Friday, 18 July 2014

Reflections on a workshop...

The workshop I held here in Boulder was quite different from the one I held in Toronto - the time being very different… just 2 hours instead of 5 - and it being held in the evening instead of a morning and early afternoon.



For me this last workshop was less satisfying… I am going to be selfish here, I am going to say it as I see it, and as I would have wished it to be… because I am greedy, I want to learn more - and I need questions, lots and lots of questions for that to happen… and there were not many questions happening… could this have been due to the fact everyone was just so tired after working for a day…? or due to the fact the room was large and had a high ceiling which makes the acoustics a little more intimidating…? it could have been the fact that I was standing at the front and everyone else was seated…? but that was the case in Canada too, and that did not stop the interactiveness…

The lack of willingness to be interactive made it hard for me to work out what it was this audience wanted to hear, it created a workshop that was more monologue than I wished for, which meant it was much more surface information than digging deep and exploring what interested those participating.

I had cut down the images by a third… technically I had far too many images - but I went from one to the next gaging the interest, trying to activate my audience and finding little response. There was action, there were questions, but there were also those sitting there with their eyes closed… was this to enable them to think more clearly, or a sign that it had been a really long day?

Chatting with my hosts at Boulder Journey School afterwards it was mentioned that "Americans are not as comfortable questioning other people's ideas" as they found Europeans… I do not have enough experience to know if this is true or not… but for me questioning ideas is so essential to the Reggio process… it is also so essential to a philosophical approach…. and so essential to life… we cannot simply go around and just accept the way things are, we have to ask questions to understand… or to work collaboratively to make things better….

Philosophy is a learning community - supporting the children to learn TOGETHER… asking questions not only benefits the person asking the questions, but also the one answering and everyone else listening… a new perspective…

One of the questions I got was about the Elmer project to support listening skills rather than an art project…(you can read it here) as being controversial (although I did invite that) - not in the way it was in Canada where it looked too much like a template for comfort… but from the perspective of placing the children in a situation where they could be right or wrong. This has got me thinking about the project once again - was I doing that? And if i was, is that always a bad thing?
I look back and I see that the words were always supportive, constructive and reminders to help the children be more aware of their thinking processes… in the beginning I needed to do a lot of the guiding, but as the project evolved the children were able to help each other…

I also got thinking about puzzles, board games, team games etc where there is an obvious right and wrong element to the play… do we allow the children to place all the jigsaw puzzles in the wrong places? Do we allow children to play board games however they want… each child playing to their own set of rules at the same time - do we allow children to play team games where they all followed their own whim? No? Why, then, is a obvious right and wrong play a bad thing? Maybe it isn't all the time? Maybe there are situations where children learn to accept that working together is more fun - even if it means there is a winner or a loser sometimes - whether by luck, by skill, speed etc - maybe by following the rules in games is OK even if it does open up the opportunity of getting it wrong?

In the Elmer project no-one got it wrong, because we all worked as a team… we helped each other, reminded each other the whole time… there was no opportunity to get it wrong - only support to learn together.

It is so important to get the chance to reflect… and questions enable that - and questions from others, with different perspectives are the best…

I hope that everyone who came to the workshop found that bit of inspiration they were looking for… and did not feel my frustration of just skimming on the surface… I was waiting to dive deep into an area or two that inspired… but my skills at working out what those were might not have been as they should, and I might have missed them… something to work on…

Images from the workshop can be seen here  as promised (this is the one from Canada - so there will be a few extra images too). Hope the images offer a chance to reflect and to think deeper and connect my experiences with your own experiences and create a spark of inspiration...

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A visit to Boulder Sunflower Preschool.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting  Sunflower Preschool Boulder and being shown around by its director Debbie King Ellman (You can check out the preschool on FB by clicking here).

After two weeks in Boulder it is easy to understand the need for shade... it is HOT here in the sun, but I find the shade quite cool - so understandably the children and teachers follow the shade in their garden during the day. The garden is filled with shady spots, so its not too difficult to find a playful spot out of the hot sun.

Unlike the LONG winter that we get in Sweden (I don't think I will ever really get used to that) the winter's here are relatively short - which means the outdoor spaces can be fully utilised year round (I am not saying the don't in sweden, but there ARE limitations when the ground and sand freezes like cement for a large portion of the year, and when mittens and chunky winter clothing limits young children... especially during the younger years when SO much learning comes through the sense of touch through their hands etc - so I am VERY envious of the climate here - especially as they DO get snow and ice, it's just not for so long).... anyway back to Sunflower Preschool.

