Tuesday, 23 September 2014


As part of the online play course I will be starting next week, we have been encouraged to share a selfie of our favourite toy from our childhood.

This has got me thinking more about toys... I shared water, and an image of myself splashing in water.... well at least my boots... and some others have shared images of the beach... and others have shared images of cuddly toys and shared that felt-tips were their favourite...

but TOY... what is that, really? Because quite often I feel there is a heirarchy when it comes to toys and learning - and there are those that say that in a preschool setting there should not be the same toys as there are in the children's home, (and/or) that we should have open ended toys, (and/or) that we should avoid gender-stereotyped toys etc etc etc

So what is a toy... is everything a child plays with a toy... or is it something much more specific? If children play only with sticks, stones. blocks and water - does that child have toys? Is the word "toy" reserved only for purpose-made play things? THEN, are blocks toys or tools, are pens toys or tools... what about paintbrushes... all designed to be played with by children, but not necessarily in the traditional idea of play... or...? Then of course there are barbies, lego (is that a construction material or a toy???), cuddly toys (comforter or toy?), cars, etc etc etc

In Swedish the word for toy is "leksaker" which translates as play-things... when looking at the meaning of TOY in the dictionary it is referred to as something a child plays with... but also

 Something of little importance; a trifle.
 An amusement; a pastime: thought of the business as a toy.
 A small ornament; a bauble.
A diminutive thing or person.
 A dog of a very small breed or of a variety smaller than the standard variety of its breed.
 Scots A loose covering for the head, formerly worn by women.
 Chiefly Southern U.S. A shooter marble.
intr.v. toyed, toy·ing, toys
 To amuse oneself idly; trifle: a cat toying with a mouse.
 To treat something casually or without seriousness: toyed with the idea of writing a play. See Synonyms  flirt

Which got me thinking even more... this "trifling" business seems to connect with how "play" does not seem to have the learning status it so rightly deserves... maybe we also, as teachers, call play-things toys to those things we think as lower status... and the rest gets called loose-parts, or tools or whatever... they are all being played with, being toyed with, being explored...

Then I also wonder about the word open-ended toys... because maybe we are being too quick to condemn some toys to being closed because our own adult minds are not open enough...

I have seen children transform blocks into cars with their imaginations, but I have also seen children transform cars into people and monster and other characters, even airplanes sometimes - cars are not always cars... and maybe should be given the same open-ended status as blocks from a child's perspective?

I have been part of dialogues where some teachers have taken away cars and other toys with the argument that they have those things at home... but I wonder whether this is enough to justify its removal? Afterall children are a part of a family, often have their own personal toys that they do not need to share in the same way as they do at an ECE setting... ate preschool the dynamics of play change... the same number of cars (or whatever) suddenly has to be shared with many children... there are many different wills trying to influence the play and how the toys should/could be used... children have the opportunity to learn about social interactions thriugh familiar toys... they also have the opportunity to learn new ways of playing with things - learning perspectives they might not discover if they only had the opportunity to play with certain toys in their own homes...

I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way... I am just exploring... trying to uncover more thought... maybe to get you thinking and reflecting about the word toy, and what it means to you... and what toys you have in your home/setting. What do you label as toy, what do you lable as learning materials, as loose parts, as tools.... how many of these items are more than one lable? Does giving it the label toy make it less worthy than learning material? or loose part? or tool?

Maybe if we are to improve the status of PLAY - as something meaningful; as deep, wonderful learning - then maybe we also have to imporve the status of the words we connect with play... like TOY.

Sure, I am not saying that there are not toys out there that can make you cringe, and wonder why they were ever made... but maybe in the end it is not so much the what the toy is but the how the toy is being played with.
without a shadow of a doubt, my camera is my tool but also my toy... I play and experiment with it all the time... but not in a trifling way

these three little pig toys are used as part of telling a story... are they tools?

is play doh a toy? It most certainly is something that is played with. And those ice-cream spoons - do they become toys when they are played with? or are they just loose parts?

outdoor toys - buckets and spades are most certainly tools in the adult world...

small figures of rpincesses and rpinces became fairies last year... and as you can see they are not stereotyped gender specific... it is not the WHAT but the HOW... we presented them as something meaningful for ALL the children, we did not give these toys some kind of status

what about animals with they become things that are play with? (Now I am really stretching it, I know)

construction tools, loose-parts or toy?

do light sources become toys if being played with... especially if they are designed to be played with by children? Do the specifically designed toy light sources have a different value from "real" light sources? Why?

animals buying food from a kiosk... these animals are open ended despite the fact that in real life they all have rather specific lives and habitats... why can we not believe in the competence in children's creativity when it comes to other toys that are deemed "closed"? Have we really explored this fully? Maybe there is research out there... I have not looked into this more... but I feel interested in fidning out more

again dinsoaurs did not behave like disnosaurs but were given their own personalities that are closer to people than animals... here the children were exploring death...

