Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Learning is FUN

Yesterday I engaged in a small exchange about the fact the word "fun" is being used as a key word in the new preschool curriculum... that school/preschool should be fun. The thought being should this really be a key word? School and preschool is about learning (preschool is learning through play and exploration rather than the formal learning of school) not about having fun. The educators are not trained in how to entertain the children and keep them happy... the educators are trained to support the children's learning.

This is not to say that learning should not be fun... but how is learning fun?

Let's keep this to three points...

For me the first thing we need to do - is create a place where all the children feel safe to be who they are... where they dare to communicate their ideas and express their emotions... without a safe space it is near to impossible to children to be capable of learning and having fun, of experiencing joy. Children need to feel accepted to feel safe. They need to feel cared for. They need to have people interested in them and invested in giving them the time and space to evolve.

Secondly the learning needs to inspiring... it needs to awaken the children's curiosity, it needs to get them excited to learn more, it needs to ignite the children's desire to explore the world and everything in it. This feeling of wanting to explore is often connected with enjoyment rather than being forced to learn something they are not interested in, which seems the opposite of fun.

Thirdly it needs to be motivating... not only to motivate the children to try new things but also to complete the tasks they have started... not by force, but because the children are motivated to do this. In the sense the the learning is meaningful.

IF these three elements are in place then the learning is going to be fun.

of course I think that the first point - being safe - is one that should not be a point at all in preschools and schools... it ought to be a given... as it ought to be for the whole of society, for the whole world. yet we do not live in a safe world... so we do need to focus on creating a safe place for learning in schools.

As educators we need to facilitate the children's learning - not teach what we think they should know... but guide the children to discover the world around them and their identity within it, as an individual and as a member of a variety of groups (family, friends, preschool/class, clubs, neighbourhood, town, country etc etc).
learning can be frustrating and hard work at times... it should not be fun all the time... but it should be meaningful, the child should feel motivated to exert the effort to endure the frustration and the child should feel safe to be who they are, to get it wrong without admonishment and to feel the power and wisdom of trying again.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post A successful child is a happy child - reflecting on how there is a focus on trying to keep children happy, and that a parent or teacher feels successful if their child is happy. It is NOT about children who are successful are happy...
I think there has been a focus for a long time on trying to make children happy... hence the focus that preschool should be fun, learning should be fun-filled in the Swedish preschool curriculum.
But if we are always focusing on the happiness of the child, then how will the child learn to manage their other emotions... how will they learn to overcome challenges... how will they learn to compromise and interact with others if the focus is on having fun and being happy?

Challenge, frustration etc do not have to be negative parts of learning if they are part of a inspiring, meaningful learning experience in a safe environment - the children will overcome the challenge and feel empowered by the experience of their own success. Instead if everything is geared up for the children to be having fun - how will they own their own successes in the same way?

Learning can be fun. As Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - but for me joy can be only experienced is you feel safe, accepted and competent - and a curriculum based on fun is not going to enhance the children's feeling of safety, acceptance and competence - while a curriculum based on feeling safe, feeling inspired and feeling motivated will.

The learning should not be hidden under a layer of entertainment (although this can be a language of learning... but just one of the 100 or more languages).
Our focus should not be on providing a place for the children to have fun, it should be a place that allows the children to evolve and to be empowered.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018


When we listen to children we need to pay close attention to how the children make sense of the world around them in order to be able to fully understand what the children are communicating (when I talk/write about listening... I mean the kind of listening we do with our ears, eyes, minds and hearts... so we listen to non-verbal children as well as verbal children). Often I hear that we need to listen with objectiveness - which really is an impossible thing to do... as we always come to every situation with a subjectiveness - the children also come to the situation with a subjectiveness. Instead of objectiveness we should use intersubjectivity - that we as adults use our experience and knowledge as humans to imagine our way, or to share the child's point of view. This is a way of listening to the children that allows a greater depth of understanding - it is a form of interpersonal sharing.

The philosopher and psychologist Peter Hobson wrote (2005, p. 190): 
To perceive a smile as a smile (to take the simplest example) is to respond with feeling, in such a way that through the smile one apprehends the emotional state of the other. In other words, there is a mode of feeling perception that is critical for establishing intersubjective relations between people, and it is a kind of perception that establishes a special quality of relatedness between the individual and what is perceived—in most natural circumstances, a person.

I am a big believer in listening... not only the adult-child listening relationship but also between the children too. Empathy is built on this intersubjectivity - our ability to understand others and to connect with them. Empathic listening is the listening with the heart... of using emotions to hear what is being said... while intersubjectivity is more complex it is the mind imagining as well as the emotions.
Children also need to develop this intersubjectivity - this will help with conflict resolution, with play development together, idea building etc etc...  Intersubjectivity is much easier with neurotypical children - as it is easier to imagine the subjectivity of another. But with neuro-divergent children this might be more tricky as it is a way of thinking that is harder to imagine for the adults around them and also for the other children around them. Children who are not neurotypical will probably not perceive themselves as different, at least not as first... and therefore they will also struggle with imagining how others think.