During the summer the indoor facilities are little used... the children are outside nearly all day... and the outdoor play/learning area has everything the indoors has and then some...

It is divided up in areas just as many preschool setting are inside... with role-play, art, construction, water-play, nature/science exploration - and then of course there are swings, climbing frames, lots of nature to explore, a huge sandbox... etc

I took a whole load of photos... and have chosen 10 to share with this post (OK, I cheated a little by creating 2 collages... but there was just so much I wanted to share...)

I have just sharing one image of the indoors, for now, as this post is all about the outdoors... that is the real energy I got from Debbie, her love for plants and sharing this with the children...


the decking immediately outside - today it was set up with water play

here is a view looking at the decking from the garden... many items have been gifts or donations from the families. Just under the window you can see the drinking fountain... I have found them in just about every playground I have visited so far. Keeping hydrated is important when its hot and dry.

the outdoor storage was designed so that it could also be a stage/storage for dress up. The balancing beam also doubles as seating for the audience...

looking from the decking onto the nature/science area and the table for arts and crafts - in the background you can see the berry bushes... many of the plants are edible, most of the plants can be used one way or another during the year to enable the children to develop an appreciation for nature and a desire to protect it.

The construction area - nicely shaded. Debbie likes how the outdoors allows children to leave their constructions for longer, allowing them to develop, and the need to pack things away to enabling cleaning is not needed as it is indoors. I totally agree... although I am quite sure that many preschools in Sweden, that share their yards with the public in the evenings and on weekends would have also experienced the frustration of constructions not surviving particularly long outdoors either...
Behind the construction area was another area for construction - with much bigger pieces of wood, timber, stones etc for the children to create - the messy area... at the moment the children had created what looked like a dry creek.

an area for role-play - lots of camping and hiking in the mountains play

Looking back onto the garden with the role-play area behind me - a small bridge takes the children over to the main garden and the enormous sandbox, including a system for collecting rainwater

Next to the role play area, on the lawn was a small pool, warming up in the sun

Throughout the outdoor space there was lots of plants... for eating and also to help nature - bees and butterflies - for instance milkweed was allowed to grow so that the monarch butterfly had stop-over places to feed and rest on their long migration. The garden continued in the front of the preschool too, where the children were able to visit and learn more about the plants and their uses.
Many thanks to Sunflower Preschool Boulder for allowing me to visit and spending time with me.
This is my first post... I am quite sure there will be more as i have more time to reflect on the experience...

Friday, 4 July 2014

Cultural Differences

I have now been in Boulder, Colorado for almost two weeks... my children and I have noticed a lot of differences between here and our home city of Stockholm - and not just the heat and sunshine but the BIG thing that stands out is the friendliness and the helpfulness of everyone around us. People have just been so thoughtful, and my children have been quick to notice that.

It is one of the things that I noticed when I first moved to Stockholm was how isolated it made me feel. I was used to greeting people on the street, at the bus stop in my home-city of York, UK - in Stockholm people would not greet me, in fact on one occasion (my last time of greeting someone on the street) - the person actually crossed the road to avoid me, or to avoid saying something, or considered me totally bonkers...
I remember in Swedish lessons how everyone else in the class (from a great many different countries from around the world) would all complain about the same things... that no-one ever said excuse me or sorry if the bumped into you, hardly anyone helped with doors, or people with limited mobility or with prams onto a bus... and of course the talking, the lack of small talk on buses, trains, bus stops etc etc etc

I have always put it down to the size of Stockholm - big cities are less friendly... but my time in Denver this last few days has shaken my theory... here is a town that is roughly the same size as Stockholm, and yet the people were friendly here too. On public transport the people who I see are avoided in Stockholm were spoken to with kindness and respect here in Denver (and Boulder).
Is it because Stockholm is a capital city? Well Denver is the capital of Colorado... and I mean the states here are HUGE they are like countries...

I can't make sense of it. Why is there such a difference? Is it because the state does such a good job of taking care of its citizens in Sweden that they don't need to take care of each other?

Is there a fundamental difference in our preschools? That we teach our children different priorities in life?

