Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Learning Journey

Right now I am sitting on a train on my way to see my daughter, who is attending high school on the other side of Sweden. The things that happen when your dream is to study marine biology!

But sitting on this train has got me thinking about the phrase I often use... "learning journey" and also reflect on a facebook interaction yesterday evening with Mats Olsson about "following instructions" and their connection to the Swedish preschool curriculum.

of course in the curriculum there is, thankfully, nothing about children needing to be able to follow instructions... but as I explored the idea yesterday I had to come to terms with the fact that we do indeed need to be able to understand instructions, we need to know how to follow them - for instance if we check the road for cars after we cross it instead of before we increase the risk of accidents instead of ensuring our safety. If we wash our hands before going to the toilet instead of after.....

So we need to explore the words "follow" as well as "instructions" - what do theses words mean to us and how do we put them in practice. Do we make children follow instructions - sit still, listen quietly etc - a kind of traditional classroom sort of obedience to the sense of following instructions.
Or are the instructions a kind of guideline, where the children are encouraged to question the instructions to be able to understand their purpose? And to make informed choices about whether they are instructions that are worth following...

Real Play for real peace.... NOT adult controlled for the appearance of order. I think many instructions are put in place for the APPEARANCE of order and adult controlled peacefulness, not a natural organic kind where the children self regulate and interact skilfully with each other.

I mean some instructions help us keep safe, or healthy, they can be instructions that help us cook food, or get to a place....

Talking of getting places... back to the train and the learning journey.

I got to see my first sprinkling of snow from the train today. I love the first snow of the season, deep inside there is this child that just needs to get out and connect with it... touch, make footprints... you know what I mean. So being on the train meant I could not do what I wanted. Its felt rather disappointing. But I am old enough, and wise enough, to know there will be another chance to meet the snow.

Sometimes I think the education is a bit like a train track... sure the learning journey is there, but there is a clear starting point and a clear destination. There is no flexibility in how we get there. we get on the train, the train follows the track... and if there are no delays we arrive on time at the chosen destination. Standardised tests is very much a train track of learning.

There is no opportunity to explore what is between the stations... you just get glimpses. There is a certain level of freedom on the train, but we are still confined to the train and what the train has to offer (or what we bring onboard).

The learning journey I prefer to follow is one we, teachers and learners, choose together. We might plan a destination, of what we want to learn, but go slow enough to discover other things on the way, make changes, do detours, return to where we started to set off again in a new direction... and the decision to use many forms of "learning transportation".
And of course our own legs can take us off the beaten track... explore uncharted areas, make discoveries and learn what we thought was unimaginable...

When I was in Israel I talked with Nona about the idea of teaching being like a map... that being an educator is a little like being a map reader. We can plan and follow the route, but we need to be open and flexible enough to listen to the learners... to hear what direction they are interested in taking, to be aware when we need to speed up, slow down or back track so that we can fully understand or fully appreciate. That maybe we take an extra trip, or end up having to re-plan the route because we discover that the one we thought was right was so terribly ill suited for the learners on this journey. We follow the needs, interests and developments of the learners. It might mean that we only get part way there because we suddenly discover things that we can go into deeper... the goal is the learning... and that can be done in a myriad of ways. The journey is the learning... the destination is... well maybe that is the grades or the product or a show, or an exhibition or...
The thing is that if we get too fixed on the destination we lose opportunities of learning on the way. It becomes like a train track... efficient at getting us there, but does not leave much room to stop, explore and go at our own pace. We can still get to the destination too.

I have a T-shirt that says on it "The journey is the destination" - and I bought it because for me it was about learning. This learning journey is not about getting to somewhere specific... it is about the process... of discovery - and seeing the new and then realising that there is more to explore...
Like getting to the top of a mountain... a huge challenge, to feel the joy, the wonder, the awe, and also a tinge of insignificance as you look around at the vastness and the number of other mountains.

Only once have I ever been so high on a mountain that I started to feel dizzy - due to the fact there is less oxygen (altitude sickness)... but the view from there was amazing, doing anything physical was hard. But with this feeling of being small in the world, there is also this feeling of enormity in a kind of being one with the world sort of empowerment. It was not just the altitude!!, because sometimes I get that on smaller mountains, or with sunsets, or the beauty in the micro-world. That Dirk Gently "everything is connected" sort of thing.
For me this is learning... not separate subjects, but how they all piece together to reveal the mosaic. A connectedness. Inspirational and empowering. But also times when it is challenging and overwhelming.

