Wednesday, 3 February 2016

What is play?

Over the years I have watched children play... sometimes it has been obvious to see what their play is, other times it has been more complicated to understand what part of their actions has been play...

I have seen children standing at the sidelines that look like they are just watching... but when asked they say they are playing... and other times the child on the sideline feels excluded. So getting to know and understand each child is so important to be able to work out why they are on the side looking in...

Then there is play where the children are playing and it is just so obvious. The play is ozzing out of every pore and fills the room. It is easy to see and understand.

Then there is play that looks like work but is perceived as play... like my group of children this week that scraped all the ice and sand off a slide and kept exclaiming how much fun it was... despite it being obviously hard work... when I asked them about their activities they described it as work and play, but mostly play.

One child could not see the play in this ice-scraping activity... and kept asking if the three children scraping "wanted to play" - and presented various ideas like tag and their favourite role-play games based on TV programmes they watch. This child could not comprehend how the others could answer "but we are playing". I saw confusion on the face of the child.

Play is really rather complex... and we need to take a step back from how we adults define play and explore how children define play.

A bit more about the ice scraping...

It started with the children enjoying the new sound of going down the slide with a coating of ice... (rain/sleet that had frozen during the night). It made the slide fairly fast, but not as fast as it is when rainy.
One child decided to experiment by putting sand at the top of the slide and then sliding down with the sand... a new sound was created... all the children wanted to test it out... but soon discovered that it made the slide very slow... so they started the process of scraping off the ice and sand so that the slide would be fast again. As they scraped they discovered that this was fun too... not only the noise, but wathcing the ice fly off and also the patterns with shiney metal coming through. They even scraped off the ice and sand by sliding down with a spade at an angle... the ice/sand looking like fireworks as they scraped it off downwards.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


The draw-bot idea came not only from the fact that we are doing a robot project/exploration (as a part of the Leonardo Da Vinci project) but also about how to include everyone in my group when doing an art session. I have a child at the moment struggling with perfection and therefore choosing not to participate when it comes to group sessions... despite knowing this child is more than capable AND enjoys drawing and painting...

So I figured the draw-bots would entice the child back into the group art session... and I was right... and active happy memeber of the draw-bot art... from start to finish... and it ended up being just over an hour long... longer than I expected as the children developed the robotidea themselves...
I will explain.

The children selected three coloured pens and stuck them onto the battery-driven massager with sticky-tack.

Sometimes the pens fell off, or one did, or two.. and it was part of the excitement... and also influenced the finish project... sometimes a child put the pen too high so that it did not reach the paper... all moments to learn.


The children talked about what they could see a whole load... soemtimes they went off topic, but you could really see how it was the art that lead them there... sometimes it was completely off-topic, and more about making plans to play in the snow later. This is natural when the children are taking turns... but there was no problem waiting... the first three drawing grabbed all the children's full attention, and then after that it drifted in and out of various conversations. There was one dialogue about what sort of words that should be used to describe the art... as the children thought that some choices were a bit rude, and that the same thing could be said in a more pleasant way... I won't go into details here, but it was interesting... and I agreed, I often feel slang words for body parts are not always totally positive, even if they are not offensive.


The children experiemnted with light -
it was interesting to listen to their dialogue... as some were talking about what they could see on the paper, while other interpreted it as what they could see in thr room...
I asked if the could see the colours in the same way... and the children replied in the same way... those focussing on the paper could see the pen colours were no longer as bright, but those focussing on the room could still see colours, as there was light coming in from the windows across the room...

I had taken two "robots" with me... the massager and also a bug... the bug was harder... as it did not vibrate, the wheels meant the pens did not work when attached to them, and there were too many on the sides not to put a pen on the side...

Eventually one of the children suggested that a pen should be attached to the front of the bug... it was one the could reverse... but it did not do so much of that, maybe the pen was a bit heavy, but also I think the batteries were not 100% and seriously affected the  bug movement... but the children were delighted...


The children worked in pairs to create and bugbot art... first making sure the bugbot did not escape the paper, and then colouring in the art... I really had not expected the children to do the colouring in...  I thought they would be ready to move and play outside in the snow... but they were enthusiastic to the end and colured in their art...

Here you can see our robot art gallery

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

More portraits

This portrait used the painting we did as part of our Christmas art... we first talked about how we made the art - you can check it out here.

The aim was to get the children thinking about creating a portrait based on how they feel rather than how they look... so no mirrors were used this time... they had to draw themselves as they felt... so when I was aksed "can I be square" I answered well if you feel square expresses how you feel right now about yourself then you should draw yourself square...

The large painting was cut into 8 pieces... one for each child. I placed them randomly on the floor and the children walked round and chose the background they felt suited them best... all the children were satisfied with their choice.

They got to choose one colour to draw with... this turned out to be quite difficult for a few of the children who really wanted to use many colours... but this was supposed to be a challenge... there are and will continue to be plenty of chances to use many colours and multi-colours on other occasions. The idea was for the child to focus on the form and design of the portrait, rather than on colouring in the portrait in various colours... this is not to say that we will not return to these portraits and add more colour... we might just do that.

