Softly…..

Here’s what I heard in a toddler centre today:   silence.

IMG_3384 copy The clay was set out with branches on low tables with canvas drop cloths creating a pathway around it. The children came in slowly, taking in the new materials, the setting. The educators sat at the edges of the space and said……nothing.

 As the children began to explore the clay, poking fingers in, scraping chunks off, the educators did the same, exploring in their own ways. A girl brought an educator a chunk of clay and said ‘bowl’, and the educator responded quietly, ‘bowl’? and fashioned a bowl from the chunk. Another girl stuck a blob of clay onto the end of a branch, and an educator did as well. They spoke to one another softly, discussing how to make the clay stay, trying different shapes. In another corner a boy and an educator share a camera, looking through the lens at hands, feet, the room, the ceiling.

 We all sat in the space for an hour and a half, talking quietly, rolling balls of clay, laughing at the songs and movements that emerged. It was…peaceful.

The soft voices, the small conversations opened up larger spaces to hear, to listen to the sound of the giggles, the sound of feet on canvas, of the slapping hands on clay. The children, the clay and the branches became more visible when adult voices became less visible.

By talking less the adults could focus on the materials, the movement of the clay, the way children picked it up, manipulated it, moulded it, walked with it. We didn’t need to ask open ended questions, we observed and listened and we learned what children were doing. We didn’t need to ask how the clay felt, what it smelled like, what is that you have made?…by  being attentive we observed all of that.

Lots of conversations occurred, songs were sung, jokes were made, ideas were shared…..softy.

I am left reflecting on my voice, what I say, how I say it, how loudly I say it, and most of all, do I need to say it. I suspect most of what I say…..really doesn’t need said.

Invisible Lines

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The doorway the site of many invisible lines in our schools and programs many many unsaid but established guidelines. Some classrooms a child walks across that threshold and they know they are safe and cared for. Some classrooms children walk across that threshold and they know they must leave the person they are aside. Some thresholds only allow exit if they stand quietly in a perfectly straight line. Some thresholds demand joy upon exiting or entering. The guidelines are clear to the members of that class, program and/or school.

The thresholds don’t just speak to children though. The threshold speaks to parents as well. Sometimes it speaks to parents far more loudly and clearly then the children.  It says drop your child off here.  It tells them not to cross. That past this invisible line is only a place for children and educator to participate. YOUR PARTICIPATION does not matter! You are not welcome. I believe it says these things unintentionally sometimes but sadly it says these things.

I know this because I was once one of those educators who at one time put an invisible line up. I thought my job was to build a relationship with the child not the parents. I thought my job was to focus only on the child between drop off and pick up. This invisible line was supported by policies and procedures in parent handbooks as well.  You must drop off your child by 9:30 a.m. It was also supported by how rooms were set up. Sign in sheets were right by the door. This myth that our jobs were easier if parents just dropped off their children and left was a truth, not just a theory.

I practiced it as truth but I didn’t believe it.  So eventually I started to question it. How can we ask parents to trust us when they don’t know us? How can we welcome families into our program? How can we erase those invisible lines?

When I arrived at Moss Rock Preschool I wanted to establish my pedagogy of relationships and listening. I had a question of inquiry How can our preschool program create community? So I developed practices that encouraged that.  These will sound terribly simplistic. I greeted every person entering our preschool at the beginning of the day. I used their names.  I asked parents how they were doing. I would ask personal directed questions like “How was your boat trip this weekend?” At the end of the day  I greeted them the same way. I would share stories of our day. I would open the door to our class a few minutes early inviting families to come in and participate. I would point out when there were new narratives in the room and invite them to read them. I would throw preschool parties.   The sign in was put in the middle of the room inviting parents to come in.

Today I feel like we have a great community within our preschool. It is my hope that what our threshold says is you are all welcome here.

Interesting People

IMG_3114 copyI am visiting a child care setting and am lucky enough to be invited on a forest walk on a cold icy day.  Emma looks at me steadily “Where did you come from?” she asks. I answer that I am a visitor and will be coming weekly. She walks beside me and begins to talk:

“Do you want some ice? I found this for you.  Do you need a stick? You could have this stick. Do you want to make a hole in the ice? You pound a stick like this. Come with me, pound right here. I have another piece of ice for you.  Can I hold your hand?  Want to have lunch with us? I could give you some of my lunch.”