It was only a few years ago that my autism became apparent, through the diagnosis of my son, and understanding my brain was autistic was like switching a light on. It was not about understanding myself... I know who I am, I am used to how my brain sees the world... it was the realisation that others did not see the things the way I saw them that was the game changer... stuff made so much more sense. And I am still picking things out from my childhood where I realised that my autistic reaction was not the usual reaction... I mean honesty, despite being something that many people desire in a friend, is really not want people want... they want people to say the socially appropriate thing, while I was just honest - and that was not always the best thing for me! I can laugh about it now, but it was not always fun as a child or young teenager.

I have been lucky, I have been able to use my intelligence to break the social code, and also to understand intersubjectivity by closely listening. It is also easier to learn to understand neurotypicals because everything is written from a neurotypical view point - the norm. So even though I did not know I was autistic I was still managing how to interact socially on a intellectual level.
I like being social. I like being with people. I love dialogue and balling ideas with others. But many hours of social interaction are exhausting. I have learned to plan in downtime, so that I can fully enjoy the social time. it is not a case of its a nice rest - it is essential to have the downtime to be able to function.

But what I find is that there is always a need for those that are different to work harder at the intersubjectivity than there is for neurotypcials or those people that fit the norm...
What we need in society is a greater understand of the different - the divergent thinkers and all of those that do not fit the norm... the minorities.

Neurotypical adults need to take more time to try and imagine how divergent thinkers perceive the world in order to be able to fully listen to these children. This means, firstly accepting that we perceive things differently, secondly taking the time to discover how the child perceives the world - and from there imagine how learning, how experiences are affecting the child.
I have read many texts about autistic children lacking empathy and imagination - and yet my observations of my children, and the understanding I have of my own emotions is quite the opposite... there is too much empathy and too much imagination that sometimes it has to be switched on to mute, or even off just to be able to survive the social situation we are in. Objects do not demand that kind of empathy, so they are safer... quite often this is the case for animals too, they are less demanding in their social expectations. The fact that there are many children with autism, or other non-neurotypical diagnoses are not able to communicate their emotions or ideas in the same way as neurotypicals should not preclude that they are devoid of empathy and imagination. Maybe their imaginations is so strong that they would rather stay there then participate in the loud, bright over stimulating world around them... and with the state of the world as it is, can you blame them at times?

We need to take another look, spend more time listening with intersubjectivity - to try and understand the learning needs of each child/student we meet as educators.

Hobson, R. P. (2005). What puts the jointness into joint attention? In N. Eilan, C. Hoerl, T. McCormack, & J. Roessler (Eds.), Joint attention: Communication and other minds: Issues in philosophy and psychology (pp. 185–204). Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:o so/9780199245635.003.0009

Monday, 15 January 2018

Metacognition and the preschooler...

This is a post I have been thinking about writing for some time after reading a comment that preschoolers are not capable of metacognition... and yet I have seen young children thinking about thinking... and using it to their advantage. I would say that metacognition features strongly in young children's learning... it may not always be verbalised the way adults are used to being able to recognise it as metacognition.

For instance children, from the very start, observe and learn. They watch others, test things and adapt what they see to their own context. This is easy to see when young children are trying out knew motor skills... they observe others doing something and then make the decision to try that out for themselves - they have to think about the movement, they have to consider whether they want to also try it... and then afterwards they assess whether they were successful or whether they need to do it a different way to be successful. Children are clearly thinking about their thinking and not just their actions and the experience.
With a group of preschoolers this thinking about thinking through physical activity can be supported as an educator by scaffolding the children to scaffold each other... some children learn to master climbing a wall, stone, tree or climbing frame faster than others and it is of benefit to encourage them to explain to their peers how they managed it... they think about their actions, they reflect on why it works and they share this and show this to their peers.
The advice is not always going to work (sometimes there are physical differences, for instance a taller child is going to be able to reach a better foothold that a shorter child cannot) - but they then think through this together and try to devise a new way for success.
I often film the children in their attempts... so they can look at what they are doing and learn from the footage. What they thought was a good idea does not look as successful on film, and sometimes what feels hopeless in real life suddenly looks more hopeful on film.
Getting the children to pause and reflect on their activity - not only opens up the opportunity to think about their physical thinking, but also creates a space to calm down and allow frustrations to die down so that only determination is left. Frustration can be a good thing - as long as it does not get overwhelming.

Documenting the children's activities, learning and play offers a great way for the children to think about their thinking. Children do not simply play devoid of thought - play is a chain reaction of thinking, from one idea to another, exploring.

