Category Archives: Posts by Kim

Struggling in the Gulley ….. Thoughts on Rescuing

 

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I am standing in the forest on the top of a small mossy mound which drops away at my feet into gullies, undulating pathways and slopes covered in salal.  Twelve small children roam this place, stomping in the mud, crawling up steep inclines, running down hills. The educators are spread out, so the children can wander freely.

On this day William, who is one and a half, descends into a small gulley that is thick with branches and salal bushes. He pushes through them to the centre of the gulley and is completely engulfed, all I can see of him is the top of his blue touque. He sits contentedly for some time, then gets up to leave….but that is easier said than done. The branches are dense and obscure his way, and he cries out ‘help!’. Mirella who is standing on a nearby knoll hears him and responds kindly, “William, are you stuck? Can you get out?” She encourages him, but doesn’t move from her vantage point. William calls out again, and again she responds with kind words of encouragement, but she doesn’t move towards him. After a few more minutes and few more exchanges, William has made no progress and is calling ‘help’ more insistently. Mirella  goes to where William is stuck, and lifts a branch, talking with him, but remains a few feet away.  William struggles, the branches catch at him and the ground is uneven making it hard to remain balanced. With fierce concentration William pushes the last of the branches away and emerges from the gully on his own.

Once free, William circles around, back up a path….and descends into the gulley once more.

The educators in this program have been reflecting on their role, the competencies of children and what learning means to them and to children. They have been thinking about the deep joy and satisfaction that comes from working through a challenge, struggling to achieve a goal. They know these children well, and believe them to be capable of roaming over a large area, picking themselves up if they fall, and negotiating a difficult climb. They do not feel the need to ‘rescue’ children, instead they watch, listen and allow time and space for children to struggle, grapple, and persevere.

William sat in the gulley for a while, enjoying the solitude. Then he climbed out…by himself.

Why do we think children have no opinions?

Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it?
Crowds of People at Matterhorn at Stelli Lake, above Zermatt. Or is it? See below to find out.

Danielle and I recently facilitated a four week course on re-imagining art with young children with a group of 20 educators. The discussions were wide ranging, sometime intense, sometimes funny. The educators shared many stories of children and art, how art was perceived in the places they worked, their struggles and their wonderings.  We challenged each other, argued about practice, and looked to the work of artists to inspire us.

We wondered about the conventional ideas around art in early years settings:

• Art happens at the art table.

• Materials are chosen by educators.

• Art is an individual endeavour. Keep your paint on your own painting.

• Art materials come from catalogues and include glitter, paint, pom-poms, stickers, and felt pens that smell like candy.

• The art materials offered are different every day.

• Children are never forced to do art, but are highly encouraged to visit the art table. There is value (pressure?) placed on having something to take home.

• The goal of art is to work on fine motor skills, follow instructions, and have a finished product, preferably a product that is representational, that looks like something.

All of this got me thinking…do we think children have no ideas? No opinions on what they like to work with? No inkling of what  inspires them and what doesn’t inspire them?

As we investigated what art means to ‘adult artists’ we found that art happens everywhere. It happens here . And here. And here.

We found that artists collaborate like this. And this.

We found that art doesn’t have to look like something to have value.

And that anything can be used as an art material.

So here is my challenge to you:

Ask children what they want to do with materials. Ask them where they would like to do art, what they like to do and what they don’t like to do. Take art to the sandbox, to the park, to the forest, to the block area, to a big empty space in the middle of the room. Give art time. Work with one material for weeks.  Be ok with mess. Bring in art books. Look online and bring crazy ideas to children. Listen to their crazy ideas….try crazy ideas.

Let children tell you what inspires them. Listen to their opinions.

Note: Thanks to the participants of the Re-Imagining Art Course for being open to the dialogue, and sharing the mundane and the marvellous of your practice.

Note on the above photo:

T^rash People. One of the largest displays of recycled art in the world, Trash People was created by HA Schult and features 1000 trash men constructed out of aluminum cans, computer parts and plastic. It took over six months to complete

Stand Up and Whoop!

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 1.31.12 PMDanielle and I sat there listening, smiling, nodding, clapping. What we really wanted to do was stand up and whoop while doing some major fist pumping, but as we were in a university lecture hall that seemed unwise. So we contained ourselves and clapped vigorously instead.  We were listening to Maureen Dockendorf, the newly appointed British Columbia Superintendent of Early Years, a position jointly shared between the Provincial Office for the Early Years and the Ministry of Education.  This is a woman with clout on the BC education front, a woman who has been collaborating with teachers across the province to spearhead a transformation of the BC curriculum, shifting  how we think about educating our children.

And her message?

Her message is not about the curriculum at all. Her message is this:

What matters most is not the curriculum, not the content. What matters most are the kids.

Welcome conversation, listen to stories of students, spend time, pay deep attention, get to know them.

Be present in the moment for those children, you are not in a rush. (She repeated “You are not in a rush” multiple times, pointing her finger at the audience)

Children come with funds of knowledge, understandings that we need to pay attention to.

