Saturday, 20 October 2018

Return to West Asia

Next Tuesday I will be returning to West Asia to spend time in Palestine and Israel - meeting educators and holding workshops and presentations while I am there... also some time to do some tourist things, which I have never had time to do previously... so I am really looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful part of the world.

I will of course be sharing my adventures here on my blog, as usual.
This time my daughter will be coming with me, not only to experience West Asia, but also to work on her school project, finding out more about the education system in Palestine and Israel by asking a few of the local teenagers we meet.

For those of you wondering why I am calling it West Asia rather than the middle east, then it is due to the fact the latter has a colonial ring to it rather than describing the geographical location...
if you are interested in finding out more about West Asia as a term and why Middle East is maybe a name we should leave behind in history with British colonialism (and the many atrocities that happened under it) then check out this article about why West Asia... and how middle east does not accurately describe the area.

Below are a few photos from the area...

the refugee camp is the close compact area with the black water containers on the roof - the city of Jenin has been built with more space and bigger roads - the hills beyond are on the other side of the barricade keeping Israelis and Palestinians separated from each other.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Visit to Förskolan Tjädern (Preschool Ptarmigan)

This week I visited several preschools together with Niki Buchan and a group of fabulous educators from Great Britain. I almost wrote last week, as I feel I have done so much this week it could not possibly have fitted it all into one week.

Over time I will be sharing some of the images and my reflections of those visits, but as I head to Palestine and Israel next week my focus after this blogpost will be on my preparations for there.

Last Monday afternoon we went to Förskolan Tjädern in Haninge.
Since I had been to the Border Crossing exhibition it was very clear that this exhibition had influenced them. The preschool was spiced with nature and technology working together for the children to explore and play with.

The other main thing that struck me as I walked around the setting was the energy of the staff working there. They seemed happy and eager to share their important work with us... it is always an absolute joy to see educators being proud of their work. And so they should be. The children were all busily engaged in an array of activities.

The photos I share below may look like the preschool was empty, but I was cleverly trying to avoid having children in the frame...

as you can see in just about every room the children had access to natural materials to explore and play with, and in different ways... you felt the hundred languages... not one way to explore nature

furniture was customised to meet the needs of the preschool and to support the play and learning. A small raised surface to build on allows the pieces to remain and the floors still to be cleaned, and at the same time makes it easy for several children to reach and interact on. And for the youngest children I wonderful platform to sit on and build, or crawl over or jump off (if no others are using it to build on) it is a suitable risk for one year olds. No danger, but the wonderful tickle of excitement if jumping off when new at jumping.

the one year olds had plenty of small spaces to climb into... all the rooms had small spaces for the children to hide away in, but it was lovely to see that in the one year old room the spaces were really small... adapting to the smallness of their bodies... creating a cozy space, but also the physical challenge of getting in and out. My own son simply adored to be squashed up in shelves like this... as have many many children I have worked with... including much older preschoolers!

space to explore nature with digital media... microscope egg to see details... using the i-pad to make films and take phtos of the close-ups

the children in the preschool had access to many of the same materials throughout the preschool, regardless of age. The difference was that in the younger years where small parts can present a hazard for some children who are in a very oral phase the small loose parts were put up high on a shelf so that they could be brought down to work with the children when an educator was sat along side to support the process and ensure nothing dangerous happened. One year olds working with toothpicks is a good risk together with a guiding adult.

I also appreciated how windows were being used, with shelves along them, so that natural light lit up the materials. It also created a well lit play-space. Of course here in Sweden we have to maximise that daylight as in winter there are not many hours of it.

the natural light also contributed towards making shadows... this made having a construction area by a window extra dynamic. There is also a lot of up-cycling and recycling materials being used.
Plastic is used too. it is not a taboo if it has a valid play and learning purpose.

getting the children involved in making learning materials.

another construction area... this time for the youngest children and with wheels and movement as a focus
instead of just a flat surface to drive vehicles on blocks had been put underneath to create a variety of heights... small hills for the vehicles... and to strengthen small hands as they drive up them, and wonder as they roll down...

here the youngest children have a small patch of living grass to play around and with

different phenomenas to explore... not just natural, but man-made too

many of the role-play areas had different themes, with natural elements and forest etc being observed mostly. This was the only "traditional" style role-play space and it was in the one year old's space. I liked the idea of creating a space that reminded them of home at a time when they are first transitioning between home and preschool. It makes sense for them to play here and to feel safe... and as they get older then their play gets more daring, as the preschool space is familiar.