I am  by no means  saying one country is better than another... but more saying, what can we learn from each other? Having lived in Sweden for almost 20 years I have gone through the years of noticing the differences as negatives and now try to unite the benefits of both my cultures to create the best I can for the children i work with (and my own children at home). I think, even after almost 20 years,I am not feeling Swedish, but I am not feeling particularly British anymore either... I have become a citizen of the world. I have become much more open to everything being different and that it is perfectly fine. I hope that our 4 week stay in Boulder gives a similar opportunity for my children to learn about cultural differences.

Being a new mother, in 2001, and moving to Australia for 6 months with infants was a challenge... but it also allowed me to see the cultural differences in raising children... for the first six months I was in Sweden and I was reading parenting magazines from UK, Sweden and USA - those were what I could find... when I got to Australia I had access to magazines from Australia and New Zealand too... and each one had totally different advice... from what foods infants should have from what age etc etc - there were a few constants... but what it taught me was that by reading widely I could find the rhythm that that suited me and my children.

In a way, travelling is such an amazing way to learn. Not just new ideas, but about the journey you want to take yourself and the learning journey you want to take with others.

So where am I going with this post... I have absolutely no idea... only observations right now...

we walked to this park today so that Michael could look for salamanders - but the extreme limited access to the lake/pond made it virtually impossible. In Sweden we are used to a greater freedom with nature, with the water, than what we have here in Boulder where it seems so much more controlled ... the swimming pool was extremely controlled to the poisnt that the 4 life-guards in the small pool were blowing their whistles a lot!! If no-one is taking responsibility fort themselves - than what is going to happen in the long run?

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Thinking about quotes...

On Sunday's I have started posting quotes on my facebook page... I find it useful looking for quotes that inspire me, or get me thinking... and then sharing them... the best ones are those that get you thinking ...

On twitter today I came across this quote...
"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are" twittered by Philosophy Tweets.

It not only applies to myself... that I should be me... but also how can provide a learning environment that allows children to be themselves, to develop, learn, expand, play, challenge etc in their own way... the way they feel most comfortable with - the way that they will learn best. Being themselves being relaxed, being open to learning - because if children are tense/stressed then they are less likely able to absorb the learning potential of the play and activities, of life around them...

Tomorrow is Sunday... I wonder what quote it will be then? I have a feeling it will be connected to nature - as I have been watching my children play in nature all week...

and if you have seen my son's documentation of our time in Boulder... then head over to . ...his blog

Observing...

Having time off from preschool life gives me time to watch my own children, which helps me understand another layer of play.

I watch how my two teenagers are more reluctant to start playing... but always end up playing anyway... in the fountains on Pearl Street, here in Boulder, and at the playspaces we have been visiting... and of course making dams in the creek. I guess it is the time when they are trying to work out if they are too old for play... and giving children time, even big children like my own, enough time, then they will start to play (when they don't have their noses in a book!!).



Michael is play personified. His appetite for play is enormous. And anything that does not look like play is automatically boring... for him, he needs time to see play in things he becomes blinded to in his first judgement...

I have also learned more about how when there is no goal in sight it becomes hard to almost impossible for Michael to focus, to channel his energy into completing a task... we have been doing some small hikes... and this means walking in hot weather and at high altitude - something that has been a bit strange for all of us... but has been overwhelming at times for Michael. But today when we were at Red Rock Amphitheatre I saw a switch... he went from not being able to walk a step more and just give up and lie down, when he did not know how far was left... to being able to virtually run up the amphitheatre stairs when he saw the top... it was amazing.
But it really does show the diversity of children... some children do need clear goals to be able to motivate themselves... would he be deemed lazy by others if the goal was not clear and he gave up? Of course for me, as a parent, I feel I need to support him to find that inner strength to persevere even when the goal is not visible - and to find ways to make goals more visible.

Now can I apply all of this new knowledge to my preschool work... looking for those children who do need clear goals to help motivate them. And also to make sure I give play enough time. It always comes back to time doesn't it...?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

2014 so far...

A quick visual look at my year so far...

The atelier has been under devlopment throughout the year. It didn't quite look as tidy as this when I left it... it has been well used for sure.

at the start of the year there was a lot of beads, and pattern making.

and beads on wire too...

but without a shadow of a doubt it has been the Together Paintings that have been central to the atelier this term.

They started off in black and white - and with just two children at a time... and it slowly built up

feather painting... one of the ways to try and encourage all groups in the atelier and not just the children I usually work with...