By sharing the images with the children... not just on the wall as memories, but as purposeful triggers of thought. We can support how children express their metacognition with others. They can share their theories about the play they experienced the day before, the week before or even years before... but this means as an educator we are not just asking them questions about what they have done, not asking them to recount the experience... but to reflect on the experience in the photo or film. How did the play make them feel? How do they think other's feel in the play... why do they think that? This can be done individually or together... by sharing thinking together children have the opportunity to think about how we do not all experience the same play in the same way...

For instance a few years back a group of preschoolers and i were evaluating play-spaces in Stockholm. Each day we visited a new play-space and on our way back to the preschool we rated it from1-10, 10 being the best and most enjoyable. As educators my colleague and I secretly did our own rating based on our observations of the play (as a way to see if we were understanding the children's play). We found that we got it almost right, but learned that even though we thought one play space offered the best and most harmonious play all week, it did not rate as high as other spaces that had more novelty features... and access to trikes and bikes was high on the desirable.
At one playspace there were only a few trikes available, and very many preschools... only one child from our group got to ride on a trike and once on it, did not leave it, despite the request from the other children in the group. My colleague and I made the decision not to force the child off, but to only point out the feelings of the other children.
On our way back to the preschool, the trike riding child rated the playspace a 10, the rest of the children rated it a 6 (the lowest score of the week) and made it quite clear that the lack of access to the trikes was a big part of the reason. With support the group were able to convey their feelings about the experience and the trike child really got the opportunity to think about thinking... the rest of the groups thinking, his own thinking about his thinking... I contacted his parents during my break to let them know, what had happened so that they were able to support the thought process at home... and we continued the thinking the next day on our way to a new park about how choices we make and how they impact others and about how choices of other impact us. The trike child never monopolised trikes/bikes or any other play equipment again. By being given the opportunity to experience the other children's thinking, and also by being given the chance to explore those thoughts, with support of us his teacher and his parents - and also his own thoughts about the experience - he was able to make an informed choice about taking pleasure but also to enjoy giving pleasure.

This was a group that I worked with for almost four years... we used philosophical dialogues as a tool to share ideas, learn, and also to develop their metacognition - their awareness of thinking and thinking about thinking... and also how to share that process.

We focussed on active listening - that we listened with our ears, eyes, mind and heart... it was not just about hearing words, but also thinking about what others were saying. So already in the listening there was an awareness in the thinking process.
We had thinking pauses. We regularly took thinking pauses... always at the start of the dialogue the question or stimulus was introduced and the children were asked to take a thinking pause... not to just think about the answer, but to also think about why they though that answer... The children were being encouraged to think about their own thinking from the very start.
At the end of the dialogue we found the children (I started these sessions when they were 2-4 years old) were too tired to engage in a meta-dialogue... so we read back their words to them... as we wrote down everything during the dialogue. The children were asked to listen carefully and let us know if we had written down their words correctly, or if they had changed their minds... this was our form of meta-dialogue of a not too exhausting nature... it allowed the children not only to think about their own thinking, their friend's thinking but also the group thinking.

All of this takes time... the children gain trust in each other and feel safe to share more of their thought processes. The children become more sophisticated in their language use and are able to share their thinking on a deeper level - it might not always be that their thinking is deeper, but their ability to share has developed to an extent that it allows more depth for the listener.

For me, the most important element for metacognition - and for the sharing of this metacognition is creating a safe atmosphere, allowing enough time and providing enough situations and tools for the children to test out sharing their thinking about thinking.
I also believe rest time is essential for metacognition. Plain old doing nothing time. Many children think this is boring, but a 30 minute pause everyday to lie down and be quiet. To get comfortable with your own voice in your head is essential for metacognition. If we are not comfortable with our own voice, how are we going to be comfortable with thinking about our own thinking. If we are not taking the time to be quiet and to reflect or dream... when are we going to get the time for metacognition - especially our own, personal metacognition. It is all well and good that I have philosophy sessions where the children are thinking and thinking about thinking, but despite the fact I work as a facilitator in their dialogue... this is still an adult lead activity, I will not deny the power I have on the group as an adult, despite my desire to create a democratic learning space where all voices are equal.

I believe that young children are more than capable of metacognition, and if we give them the time and support to develop the skills we will be able to follow their thinking about thinking.

I also believe that metacognition is a part of Original Learning.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Reflecting on 2017

This year has been quite a different year for me, as I have not spent most of my time working in a preschool, especially the first half of the year.

I have focussed on writing blogposts and on trying to put a book together, and also on my work with the educators in Jenin Refugee Camp in Palestine.

Each year I have had my own "project" to explore... listening for a few years, play for peace and this year it has been democracy... this has impacted the posts that I have written. I do not feel like I become an expert in these areas, but I learn more about what I know about these subjects and how I feel about them, and how I can improve my own relationship with these words.
Creating a democratic classroom/democratic learning is so connected to both listening and play for peace... that I feel I will continue with this thinking for another year, I do not feel I have finished exploring democracy and being democratic with children.