I think as we do these learning journeys we have to follow our interests... as educators too. If we are not interested in the journey the children will know, the learning will not be the same. It is not just about following the children. We need to connect.

The curriculum is, in a way, a set of instructions for us teachers... (as is the school law and local policies)... we need to follow them. But we also need to learn how to interpret them. What are those instructions in theory? How are they put into practice... ? Are there many ways to put them into practice? Which ways are desirable... which ways should be avoided... and why? Can following the instructions of the curriculum be detrimental - especially if too literally?

I often feel that in many parts of the world that educators no longer have the freedom to plan learning journeys with their classes, and even worse with their preschoolers - children who, I feel, really should not be following the instructions of "this is the way we learn" - children should be using the medium of play, exploration and discovery to learn. Instructions can be a part of that - those that keep us safe, healthy and encourage social well-being (ie not to hit to solve conflicts, not to use sticks to hurt others, to have empathy). We actually had instructions to help the children with empathically supporting each other - if you saw someone was upset you went over to see how they were, you asked if there is something you could do to help (not automatically assume they want a hug, or say sorry) you then did what they asked to the best of your ability (if you did not like to hug, you could put a hand on their shoulder instead and guide them to someone who does like hugging), you stay with the person, or find someone who can stay with the person until they feel ready to play (usually this took a few moments between children, longer when they sat with me).
These are instructions I asked the children to follow, so that they could practice being socially empathic and supportive, but always on their own terms. And these instructions helped them understand that just saying sorry has no value if you do not mean it (the instruction of say sorry if you hurt/offend another child is one I think does not really work) and also they learned that not everyone feels better in the same way, or can offer support in the same way, but that we all do our best to help in the way we can.

So in this sense following instructions is a good thing. But do children need to learn how to follow instructions? Well I don't think that should be a goal in itself... instructions can be a tool to help children learn something else... but it is not a learning destination, more of a form of transport.
Too much following instructions will make it like being on the train tracks, with little freedom.

I have more examples of  how I have played with the idea of following instructions over the years... not to teach how to follow instructions, but to be aware and learn about all sort of things, mostly social awareness. But that is for another time... or one of my presentations... as they usually pop up i those.

Friday, 16 November 2018

more from the Rain and Shine preschools... (I Ur och Skur)

As promised a few of those photos from my last post about rain and shine preschools (I Ur of Skur) but with with some descriptions.

The outdoor space had a lots of home-made equipment in a natural setting. The ground was flat, grassy, but also in places sloped (gently and steeply in different places) and with rocks too... so not only was there different equipment to play on there was also different surfaces to explore and challenge the body.
The equipment might have been mostly home-made, but it was well cared for and maintained... this means it allows for risky play, but does not present a danger to the children.

The space was also huge... and with many hidden areas. For a small school this meant that at times there were areas that were "shut" to ensure safety. This did not restrict the children, as most spaces were wide and offered many options... what it did was ensure the children were within sight - even if they could go into creep-ins to hide, the teacher knew where they were.

 There were several wind-shelters allowing for a year round outdoor meetings - play is much easier to keep warm during the cold months - as when you are moving and active you are keeping warm. Sitting to eat or meet and talk is a time when the body can start cooling down... so being in shelters that protect from the cold wind (wind chill is not a favourite of mine... or most that I know) and there were also shelters with an even more wrap around shelter with fire pits, to help with warming up on the really cold days.

again, as I mentioned last time... these preschools priority was to get the children to enjoy being outside, to be fascinated with nature and to encourage a life-long joy for outdoor activities... children that get too cold will not be enjoying themselves and are likely to develop a negative response to the outside... So being outside is great when there are spaces to warm up too... and to be outside for the right length of time to maximise on the fun and not turn it into torture.
If the children are uncomfortable they will not be able to learn either.