As part of the Together on the Square project - we started off with maps... drawing maps with parents at home, then building them with blocks and then following the map to the children's front doors. This was a much appreciated part of the project. the children LOVED sharing their homes with each other (or at least the front door) - and it really did give them a good base in how to design and build their own ideas...

Valentine's Day was not celebrated with just pink and hearts... but by asking the children what they thought love was, how it is represented and what is friendship.

there has been various kinds of claywork in the atelier... from just experiemnting to creating their own works of art inspired by local art...

the together paitings got colourful, and hands on... and children from all groups started to participate.

the snail park continued to be a place of discovery... always something to find, even when the ground was hard... stones could be used to create art...

art has been used as a way to practice listening skills... not just as an expression of creativity. Art has also been a way to learn more about different cultures... here we were learning about Russia.

construction... the magnetic tiles have been a firm favourite with all the children

and if the children start blwoing bubbles in the lunch milk... then there was time to blow bubbles freely at an appropriate time... that allowed for fun... AND allowed for the children to eat their lunch...

the atelier has been a place of experiments... of trying out new techniques... and teacher and child not always being sure if they are going to work...

Together paintings got upcycled - and friendship was drawn. Togetherness

and after lots of colourful Together paintings we returned to black and white again

Sleeping Beauty became an interest... and lots of castles/palaces were being drawn... but what IS a castle/palace? We looked at lots of images from around the world... we even visited the Royal Palace in the Old Town - and asked a guard if Sleeping Beauty lived there...

the children have worked TOGETHER to solve all sorts of problems - of how to use play equipment without adult help...

We have particiapted in the photo project "Though the Eyes of the Child" which allowed the children to become familiar with using a camera... and to think about what is important to them, and why.

the clay art got finished after several months of playing and experimenting with the medium first.

winter was short and not at all as we had expected... we had the odd cold week, and the odd day of snow... but on the whole it was far too mild to do the ice sculpture part of the Together on the Square project... but I guess that is there for another year...

the library got a make-over... and over summer the wall is going to be knocked down and the room will be made bigger and turned into a library/philosophy room.... this will be my area of the preschool to develop in the first few months (although I have to admit I am a little sad to leave the atelier... the idea of a new challenge sounds fun too)

by listening to the children, and messing about with picmonkey... I created a dream square for the children...

it caused great excitement, but they wanted to refine their ideas...

we had a visit from Clown Manne - and we learned circus tricks... which we took out onto the square and performed for passers by...

adding lights to the tiles allowed the play to change... Its so much fun to add new things every once in a while... and just have them out for a short time, to influence the children's play...

we had a Pyjama Party... in response to the children trying to exclude others by saying the classic "you can't come to my party then" - so we INCLUDED everyone with a party at preschool!

art inspired by the art in the Square

a different kind of Together painting - rolling eggs in paint on a tay in pairs... this requires the children to listen to each other with eyes and ears and their bodies...

this was the image created from listening to the parents and the children interviewing the pensioners at the sheltered housing next door...

A together painting OUT on the square...

messing about with paper...

exploration of wind and balloons together... how can we make everyone feel included... especially when it is so exciting?

Journey to Toronto, Canada... to share what I have been learning at my work at Filosofiska - and also to learn from others... and a wonderful stay with my inspiring host Diane Kashin. Many many thanks to her

of course the Snail Park would not be complete without at least one photo of the snails...


Filosofiska was part of the "Good Example Fair" - where we shared our way of working with children with others...

National Preschool day... lots of hands on activities outdoors in the square... linking to the projects we have been doing all term...


clay to play with... and since there was water for water painting, lots ended up on the clay... it was VERY wet and gooey!

time to just appreciate nature

understanding perspective... that we can all look at the same thing but see something different... and how do we know it has four legs when we can only see two of them?

the children became curious about death

so we introduced the dinosaurs... popular with a few of the children... and lots of ideas about death, life, and shadows, and other worldliness were talked about

plenty of time to play some of these ideas the children were talking about

building and lights... there is something magical about light and shadow


and the dinosaurs really got the children interested in exploring more and more about light and shadow...


something we used as part of practising to listen with eyes...
on my facebook page I started a Sunday quote... each week sharing something wise... hoepfully you will find them to be that too...

and now i am looking forward to me trip to Boulder...