a homemade light table to construct on

another version of a home-made light table... this time more like a light-bin, so all sorts of sensory materials can be used in it.

a small world area for play

art studio for the older children with lots of materials easily accessible
art studio for the youngest... less overwhelming with materials. The small parts are, as I mentioned before, kept high on a shelf and brought down to work with the children with guidance... a healthy risk and not a dangerous hazard. Children are given the time to master materials so that when they are older they can have free access to them all.

sensory play

the window sill as a work surface. I have worked with so many children who love to play in the window. My own three children loved to do this at home... and my mother reported that when I was a young child this is where I did most of my playing... on the window sill. Maybe children are like flowers and search out light to grow and evolve?

severla rooms use projectors to inspire.

the absolute joy of dry rustling leaves to play with inside... sounds, smell, touch... and to observe how the leaves with eventually crumble... This room had a board across the doorway so that the leaves did not escape and end up everywhere.

digital and analogue crossing borders...

the simplicity of the younger rooms to allow them to develop relationships with the materials at their own pace

a rich variety of loose-parts to construct with.

a mini-atelier, using the natural light to its fullest
The educators here are in a process, they tell me... this is not the final product of a preschool, but just the start of a journey to understand how to create a preschool for all children... so they all feel included, they all can express their ideas, they feel valued, and learn to value others... the third teacher is their colleague to help them with this journey.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

"Down to nursery" !

In the last couple of days I have engaged in a twitter dialogue about the use of the phrase "down to nursery" and a desire to avoid using the word "down"  to describe visiting the early years.
This was not well received as you can read in the exchange below

So this post is about exploring the word "down" to show that there is plenty to learn about how we use words and how we apply them in education and society... that the final argument is, in fact, false.

To start with look up the word DOWN...
I did in several dictionaries... and most of the descriptions of the word are negative... (when it is not referring to feathers of young birds or a grasslands)
It can mean depressed, less than, bad, dislike, lower in price, reduced activity, defeated, going downhill, going south, to kill, to belittle, to consume, to cause being out of play,  a lower position in a series, less value - it is a preposition a verb and an adjective...

with all these possible meanings I think choosing why people tend to say down to nursery every time is important. Is it because, as a I wrote the nursery/preschool is situated geographically lower (ie you have to do downstairs, down a hill... or is south of where you are) or is it just because school is seen as bigger and better and that you go "up" in year groups?

Why is learning going upwards? When we all really know it spirals, curves, plateaus and dips...
and what kind of learning is being measured?
for instance if I was to measure the ability of my preschoolers to interact with each socially and solve social problems and interact with empathy with many 13-16 year old classrooms they would outclass them - the children in the so called upper end of the education system seem to have lower social abilities than  the children I have worked with aged 4-6. Have they gone down in their development? Have the teachers failed them throughout the years to allow this degeneration of social skills, democratic abilities and valuing others equally?
Do I blame the teachers? No, I blame the system that puts too much focus on academic skills and not enough on social emotional skills so that they can use their academic skills and experience wisely. Play is a great way for children to practice these social skills, as is philosophy with children... but neither are valued in the school system...  of course they ARE valued and used in nursery and preschools - so what does this mean? The fact that the early years use learning strategies that are not valued by the school system, is it placing them in a lower status bracket purely because schools do not have the time.

I look at my own children - every year the school year starts off with a kick off... a week for the children to bond, get to know each other, maybe a day of fun activities with playful activities (NOT the same as play) talks about values and equal rights and about how we should treat each other... and then bam... straight into academics... we have done the social stuff now for the "real" learning. It barely scratches the social surface...
Here you can read about the importance of social capital to providing a good education.
read here about the importance of play and well-being in schools and preschools in Finland
I could go on to find more links about the importance of play and social well-being, but I think you get the idea... there are plenty of my own blogposts to check out too if you are interested