It was also interesting to see how the children looked at each other's art, complimented each other and told each other how they were inspired to do something similar... so in the end there were small fishes on most, eyes and other body parts could be seen as inspiration sources. The children were teaching each other... sharing their techniques freely with each other... and also sharing the stories behind their choice of image... one child drew herself as a rabbit, another as a fish, there were robots and one child had a self protrait that was motion... lines across the page representing the child climbing a ladder...

I love creating big works of art with the children... I also want to work sustainably and combining one project with another helps me meet that... and also gives the children a new way to see their art... that maybe its not always finished, maybe it can be added to over time...

This connects with our Da Vinci project as part of portraits... Da Vinci the artist.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Play for Peace

I am not talking about going out and using play for children/people to learn about peace... but about the fact that PLAY is so incredibely important and valuable that it should be a priority all over the world... that children are given the time to play, the time to play alone, the time to play together, with peers and across the age groups... to play in many different ways... role-play, teacher lead play, free play etc etc etc

As I learned more about listening last year I saw how the children could apply the listening skills to their play... their play became richer and deeper and even more creative... so I am not talking about a free for all sort of play... but a supported play... that takes in the child perspective AND the child's perspective. It needs both.

It needs us as teachers to support an empathic play where the children can take care of each other...

I have seen with my own group of children how at the start of the year they look to me, the adult, to fix their problems... if children argue, if a friend falls over... they froze, looked at me and waited for it to be fixed...
I took a conscious step back and let the children fix it... of course with support... helping them find the words and actions that could ease the situation, until my suppoert was no longer needed,  they had the tools to manage it all themselves.
I was always watching... if the fall was too hard, or the argument too heated then I would step in... it meant I needed to be observant ALL the time... watching their play, understanding their play and trusting their competence... and also knowing them so well that stepping in would not be stepping on their toes... of course I don't get it right all the time... its a process for me too.

The thing is their free play has needed structure for it to be free... for them to learn strategies and tools to apply to their play to enable them to play longer, more fairly and with greater equality.

Children need play... humanity needs play... and far too often play is being seen as something that is getting in the way of learning... rather than an important part of learning, an important part of development.

My post... Structure For Freedom explained my understanding of how an adult imposed structure can support children's play to be free... by giving them a safe play to play where they understand that rules are there to enable their play rather than restrict their play... in the post there are links to posts about lining up and scaffolding children's play and learning. While I value the adult role of supporting children in their play and learning I do think it requires a great deal of listening... to listen to the children... to their perspective, but also to listen to research, to experience etc to be able to guide them in a way that will enable them as the people they are... that play and learning is a part of the lifelong process and not just a temporary feeling fulfillment.

My post ... Play and Learning shares previous posts about play... something I have written about often since I first started my blog in late 2012. This post is a good way to find those posts that might interest you the most... from are children playing enoug... to does free play actually exist...

So this year is not so much a campaign to go out and heal... play as a plaster/bandaid to create peace... but PLAY as a preventative for such remedies...

could it be possible if children around the world played more... had the time, space to play more... to learn through play... for adults to support the social learning happening through play and that activities and lessons were designed to enable this play to be richer, even better socially, more creative and open for further learning and research... and the tha lessons and the play supported each other rather than being at opposite ends where learning has a higher status than play?

Could it be possible for children to collaborate more, to be open to other perspectives, to listen with respect so that barriers come down and open the world for more peaceful interactions...

Yes.. I dream big.

But I believe in play

I believe in children.

and I believe in all the people out there that view PLAY as important and are meeting each other, inspiring each other and reaching out to the world to value play as it should be.

This is the first post of many exploring PLAY again...

through play we can embrace the imagination... problem solving, creativity...

as teachers we can expose the children to new experiences... to awaken joy, to be playful... to enable play to be enriched

Reflecting on a Year of listening

I started 2015 with the aim to become a better listener... to learn more about what listening is... and

"Not just your everyday listening, but real listening. Not just listening to answer, but listening to understand Not just listening to the words, but to the silence, the pauses Not just listening with my ears, but with the whole of me... Not just hearing but listening - an active verb - that I want to actively explore this year."

and now is the time to reflect... have I done what I have set out to do?

Well yes... but I am still not finished with this journey. I still need to be continuously aware of how I am as a listener... and also to be aware how others are as listeners. Communication is always a two way thing of where the one expressing ideas (verbally, artistically, physically etc) is connected with the one listening (to the words, meanings, interpreting the art, the actions etc).

I have seen my group become much better at listening to each other... taking the words of their peers with the same  seriousness as they take those of adults... as I often found that the children tuned out of dialogues when their peers talked... and often felt like a series of monologues... but these days there are amazing dialogues... where I can take a back seat and just listen to the ideas, problem solving and supportive nature of the children...

This was my aim... to empower the children through listening... and I really feel like we are on the right path.