Getting the parents involved... this is a dry river bed during the cold months of the year... but during the warmer ones they switch on the circulating water system to create a great space for water play. The parents built this with the staff.
it is dry during the winter so that the minus degrees do not burst the pipes as the water expands...
all playgrounds in Sweden switch off water play areas to prevent damage during the many winter months.

another of the indoor spaces was a small workshop shed, where there was plenty of materials for teachers and parents, but also for the children to get creative. The workbenches etc was just behind me in this photo, as well as shelves with the children's work sitting proud on them

 Despite having all this space... probably four times the size of the largest preschool garden I have worked at in the centre of Stockholm, the children are often taking trips out into the forest and to the lake which is close by.

Next week I will share some of the images from their indoor facilities.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Outdoor Inspiration from I Ur och Skur preschools

In October I visited two I Ur och Skur preschools on Lidingö, just outside Stockholm City.
I Ur och Skur means directly in hour and shower (UR is an old word for clock, or a word outside, or original as urskog means virgin forest (original untouched forest) - it can also be translated as the saying Rain or Shine - as in come rain or shine = no matter what.

The preschools we visited were Stubben and Mulleborg... Mulleborg being the first ever I Ur och Skur preschool.

What I really liked about visiting, aside from the fantastic grounds, the usage of the local nature and the enthusiastic and respectful staff was the fact there was a healthy relationship with the outdoors and indoors. These were not places that MADE the children be outside everyday all day, these were places that made the outdoors an attractive place to be so the children wanted to be there...
there is a huge difference.
The indoor area was used just about every day, and in a way that supported the children's enthusiasm for being outside.
The outside, the connection with nature was the focus but not to an extent that the children had to be outside.
Of course the preschools were successful, the children loved being outside.
The preschools chose to not have large numbers of children... so both preschools had a huge space (especially their outdoor spaces) in relation to the number of children. They also had enough staff to be able to give the attention to detail that nature requires. This allowed them to go in different size groups into the forest to explore without compromising safety. This means it gives children the space and time to engage in risky play without it being dangerous.

This is NOT forest school... this is not about schoolifying nature... this is about supporting the children to have positive relationships with nature, to play and learn naturally there, as they would anywhere else (of course in nature there is more freedom... and it can be forest, a meadow or a lake... not confined to school in a forest..)

Don't get me wrong it is GREAT that schools are getting out into nature and discovering children can learn there... discovering there is more than one way to learn.
But in a way this is something children already know... maybe forest school is more about educating adults into understanding transdisciplinary learning, new perspectives on learning, and the 100 language of learning... not JUST in a classroom with workbooks and "set activities" - a kind of controlled play.
Forest Schools are important in many places because they are that first step for the school system to learn that traditional school is not the ONLY answer.

But what I saw in these preschools was play, learning happening and being supported through play, freedom, social interactions being supported allowing for socially competent children (they have the space to develop at their own space, and not being forced into social situations before they master the skills/confidence due to small indoor spaces).

I also saw staff that believed in what they are doing, and also had a great joy for the outdoors... which sadly is not always the case, even in most Swedish preschools where I have encountered at least one (often more) pedagogues at every preschool I have spent real time at, that have not liked going outside. And this infects the children.
Creating a joyful and good relationship with the outdoors and with nature is essential. On that learning can be built.
If the children are negative or do not feel safe or inspired, then the learning and the play is never going to be as deep or as profound. Or of the kind desired by the Swedish School Authority - "Life Long Learning"

So here are some photos of the outdoor spaces to get you thinking
I fully realise not all of you will be able to create the same thing... lack of space, or policies that restrict. BUT the images can still inspire you to think what you can do in your own context.

The images are in no specific order... and in this post there will be no comments.
Tomorrow I will share some of these photos again, with comments and reflections.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Learning Mosaics

(på svenska efter bilden)

Late yesterday I returned from my adventures in Palestine and Israel...
I have met many people, seen many things, experienced them with all my senses and have been making connections...

Connections between what I have seen and experienced to how I am as an educator and how I strive to be as an educator...

I have seen more ancient mosaics in the last few days than I have in the rest of my entire life... and it has left an impression...

Nona asked me if I was to bring one thing that represented me right now what would it be... after an initial panic and feeling of anxiety... what on earth could represent me right now... I realised that single piece of mosaic would be it... I have a clear image of the cube, mostly clay with a painted surface square.. a tiny part of a whole.
And that is how I feel... I feel like a tiny part of a whole... not in an insignificant way, but as an essential part of a learning mosaic. Like all educators are, and all learners.