The there are board games - where do they fit in the scheme of things... they are also things that are played with by children - but not open ended, they have very clear rules and very decided outcome...

I have hardly touched the play/TOYS that goes on in the role-play area, the atelier etc etc etc...

So how do YOU define toy?

Monday, 22 September 2014

A Rainy Day

For as long as I have been living in Sweden in the middle of September there has always been two consecutaive days of wind and rain - I remember this, because my birthday is in September and my very first birthday here in Sweden it was horizontal rain - and the following year and the year after that... then the rainy days have varied with 2-3 days either side of my birthday... this year though the two rainy days have been a week later than usual.

TODAY was the day instead!
We had planned on taking the children a little further to a new forest... but the weather made us change our minds... much better to make the most of the splashability of this weather and be close to "home" for when we all get too wet and cold. AND it was the right decision because soaked we got... and it was the cold sort of wet that comes with autumn.

But we had a whale of a time until then...

an ABSOLUTELY enormous puddle... perfect for running and splashing

and we got some really big splashes too

and I splashed a lot too... totally fascinated by the moment you could see the ground under the puddle for it to be swallowed by the muddy water again.

damming the water running down the slope with our feet and all the fallen pine needles
outside the underground station the was a whole load of mush... when I arrived in the morning there was the most enormous puddle at the entrance making it impossible to leave the station with dry feet... someone had put a stack of newspapers in the puddle to create a bridge... this had turned into mush... the kind that creates vacuums when you put your feet into it...
so when we were thoruoghly soaked we went inside and started to rip up some old newspapers (that I had been saving and waitinf for the right moment!!!)
I added warm water (we had had enough of cold water for the day... an hours of torrential downpour was quite enough cold wetness for one day!!)

after a while it started to get more mushy.... the children had not seen the tranformation outside, so for them it was quite tricky to understand that the gray mush had in fact been newspapers...
and then it became very mushy... and felt "soooo nice".... The mush we intend to use as papier maché later in the week... not entirely sure what for yet, but I the children will let us know...

in this mushy state it became perfect for role-play food making... buns, susages on a stick for the BBQ and also soup, to name a few of the dishes that were being served...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Thinking about Jackson Pollock

This week we took a closer look at Jackson Pollock... after our week of looking at art on the streets close to us, then looking at Klein (the children keep referring to him as clown) and creating their own signature colour... this wee we explored the idea of understanding if we can really know what someone else is expresing in their art.

We looked at Jackson Pollock Number 5 (since these three children are all five - well the youngest turns five in 10 days time). What could we see, what did we think the artist was trying to convey. (the children are somewhat consumed by the fact that the artist is dead... as was Klein, and Kandinsky that we did in February - so for some they could see sadness, because the artist was not still alive).

Each child came and whispered to me the emotion that they were going to paint their Jackson Pollock inspired painting... and they we were going to play a game, so we had to keep it a secret until the end to see if the children could see the emotion they had painted.

I love watching the artistic nature of paint as it mixes... and to take the time with the children to watch how it moves and changes as they mix.
The children painted the background/base colour with their chosen emotion/feeling in mind. It was obvious that for two of the children it was not so easy to make the distinction between favourite colours and colours that represent the feeling, the third child also wanted to choose favourite colours, but when reminded that she was to choose colours connected to the emotion that she chose, she reflected and made new choices (both times, for the back ground, and also for the action part)

For the action part the children chose two more colours to squirt onto the canvas... and then I had a shared third colour (white) that they could all use.

The colours were quitethick so I thinned them slightly (acrylics and tempera paints were used) so that the pipettes would be easier to use... even so the pipettes took time.... but you could develop a system, use one pipette while the other was slowly loading, and it was really interesting watching the paint go slowly up (especially the first time when it was easier to see without paint residue on the insides).

The children then squirted onto their canvas, using movement to create drops, lines and splashes.

When they were satisfied with the look of their canvas we washed the pipettes and then sat down to look at each other's art...

