Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Experiencing the universe...

This is a just a quick post to share some images from this week...
I am helping out some days at a local preschool on the days that I am not writing or travelling to Gävle...
The preschool has a space project happening at the moment... so the two days I was there this week I took in some of my materials for the children to experience a sensory approach to space...

The first session the children got to play with small lights, loose parts and coloured rice on a tray I brought back from Palestine (it is big with large sides, so perfect for sensory play on a small scale). The children were engrossed in the play... exploring how light went round planets from what they have already learned about space - but mostly it was about feeling the rice, experimenting with the lights and interacting with the materials... it was about filling and emptying and not so much about designing patterns... but I also think this indicates what their needs are right now... they have a hunger for sensory play. The play was peaceful, the children talked with each other, and it was enthusiastic... peaceful in the sense that they were able to sort out differences through their words (and well chosen words) rather than using their bodies...

Today I hung up two semi-transparent curtains with a small space in between so that I could project images of space onto it... going through the first then the second and then onto the wall... each layer also displaying the image projected... it gave the feel of being in space. I put a big mirror on the floor too, in order to give it a more infinite sort of feel. I would have liked the room to have been darker to get a bigger impact of being in space... so maybe waiting to do this in the afternoon would be better - as it is dark by 15:20 here in Stockholm at the moment (it will be earlier than that before long!)

The children came in groups of four to be able to explore the experience... and once they had the chance to do this they could come back and start using construction materials to create a space station... the images being caught on the materials... the shadows found themselves in outer space.

Enjoy the photos and films...

spreading out the coloured rice... blue and black...

experimenting with light

light from the bottom

light from the top

the rice was out of date... I had bought it for my daughter over a year ago... cheap rice for her student days... but being a family of rice snobs this was not yummy rice and she did not like it all, so she let it just sit at her student home... I rescued it and it is now being used for a much needed sensory activity

glass beads and light exploration

some of the loose parts that could be used

experimenting with light and movement

The next session
the set up

one of the teachers needed to test to it too!

we dressed a duplo figure (female one) as an astronaut... using silver tape

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

the attitude of autism

Earlier today I shared a tweet by @GladaMonstret

"En Elev som uppvisar en glad o öppen personlighet blir färre gånger tillsagd vid dåligt beteende jämfört med en elev som har "pissoff-attityd" Vuxna tillrättavisar inte dåliga beteende utan det de uppfatta som dålig attityd"

I shared this - and translated into English - as i agree

"This is so true - joyful children who misbehave do not get reprimanded as much as children with a "pissoff attitude" for the same amount of misbehaviour - attitude is what teachers are reacting to rather than the behaviour/actions"

I think I would like to take the time to translate it more accurately (as I tried to keep to the limits of a tweet, which is not always the best thing)

A student that displays a happy and open personality is reprimanded fewer times for their bad behaviour compared to a student that has a piss-off attitude. Adults don't reprimand bad behaviour but what they perceive as a bad attitude

This then got retweeted with a  "well yeah.." comment...

It got me someone frustrated as this is the EXACT problem that I am facing with my son at school.. after years of him not being taught the way he learns, of being in an environment that overstimulates, of not getting the support he has the right to - he has suffered from depression and has developed that piss off attitude which is more about self preservation than it is about disrespect.

The fact that educators feel the need to correct attitudes MORE than misbehaviour is totally inappropriate... if they want children to have a more positive attitude then why not take a look at why the child in your class/group is angry and pissed off - and meet the child's needs there, instead of telling them are wrong. Often this child feel they are wrong all the time - like my son, because he does not under stand instructions if they are more than 2 stage instructions (and he struggles with that) then classroom situations are hard, because he desperately wants to be seen as clever he will call out when he knows stuff (which is seen as rude), when he sees other children being rude or misbehave or call out he will point it out... the children then attack him verbally and the teacher lets it happen - making him feel small. He needs so much preparation for changes and transitions that teachers forget again and again to do (mostly because they are over worked) so he gets anxious... and for my son and many others like him (autism/adhd) anxious looks like angry or pissed off to an adult - so suddenly my son is being reprimanded because he is loudly having a meltdown.
he will refuse to do work at school... which irks teachers no ends... but of course he has gone into full scale panic.