My experience working with young children (and I also work with children up to the age of 13 - and I have a 14 year old and two 17 year old children of my own to give me more experience of children and education) is that they tend to look at children younger than themselves as lesser (actually happy to say, my children don't, or at least not to my face, haha)
The use of baby and small child (småbarn in Swedish) is frequently used in preschools, and there are many of us now actively avoiding using these words because they are so loaded.
I once had a group of 5 year olds who kept referring to the one and two year olds as small children/babies... so I said that compared to my teenage children they were small children. The group of five year olds looked at me in disgust... a couple with angry expressions, one with tears in eyes feeling thoroughly offended. I asked why they were upset, and they explained that they were not small, and they could in fact do a lot of things.
I said that the one and two year olds could do a lot of things too, and maybe they felt sad and angry like them for being referred to as small. This shocked them. They paused in their thinking and then all agreed to never call them small any more. They were children capable and learning, just like themselves...
In fact the youngest children we work with are on the biggest learning curve... they are learning so much all the time... they are learning to walk (from not walking), to speak a language (and some were learning two or more languages - which is much more than many children in school) - they are absorbing everything around them... watching the youngest children learn is amazing.
It just tends to slow down the older they get... Oh, I used that word again "down" - but this time referring to the fact that learning capacity is getting less the older they get... I mean post puberty it is so much harder to learn new languages...
My children are fluent in two languages... and they DID NOT learn that in school! They learned it through PLAY, reading (ie listening to stories) and social interaction. (My children got to watch 1-2 hours of TV once a week when they were preschoolers, and no i-pads etc, or digital media until they were school aged - so their learning was play and experiential).

Why do many say "BIG" school and "BIG" girl/boy pants? Why not just say, just school... first preschool/nursery and then school - by adding the big there is adding a status... which is SO apprant in the above twitter dialogue - "yeah, good luck moving down to big school next year just wouldn't work would it?" - implying that my questioning of the word "big" had not been taken into consideration and that it is simply accepted that primary school is BIG...

I mean no-one in primary school would tell their children good luck when you move up to big school next year, as their pupils move into secondary school - obviously is must be a "bigger" school because it is "higher on the scaffold"...
when you take the time to look up "moving up to big school" it tends to be the move to primary school, and not secondary (I found one that was more of a joke about secondary school being "big school") - what you do find is that most write "big school" in quotation marks - and if you look up how quotation marks are used this is called scare quotes 

Scare quotes are used to cast doubt on a word or phrase, or to emphasize that the word or phrase is being used as a euphemism. Scare quotes are best used in moderation. The Punctuation Guide
which implies that people kind of know that this is not the appropriate way to describe primary school and secondary school, and yet it is being used in a way that society accepts without questioning.

I remember a staff meeting that lead to a blog post about ageism...  in this post about do we age discriminate I explore the idea that many adults do in fact look at the youngest children is being capable of less... the fact that children in my group were just turned two when I first started working with them, and they were a part of the oldest group (big group) made it so that these two year olds were seen as capable - of using small loose parts and walking great distances to playgrounds and forest. But the two and half year olds olds in the younger group, a year later, were suddenly not capable of walking short distances to the playground or to be trusted with small loose-parts.
This is why I am so pedantic with what words are we choosing to describe young children and nursery/preschool.
if we choose to use the word down then it is, sadly, a kind of dumbing down... especially is it is not downstairs, or down the hill, or south...

I mean I am sitting in Liljeholmen right now... Södermalm (The South Island) is north of me - so technically I would go up to Södermalm (but I could say across, as I cross a bridge to get there, the only barrier between me and Södermalm) so maybe I would go up to Gävle, a town further north.
I would go down to IKEA... because it is south of me.... but if I was living in Norsborg, then I would go up to IKEA... in this sense it has nothing to do with belittling IKEA (or Sainsburys as the example was given in the twitter dialogue above) but everything to do with geography.

related words to DOWN - from but I checked several online dictionaries and they all were the same...

These are not words you want to connect with nursery/preschool. So I really think that people could just start saying

  • I am going to visit nursery/preschool
  • I am going to spend time at nursery/preschool
  • I am going across to nursery/preschool for an hour/afternoon, day
  • i have been moved to work in nursery/preschool
  • the children are moving to school after summer
  • the children will start primary school after summer
  • the children will start reception class after summer
I could go on... there are many ways to express time being spent in nursery/preschool and the transition from nursery/preschool to school without referring it to a ladder system of going up.
As I wrote above we are all on a learning journey - there will be ups and downs in the learning, there will be circling back to learn more or to revise (this does not mean we go down in our learning status)
Some children learn slower and faster... so some children will be in first grade but are smart than 4th grade children, and yet in this ladder system are seen as smaller/lesser... "down" the system. 
And yet there is this ridiculous factory line system of going up in production from class to class.
this is not valuing children's (any person's) real learning or the real process of learning. It is simply giving status to the grades, tests and curriculum.