Child 3 had painted Angry and Scary - using a grey base with black and red (blood/danger)
the other's guessed Child 2 - love (red is love). Child 1 - scary (because its scary)

Child 2 had painted Love - both children guess that she had painted happy (happy colours)

Child 1 had painted Happy - child 2 guessed that she painted Love (motivation being, she always paints/does the same as me), Child 3 thought she had painted Happy (used happy colours).

It was interesting to see for the children and myself that it was not always so easy to work out what someone else is thinking... and that by asking them we get to find out more and understand more about what someone else has done.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wings for fairies

During the summer I wrote a post about full body painting where the two children who attended preschool that day got to paint big time outside

You can read more about that post, if you wish, by clicking here

I left half of the painting at the preschool at Skarpnäck and took the half with the body prints to Dalen with me... since the child who made the body prints is in my group at Dalen.

Today we started the transformation of the body prints into fairies... each child in Vinden helping out... all in different ways...

First one of the children drew wings onto the painting, and she had great inspiration for her wing drawing as one of the children came to preschool wearing wings. Of course this child showed off his wings by standing with his back to us... so the wings were then drawn and continued as if the fairies had their backs to us...

I showed them a selection of tissue paper... about eight colours... and the children selected the colours the wings should be.... they could all be the same colour, or all different colours. They tested with the paper folded, noticing the different effect that made.... a single layer being considered the best for wings. The colours chosen were dark pink, green and yellow (in that order).

The next step was to trace round the wing design on the tissue paper so that we could cut out the right size. Cutting tissue paper is VERY tricky, and requires patience and concentration as it rips easily.

Finally glue was added within the wing area and the tissue paper wings carefully patted into place. At the same time in the atelier the children were busy with various activities, so those who were interested joined in... the process was very organic and the children joined in and observed after interest. And quite remarkably there was a job for every child to do...

In the afternoon Molnet continued with wings as well... this time for themselves using sticks and wallpaper that they had painted. The sticks are formed in an "X" in order to support the wings.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Reflecting on the week

Looking back on this week I see the children's learning and interests... their play is filled with magic powers, fairies, witches and shops.
We have explored their understanding of money - by listening to them and then talking with each other (us teachers) about how we interpret their words, their concepts and how do we incorporate that into play to extend their thinking and also to explore it deeper, enabling us to understand their world better. It is quite clear, though, that children connect money with food shopping - and that they seem to think you can buy money there... even though we will be continuing with magic powers after the fairy tea party, as this has been a stronger and longer line of play and connects wonderfully with our exploration of fairies, we will not leave the idea of money and shopping.

We have also seen, better now, how our new weekly schedule supports the children in seeing their own learning in their play, how it challenges their thinking and how it allows for multiple ways of approaching the same idea/philosophical dialogue.

We have also seen that these different days link into each other and support each other... at the moment there is a sense of satisfaction even though the children have not "mastered" all of this...
but, I feel, they are not supposed to either... I don't believe any of us are supposed to get it straight away... there has to be a bit of a struggle, there needs to be that we work together and support them in their learning journey.

I do not believe that what we are doing is beyond their capabilities, I do believe that they are interested in making decisions and being active in the group, but I also believe they need time to practice this...

This Friday all of the children wanted to be part of the reflection and planning meeting... three of them though showed with their constant lack of respect for other's ideas that they were not yet ready and were reminded several times that we all need to listen respectfully to each other's ideas and that the meeting was not just to have a personal monologue (OK I did not say it exactly that to them) - they left the meeting to go and help elsewhere at the same to reminding we could try again next week... the fact is that even though they did not want to really participate this time either, they had made huge progress from last week, and they were thanked for the input that they had made in the reflection part...

Of course part of the problem is that some children like to waffle on, this does make it quite difficult for other children to focus/listen... so we are ALL becoming better at making this meeting better... the children are learning about how to participate and how to not just start telling a random story, we as teachers are becoming better at supporting the children to keep to topic, with the promise that we can talk/listen to their stories during lunch, later or another day...

Learning to participate in a dialogue is not just about contributing words, it is about contributing relevant ideas. During Fridays we have a 20-30 minute long song meeting in the morning (including fruit snack) free-play outdoors for one and a half hours, then back inside for this reflection and planning meeting which is 15-20 minutes long - the rest of the day is lunch, rest, afternoon snack and lots and lots of free play... every afternoon is free-play (with some arranged activities to choose from) and all mornings include free-play too.
outside creating fairy houses with the many sticks lying around. Some house were 2D creations, the lower one on the right included and entrance/door to get in. The windfall fruit was collected and arranged as fairy food. We spent 1.5 hours playing freely here before the reflection/planing meeting.