I decided to take a look at this person who reacted this way... I mean if I want educators to really understand my son and children like him, then I need to take the time to understand where these comments are coming from. So I took the time to read this person's blog and it became clear that this new teacher was frustrated by the behaviour of students who were neither listening or learning the way the teacher expected them too.
THIS is a problem of the teacher training where the focus is not on meeting the learning styles of children, but on training methods of teaching to meet the needs of getting grades and meeting curriculum expectations. This is also means teachers are not being adequately prepared to meet the needs of those children who cannot learn by these methods, or think these methods are boring.
The school system also does not allow teachers the time to really get to know their students, to understand how they tick, to take the time to understand their learning strategies, to discuss with other teachers about possible paths of learning. Also the whole school system built on grades and testing is this right or wrong approach which kind of re-enforces follow the route rather than use your imagination to find a new route... after all that could mean ending up in the wrong place and getting it wrong... it could be a huge risk... at the same time it could be the way to finding the solution - these learners are more off-road learners. Off road teaching requires bravery, it requires an environment that is supportive from teaching peers and directors to ensure teachers don't get lost. Sticking to the road might be the safest bet - but its not always the most exhilarating.
Our learning journey cannot just be sitting on the highway getting from A to B. If it is then of course there is going to be resistance in the class - there are going to be those "are we there yet?" children, there are going to be those who need a break to stretch their legs etc and of course those that prefer the small roads where either you go fast and enjoy the thrill of the bends, or slow down to see the details.. and all of those diversions, pitstops, adventures etc that could happen when you slow down and take the time to pause at a bend in the learning journey that offers a deeper understanding.
Of course in a class of many students this is going to be hard to meet the needs of all their different travelling preferences... not all are even going to like travelling by the same mode of transport... you can't just shove them on the same school bus and expect them to just sit there and learn until the destination, some adults have decided the location of, is reached.

So back to the attitude...
Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - this is the same for educators and learners. There needs to be joy, there needs to be a feeling of security and safety and mutual trust - without this there will not be real learning. If a teacher keeps pressing the learning without addressing the joy, the security and trust then there is a massive chance that bad attitudes will develop... reactions to needs not being met, of frustration... and then the child is further punished for having a bad attitude.

Being rude is not acceptable, I am not condoning disrespect. But we need to take the time to understand where it is coming from. How can we lift these children/students so that they can enjoy school too.

For me it starts in early childhood and that it should actively continue from there...

The below film is the ad from Burger King about bullying which illustrates what I am saying to an extent...

That 30% of children are bullied worldwide is shocking what is MORE shocking is that only 20% of bullying is reported to adults... in the film above you can see that people are more concerned with their burger than the child... ignoring uncomfortable scenes seems to be the preferred choice as ONLY 12% choose to interact on behalf of the bullied child. Looking at statistics from USA (stop bullying) the least bullying happens during recess and the most in the classroom... in the classroom - what is the teacher doing? Why is the teacher blind to this, or is the teacher like the 88% in the Burger Kind ad... if this is the case then of course there is going to be some bad attitude happening... the classroom is NOT a safe space.

This month is anti-bullying month... and this week is anti-bullying week...
I have continued this post a couple of days later so more has happened on twitter... today I reacted to the anti-bullying week with a feeling of mistrust... sometimes it feels like too many think they have "done something" about bullying because it has been highlighted for a week...
The thing is this kind of thing needs to be highlighted every day of the year, every year... it should not be antibullying, it should be about supporting the children to have positive and open relationships with each other, it should be about respect and valuing each other, it should be about creating a safe space through mutual trust and respect... that cannot be done by pressing the children on learning geometry and reprimanding them when they don't listen and focus because they are too busy trying to survive the classroom climate.
If we are giving children the best start in life in the early years education, with plenty of time to focus on play and social interactions... Original Learning... together, individually, with enthusiasm through play, with respect and trust - and that the learning continues in this way but becomes more advanced, detailed, in depth and challenging to meet their evolving cognitive development... and there is STILL the focus on play and social interactions... where children are empowered in their learning rather being dictated to consume knowledge... then I also believe there will be less need for these anti-bullying awareness campaigns.