We are not covering curriculum, we are covering children.

It is about the process of becoming.

Don’t you want to stand up and whoop and fist pump too?

(The revised curriculum can be found here.)

Inviting a Little Intensity

DSCF3319 copyThe feeling in the room was tense, uncomfortable…people were challenging me, judging me, telling me I shouldn’t have done what I did. My face was red, my voice was cracking. Someone in the audience was crying, overwhelmed by the emotion of the topic. Others were confused, many were angry. My hands shook for hours afterwards.

This scenario occurred a few years ago when I shared a pedagogical narration that told the story of a group of children in my program who were exploring guns, power, hurt, and fear. The narration told how these children and I grappled with the intense feelings, the complex relationships, the questions and the tensions. I presented this narration as a way of opening dialogue with an audience of colleagues, of sharing the uncertainties of our practice. I was unprepared for the intensity of the responses from the audience, their anger surprised me.

In the years since that presentation I’ve seen that intensity of response to dialogues and narrations many times. And that is exactly why pedagogical narrations and collaborative dialogue are so powerful….and so important.

The field of early care and learning has been dominated by a school of thought that values a western, english speaking narrative of the child within the discourse of developmental psychology. This view of children suggests a ‘universal child’ who learns and progresses through predicable, stable and predetermined sequences and suggests that there are particular  ways of doing child care and learning that are ‘best practice’. Peter Moss tells us:

This narrative has a distinct vocabulary, in which terms such as ‘development,’ ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’ are prominent. …. The narrative is inscribed with the values and assumptions of modernity, for example objectivity, mastery, and universality, and with particular understandings of childhood, learning, evaluation, and so on. (Moss, 2006)

These ideas and practices have come to be understood as ‘truth’, and are deeply embedded in our minds, hearts and practice.

Challenging these ‘truths’ and suggesting that they might be only one way to view a child and our practice is unsettling. Inviting other perspectives, other theories, other ways of thinking about doing child care and education can feel threatening. Can everything we have known and believed and practiced with all of our best intentions be…wrong?

But creating space for these dialogues, difficult as they may be, can only open possibilities. Discussing, disagreeing, asking hard questions, not knowing the answers, all this generates new thinking. Yes it is unsettling…but it also interesting, enriching, and very exciting. It means we don’t settle for simplistic one-size-fits-all practices, but instead open ourselves to seeing learning as dynamic, unpredictable, with many ways of knowing, thinking and practicing.  It means our practice becomes more vibrant, more democratic, more diverse, more inclusive of children’s ways of seeing the world.

Our everyday lives with children are entangled in a web of cultural, political, social and ethical threads. As educators we can be critical thinkers, researchers in dialogue with our communities, reflecting on these threads that shape us. These dialogues aren’t always going to be ‘nice’…at times they might be intense. But for me, these conversations are important. I’m willing to invite a little intensity.

Puddles

Puddles are part of life here on the west coast of Canada. Water gathers where it can, in the cracks and dips of sidewalks, in the depressions of a grass field, in the contours of a pathway. There are distinct categories of  puddles, the shallow watery ones that you can barely make a splash in, the almost invisible ones looking for all the world like grass, until you step into it and sink with a deep sucking sound. There are the puddles that hover on the edges of streets that you need to leap over when you cross, or leap away from when a car drives through it.  There are mud puddles, the rich chocolatey brown puddles that just get better with some stomping action, and the puddles that are really small ponds, sometimes becoming a place for ducks to gather.

Children and puddles seem to call to one another, as though a magnetic force pulls them together. And adults seem equally called to make sure puddles and children don’t get too intimate.

In the world of early childhood this means educators send out warnings: “You don’t have boots on!” Your boots will fill with water!” If you splash you’re going to get wet!” “You know you don’t like getting wet!” Most of these warnings go unheeded, but still we keep sending them out.

Why?

Last week at a centre that I regularly visit, the children, the educator and I went for our usual walk and came to the mother of all puddles, a lovely large, deep, brown puddle that stretched far and wide across a pathway. The children ran to it and waded in without a moment’s hesitation. We watched as they jumped and splashed and stomped, or simply sat in the middle, trailing fingers in the rippling water.  The educator stood back and watched, laughing with delight at the sight.

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Wet socks? Oh yes. Wet faces, hands, arms, legs, and boots filled with water. And happy happy faces.

Were there consequences of succumbing to the puddle? Sure, we headed back inside a little earlier than planned as the chill eventually set in for many wet bodies. Muddy buddies had to be hung to dry, some socks and pants needed changing, but…these things dry.

I wonder why we try so hard to keep kids out of puddles?

 

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I am sitting

In the middle

Of a rather

Muddy puddle,

With my bottom

Full of bubbles

and my rubbers

Full of Mud.

While my jacket

And my sweater

Go on slowly

Getting wetter

As I very

Slowly settle

To the Bottom

Of the Mud.

And I find that

What a person

With a puddle

Round his middle

thinks of mostly

In the muddle

Is the Muddiness of Mud.

Dennis Lee