Monday, 23 November 2015

Developing the Third Teacher...

On Saturday 28th November 2015 there will be the next #ReggioPLC global twitter chat at 22:00 Swedish time... 9pm in UK where we will be exploring the third teacher... and how we develop it and understand it.

We all need professional development to grow, to learn and to be able to see things from new perspectives. The setting is also in need of this development... it needs to grow with the children, to adapt to the needs of the group, the individuals, the interests, the teachers, the context, the world we live in... etc.

How do we ensure that the changes we make in our settings... in the physical environment are having the effect that we hope they will have.
How is it being documented... and how is this documentation being referred to in order to support the third teacher's development. That is is not change for changes sake... but development.

How do we inspire the third teacher?

I know that I have benefited from visiting other settings... looking around, talking with how the pedagogues use the environment, their thinking behind the layout, the structure, the design and the choices of materials available. I have appreciated taking photographs... not so that I can copy, but so that I can remember the processes, the feeling I had while I visited, so that I can continue my reflections.

I have visited places where no photos have been allowed (and I know this is the case in the preschools in Reggio Emilia) - and while I understand that they want to provoke thinking, and that those visiting make their own reflections and so not just copy and paste - I also feel that the chance to make deeper reflections go missing when there are no images to take back to colleagues to talk about, reflect with... for them to ask questions about the reasoning and to start making decisions about how to develop their own settings, their own third teacher.

Of course there will always be those who will copy-paste in the exact same way as there will be those who use templates without questioning them...

For me it is not about the copying, or the use of templates that is a problem... but the lack of reflection. And for me, in the start of a Reggio inspired journey you need all the support you can get... to structure the reflections, to dare to question what you know... to make those somersaults that take you from being a teacher where you follow the instructions to being a co-researcher with the children - where the children learn to learn and you learn more about the children and how they learn so that you can create the curriculum that will enable them to learn more and deeper.

The environment is a part of this process... your observations of how the space is used... your reflections about how to make the space interesting and available to ALL. Understanding how small changes can have big effects... and learning when to make them...

All of this takes time... it is a process. Especially if you want to understand.

I am still very much in this process of learning... of getting to know my third teacher... my colleague. Even after three years at the same setting, with twenty years of experience, I feel far from fully understanding this setting... but I am getting a grasp of it.

 To find out more about this visit to Ekudden... check this post
 To find out more about Boulder Journey School check out... this post from 2014 and this post on outdoor surfaces and this post about ceilings and this post about lighting and this post about water play
 The outdoor environment is an important third teacher too... the third teacher is NOT just indoors...
you can find out more... here, here and here - there are 19 posts on outdoor environments.
 Acorm School of Early Childhood - Boulder - is the post I first shared this image.
and also here in small spaces for quiet play
 Thsi is the atelier where I work... although it has evolved a little since this photo was taken... here is a post about the process of this space
 My visit to Canada was also very inspiring... I have many photos to refer to even though I did not make as many posts as i would have hoped... this post focuses on light
 My visit to Iceland was very inspiring... post about the dining area and also a post about the empty space... and use of it
Visiting early years setting in the refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine was also very inspiring. A completely different context from my own... and the need to walk in without judgement ... but to walk in with the desire to understand and learn.

 We can also temporarily chamge the environment to provoke thought and play... check out the light installation play... here, here and here

It is so easy to judge others based on your own context... but I feel this is a dangerous and counter-productive attutude to have. We need to always walk into a setting with the desire to learn... to learn how the space is being used by the children, how the space is being used by the adults, how the context of the setting impacts the choices, how the availability of materials impacts how the children can learn.
There is not always a great mass of materials at the disposal for children to explore and experiment with, sometimes you need to get creative... and in many places recycling junk is not an option because the whole city is littered with the stuff in such a way that it is something negative (and the junk everywhere was overwhelming - a reminder of oppression almost).
So we need to go into a setting to understand so that we can join them on their journey and enable them... not look down on them from our vantage point of a more peaceful context, or cultural differences, or the impact of poverty, or politics... or whatever it might be in any given place...
We need to be there and understand that these marvelous educators are doing their very best for the children in their circumstances.