The problem is the school system is failing both educators and learners - and instead of pausing and making the necessary health changes the educational body is being patched up, bandaged and medicated to continue the learning journey. Of course there is going to be bad attitude... most would complain to travel a route they don't want to take when not healthy...

So what would I like to see changed?

  • That early childhood education is valued more. As this is the foundation of learning.
  • That play is valued more.
  • That the idea of Original Learning is valued and used for the entire educational journey we make
  • That educators get more time to listen to their students
  • That educators are trusted to meet the needs of their children/students
  • That children/students are trusted by their educators
  • That there is more time for social interactions on multiple levels
  • That a democratic classroom involves respect, equal values, participation and responsibility (Reflections on play and peace - and there are other posts about democracy I have written) adults and children.
  • That teachers are educated in the many forms of learning, not just one or two models of learning -  including understanding autism, trauma, ADHD, discrimination etc etc etc
  • that risky play is seen as an essential part of learning... (and risky play includes social play). Children do not need to be protected from everything otherwise they will never truly understand risk, danger and be able to keep themselves safe... or fully comprehend the risk/danger they impose on others by their actions.
  • That children are valued as citizens NOW, not as future citizens.

I know there is more, much more to add to this list.. but maybe 11 points is good to start with... it is the 11th month.

and yes... this is my son!

Maybe there is chance that my son can regain the fantastic happy disposition he once had before school robbed him of it... and instead of apologising for this attack on his ability to have a positive attitude they reprimand him for reacting. Being autistic is about surviving the day - coming home trying to reload the batteries to be able to survive the next day... there is NO energy left for learning unless the right resources are put in place so that there is not the need to consume so much energy to just survive.

So next time you have THAT child in your class that is giving you a bad attitude. Take a deep breath, count to a hundred, and try and find out what the root of the problem is... and if you don't have the time for that... make a noise... we need to shout out;  as educators we NEED more time for our students, we need time to vent with a supportive co-worker or a specialist that can give advice, we need time to learn about the child, we need time to build trust, we need time to create a safe space, to find the fun... THEN there will be time to learn...

its not easy.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Democracy and Original Learning... (and play)

At the moment I have the time to read a little more and write a little more since I am sat in a hospital room together with one of my daughters who has a nasty kidney infection. They are still trying to work out which bacteria is causing the infection so that the most effective antibiotics can be given (which she is getting intravenously at the moment.
She is watching films and chatting with friends via social media... I am useful when the nurses and doctors come by or the waves of pain become too much. So I fill my time with writing.

I have just read Peter Gray's post - Social play and the genesis of democracy
and found that it struck a core with my thinking about both Original Learning and Together-led-play - although I struggle a little with his use of stereotype gender descriptions - bossy Betsy and bully Benjamin - why not the same word for both, either would have done, to show the equality of how we view this kind of behaviour -  if we are talking about democracy then we are talking about equal values... and the words we use also have value as most have a history with the person using or hearing them.
We value democracy. As citizens, we want our children to grow up holding and abiding by democratic values. We know that democracy is not easy. Democracy implies freedom, but it also implies responsibility. The balance between the two is delicate and takes wisdom that can only be gained through practice. People in a democracy are free, yet they must follow rules, cooperate with others, respect differences among individuals, and recognize that their own needs and rights are no more valuable than are those of every other person. How do children acquire such values and learn to live by them? Peter Gray.
The above is the first paragraph from his article and this is why I think together-led play is so vital... it is a part of the adult relinquishing power over the children and taking on equal status - to avoid the "dictatorships" of schools that Peter Gray goes on to describe where "activities (are) autocratically run by adults". Children in preschool and schools need to be active participants in their own learning.