During the year I have written posts that I am proud of and there are posts that seem to have struck a chord with others - they are not always the same posts...

I am proud of the fact that I challenge how we use words... not because I think people are wrong using them the way they are used... but that I add another layer, another perspective - and hopefully those that take the time to read my posts will be offered the chance to reflect and think about how they use these words, what their own reactions are and develop their own opinions.
My posts are not about me thinking I have got it right... it is about me exploring possibilities ... it is an open dialogue with my reflections that I share with those interested.

I am also proud of the fact that I participated in several online conferences, and right at the moment I am preparing for another one (Fairy Dust Teaching Winter Conference) where I will be talking about Natural Learning - I am proud of this because I have had to work with my own fears of speaking on phones/skype and recording myself - being "live" is so much easier, as I react to the audience - and I am a very visual listener, and also I move a lot when I talk, which is not entirely suitable for skype... but being a visual listener means I have become a talker with my whole body for the sake of other visual listeners! Stepping outside your comfort zone is such an important part of learning... we should feel safe, but there needs to be an element of risk when we learn... the risk of failing. And learning that failure is not a bad thing, but just a part of the learning process has been an essential for me to overcome some of my social fears.

I am also proud of my autism. That has also been a process for me in the last few years... working out, through the diagnosis of my son, that I am autistic has been an eye-opening experience. Suddenly the world makes so much more sense. I know who I am, I have spent long enough with myself to get an idea of that, but suddenly I have a better understanding of other people around me, of why I get so tired in social situations (I love being social, but I know now that if I am social active for a while I need time to pause afterwards to recuperate and reload my batteries... I see my son and one of my daughters become exhausted after every school day in part due to the social requirements of school).
My own autism has allowed me to understand the needs of other children who are not neuro-typical... to understand that there is an extra level of exhaustion in a day that neuro-typicals do not experience or even consider. And also that many descriptions of autism just do not apply to either myself or my children... this lack of empathy and imagination that is assigned to autism is just so incredibly far from the truth - but sometimes you just have to shut down the outward expression of emotions just to survive the day. In other words sometimes the empathy is so overwhelming that you are depleted of energy to such a level it becomes non-functioning, and to prevent this you put up a wall to shut out the feelings of others. I have walked into rooms where colleagues have been stressing so much (about things that are not worth stressing about... the children are noisy, they are not doing what you say fast enough) that I have had to walk out because I was absorbing their stress to such an extent that my heartbeat was in overdrive...  I accept the fact that children will be noisy (even though it is sound pollution) and that children will not do what you want them to, if they are not active participants - they will push boundaries if they have not been allowed to create those boundaries with you, or know why those boundaries are there.

My most read post this year is...
Pedagogical Documentation - a beginners Guide - session one
in fact all the sessions and  the film that I made in connection with this series were well read and watched.

Border Crossing from analogue to digital and back has been another well read post...
in fact this year has been the year where more Swedish people have been reading my posts. Which has been great, because I live and work in Sweden, so it feels good that I have a sort of relevance here too... not just sharing my story with others from around the world. Of course writing in English is going to have an impact on my accessibility here in Sweden... after a long day reading in a foreign language is not always the most relaxing.
I have written a post in Swedish, maybe even two... but my written Swedish is hampered by the fact I cannot write in the same style that I write English (well they are different languages) - and that I will try to use metaphors etc that really just do not work in the same way in Swedish. Sure I am understood, but it's different !! But maybe I should just embrace that too? Something to work on!

Another most read post has been...
The attitude of autism
this year has been yet another year of seeing the school system fail my son... the system has not found a way to ignite the joy of learning... which I see he has in other situations and he had before the school system has tried to enforce their one way of learning on him. He has as a result developed an attitude that really does not do him any favours... and as a parent is embarrassing at times, even though I understand why it is there, I hate the way others see him.
Anyway the principal/director/head of this school is now being replaced - so I am hoping next year will be a better year.

I am proud of introducing two new terms - that make sense to me, and hopefully will make sense to others... Original Learning (which I will continue to explore in 2018) and also together-led play/learning (rather than just child led, or adult led - so very much in tune with democratic learning that I had been exploring all year). You can read a post here...
Original Learning and together led play

In the latter half of this year I have started a project with Gästrikevatten (Gästrike is an area of Sweden in the Gävle area north of Stockholm - about 2 hours by express train). A board of children has been started to get the children more involved in their learning... to find out more about how children learn, and to get the children involved in designing learning situations for the children. This is very much about creating a democratic situation where the children are guided by adults... where they are seen as participants with equal value, where their words weigh as heavy as our adult words. It is an exciting project to be a part of... and I take my role seriously in lifting the voice of the child.

