Thursday, 18 June 2015

Durham Early Years Festival of Inspiration

This is some background information for the keynote talk I held at Durham Early Years Festival on 19th June 2015. This is to enable MY journey to be talked about during my time talk time without compromising on refernces and where to go further if you are interested in finding out more... Matthew Lipman and  P4C (Philosophy for Children)

Listening - 7 inspiring TEDtalks  - here I have linked some talks that can really inspire you.

SAPERE - P4C in the UK

Alison Gopnik - talking about learning in the early years... the importance of play, the importance of childhood!

 Other sites worth checking out...
Peter Worley - Philosophy Foundation
Teaching Children Philosophy - Wartenberg - this link you can find lots of story books with suggested questions and ideas of how to explore them - check "Book Modules" and you will see a list of titles...

The best position for listening - a post about the session where we drew how to sit in order to listen well.

The Listen Dance - an activity to explore listening with the children through movement

Learning to Listen

The Bubble Game

The Importance of the Spoken language - listening with pre-verbal children

Listening with eyes - another way to play and increase listening skills

Kandinsky - art to aid listening.

Listening, art and testing boundaries - another post about an art session that was more about supporting the children's listening skills than the actual art...

Of course please take the time to explore my bog... to find inspiration of one kind or anohter.... and even better, leave comments.... to get me thinking, to inspire future posts...

Thank you for listening

Monday, 8 June 2015

the bad the good and the barbies...

When I became the parent of identical girls I had many thoughts about how I was going to be a good mother...
Buying Barbies for my daughters was not on my good mother list. Instead I bought completely different dolls for my girls (that were horrendously expensive, as were all the extra clothes and accessories) - but these dolls had the bodies of children isntead... perfect, I thought, for their role-play together.
At the age of three my aunt bought them a barbie each for Christmas... the expensive dolls were dumped in a corner... it was ALL about barbie now...

I quickly learned that being a good mother was not about enforcing my thoughts upon my children about what is right and wrong... but giving my children the possibility to make their own informed decisions. My children allowed me to see barbie with a new perspective... not this view so many adults have of an adult with an unrealistic form - but as an open ended toy with limitless abilities... a toy that represented an adult, unlike the expensive dolls... this meant a toy that had more power in their eyes... but also a toy that could fly, that could swim, that could work, go to parties, change outfits, wear BIG long dresses, like nothing they had seen in real life... they were fairies, mermaids, teachers, researchers, adventurers...

When I ask my girls now (14) about their memories of barbie they remember it was fun because you could move their legs, you could change their clothes and they could pretend many things....

Of course barbie could have a completely different look and still be able to move her legs and have a variety of clothes... but as a mother of barbie playing children I felt that it was MY responsibility to give my daughters the strength to feel proud of who they are, how they look and what they want to be... the barbies have not been responsible for my children's self esteem... I HAVE been a huge part of that. I have made a conscious decision to have a healthy view of my own body (especially in front of my children) and I also made the decision not to diet... as child I remember my mother ALWAYS being on a diet - and always being dissatisfied with her body image... she DID NOT play with barbies as a child - they did not even exist until my mother was 12 - my mother had left school at the age of 14 and went to secretarial college, met my father at 15 and was married at 19 (that just made me shudder a little when I think of my daughters and realise how close to adulthood they are).
What are my mother's issues with body image to be blamed on then? if Barbie is the root of all evil when it comes to modern childhood's body image? Especially when neither myself or my daughters have  issues with our bodies (and yes we can have our days of insecurities like all people, but there is that feeling of being content with the body we have).

But maybe not all children have access to a parent that is going to get them thinking criticially about the toys they have.... er wait a minute, neither did I....
But that aside, if we, as a society, think that barbie, and similar toys/images, are damaging to children then what are we doing about this as parents and as teachers...

As teachers we could bring in the barbies and the princess culture into the preschools and schools... LISTEN to the children about WHAT EXACTLY it is that interests them about the barbies and the princesses and then explore that... in the same way you would with super heroes... why are super heroes more acceptable than barbies and disney princesses...? they are also a similar kind of stereotype... do all boys feel the pressure that they must have muscles and wear tights? Do boys feel that have to wear masks as an adult, do they go round thinking they have to always protect ?- and just as there are more princesses than princes, there are more male super heroes than female ones... especially in the merchandising.