Games, activities, philosophy sessions, excursions, free play... all have been woven together to create a fabric to support listening - the kind that could act like a trampoline to bounce ideas on, the kind that was snuggly to comfort each other with, the kind that was for den building to create fantasic play with... so many listening fabrics have been woven.

I am looking forward to continuing this journey of listening... to weave more fabrics... ones that I don't even know I need yet...

But I am also wanting to learn more about play... and this listening has enriched the play... and I see a connection.

I have mentioned it a few times during the year that I believe through play we can achieve peace... not over night... its a process like anything else... but I will save those reflections on my 2016 learning journey challenge for another post...

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Exploring the colour of Christmas

For the third year in a row I have asked the same philosophy question to this group of children I have been working with for three years...

What colour is Christmas?

The first year most of the children mentioned their favourite colour and could not come up with an argument for why the colour was Christmassy more than "I like it" - they were mostly two and three years of age at the time. Last year just under half of the group talked about their favourite colour - and this year just one child mentioned their favourite colour, but after listening to the arguments of the other children had a mind change and chose another colour  with the motivation that Christmas decorations came in that colour.

Six colours were discussed... and the group needed to work and discuss together to work out which three colours we would use in our Christmas painting.

Yes, we could use more colours, but the purpose of this activity is to get the children to work as a community of learners, to give argument, to listen and to decide together which three colours were the most Christmassy.

This year the children selected red (baubles, santa) green (Christmas trees) and gold (baubles) as the three colours for our Christmas artwork.

As usual the process art was about collaboration rather than individual works of art... a pole with a paintbrush dangling froma string was given to pairs of children. They stood on either side of the big paper on the floor and worked together to dip the brush into the paint and make marks on the paper... not so easy... and there was lots of giggling.

Some of the children had clear agendas, they used their verbal skills to communicate to their partner, others just jerked the pole here and there and hoped their partner would follow, and others just followed.

Its been interesting to watch the children's development over the years, and I feel quite sad, and excited, that this will be my last Christmas session with these children... as they will all start school after summer...

Monday, 7 December 2015

Finding knowledge

The children have got a real interest in robots at the moment... as our Leonardo Da Vinci project has taken us there... and yes, he did design and build a robot in 1495, and this is what has inspired the children the most.

We have had dialogues about what kind of robots they would design and why, - they decided upon a robot that could do everything was the best... and then they were not so sure... maybe it would start playing the i-pad for them... and they were not keen on that idea at all.

After the half term break I thought I would try a new way of collecting the question for the philosophy session... by taking something the children asked about the day before with the group's consent that this would be a good question to explore.

The question was do princes have to marry a princess? They all showed great enthusiasm for the question as we chose it... but the next day during our philosophy session it simply did not work. The children had no real interest in exploring this question.

It had me baffled... the previous philosophy session had been amazing and the children were dialoging on quite a deep level with very little input from me... just as it should be.

But I had to be SO present, too present, in this dialogue, trying to ignite and re-ignit interest... and in the end I had to admit it simply was not going to work.

As I analysed the dialogue, the context, the question I found three possible answers...
After a week of me being away they were revolting!
It was a two week break since the last session, had they fallen out of a routine?
Was the question not meaningful enough?

After much reflection and dialogue with my colleague we came to the conclusion that it was the third option... the question HAD been interesting the day before. They were curious about the answer but its a different kind of curiousity than what is needed for a philosophical dialogue. And that despite the fact that sometimes I feel that I am making the decisions about what questions are being asked to stimulate the session they are being made after close observations of the children's play and their interests... I have learned what is meaningful for them and ensure that questions I ask are relevant to their thinking.

It means I will be taking control of the questions again... but always, ALWAYS, the questions comes from the children... the roots are there.

Anyway, we returned to robots again, as I knew they had real interest in this...
We looked at various kinds of robots... and while looking at a film of a robot that was sent to Mars to take images and samples and was then left there, the children felt sorry for the robot. It might feel lonely.
So we started exploring whether or not robots could have feelings.
The group was undecided.
So we explored where do feelings come from... the brain answered all the children... except for love, that comes from the heart.
Do robots have brains and hearts?
We did not know.
We needed more knowledge... so we have started to build a small robot spider... maybe there are some answers to be found as we construct...?

This robot that we are building is very simple (but the first robot I have ever built... so I am learning with the children - and the kits talks about red, blue and white wires... and there are only red and black... so I am going to have to experiment a bit with the children I think with the mext step hahaha).

I have seen that one of the legs has been put on upside down... but made the choice not to make a comment about it, or correct it... so that the children can discover the mistake once we have the motor attached.

I wonder if the children see if there is a brain and a heart... and what parts they think might be those..

Iwonder if it will give the children enough information to decide together their truth as to whether robots have feelings or not.

Next week we will be doing philosophy a little different. We will be watching Big Hero6 in 4 short sessions and chatting about the film afterwards... what has heppened and why they think that has happened.

We did this with Frost last year, and I found it quite surprising how many of the children were not totally familiar with the plot despite being able to sing the songs and quote parts of the film word for word.