I am collecting my pieces... from educators around the world, from books and articles, from research, from art therapists (like the amazing Nona - check out her blog - The Good Enough Studio), from nature, from experiences etc etc... and I am connecting them together to create a bigger picture...

On my instagram account I have been sharing images of the mosaics - and if you take the time to check them out you will see that the pieces can be put together in so many different ways to tell different stories, evoke different feelings and to aesthetically please a diverse audience...
and this is what i like... that in education we need to piece together our learning to create a pedagogy that works for us in our our own context... not copy-paste images, but to take the time to place the pieces to create a whole.

My mosaic will stand the test of time... that is my hope... just like the Roman mosaics I saw... and even got to stand upon (that blew my mind... to walk on such complex beauty, that feet centuries ago have walked upon), but at the same time I want my mosaic to be flexible... I have learned, as an educator, that what works in one place, or with one group of children, will not necessarily work in or with another... I need to be able to re-design my mosaic... to put aside the pieces that are no longer needed and add the ones that are... To document my original design, and why I designed it that way, and to save it just in case it will work another day... I do not have to re-invent every time.

So in the coming weeks the metaphor of the mosaic will be surfacing in my posts as I try to unpack it, and make sense of it, and learn.
The other word that is requiring me to take time to explore is "connections".

Sent igår återvände jag från mina äventyr i Palestina och Israel ...
Jag har träffat många människor, sett många saker, upplevt dem med alla mina sinnen och har sett samband

Samband mellan vad jag har sett och upplevt med hur jag är som pedagog och hur jag strävar efter att vara som pedagog ...

Jag har sett mer gamla mosaik under de senaste dagarna än jag under resten av hela mitt liv ... och det har lämnat ett intryck ...

Nona frågade mig, om jag skulle ta med en sak som representerade mig just nu vad skulle det vara ... efter en första panik och känsla av ångest ... vad i hela friden kunde representera mig just nu...? jag insåg att en enda mosaikdel skulle vara det ... Jag har en tydlig bild av kuben, mestadels lera med en målad yta. En liten del av en helhet.
Och det är så jag känner ... Jag känner mig som en liten del av en helhet ... inte på ett obetydligt sätt, men som en väsentlig del av en lärande mosaik. Som alla pedagoger och alla studenter.

Jag samlar in mina bitar ... från utbildare runt om i världen, från böcker och artiklar, från forskning, från konstterapeuter (som den fantastiska Nona - kolla in hennes blogg - The Good Enough Srudio), från naturen, från erfarenheter/upplevelser etc etc. .. och jag förbinder dem tillsammans för att skapa en större bild ...

På mitt Instagramkonto har jag delat bilder av mosaiken - och om du tar dig tid att kolla ut dem ser du att bitarna kan sättas samman på så många olika sätt att berätta olika historier, framkalla olika känslor och estetiskt tillfredställa en mångsidig publik ...
och det här är precis vad jag tycker om ... att vi i förskolan/skolan måste sammanfoga vår lärande för att skapa en pedagogik som fungerar för oss i vårt eget sammanhang ... inte kopiera-klistra in bilder, men att ta tid att placera bitarna för att skapa en helhet

Min mosaik kommer att stå tidstestet ... det är mitt hopp ... precis som de romerska mosaikerna som jag såg... och till och med fick stå på (det var helt otrolig att jag fick gå på en så komplex skönhet som fötter för århundraden sedan har gått på), men samtidigt vill jag att min mosaik ska vara flexibel ... Jag har, som lärare, lärt mig att det som fungerar på ett ställe eller med en grupp barn, inte nödvändigtvis kommer att fungera i eller med en annan... Jag måste kunna omskapa min mosaik ... för att lägga undan bitarna som inte längre behövs och lägga till de som nu behövs... Att dokumentera min ursprungliga design och varför jag designade den på det sättet,  för att spara det ifall det kommer att fungera igen en dag ... Jag behöver inte uppfinna varje gång.

Så under de närmaste veckorna kommer mosaikens metafor att dyka upp i mina inlägg, eftersom jag försöker packa upp det och förstå det och lära mig.
Det andra ordet som kräver att jag tar tid att utforska är "samband/anslutningar".