My family are totally into Marvel - the girls as much as my son... maybe more so ... OK so I suspect hormones might have something to do with that too? ;-)

But my question is... if we are to increase the rights of girls to have equal status of boys... then why are we saying what they like is bad?
What are we saying to girls when we say... the barbies you like and think are beautiful, we think are bad... does that mean we are saying the girls are wrong? Are we giving children the message with ADULT values, that their childlike view of the play toy is wrong?

I have learned many things by listening to children.... and I mean listening to THEIR perspective, not what I think is a child perspective (you can check out my post where I talk about the difference between child perspective and child's perspective - here) - and I have learned that children really view things in completely different ways from us adults... so that when we are adding our adult values to certain toys we are weighing down children's play... especially if we are not allowing children time to explore this extra weight and make their own decision about whether or not this is relevant or not for them - and whether they can peel that weight off and to continue playing with the toy in the way that THAT see it... and hopefully allow us as adults to see it with fresh eyes too.

In all of this writing, I am not saying that I LIKE barbies or disney princesses, or ninja turtles or super heroes as toys or as books  but I am not going to weigh down the children with MY values... I want to listen and understand THEIR values... and all the time  I am working on building their self esteem and their critical thinking so that they are able to make their own decisions and feel happy about them and themselves. I want to enable the children to make informed decsions... and that means seeignt hing froma variety of perspectives... philosophical dialogues really help with that

If I can reach the children and support their learning through barbies, or Frozen or Ninja Turtles... then I will do that... but what I have found is that there is often an element of these characters that the children are interested in... and we have been able to explore through that... for instance last year we explored magic powers as the group went Frozen crazy. But I will never just focus one one thing... I will offer the children a great variety of options to explore it from many perspectives and also to explore alternative play...

We actually watched the film Frozen at preschool in four sections... after each section we talked about what we had just seen and recreated the story.... so many of the children knew parts of the story but did not know the whole, or understand the message of the film... by exploring the film at preschool we were able to support the children's comprehension of a film many of them had seen a enormous number of times... thus giving the children the power to make their own decsions about what they felt about Elsa, Sven, Hans, Anna, Olaf etc etc - and even with this knowledge of the great power of Anna... the children just wanted magic... and Elsa had that, as well as a dress that magically changed... the boys also wanted Elsa powers and identified more with Elsa than they did with Hans or Sven... although they did quite enjoy being guards and having the power of locking up Elsa... (but there are girls that played that role too).

So what am I saying in all of this?

I reckon I am saying that we need to believe in the competence of children... that they know that these figures are not realistic - like during our philosophical dialogues about fairies, when I asked the children if fairies were real.... "They are real, pretend real"... children have a power of imagination that many, most, adults have lost, making it impossible for the adults to see anything more than an impossible form of barbies...

as for disney princesses... shouldn't we be elevating their status instead of sinking it further? Why can't princesses be powerful, why does pretty have to be bad? Why does pink have to stink? All of this should be empowered so that boys want to be princesses too.... so that boys want those princess dresses just as bad as the girls... I mean as a female I go round in trousers all the time, and wear skirts and dresses when I want to feel different and special (and also when I am not crawling on the floor)  - when do men get to wear skirts and dresses - or tights/leggings, without being questioned? Where are their rights to feel powerful in all kinds of clothing...?

Elevating princess power might just mean giving boys the freedom to choose too?

OK... so hopefully I have a provoked a whole load of thinking now...

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Visit to Ekudden Preschool, Uppsala - INDOOR environment.

For quite some time, and with great joy, I have been following Ekuddens preschool facebook pages... seeing the children's learning being made visible.
They have four pages... Bubblan ...  Droppen ... Myllan and ...Gnistan
For me it was a clear choice to visit when Diane Kashin came to stay with me in Stockholm... a journey together to Uppsala to learn about how the teachers at Ekudden have been working together with their third teacher.

Our guides for the morning were Anna and Sabina who showed us around and explained the journey of each room - as well as many other ideas, strategies and the way preschools work in Uppsala.

I took lots of images, as did Diane, and I have been busy sorting out which ones to include in this first introduction to Ekudden Preschool - focussing on the indoor environment - leaving the school and the outdoor environment for other posts to come...

so to the images... as always enjoy the inspiration - and use them to kick start your own thinking about how your third teacher/environment looks - take ideas and build on them to meet the children and teachers in your context.

