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?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

the importance of the spoken language...

We have embarked on a collaboration with Stureby Preschools, a collection of 6 city-run preschools. They have been working with a norm-critical thinking apporach, where the focus is not looking at those who are different and helping them to become a part of the "accepted norm" but to look at what the accepted norm is, to question that, to understand that an to see how that can be changed to welcome ALL in. It is about inclusion, acceptance and respect.

We at Filosofiska have the opportunity to learn more about this norm-critical thinking approach, and we will share what we have learned about using a philosophical approach.

We met yesterday briefly. The questions were great and I can see the benefits of being questioned on such a deep and meaningful level... but I also saw the problem in this kind of approach too.

The focus is of course we share what we know about philosophy for/with children - so of course everything that we do at preschool is not shared... we magnify the philosophy, which means there is a focus on the spoken language when we talk to others about philosophy.
sitting watching the water run into the drains... other children saw, and came to sit and watch too, sharing ideas without verbal communication

We were quite rightly questioned on this focus on the verbality of the dialogue, and that not all children learn this way, and that learning requires the children to experience, to have a hands on approach...

Which of course we do... everyone who has been following my blog will know that we have a very hands on approach to learning, there are experiences for the children to try out with their bodies, their emotions etc and opportunities to talk about it, play it... the dialogue part of the philosophy is a small part of what we do... the philosophical approach is there all the time as a guide for how we as teachers work, with the children, with the third teacher (the setting environment), with our colleagues and with the parents... it permeates everything we do. We need to question the what, the why and the how, so that it is always meaningful.
sometimes there has been no play possible, because the children have not been able to communicate anything except "mine". Through play we have been able to support the "community of learners" approach.
So, I begin to wonder, how it is possible to share what we do philosophically without making it seem like that is all we do - sit in a circle and talk...

ready for dialogue
How can I be better at communicating that our "pre-philosophy" does not have that focus, but that our focus is on children communicating ideas with each other, and learning as a community.... THAT does not require a spoken language... especially when you think that the youngest of our children do not yet have a spoken language but are fully capable of communicating with us and with each other... all teachers who work with the VERY young will witness this non-verbal communication.

this child had the idea of painting with feet and communicated this to other one year olds how much joy there was in this experience... two other one year olds expressed non-verbally that they too wanted to try this out, and also got the opportunity to do that... they experienced it completely differently and not with the same joy...
So easily we are focussing on the spoken word, and of course on reading and writing... something that is given so much priority as to what learning is... that a child is clever if it learns to read and write early... and a child with advanced social skills or motor skills is not given the same status as the reading and writing child... why is that?

What I have seen is that all children will learn to read and write IF they are taught when they are ready... trying to teach a child to read and write before they are ready can be disastrous, and can lead to problems much later on, when everyone thinks they should be able to read and write and the correct support is not given. Also when I ask children about when they will start school, it is always about learning to read and write... not about any other form of learning... why is other learning not given the same importance? (I am not saying that reading and writing is not important)

When I look at many websites and literature about philosophy with/for children there is ALWAYS the focus on the verbal communciations as well as on the written communication; children keep logbooks and write down their ideas etc...
reading stories together, acting them out, children learning to communicate directions/story and children learning to listen and act them out, books open to interpretation... each "director" brought their own twist to the story.

In a preschool the focus is on learning, on play, on a whole-child-development - individually and together. The philosophy we have been doing has not been just sitting down in a circle with a focus on the what is being said... YES, we do this, as children will benefit from this skill, but it is one skill of many. We have focussed very much on listening - when we are in dialogue, but also in our play, with the very popular bubble game, with pretending to be mirrors and copying what the person opposite does, with playing board games, with making constructions, listening to stories, playing tag etc games outside, by observing nature... everything we do supports the children in their listening, in the social interactions, in the learning... and as teachers we support the children to think critically... to look closely and wonder.... this does not need a spoken language to do. Sharing ideas can be done through art, play etc... but that kind of sharing is also much more subject to interpretation... the spoken language helps us get more detailed about our ideas... where we can confirm whether another person has interpreted your idea correctly or not... or whether their interpretation allows you to deepen your own understanding, change perspective, or make you more sure of your own thinking...
art as an exploration of ideas... perspective... why do I see things differently from you... how come the fruitbowl looks different depending on where you are sitting even though it is the same fruitbowl?
out in nature... do the snails want to be carried around, do they all want to go to the "snail Party" the children have arranged - if they attend to they HAVE to stay... many thoughts can be explored in nature, even silent ones as the children just explore and learn from their experiences.
limits... what are my limits, what are your limits, can I stay within the limits, what happens if I don't... ideas explored as part of an art session. (this was a part of the fairy porject last year)
It is not the spoken language that is the most important... it is the communication of ideas that is the most important... the spoken language is one of the tools that we use.