This year was the first time that I have not been working at a setting at the same time as the International Fairy Tea Party - a play event I started 5 years ago to celebrate play and imagination - to encourage educators and all adults to indulge in play and fantasy with the children. It is a worldwide event - anyone can join in... just look up the facebook page and say you want to be a part... in the lead up to the September equinox (where we are united by the same number of daylight hours regardless of where we find ourselves on the planet) if you let me know on the page the name of the party (it can be a school, class, nursery, family or imaginary name, and your location - (town/village is enough detail) then I can add you to the fairy map... which allows the children you are celebrating with to see how many others are celebrating play around the world with them. And by the sharing of images afterwards we get to see the similarities and differences of how we use our imaginations...
I have collected images for a film, a short film is available to see of the worldwide celebrations, and I am well behind schedule putting the longer version together... hopefully it will be done in the coming weeks)

I have also been working at a preschool as a substitute - which I have enjoyed, but also saw that the reason I left the preschool world this time last year is still very prevalent - still not enough support is being given to the teachers/educators working with the children... and yet they take all the responsibility... the system makes it hard for educators to give children what they know they need if they are not given enough time to develop they competence they need for the group of children they have (just any education is not right), enough time to plan together as a team, enough time to communicate with each other (or develop a mode of communication that actually works for all of the team). I saw hard working educators on virtual burn out and instead of being given the support to prevent fires they were constantly putting out fires. This is exhausting and non-productive for both children and educators.
I have written to the boss of this preschool twice, once in early autumn pointing out these things I  saw- where the response was management was aware of all of this and was dealing with it. I wrote again just before Christmas saying that I had not seen any support given to the educators and that the situation was unchanged. I offered that I could help -something that the educators there also asked me for, but I cannot do if I am a substitute, because then the children are the focus not the educators - these people need someone to go in and coach them and support them where they are now, they need to be lifted - their morale as much as competence development, and new strategies of communication and planning so they can support each other better in their roles.
I assume that these truths were hard to swallow - and I hope that the management takes me up on the role of coaching/supporting the staff. But I guess that is no easy thing from a person who has just been critical.

yeah... autism means you will get the truth from me... and the sad thing is that people do not want the truth, they want the sugar coated version, or the lies, even though they say they want honest people around them. Honesty is not easy to swallow, it does not always taste good... but it is a great place to start learning from.
I make social faux-pas probably more often than I should... I am still learning the at of sweet talking and sugar coating and lying. When put in the situation of lying to parents to save the face of settings I have worked at (yes I have been told not to tell the truth, and have over the years been threatened with court if I told the truth - or that "it would not be good for me" if I told the truth) then I have left these places, because it is just too socially exhausting for me to lie like that and work - it is not sustainable.
 In the end will all have to be true to ourselves, or at least comfortable with the lie/story we tell ourselves.

So I wonder what 2018 will bring?
Hopefully  a year where I can support other educators find their truth, their inspiration, their motivation...
I will be returning to Palestine, and hopefully also to Israel to meet with educators in both places to explore listening, democratic learning and play for peace.
I will continue my work with Gästrikevatten working philosophically with 8-13 year olds - and I would love to be able to do this kind of work with other groups of children too.
My trip to Pakistan has been put on hold until after the elections at the end of 2018 - as there are concerns for safety - but maybe there will be trips to other places?
I would love to travel more around Sweden... to share what I have been learning with them, and to be deeper inspired by the many amazing settings here.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Freedom of Speech

Just before Christmas I shared a post about gender issues - the original post was about males and females - but the dialogue soon expanded to that of transgender and more...

There was issue taken with whether this was appropriate to "teach" in ECE ... and there were discussions about this... but what came forth was that when it boils down to it, we all want to create a better more open, more accepting world - what was at issue was the "teach" in the sense that it was a formal lesson about transgender. Not one of the people speaking for transgender awareness mentioned formal lessons, but more about creating an atmosphere of acceptance where transgender is part of the norm rather than something different... ie that children do not grow up thinking that transgender (and other minority groups) are different but  simply people that have a different approach in life
yes I used the word different in both descriptions - but my intention is to explain that often different is seen as deviant, not like us... while we all know we have different thoughts from one another, we have different occupations, we have different approaches to life - but that we are not lesser for that.

Just about all the people who had misgivings about transgender in preschool changed their mind about it when given an explanation about how it could be done... not by formal lessons, but by creating open learning spaces, where children and educators could talk freely and openly without judgement... and also for the educators to be aware of their own prejudice (in all areas of life) and to attempt not to spread that prejudice but to allow children to form their own opinions (this is a really hard thing to do, as we are not always fully aware of our own prejudices, or how they manifest through words and actions - exploring and talking abut them is an excellent way to discover this... and hence the reason why transgender is one (of MANY) topics that ECE and all educators need to reflect on... not to create lessons, but as part of creating a democratic classroom where all are valued.

Back to the dialogue in the facebook group... there was one person that was never convinced, and found arguments against everything that was presented, including sharing youtube films of research stating that there was no need for transgender rights and no need for feminism.
It got to the point where some people were messaging me saying that he cannot be a real person/educator but that he was a troll promoting extreme right wing propaganda...

