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!