Myllan's room of exploration - light, sound and touch to be explored... there is both an overhead and projector that are used, depending on what kind of image they are wanting. Mirrors, cozy corner to lie down and explore - a box of light with items linked to the current project inside to peek at trhough windows. A room for the imagination. There is also string/rope going across the room so that material can be draped down and the childen can climb inside the light installation - very much like what I did with Vinden... see here

In Uppsala all young children are given a book "Knacka På" which is about knocking on doors... the pages of the book, and then seeing what is on the next page... it is a natural step to set up the book in large format in the environment of the youngest children at the preschool... a book where all the children can meet, as they all have the book at home. I love the fact that the city of Uppsala give books out for free for children (at various ages too... and when they are older they get to choose between two books) - I wish Stockholm was doing similar.
the children at Ekudden sleep in their own prams/pushchairs year round... they are parked under the shelter of the roof just outside the window. The children have the security of their own prams to sleep in, and can be easily rocked/rolled if they need some help to fall asleep.

Creating their own playspaces with cardboard boxes.
Between the two younger departments/groups and the older ones there is a shared space for for play and exploration. This is one area of that space with a sand play area

and this is another area of the same space - the bottle in the background of the photo are just off to the right of the photo above... This image shows one of several cubes the preschool has - both inside and out... which is essentially a wooden cube frame that can be draped with material etc and used in a variety of ways... imagination is the only limitation - from shops, to light installations and aquariums to castles to...
On the walls decorated lazy susans have been mounted for exploration.

there is a second shared space - another large room with areas for play and exploration... a light table to explore nature, a construction area and role play area... also several tables to meet, chat and work at their projects (as well as eat lunch)

In most of the rooms exploration islands were set up... not just the idea of a space to explore, but also so that the room says slow down, see what is around you, play with respect to other's play and exploration. Large open spaces can scream run run run to young children, which can make construction play difficult if people start running through it... The children get ample time to run outside every day - so running is not limited... but respect for play and safety is encouraged.
In the older children's area there is a large contruction area, whith many raised surfaces to build upon. Here you can also see the cube in its naked state. Anna and Sabina have found that the cube needs to be dressed differently from time to time to make it visible again - or to help stimulate the play... either deepen it or change its path if it has been stuck in the same play for a very long time...

The two older groups share an atelier together... it was a traditional atelier for paint and art - but as they realised they tended to paint in other areas of the preschool and the room was not being used to its full potential they changed the focus of the atelier - right now it is a atelier of construction and light - and there is the idea that this room will not remain static but will continually develop and change in its focus... a room to explore and be creative.
the older children have created a garden (with mud play before the planting). One child apparently guarded the garden with a stick and thus came the idea of protecting the garden with a wall of sticks... this very much reminded me of the mini medieval gardens I had just seen in Vinterviken Gardens earlier in the week with Diane - sadly I did not take photos then... but will head back and take some. Anna told us how lucky they felt acquiring the gardening table as they got it for free, including delivery, through a site called Blocket (similar to craigslist... so I learned).

So concludes this first taste of Ekudden preschool... a preschool that has just celebrated 10 years of working with children... and their journey was clear... throughtful consideration of their thrid teacher - and important colleague who needs to be regularly consulted so that the children are empowered.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Observations... the Sherlock Holmes approach...

Sometimes something catches your eye and you just have to read it... my two 14 year old daughters love Sherlock Holmes, so when I saw the post by Brain Pickings on Konnikova: Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes, I just had to give it a read.

... and I am glad I did... as I started seeing parallels to my work as a preschool teacher... in that observations and how we observe and analyse what we have seen can allow us to deduce what is the best continued path for the children's learning journeys.
Konnikova writes:

Observation with a capital O — the way Holmes uses the word when he gives his new companion a brief history of his life with a single glance — does entail more than, well, observation (the lowercase kind). It’s not just about the passive process of letting objects enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit? And how do you take in and capture those details that you do choose to zoom in on? In other words, how do you maximize your brain attic’s potential? You don’t just throw any old detail up there, if you remember Holmes’s early admonitions; you want to keep it as clean as possible. Everything we choose to notice has the potential to become a future furnishing of our attics — and what’s more, its addition will mean a change in the attic’s landscape that will affect, in turn, each future addition. So we have to choose wisely.