playing with shadows... why are they so big, is there a dinosaur on the other side of the wall, can I climb on the dinosaur
Of course, by having these philsophical dialogues we can also support the children in their language development... there is a clear structure of listening and talking, of taking turns, of being respectful... wonderful tools to build a language... and a speech therapist that has observed one of our sessions confirmed that the structure was beneficial for children to get a concrete grasp of how spoken communication is constructed.
the Together paintings... a way of exploring how we can work/play together... how we can share, how we can give time and understanding to the needs of others. There are lots of posts about the Together Painting if you want to find out more about this term long project.

the children PLAYING philosophy dialogue

Collaboration is important... not just the kind that everyone nods and agrees, but the kind that questions to get a better understanding of what is going on... to open up the possibility to a deeper understanding even for those who are explaining... learning is marvelous.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Letting local art inspire...

On Thursday the three children in Vinden, that are in their last year of preschool before starting preschool class in a school environment, will be working with me on an art project throughout the year... one where we will be collaborating with the same aged children at Filosofiska's preschool in Skarpnäck.

Today we looked at two pieces of local art, what did we think about them... and is it OK to play on art (as they played in and on both of them)... their first response is "...are we allowed to?" - and I relied "that was not my question, my question was do you think it is OK to play on art?" - of course right there and then the answer was a resounding yes as they busied themselves into their play.

The first artwork we looked at was a glass installation we have visited before, where the glass is very reflective in a rainbow like way which makes it hard to see the person on the other side... it also means that when you are face to face with someone you can see your face and their face at the same time in equal amounts... we were rolling around in laughter... my face was green their's was pink and they sort of merged... I guess you had to be there...

The other artwork was the horse sculpture that lies in the grass, the same one we sat around in spring and drew, each considering how different the horse looked depending on where you were standing/sitting.

The children took photographs pf both... and on the walk back to the preschool the children decided that the rainbow glass should be our inspiration in the atelier...

 So we talked about what we had seen... and pink and green were the colours that had stood out most... even though they called it a rainbow, when we looked at the photos it was mostly pink and green.... just like our faces had been. So we chose to work with pink and green. I also looked around the atelier for a suitable surface to paint on, something that would capture the reflective and half transparent nature of the art. I found an old piece of emergancy blanket and held it up for the children to see... it was shiney, but at the same time we could see through it. We wrapped it around the light table and then got busy with the paints.

We started with pink. How do you make pink. Red and white... of course. So we experimented... what would happen if one pot had more red than white, another had equal measure and a third had more white than red... the children made their hypotheses and we mixed to see if they were correct. They were.

The children then started to paint, one started to paint round the edges and the others joined in, so I asked what was the plan? It was to paint round the edges... how much room were they going to leave for the green... as we had talked about how green and pink when mixed would end up being brown, and since they were clear that this was to be pink and green I let them know... and also told them that afterwards they could put my words to the test and see if I was really right...

Then it was time for green. How do we make green... with blue and yellow they answered. But here I placed a bottle of ready made green in front of them, so we experimented to see if we could change the green colour by adding more blue to one, more yellow to the another and some white to a third...

Three different greens appeared and the centre was filled with green. This time they experimented much more with the effects their brushes had on the surfaces, creating letters and shapes.

The above photo is taken in the dark with the lighttable switched on. The lower image is with the room lights on. Again we looked at how the colours changed depending on the kind of light being used.

Then the children had some time on the big easel.... at first they painted with intent, careful not to mix the colours, fairy themes dominating the paper.
Then one of the children mixed her colours a bit and exclaimed that I was wrong... it was still pink, it had not gone brown. "yes I could be wrong, you need to test this more"

So encouraged them to experiment... mix on the paper, and brown splodges started to appear... I encouraged them to test their different pink and green combinations and how much of each to see how that would affect the colour... they were amazed at the different shades of brown that started to appear...
Since I had seen how much they had enjoyed the mixing process when we first blended the colours, I encouraged them to start pouring and mixing and creating new combinations, I gave them a extra small pot each to be able to do that.

We then started going wild mixing the colours in the pots and on the paper, creating a swirling whirling combinations of greens, pinks and browns... and then hands got in on the actions and before I knew it they had paint up to their shoulders...

The other children would be returning soon, we needed to tidy up... they washed their arms, the pots and brushes, cleaned the sinks and dried the floors (as this was a wet business indeed) as it is important to leave the atelier in the condition that you want to enter it - a place ready to inspire and to create, not a place needing a clean and tidy up...

The next two coming weeks we will be looking at two modern artists, and then the week after we will take the bus to visit the children in Skarpnäck and share our experiences - as they are doing the same things as us. Will the children have interpreted the art in different or similar ways?
I am curious for sure.