What about the children like my son... who school has not been able to support. He is failing school, despite being smart, intelligent (teachers and the psychiatrists have said this) - but he simply does not learn the way school teaches... he is in eighth grade, taller than most of his teachers (so he is BIGGER than them, why does this word BIG suddenly no longer mean that his teachers should look up to him, I mean physically they have to, but socially they tend to talk down to him - when he is a person so incredibly in need of been spoken across to in order to feel valued and this lack of being valued means he is constantly trying to feel valued and safe that there is no time for learning).
He is GRADED as math level fourth grade (10 years old)... yet the aptitude test we did when he was eight showed he had a mathematical age of 14... so what has happened? Why has school let him go down when he has been going up in the school system?

OK... so I hope that this post has shed a little light that the word DOWN and how we use it in our everyday language is worth exploring, and is worth thinking about before using it connected to with nursery/preschool aged children, settings and their educators.
The early years is so incredibly important that it should be ranked TOP of priorities and that it is downhill from there!

Friday, 12 October 2018

Play in a technological world

I have been reflecting more and more about the fashion of learning... and that at the moment in my instagram feed and other social media I see that images of digital and technological play are being more and more widely shared... and more an more liked and approved...
Although I also see there are cultural differences... here in Sweden I see a much bigger push for digital learning than I do in most of the other English (and non English speaking) countries that I follow with interest.

Don't get me wrong... I think technology has loads to offer and there are great benefits... but I sometimes think that it is being given more status than it should. As a person that was raised in a country (UK) where there are social classes and status that come with these classes I find that I am somewhat of a rebel when it comes to status. Why should someone or something have more status than another? How have they come to get this status? Does everyone/thing deserve this status - or is it well deserved for this singled out person/experience/object?

I am of the opinion that we (as educators) are too quick to elevate digital learning/play - I see it reflected in the number of images and conferences and lectures about this subject and also by the number of, especially Swedish educators, that illuminate their interest and passion in IT in their social media profiles... something that is not done to the same extent in other countries.

So why is Sweden more into promoting IT in preschools than other countries?
is it because we already have a functioning outdoor play and learning relationship - where we go outside every day in all weathers?
Is it because we are not confined to academic learning but have more freedom to explore... so we do not have to fight for the right to play?
Does this give more freedom to explore IT and digital learning?

In Why the Ipad? (a post written in Swedish)  the idea of the i-pad robbing time from children is taken up and discussed - the problems of screen time that are often raised in society. It also raises the questions about how do educators that are raised in a time without access to digital tools develop a healthy relationship with them and not create the age old problem of its not good for the children, without fully understanding... just as Elvis, the Beatles etc were bad influences and children should be protected from them!

So maybe, the whole point of this Swedish focus on digital learning is about challenging the status quo... of making a stand for the reality the children live in now... with an openness of what will be in the future...

Part of my digital learning with children has been to help the children navigate this medium... to understand that it can be a great tool to find out information, but also that there is a lot of misinformation - and that we need to check out several sources to get closer to knowing the truth. Also the concept of safety... to talk about why we do not put up just any photo online, or all kinds of information... that they have a choice about what photos we share, online and even on the wall in the preschool. This is something I have discussed several times before about consent when it comes to using images of the children in public spaces... even in their own portfolios. This allowed the children to develop a better sense of why we took photos... and they would often tell me to take specific photos of them in action, or ask to use the camera to take photos themselves.

Digital tools have allowed us to explore projects in new ways... by making films, there was a need to slow down and learn together... how films were made and to create everything we needed to make the films, and also how images could be manipulated to create something new... should we believe everything we see online and in films?

Digital tools became a natural part of our inquiries, just as much as magnifying glasses, paper and pencil, blocks, the great outdoors, museums, the art studio etc etc. Not a separate entity or subject, but simply another tool in our learning toolkit.

Of course in other countries creating more space and time for PLAY and more space for being OUTDOORS are the topics that need to be addressed. Digital learning is not about academics, it is another form of play and exploration is used wisely.