For more posts you can check out the links conected to "Preschool visits" and also "The third Teacher"

A good one to start with is How is your Third Teacher Teaching

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Structure for freedom

Its been a busy few weeks as I settle into my role as pedagogical director at Filosofiska ... which means there has not been so much time to write here on my blog...
but I have been reflecting a whole heap...

On Friday I participated in part of the course for medical students where they are studying neurology and psychology... (funnily the same students my husband will be teaching in a few weeks) - they are doing a project right now on how to assist preschool pedagogues meet the needs of their group... identifying problem areas and making goals... I was up at the front of the lecture hall with the lecturer as he role-played with me a possible dialogue they might have at the preschools... first incorrectly, and then correctly... it was one of the strangest things I have ever done... adlibbing to something there was very little preparation for, with a diary he had filled out about my reactions to the group and observations he had made about my group...

But it got me thinking about play and the freedom to play and how that is taken away when the group is dysfuntional.

A dysfunctional group is stressed, focussed on the problems of maybe one,two ot more children disrupting play for whatever reasons so that play does not flow as usual.

It made me realise just how much structure is sometimes required for free-play to exist... which seemed totally absurd.

But when I got thinking about it maybe it has something to do with self-discipline... some children are totally lacking any of it and will do whatever is on the top of their head (repeatedly) without reflection to how it will impact others, just because it feels good to them. So before their own self-discipline kicks in, we, as adults, have to act as their self discipline. Supporting them to understand the social play codes.

In The Art of Listening I explored how we as adults often use the words "are you listening" instead of "are you obeying", because frankly they probably have listened they simply have chosen not to act upon the words... and how can we then support the children to make better life-decisions - as often these "are you listening" phrases were connected to safety and creating more positive social interactions... (not just simply obeying an adult).

Lining up and rules have been an essential part of this descipline... not just following rules blindly... because you learn nothing by that... but by understanding why we have the rules...
Lining up is a post that explores these ideas...

I have been working with the same children for just about three years now... and as the children grow and develop the less they need me to act as their self discipline... Its wonderful, making myself invisible and making their play visible.

But this free play stuff did not come easily for the children either... it seems like they are conditioned to seek out an adult to solve their problems... if they have a disagreement, if someones says something they think is not nice, if they fall over... Its been a process to hand over the power back to the children... instead of them staring at us when a friend falls over, they now go to their friend and comfort them. We are always watching and making sure that the level of risk is appropriate... to big/hard a fall and we will be there... but a minor fall the children can manage themselves... I remember a few weeks ago when the fall had been a little higher than I felt comfortable with I went over like a shot and two of my 4 and 5 year olds repeatedly told me "but we are here, we can take care of her" - it made me happy, and thanked them for their help and their consideration and explained how we were always watching and if we felt the fall was very big then we would always be there... Sometimes the children have made this judgement by themselves when a child has been sadder than what their abilities to comfort could manage... they have come to us and asked for help... and this asking for help i consider and important skill... but this just standing there watching a friend be sad and expecting the adult to take care of I felt disempowered children...

My post Scaffolding is also about rules and the need for them to create safety... it is when we are safe that we can play and learn best. Understanding why we have rules and being aware of the safety issues is essential for children... and adults.

So what structures do you have to enable freedom for the children to play...?
here the structure was finding a safe way to explore heights to conquer fears as well as turn taking and supporting each other

the talking rings were a form of structure to enable children to talk freely and to know that they were being listened to... that their words were being valued by their friends.

the structure was learning about who you could make paitn marks on and who you could not... not just an art exploration but also learning about how we all play differently... the rule was you HAD to ask first before making a paint mark on another... soem were very keen on this play.. while others absolutely did not...

rules for risky play.... YES we can play with sticks... YES we can fight with sticks... but we need to have total control... once we have body contact we finish the game (as experience tells me that is when they are getting tired and an accident is likely to happen - and the children know why this rule is in action... and that is JUST as important)

more risk taking in a structured form... so that they can apply it in a free form... thinking about the surface they land on, thinking about turn taking, thinking about taking care of each other...

the together paitings have a lot of structure in them in order to paint freely... but also a way to communicate and solve conflicts

paiting within the lines... understanding that your actions affect another perons reaction... if you do not concentrate and keep within the lines then it will go into the space of another person's painting area... what does this mean and how can we be a part of the social interaction of cause and affect... (read the kandinsky painting post)

Blowing bubbles... instead of at the lunch table where it disturbed many (including those who were not keen eaters, which meant they ate nothing and then had low energy in the afternoon) we created the structure of bubble blowing time at other point of the day

and it is important to remember that children are not just learning all of this for future use, but to be active social being right now too.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Making learning visible.... drawing to see.