I truly believe that these meetings will flow better as they are meaningful for the children, and that we as teachers will need to support them less and less as the children practice them more... Participating in meetings is not that easy... My children at home have been commentating about how adults are not able to do this even... we have the elections going on here in Sweden at the moment and my two 13 year old daughters have been watching some of the debates. They giggled at the fact that these adults interrupted each other, got frustrated with each other saying "let me finish what I was saying..." and even mentioned that my preschoolers were better at taking turns in talking (which made me giggle, but I got their point)...
Being in a dialogue with others is not easy. It does need practice. I find I am becoming better in dialoging with others as I facilitate the children's dialogues... I have become more aware of the structure of a dialogue, of the flow, of how to respect each other's ideas even when you do not agree, how to be passionate about what you believe without reducing someone elses passion.

The competent child.
It does not mean that they can do everything now. But I believe that it does mean they can learn. It does not mean that they will learn immediately but that it will be picked up bit by bit by having the chance to test it out in different ways... and that is where we come in... we see how the children react, we see how they learn and we make sure that the challenge is hard but not too hard.
Frustration - I think we all have the right to feel that... without it where would the learning be? I need to feel frustration when soemthing does not work so that I can work on why it didn't work as I thought, and how I can adapt it or exchange it for a new idea... and in the same way the children need to feel frustration... not the kind that makes them feel hopeless (I don't want that kind either) - but the kind that feels like the struggle of climbing a mountain and the joy that is felt when you see the view from the top. If it IS rock-climbing then they need the right tools, they need to learn the right techniques... we cannot expect the children to get up their on their own without any knowledge or experience... that is what we share with them as educators. We need to listen and to observe to ensure that they have the right tools at the right time... no point in giving them a "boat" when what they need is "rope".

I shared this image on my FB page during the week.

I have also reflected upon how children seem to connect adulthood with making decisions... but that this decision making is all about themselves and doing what they want. When we are giving children decisions to make it is nearly always something to do with making a a choice for themself... do you want strawberry or chocolate ice-cream? Do you want to play in or outside? Do you want meatballs or fish for dinner? It seems then that we are teaching children that decision making is making a personal choice of what you want to do... yet adult decsion-making has very little to do with that. It is nearly always a series of compromises, it is nearly always taking into consideration other people, it is far too often not linked to something you want to do, but something you have to or need to do. Children do not get to see these processes. They go through their childhood longing to be an adult and to make decsions believing that they get to do what they want... and so of course when you become an adult you suddenly realise that you got to do what yout wanted more often as a child... children are not given real and meaningful decisions to make.
This is why we are having our meetings on Fridays, because the decision making is REAL... they don't get to do what they want because they have to take into consideration is it possible, does it cost money, is it safe, do others want to do that/is it interesting for more than yourself?
This means at the moment these dialogues are tricky because the children have not been given the chance to think about making decisions for others too... of being responsible for their decision making and for listening to how others react to the results of the decision making.

We share with the children how making decisions is not always easy for us as adults, we have to talk a lot with each other, that we don't always agree with each other's ideas but that we always listen and try to find the best outcome for the group... that often we do things not because it is what we as adults want to do, but because we know that the children want to do them. By being part of these dialogues where we are open with our learning processes, the children realise that we are equals as learners... the only difference is that I have 40 more years of experience to add to my learning journey, something I will share with them... but that I am learning from them all the time as well.

This coming Friday I am not sure how much time we will have for the reflection and planning meeting, as it is the International Fairy Tea Party then... it might just be that the fairies leave some plans for us, so that we can stay busy with our imaginations...

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Fairy shop

Yesterday in our philosophy session we talked about what do fairies do... it appeared that they bought food and necklaces and comfy socks and cozy blankets... it continued into the idea of fairy money and where does it come from.
 Today we divided into two groups to see how we could explore these ideas in different ways. My group (Fairy Group - their choice of name) decided that we should make fairy necklaces... small small necklaces that the fairies could buy... they even made a sign "Fairy shop" "Come here" "necklace" and after quite some discussion the necklaces were marked at the price of 40p (the p standing for the Swedish word for money - pengar - as we talked about that money had different names in different countries... here in Sweden we use crown, in the UK (where I am from originally) we use pounds, there are also euros, dollars and yen... and no-one knew the name of fairy money... so we left it as p for pengar/money) - there was also a discussion about how much they should cost - 3 was the first suggestion, but that was considered too little, then 50 was suggested, but a child thought that was too much - then 40 was suggested and all the children agreed.

