... which will result in them getting hit back... a vicious circle.
They asked me if I ever hit my children... I answered truthfully, no. My daughter was in the room and she was able to confirm this... they sat amazed, as they perceived my daughter as a well mannered, intelligent human... and she managed to be this way without ever being hit.
After the session I went into town with one of the educators, my daughter and her daughter. Her daughter has a brain defect that has impacted her development - she needs constant care, and despite being 8 years old has not developed a verbal language to communicate. When we were in town the child started to walk out into the road, which would have been dangerous, the mother raised her hand to correct her by hitting, remembered what I had said, put her hand down and then observed how her daughter self corrected, got back onto the path - all without the need of being physically reprimanded. It was a powerful moment for the mother and myself... as the mother came to me... and said "did you see, I did not hit and she learned anyway".
It was pivotal for me. Trying to find that balance of listening and sharing... of understanding and struggling with a behaviour I profoundly disagree with... as I think any form of physical or psychological abuse/punishment/reprimanding does not benefit the child... or the educator/parent and child relationship.
I am quite sure that if I hit my adult students every time they misbehaved  or got things wrong it would not improve the learning, it would not improve the trust and it would not improve a playful and joyful atmosphere. it is more likely to create resentment, distrust fear and the energy would then be on that rather than on the learning... it might have made a quieter classroom/workshop, it might have meant they came on time, or took shorter breaks... but it would have meant the learning was less genuine... all I was doing was creating space for me to speak... not a space for learning.

I do not think it is easy. We always want a quick fix. But it is seldom going to work that way.
If I had been in a room where a child was being physically hurt or psychologically abused I am not sure what I would have done... what I saw was gentle taps (which is still physical punishment... I think sometimes their signs of love... pinching cheeks was harsher) - but I heard stories from the past and the present about children who are hurt to the point there was blood or a bruise. None of the educators I have collaborated with felt this was in anyway acceptable. But I heard of stories of preschooler being hit by rulers on the hand for not going to the toilet properly etc... of being reprimanded for not sitting and doing the work... (BUT that is a form of abuse that happens in other countries too... forcing far too young children into academics - I would equally struggle in some kindergartens in USA for that reason).

So I listen to understand. I build trust. I plant seeds of knowledge and research without directly targeting the problem - so that when the time is right - (in a way when it is developmentally appropriate) we can raise the issue to discuss it openly, fairly and with respect.