This discussion happened over a course of a few days... and in the end I started talking with my husband about it... who as a researcher (professor) told me about some excellent studies about the fact women were not being paid the same amount for the same job, or being valued in the same way as men (something this person had said and "proved" with a youtube film was a fabrication and that men and women were being equally paid).
So I shared the research in the group, to which this person then said that it was bad research... I mentioned this to my husband... my husband reacted by saying that this person was being irresponsible by saying things with such authority when in fact he did not know what he was talking about.

My husband and others repeatedly said I should ban this person from the group. This is something that really goes against everything I believe in... I think we should be able to discuss and have differing opinions, and that people should not be banned because they think differently.

I did some digging to find out who this person is... was it just a troll, or was it a real educator? I managed to find a person who knew this person and could confirm they had been trained as a educator and what level of education they had... below mine, and well well below that of my husbands. This is not to say that you need to have a lot of education to be a smart person, but it does give you more experience of understanding the difference between bad research and good research, it gives you the experience to have read more papers on an academic level of critiquing them, rather than just reading to gain more insight (keeping that critical thinking approach of course just not quite at the same level)...

So having had this researched challenged in the way it was i challenged the research that had been presented by this person as having a political agenda and were written/presented by people connected to politics)... I also said I was unable to continue the discussion because I was taking time of to be with my family for Christmas... I literally had just picked up my daughter at the station as she had returned from the other side of Sweden for the school holidays (and yes my daughter does highschool/A-levels on the other side of Sweden as it is one of the few places in Sweden that does marine biology special educational course - so I miss her a lot and my priorities are my family)

Then it got personal... I was accused of trying to defame this person (because I had questioned the evidence that had been presented, in the same way that this person has questioned the evidence I had presented) and that I was a typical left leaning person who bails out of a discussion...

I like to consider myself a non-political person, because seldom do these politicians speak for me... and to be honest I can't vote... I have lived too long in Sweden to be able to vote in the UK now, and my UK passport will not let me vote here in Sweden... I have no political voice...
So my voice I use for humanity. Not left, not right, but what I feel can help people value each other better... this I do through exploring how to support children and adults to be better listeners, about exploring what is a democratic classroom, what is democratic learning/teaching, and also to listen to the histories of people who feel they have been treated badly by the education system and also society, and try to think about how can we make this world a better place so that people no longer have to tell these histories?

This person made statements like women hug children too much, there is an educational institution where there are more men than women so the whole female inequality argument is false, that there are only 1% transgender people in the world so there is no need to talk about it... (my arguments that 1% of the world population is bigger than many countries' populations went ignored... and that it is more than the percentage of people that suffer from cancer worldwide... ALL people need to be seen, and need to be valued and given the treatment they need - whether that be medical, or being treated with respect)...

In the end I banned this person from the group.
I felt awful.
I was literally shaking.
My husband tried to comfort me by saying this person was not worth getting so upset by...
I pointed out that I was not upset by this person... in the discussion I had learned many things... I have learned more about the population of the world, of the percentage of various minority groups, I have learned I want to spend more time exploring what is identity... and also the meaning of other words...  The reason I was upset was the fact that I had done something I did not believe in... I cut off this person's freedom of speech in the group. I found it hard to reconcile with that.

I have not really been online since then. But I have been reflecting more and more about what is FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
I have come to the conclusion that it is simply NOT being allowed to say whatever you want... that it comes with responsibility. That it means you are giving others the freedom to express their opinions with an open mind... and this person was not doing that. This person was driving an agenda not participating in freedom of speech.
The rules of the group are such that you need to come to each discussion with the aim to learn from others, that you come to them with an openness, that there is no need to agree but there is a need to learn to understand the other point of view.
This person was not doing that...
On several occasions I pointed out that this person had now encouraged me to look deeper into a topic I had not considered before... this was not the case for this person who repeated the agenda over and over again to force the point... the sad thing is that this person is very articulate, so that if you are not well read in research yourself this person would be very believable... and this was a major part of why I banned.
There was no willingness to learn, there was only the agenda which could possibly misinform others, and that looking at the history of this person's participation in the group there was only activity in gender issues to rally the aforementioned agenda that feminism, transgender etc is fake news. (at the same time saying yes, these people exist - but placing them in a void in the sense that despite the fact they exist we should not talk about how they are treated - because that is fake news too).

This is a very different post for me that usual.
BUT I feel so strongly about the fact in ECE the foundations of each person is formed. If we create an environment where we value all people then these are great foundations for children to build their learning on and form their own opinions and hopefully learn to treat and value all people with respect, even those that are different from themselves, belong to a minority group etc - that we focus more on the similarities than the differences, at the moment I feel that there is more focus on the differences than the similarities... and that makes it harder to connect.