Choosing wisely means being selective. It means not only looking but looking properly, looking with real thought. It means looking with the full knowledge that what you note — and how you note it — will form the basis of any future deductions you might make. It’s about seeing the full picture, noting the details that matter, and understanding how to contextualize those details within a broader framework of thought.

In other words it is important to know why you observing and to take the time to think about how you are observing - especially when it comes to documentation... after all documentation is a collection of your observations... unlike Holmes there are few of us that can remember everything and recall it at will... therefore there is a need to document... there is also the need to document to make the observations visible to others, not least to the children themselves.

This brings me round to another important element of the "Holmes Approach" - that we need to be objective - we need to think about our mindset from the beginning, not only being objective but also selective in what we are observing... after all it is not going to be possible to observe everything. By knowing goals beforehand can help direct our attention resources properly, but this does not mean that you go looking for/reinterpreting facts to mesh with what you want or expect to see - thinking objectively means being open to what you see and not clouding it with your own perspective.

Four years back I was running a bilingual preschool here in Stockholm and I set up language weeks (twice a year) where all observations were concentrated on the children's use  and understanding of language. It was a fantastic way to learn more about the children, but also about observations and documentation as every memeber of staff was observing the same thing in the children and we were able to share strategies of observations, documentation and analysis of the collated information. This enabled the staff to become more proficient in their every day observations of the children and their documentation of them - it also enabled them to deduce how to meet the needs of the children's language development.

I have often approached documentation/observations in this way - from the perspective of gross motor skills, gender equality, fine motor skills etc etc - by focussing my attention for a short period of time on one particular area of a child's development then I give myself a better chance of really understanding it.

Observation means paying attention and paying attention is about every one of your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. It is about taking in as much as we possibly can.  It is about learning not to leave anything out — anything that is relevant to the goals that you have set. And it is about realizing that all of our senses affect us — and will affect us whether or not we are aware of the impact. Of course this must sound rather strange after writing about being selective - but it is not so much about not leaving anything out, I suppose, as to not leaving out any of the senses in the observations that you are making - and to being open to all possible observation eventualities. Listening, for example, is done with more than the ears - as I have written in many posts previously and talked about at workshops... listening with ears, eyes, heart and mind contributes to our observations in order to understand and to collect the information and to make deductions - we are trying to deduce each child's learning and how to best offer provocations, challenges and support to ensure the children continue on their learning journey.

We need to recognise the complexity and capability of others... never underestimate them.

Understand how to read a situation - the Sherlock Holmes way. There are three parts to reading a situation:
  • See. What do you see that is happening?
  • Observe. What do you notice that is different?
  • Deduce. What does this imply?
 I think this could be a good approach to have in our own observations of children - what do we see them doing... does it differ from previous play/learning?... does this difference imply anything - that the child needs more stimulus, needs more support, needs new materials... etc etc.

Say it aloud.

Holmes and Watson, talking it through.
Holmes talks to Watson about everything.
The telling helps, Holmes says. "Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person."
"Stating something through, out loud, forces pauses and reflection. It mandates mindfulness. It forces you to consider each premise on its logical merits allows you to slow down your thinking." 
I totally agree with this - by entering a dialogue with colleagues we are able to understand our own thinking btter... not only by hearing your own words out loud, but also by being questioned and having new perspectives shared with you.
An observation can then be more easily deduced and the way forward to meeting the needs of the child can be more easily reached.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Images to support Listening workshop reflections May2015

The following images will help those people who have attended one of my workshops to reflect on the experience... there will be no words... (except a few links to previous posts I have written) - as the idea is that the images support individual thinking and reflection of the day and to hopefully deepen that by a second chance to see the images...

I am not even going to put them in the same order... as I want to shake it up a bit ... and some images cannot be shared online - I only have permission to use them in workshops...

 2015 - a year to listen

reföections on a project  how listening is woven into our daily routine

The importance of the spoken language   - a post about listening being more than words...

 The bubble game - here I wrote about how we play it...
 but it DOES keep developing...

 Listening and interpretation

 Together on the Square Project 

 The Together Painting
 Kandinsky inspired art

A hundred languages ...  a hundred ways to listen

 read Listen Dance for more information

for more information on this activity please see best position for listening

Well I hope this is enough for some good reflections... and please take the time to explore other posts here... there is lots on play - indoors and outdoors, philosophy and many more on listening... plenty of my Reggio journey, visits to other preschools, etc etc etc....