Last week the children were talking about our trip to Skansen last spring and how we should do it again... the children were asked "why should we go to Skansen? What can we learn there?"
A few moments pause and the answer was confidently delivered
"We can go see the animals, and draw the animals like Leonardo Da Vinci did... we can learn how to draw animals".
Not only had an area of learning been identified it was also connected to the project we are in the middle of exploring... so OF COURSE, we must go.
The boat trip there was an essential part of the excursion... as was eating the food the children brought with them, with peacocks keeping us entertained as we ate.
Then we went into the children's zoo indoor exhibition and focussed on birds... just as we had read in the book about Leonardo Da Vinci.
Five pieces of paper. Five attempts to draw the birds (rainbow lorikeets) - and the children were amazed how they could see their own learning... each drawing had more detail, new information (as a Skansen animalkeeper came over and talked to us about the birds) and new skills allowed their pictures to express their birdness.
Yes, the children learned how to draw animals... just as Leonardo had once done 600 years ago... through observation and practice.

here you can see four attempts... the frustration of the first attempt of it not working as expected... the second attempt there was a dissatisfaction that it still did not look birdlike... in the third attempt the child felt pleased with the adddition of an eye and beak and that the tail was the right size... the fourth and fifth attempts were similar - with more details and birdlike form.

Some of the drawings included details such as sound coming out of the beaks... as these birds were very noisy... and drawings with the birds pooping... as the animal keeper told us that they poop alot!!

A great day out!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Seeing their learning

There are moments when it all becomes so incredibly clear that the children are understanding what learning is that you just want to leap for joy...

This week we were sat round the table eating lunch when the children started talking about the boat trip we made to Skansen in the spring, and how the water was so wavy that it soaked us head to foot as we stood outside.
They also pointed out that not everyone was with us that day (sickness, days off etc) and that we must go back to Skansen again.

So I asked "What is it we can learn at Skansen?" - I wanted them to argue their case...

There was a very short pause then the answer came...

"We can draw the animals there, just like Leonardo Da Vinci drew animals... we can learn how to draw animals".

Not only had this child found an area of learning that we could do at Skansen it was also connected to the project we are doing...

I was convinced... so we will be going to Skansen on Thursday...

For those of you wondering what Skansen is... it is the world's first open air museum, founded in 1891!! - You can find out more by clicking on this link.

And a few quotes to end this Sunday, and kick start your week...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Ideas... conker robots...

 Last week we travelled to Tessin park (it is across the city of Stockholm for us... two underground trains from us) so that we could collect conkers... also known as horse chestnuts. Basically we started at one end of the park... as you see in the photo, and before we reached the end of the grassed area you can see three 3 litre bags were filled (it didn't really cross my mind as we set off about just how heavy this would be for me to carry back... the bags were not strong enough to carry seperately, as they were just freezer bags... serious learning curve for me there).

 As we collected we started thinking about what we could do with them... and the children suggested robots...

As my colleague and I planned for the following week on Friday we wondered how we were going to include the robot idea into an already busy week... we don't like it to get too busy as we feel free play is  so important, so there needs to be plenty of time for that. Then we thought about using the philosophy session as a robot making session... a two part thinking session.

So this week the children drew a design for their robot protoype, we talked about Leonardo Da Vinci and how he drew designs and re-drew them until he felt satisfied... so there was no need to worry about having to get it right first time.. and how when he built his prototypes they sometimes did not work, so he had to go back to the drawing board.

We also wanted to use this session to gather ideas... as the children drew their robots we jotted down notes about what their robot could do and why they wanted this robot...

Ideas such as
"it needs to have arms that get longer so that it get get things from high shelves.... because I have always wanted to get things from high shelves"

"my robot can cook food.... because then I will be able to eat whenever I want to"

"my robot can do everything.... because then it can tidy up for me when I have finished playing"

Next week we will share the ideas about the robots and discuss which of the robots would be the most useful one to build... and why.