Freedom of speech is not simply the right to say whatever you want... we all have social responsibility... and one person's freedom to speak should not come at the cost of another...
this is why I have struggled banning a person... but there again this person was shutting down the speech of so many others with the words, phrases and links being provided - so for the sake of the group's freedom to express their ideas in a safe environment, one person was removed. Not all people with the same opinion as this person, just this one person who had the agenda to shut others down.

When working with young children I want to help them learn how to listen to each other, how to value the opinions of others, how to learn to understand why others might think differently from themselves. Working philosophically with children really helped this part of their social interactions and had an enormous impact on their play... there was more time for play and exploration and the learning that occurred through that. The children supported each other, built on each others theories, learned together, were amazing at conflict resolution because they also listened to the other side and not just from their own perspective (and this goes so much faster when both sides of the conflict are doing the same thing not just one of them). If one of these children was bullying the others by not listening, by saying that they had the only right answer and by providing evidence that others could pick holes in and yet the non-listening made it impossible for the child to be self critical - then I would take this child aside and learn more about why they were not interested in the opinions of others, I would play games that would allow this child to explore their listening abilities etc etc...
sadly I am not in the position to do this with adults that have a pseudonym facebook-name and clearly lives far far away from myself.

Yeah, I think I will struggle with this for a bit longer - but the dialogues that I have had with others about this situation (some of which followed the discussion) all support my decision.

Below are some quotes... some are there as part of sharing my thinking, and some are there to remind me that I need to keep on reflecting and thinking and working with myself to be a better educator and person.

I actually talked about this day with my children today... this was taken on Bastille Day in a small village in France... my 2 year old son knew that when there was dancing his sisters liked to dress up in swirly skits or dresses - and so he wanted to do the same... we had talked there would be dancing at Bastille day - so on went a skirt - and the three of them proudly danced in front of the whole village to live music - every eyebrow was raised because I had allowed a young boy wear a dress... luckily none of the children noticed, they were far too busy dancing.
My children have had that kind of freedom from us as parents to explore without judgement or fear that a skirt will change him... its just a skirt... he is who he is skirt or no skirt.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Blogpost to support "Play, Learning and the Democratic Preschool" at Futura School

This post shares some of the images from last night's presentation and some links to posts on my blog that will help support reflection of last night's presentation.

to create a democratic preschool it is not about letting the children do what they want and making all the decisions... it is about creating an atmosphere where all the children are participating, they are all able to influence their learning, their play, their situation and their preschool with the teachers; it is about being valued equally,,, and equally valuing others... as people and their thoughts and opinions.

from the Swedish national preschool curriculum, the very first words.

not just listening to the children, but also encouraging the children to listen to each other - otherwise the teacher still has all the power. By supporting the children to value their peer's words you are handing over the power and responsibility - the children will be able to manage things much better rather than always needing to come to you.

Pedagogical documentation is a great way to listen to the children... it is also a way to help the children listen to their own learning, and to what is happening in the group... and if the children are active participants in the analysing and planning parts then thhe pedagogical documentation is also contributing to creating a democratic preschool.

I have a series of blogposts about pedagogical documentation which you can read here - the last one includes a film
Pedagogical documentation - a beginners guide 1
part 2
part 3
part 4

Together painting as a way of creating space for dialogue and problem solving... here is a post with more information about it... Why Together Painting

a reminder of some of the ways to reflect on how we have a different perspective of the same thing
Philosophical Flowers

a reminder that play can take many forms... that children can often have a different opinion from us how play looks, sometimes just observing others children feel that they are playing, other times they do not.
what is play?

sensory play - this can be a great way to support play, especially with a group of young players - in the sense that their play is younger than their years... then it can be good to give them more play experiences connected with younger children for them to explore and for their play to evolve naturally. Not all children like getting messy - so there always needs to be something for these children to do once they have given it a quick try (if they dare)
painting Morocco

a reminder that some children need to learn about crossing lines - and that painting in this way, where trying to keep in the lines is not about paiting in the right way, but a chance for the children to resolve and explore what happens when you don't paint within the lines... as it affects someone else. Sometimes it can get a little heated - "you painted over my bit, where can I paint now" - but with the support of educators the children got to safely practice how to manage quarrels which they could apply to other situations on their play.
Kandinsky inspired art
curling Kandinsky style

more from the curricululm

the process of letting the children develop skills that they can then later use in the project (Together on the Square Project... you can find many posts about it on this blog)
2D maps to 3D maps

here is the post that ended up totally dark... where there is a photo of the square that I altered to be faded in order for the children to draw their plans on.