The necklaces and the sign have been put up on a shelf... one child pointing out that if the necklaces go then it would be proof that fairies existed...

So what to do... how much do we as adults play along. For the moment I am happy to just leave them on the shelf... if they have an interest they will see they are still there and we can talk about how the sign indoors might not be enough, maybe we have to put up signs elsewhere... like the many adverts we see everywhere (and at the moment there is SO much everywhere as we have elections coming up - these election signs the children have shown no interest in except when people have drawn mustaches etc on some of the candidates... usually they find this quite funny, but at the same time wonder why)

The other group (Butterfly group) made their own fairy money and then went outside to a play space they knew had a kiosk like part to it, and there they played fairy shop. Their play reflected their understanding of money... that it comes from food shops... all the children 3-5 years expressed yesterday that money comes from foodshops... obviously something we can explore at a later date (we do have a Coin/Money Museum here in Stockholm).

It was fun to see how both groups had been interested in a similar thread of yesterday's dialogue... because ideas around the existence of fairies was also discussed with several different theories being shared, these were mentioned in both groups, but not chosen as the idea to explore further through play/art etc

The fairy group discovered some fungi on the way to the play area, we went to check them out more closely, knocking on them carefully to see if there was anyone at home. No-one answered. But they did swing like bells in the wind and as a result of the gentle knocks, that was fascinating to watch.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Making decisions...

Before summer the children had challenged us on many occaisions as to why adults made the decisions and that they felt they should be making more... no matter how hard we talked and explained, and seemd to come to some understanding that we as adults make the decisons when it comes to safety and well-being, but that the decsions about the activities and what we do is all based on the children's interests and observations of their play, and listening to what they have to say to us.

But the constant challenging seemed to imply that this was not really working... we had to find a new way of letting the children see just how much they influenced what we do during our days at preschool... so we are experimenting and challneging the children in their thinking about decision-making.

We have designed out week a little differently... and I need to start with a Friday... because it actually starts and ends here...

On Fridays we have added an extra meeting called reflection and planning meeting... where we reflect on what we have been doing during the week (a great way for our little groups to share with each other when we have done different things too) and then based on these reflections the children then make a decision as to how to explore deeper something that has facinated them during the week.

Last week some of the children had used public transport and had seen the communter trains... they expressed a desire to explore transport more, especially the commuter trains... I told them that the reflection/planning meeting would be an ideal time to bring up that suggestion...

SO.... last Friday at the reflection meeting it turned out no-one wanted to plan... except for one child... they would rather play quietly at the other side of the room. I asked them if they were sure they wanted to leave the decision in the one remaining child's hands... they said yes, I asked would they accept the decisions that this child made... yes they all said. I asked one more time to make sure... No the children did not want to make any decisions they wanted to play.

So for the 5-10 minutes left before lunch one child decided what we would do the following Monday morning. Four children would explore public transport and the commuter trains (well she said go on them) and the rest of the group would play fairies on the suburban square just outside the preschool.

Later in the day when the children found out about the decision they were many regrets... they were reminded that they said they would accept the decision, and that next Friday maybe it would be a good idea to be a part of the planning meeting.

Yesterday four children went on public transport... and that is all we did (although I did plan a trip that took us on the underground train, then a tram, then a boat, then a bus, then the underground train, then the commuter train, then a tram and then the underground train back to preschool... quite an adventure...) but by the time we got on the bus the children started to ask "are we there yet?" and I said, "but this is what was planned... a journey, there was no destination planned". I wanted to challenge the children's thinking... that if they are making decisions and making plans they have to start taking responsibility for them... that it is not always easy to make a plan, and that maybe sometimes a bit of thinking is required... and collective thinking is probably a good idea, where the children can inspire each other...
in some areas of the Stockholm underground train it does go over ground... where the preschool is located it is above ground. The above images show the signs of the stations/stops we were at... and the underground train (tunnelbana) the tram (well one of the lines) the free boat connecting to the south island (Södermalm) and lastly the commuter train.

When we returned to the preschool the child that planned got a few angry comments from her friends... again we reminded that it was of their own choosing not to participate in the planning. The children were given the opportunity to learn that planning to please everyone is not an easy thing to do, and that to be satisfied with a  decision you need to listen and actively participate in the decision making. If you do not listen, you do not know what you are agreeing or disagreeing with...

I am now looking forward to Friday to see how the children will react... will they live for the moment and play... or will they want to invest some of their time to make plans with us?