Play and learning, outdoor learning and play, equality and democratic learning and play are still equally important - and all of this should be featured within the digital learning and play, not separately. The exhibition Border Crossing that has been travelling Sweden in the last year also explores these ideas... crossing the border between analogue and digital, between indoors and outdoors, between then, now and yet.... its not learning or play, it is not indoors or outdoors it is not analogue or digital... we need to cross the border and we need to be creating a new space of exploration.

exploring materials in new ways... using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways... or familiar ways to use unfamiliar materials.

here the children googled images of Stockholm buildings to draw... and despite checking and double checking where all the buildings were, one of the buildings did not exist in Stockholm, but the architects that had designed the building had also designed a building in the place we visited in Stockholm (despite checking 4 sources) This was a great way to learn about how difficult it can be to get the right information.

digital learning is in the tool kit of the third teacher too... we need to learn how to use it wisely to create spaces of wonder, play and learning that also allows other forms of expression to co-exist.

using digital media to design. These are the original ideas of making the square more friendly for everyone... using loose-parts as well as images found online...  there ended up being many versions of this design as they children refined their ideas and also their understanding of how we could manipulate the photographs and source images. For more information about this project you can look at Together on the Square
getting the children to take photos, to think about the process... I have a series on this called "Through the Eyes of a child" if you want to find out more.

taking the time to look at the images the children took and to think deeply about what they represent to individual children and to the group as a whole... creating democratic learning situations through philosophical dialogues.

exploring the children's art and photography in new ways... how can we play in the art? What happens if we do? Can we bring the outdoors indoors... is it the same, how does it make us feel... creating space to talk and express ideas through experiences of wonder and play

exploring the internet... are wolves always bad... why do they tend to be bad in stories? Digital tools create a source of information that can trigger deeper dialogue. This was backed up with a visit to Skansen to see living wolves and pigs and also the the Natural History Museum to se the wolf installation where the wolves have many expressions... playing dress up wolves inside and out and creating wolves in different mediums... NOT just one way, but many languages to explore and discover and express.

digital photographs certainly allow for many photographs to be taken (so much better than when back in the old days when films had to be taken to be developed and you kept your fingers crossed that at least some were good). Through taking photographs together, we can make discoveries we might have missed at the time. The more of these discoveries we make, the more observant we became in nature

photos to explore play... the first session the children just explored the light in the dark... but after they saw the photos they made conscious decisions to create light shapes...

The above film was created by drawing with permanent markers on transparent plastic (laminated plastic through the laminator without paper inside). The children watched the film and decided they needed to make some adjustments... so we made a new film... the interestingthing was watching the child that made the image that could be barely seen in the first film (this child was not keen on drawing, too much sitting still, not enough of this child's favourite kind of play... role-play) - this child then spent the longest at the second session creating a work of art for the film. It was so incredible to see this child make their own decision about what they wanted included in the film... and that if it is meaningful it is worth sitting down to do. The second film can be watched below.

The second film is done with the same kind of plastic, black permanent marker and acrylic paint used in the BACK of the plastic, so the details would still be visible.

A year later another group (one year younger) who had seen these films, decided to use the technique as part of a longer film they made using several different kinds of filming techniques.

Technology, IT, digital tools... are all amazing, and allow us to explore the world in new ways... they are one of the hundred languages... that clearly is expanding all the time with new languages... and we have to be prepared to not just work on the hundred, but to be learn new ones too. If we stick at the hundred languages argument, then we might miss out... maybe its a thousand languages... or more?

Although I do understand that Malaguzzi originally intended not for there to be a fixed 100, but the number simply represented a great MANY ways of learning, playing, exploring, expressing, communicating...

The Story of Trends - don't just do something because it is fashionable, or others are doing it... take the time to reflect on, is it meaningful for your group... can it be adapted to be meaningful, can it inspire me to create something more relevant for where I am

Border Crossing - from analague to digital and back

Överby Preschool visit - digital as a form of sensory experience

Taking photographs with children
More about taking photographs with children

Co-documenters - digital tools really allow children to become co-documenters

Digital Teknik ger fler uttryck (Digital technology allows many ways of expression) Förskolan. This text is in Swedish and from 2012  where it mentions the digital resisitance is coming to a close in the preschool world...