BIG portraits - a way for the children to see their own identity and also the group identity... to see their similarities and differences...
big portraits

exploring emotions and empathy through art
Thinking about Jackson Pollock
also it can be done with spaghetti (or string)
winter jackson Pollock

light and dark exploration - check out posts about project light and also project fear.

exploring the colour of Christmas on the light table... asking the children about their traditions rather than us adults always giving children "our" perspective...
I have posted several of the Christmas blogposts on my facebook page during the last week, so you can find the links there... here is  a youtube film

taking the time to allow transitions to be moments of learning and play... cleaning paint is a chance to learn a great deal... as can be washing hands, putting on clotjes and taking them off to go in and outdoors... see each moment as aplay and as learning rather than as the bits between the play and learning
painting with one year olds

sadly I did not get to talk about this as we ran out of time... and I will save the other images for another day... but here is a link to a post about rules.... and also about getting the children to take responsibility for each other...
Scaffolding children
The democratic preschool
The hundred languages of democracy (letting the children comfort each other)

I think this will be enough to get your reflections going... if you have any questions then please leave feedback here and I can get back to you.

Monday, 27 November 2017

The same activity a different reaction

I have been helping out a few days a week at a local preschool...

The other week I shared a blogpost about the space project sensory play... where images were projected onto the wall (using translucent fabric to capture the images before reaching the wall and thus allowing the children to feel as is they were in space - OK with a bit of imagination!!!).
I did this with the group of children that I have been helping out with since September - I have got to know these children, we have created a relationship, they know my limits and my expectations.

I arrived at the preschool last wee and was told that I would not be working with the same group as usual, but that the parallel group wanted to  experience space in the same way. I had zero time to prepare... this will affect the outcome - I did not know the children in the same way (although the children like and trust me, which is an important start) - I did not have the memory stick with all the space images that i had downloaded in preparation - images that had been carefully selected from what I had learned from the children - what they knew, what they were interested in and images that would surprise them and offer them new areas of learning in their play. It meant I had to quickly download  some images in a space of 10 minutes that could be projected (working out the computers at the setting rather than my own computer which I am much faster at).

The activity was also at the disadvantage that we as educators had not talked with each other about how the rhythm of the morning would flow - which I believe is essential.

And finally it became clear that this was a group of children that had huge problems with listening - listening to instructions to find out what was going on, listening to each other (and therefore respecting each other's limits) and even listening to themselves of understanding what they themselves wanted... it meant they had a very short concentration span.

So despite the children coming in as small groups they all seemed to experience the space light sensory on a very individual front with minimal interaction... yes they could inspire each other to test things out, but they did not engage in social play in the same way the previous group of children had.

Of course the fact that it was all very last minute could have had a huge impact. BOTH groups have children that are in need of a support teacher being in the group to enable the social functioning of play - but in this second group there were almost half the children that did not listen to the adult or anyone else - and for me this presents a problem...

Children cannot be empowered if they are not listening - they miss out on important information, they get themselves into situations that negatively impact others and then refuse to listen to their peers when there is outrage... The whole group is not functioning optimally if there are so many that refuse to listen to other, that refuse to respect others, that are unable to see the social boundaries that allow us to interact positively with each other. They are able to see injustices against themselves but feel entitled to do the same thing to others and run off laughing.

To be honest, there needs to be a whole load of work being done before we get to this kind of play with the expectation that there will be a social play of the usual kind... the play is younger than what it should be in the sense it was side by side as the youngest children at preschool - rather than the 3-5 year olds that this involved (although these are still young children). The play was immature.
The play for children is always in the place where the children are... what I have to do as a teacher is shift where I am to support the children develop their play and to learn more form it...

This is why it is so important to get to know the children you work with... their interests, their needs... so that the play, the activities, the experiences that are being offered not only challenge them appropriately, but support their development - and also so that you as an educator know what to expect (even though children can always surprise you).

It means changing the environment to meet the need of the children - adapting activities - and changing your own perspective.
Since I started at the preschool there have been a lot of changes in the environment - a lot to do with the fact they have children that easily get over stimulated and the setting is designed like a giant corridor where parents and teachers and children have to walk through the entire preschool to get from one department to another (I really wonder what goes through a designer's head when they think this sort of preschool model design is a good idea... it is not... I have yet to meet a teacher that says this sort of design is anything but terrible - as they attempt to engage the children as others march by and disrupt on their way to going outside - not their fault, they are just being children. BUT if you are a designer and are reading this PLEASE don't make preschools where a class has to walk through another room where children are learning and playing just to get outside or inside - make corridors that go by the learning spaces instead!!!!).

I think as educators we need to start with the children, of enabling them to communicate with each other and to really listen and respect each other... because then the play and learning will happen on a deeper and richer level. It does not mean that you should not be doing fabulous experiences, it simply means you need to be aware of what the potential outcomes might be if you want the children to engage in complex play before they are ready for it... we have to learn to crawl walk before we run - it is the same with play.

the children did start building - but only two of them were truly engaged - unlike the previous group where all were interested in testing and trying out in their own ways and together

exploring shadows... it took more work from me to engage the children this time round

last time the children went looking for more materials to test out... this time the children were not as interested... this is fine, not all children need to be interested, BUT had I known the children better I would have been better equipped to provide materials that would have sparked their interest.