Once the design was made, and the ideas were documented the children started to glue together conkers to build their robots.

Here they needed to exchange ideas also... how to make the robots balance, to be quick placing the conkers onto the hot glue so that he was still sticky... they soon realised that slow work meant the glue hardened and was no longer sticky.

There was so much learning happening here... and it was very intense, and as educators we needed to scaffold the children's experience with the right balance, that they were allowed the space to test things out, without getting too frustrated that they wanted to give up.

At the same time we had visitors from Iran...  Yahya Ghaedi, associate professor of educational philosophy from Kharazmi University and partner were observing our philosophy session... so I tried to translate bits here and there, if there was time... but luckily had some time afterwards as the children were getting ready to go out to explain some more about how we have been working philosophically with children.

He was impressed with how the children communicated with each other, sharing ideas in a respectful and enthusiastic way and how ideas could be discussed through drawing, design and contruction and not always a dialogue as the children sit in a circle. After all verbal communication is not the only way to communicate ideas.

 I am looking forward to next Tuesday to see how this robot dialogue continues.

And yes, the children did come in contact with the hotness of the glue gun, but as they are low temp glueguns it was just a hot experience and not a burn. Risky play without the risk being to great.

And if you saw the video I shared yesterday on my facebook page you would have seen that the glue gun encounters were taken into consideration when thinking about whether or not is was a good idea to have eyes on your fingers and mouth on your hand....

Friday, 9 October 2015


I marvel at how my group of children collaborate... and the joy they gain from this... but I also marvel at the egocentricity of this collaboration...

We travelled across town to Tessinpark (two trains on the underground system) as there are lots of horse chestnut trees and the aim was collect conkers (chestnuts)... and we collected a LOT (which my poor back felt when carrying them all back in the backpack on the way bakc for lunch). At the park there is an egg like sculpture that can be played in... very familiar to me as my own children have played in it many times as their preschool, when they were small, was close to htis park.

The children needed to collaborate to be able to access it... to not only use their backs as a step up... but also collectively their arms to assist their friends further up the egg. The children lined up and took it in turns and collaborated well...

BUT when I said there was time for one more slide each before we would move onto the playground the whole collaborative system broke down... as soon as the children had had their turn they became restless and wanted to move on... played at the edges and forgot to help those still waiting for their turn. From being ALL hands on to help it changed into ME reminding that friends still required help...

I can find parallels with dialogues... often over the years, and still do, I see how children when they have said their part, their idea, switch off and not bother listening anymore...

This is why I do the bubble game... with many turns in a row for one person (so that no child is absolutely certain that it is not their turn next) and also why I seldom go round the circle or make sure that everyone talks before they get to speak for a second or third time... as making it fair with the number of times we talk or the order we talk in can switch of the co-operative, collaborative and listening child...

This was so obvious as soon as I mentioned "one more slide" - it was as if saying, when you have had your slide then it is over...

So maybe what I have to think about is how am I to phrase this next time... so that they understand that it is not about when "you" have had your lest slide it is over... but when everyone in the group has had their last slide... so that the are understanding that this is a WE situation and not a ME situation.

BUT I am still really proud of the collaboration... and of how when another preschool approached the egg, as we sat on the rocks eating apples, and they struggled to climb up... my group simply walked over and showed them how they needed to work together to get up and enjoy the egg.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Original Play

I have just been to a lecture this evening where Fred Donaldson talked about Original Play... from the very start of his journey into play 40 years ago.

There was very much that struck a chord with me... the importance of play, the need to release fear and let love guide decisions (as there are more choices available when thinking through love than there are when thinking through fear). That we can learn about children, humanity through play. The importance of imagination and the importance of feeling safe in order to play and learn.

There were times when I felt disconnected to his words - either I have not reached this place/space where he finds himself - or they are not on my play/learning journey, they were interesting words all the same...

If you are interested in learning more about original play... then why not take the time to watch this film and see what you make of it...

I feel I need more time to reflect... and to also reflect together with my colleagues who also attended - so I can get a fuller and richer perspective.