I also feel, like Gray, there needs to be more time for children/adolescents to engage in free play - but I am not sure that the school/preschool environment is the place that should be taking all the responsibility for this... as a whole society we need to value children's free play. We need to trust in children's competence and we need to trust in the society we live in... we need to communicate with each other better instead of small isolated pockets.
As a child I remember how the whole neighbourhood looked out for us... not control or supervise... but had an eye out just in case. It meant that we, as children, knew we had to spend energy on self-regulation - it was not just about if we did not play fair that others would not want to play with us, it was also the fact you never knew who was watching, and did you want that behaviour being reported back home? This does not mean everyone was always super nice to each other - social boundaries were tested, things happened, we got the opportunity to learn about who was fun to play with and who was not. The older we got the further we got to explore.

Tim Gill reflects on how children are an indicator species for a city - the more children you see on the streets the more the city is thriving - you can read more about it here  Rethinking Childhood:The child as an indicator species for cities
When parents today look out from their front doors, they see a world that is at best uncaring about their children, and at worst hostile to them. And no wonder, thanks to relentless traffic growth, run-down parks and green spaces, and eyeball-grabbing scaremongering in both the mainstream and social media  Tim Gill.
This  is something that we need to address as a whole community. As the saying goes it takes a community to raise a child.
The together-led play that I have been describing does not exclude the need for children's own free time to play and explore - if we are leading play together then we know when to back off as adults, if it is always adult-led then we will be afraid to let go of that power, and if we are only prizing children-led play then we will see adults only as interfering rather than as equal participants in the realm of play.

I state here again how using philosophy with children has helped in my process to better understand the power I have as an adult over children - as being a facilitator in the dialogue without an agenda other than supporting the children communicate their ideas and deepen their own understanding as a community of learners means you get to practice relinquishing your power and becoming aware of it.

Recently I held a philosophy with children session as part of the "board of children" project in Gävle. This time with 8-12 year olds. The other adult I am working with this on this project has not participated in this kind of dialogue before, and, despite us talking about it before, found it difficult at first - the children are new to each other, I knew the dialogue would be slow at the start (despite us having warm-up/team-building beforehand) not only because of their newness to each other, but also because this method of communication is new too. It was obvious that the children are used to being lead by an adult/educator, and I was only acting as a guide... I felt comfortable with the fact that there was silent patches that seemed to indicate a struggle, my colleague started to fill in with her opinion... which I stopped before she had come very far, reminding her and the children that this is a board of children, that it is ONLY their opinions that matter during our meetings, that I am there only in a capacity to support their thinking, and that my colleague is there to write everything down - like a secretary on a board.
When I asked the children about how do they learn (as the board's purpose is to help design a new education about water issues) they all mentioned reading, watching films, making presentations for their class - typical sit down learning that happens in a classroom... I had to push a little to find out if there was any other way that they could learn - despite the fact that they had already expressed that it was easiest to learn when it was fun. Eventually they came to play, experiments and hands on activities and suddenly the dialogue became animated - it was like watching them walk over the threshold of what they think we expected learning should look like to suddenly being able to see this is how learning could look like (in schools).
In a way, it was for the best that my colleague made the "mistake" and started to share her opinion, because it gave another opportunity to illuminate that this meeting really was about the children's ideas, and will continue to be in the future meetings. That we adults are there in the circle as equal members, not to share our ideas, but to share our experience and our knowledge. That by listening we can provide future meetings with the experiences and access to the information the children need to make better informed decisions. And many of those experiences will be play. It was clear from the team-building that the 11-12 year olds enjoyed playing just as much as the 8-9 year olds.
blowing bubbles is fun... apparently it does not matter how old you are!!!

As I have often written in my blog... it comes back to time... taking the time to allow children to play, taking the time to step back, taking the time to enjoy the complexities of learning and play and not feeling the need to simplify things so that it all gets done (in the sense of a one size fits all, rather than the diversity of real life)

I think this is the case for many adults too, raised without the being given the time and space to learn how to think.
If we do not how to do this ourselves as adults it becomes so much harder to be able to enable children to do this. Therefore time also needs to be spent on supporting educators to reflect more about their roles and actions in the classroom - as an individual and together with others.
if you don't know happiness, how can you provide it to others? If you don't know play, how can you provide it to others... hence educators need the time to play in order to better understand play. There needs to be joy... those who are learning and those who are co-learning/teaching.