Emma stayed by my side for the rest of the walk, chatting easily. Milo joined us, took my other hand and solemnly declared that all animals and all people poo and pee. All of them. He described how he did a little dance when he had to pee but couldn’t get to a toilet, and we all laughed and did the ‘pee pee dance”. We continued to walk and talk and laugh until we arrived back at the school.

Sometimes in our writing, thinking, philosophizing, and planning I think we may forget that the best thing about being with kids is talking with them. Shooting the breeze. Just listening and chatting and laughing.

The fact is we adults spend a lot of time talking to kids, directing, instructing, cautioning, marshalling. We listen, but sometimes it’s a polite gesture, we smile and move on. On that walk I had the chance to have a long and interesting conversation, meandering through topics, getting to know two very interesting people.

I left that visit happy, and I smiled the rest of the day. I was blindsided by the kindness of two children I didn’t know who took me by the hand and welcomed me into their group.  They reminded about what is important; enjoying the company of interesting people.

Of Paint Blobs and Professional Learning

paint blobA child tugs at the teacher’s sleeve, “I dropped a jar of paint on the carpet. By accident”.

We look over, and yes, there is a very large, very pink splattered blob of paint on the carpet under the easel. It is a carpet meant to absorb paint, but still, this is a really large blob. Sigh.

It had been one of those days, days we are all very familiar with. All the puzzle pieces seem to have disappeared, a child is inconsolable, sobbing  because her shirt is wet. A parent is unhappy, wondering why the children just play all day, shouldn’t they be learning something? Another parent has stayed to help, but all he does is hover and follow children around admonishing them to be careful. We want to shout “They ARE being careful! No one is getting hurt! But we can’t shout at parents. The paperwork is piled up and we can’t really remember if we saw Horatio’s birth certificate, and we are fearful of what the custodian will say when she sees the glitter that is delicately covering every visible surface.

Sigh.

Days like this can make us weary. So weary. An educator I work with had a day like this, a day that ended with a blob of pink paint on the carpet. She decided to photograph the blob, hoping to see it differently, to transform the blob into something better, more interesting, more beautiful.

After taking a few shots of the blob, she looked up thoughtfully. “You know what makes days like this ok? Having the opportunity to talk and think deeply about children.”

That is exactly what she and I had been doing all morning. In moments  between the crying child and the hovering parent we had observed a toddler investigating this place, walking around the room picking up items and dropping them on the floor. We observed how intentional he was, how carefully he chose the items, how he attentively he watched and listened as each item hit the floor. We discussed how he might be theorizing about  sound, about weight, or how he might be connecting with this place, this room through investigating the materials within it.

We observed a girl as she sat with a pen and paper drawing intersecting lines, creating complex shapes. The drawing was detailed and precise. This girl had started the year unhappily, striking out at other children, encountering conflict wherever she went. But now a couple of months into the year she was focussed, calm, intent on her own projects. Had the materials and environment here invited this calm? What had caused this shift? How could we find out more about her drawings, what she was thinking?

These conversations extended throughout the morning session, sometimes a shared look toward a child, sometimes a few minutes spent discussing as we washed dishes. And at the end of the session we could delve more deeply into our shared thinking as we tidied the room.

This is what our practice is about. Thinking, listening, researching and collaborating with others to make meaning.  Professional learning is often thought of as something we do outside the walls of our centres. But conversations like these are professional learning. Carlina Rinaldi asks:

So what then is professional development? It is simply learning: our job is to learn why we are teachers.  It means keeping our distance from an overriding sense of balance, from that which has already been decided or is considered to be certain. It means staying close to the interweaving of objects and thoughts, of doing and selecting, theory and practice, emotions and knowledge.  

As my colleague looked at the paint blob, she said “You know, it is rather beautiful, the bubbles, the texture the shape.” The day and the blob had transformed into something better, something endlessly interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Duck Revisited

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Art credit: Helaina and Adaire Gibb

Last week while presenting in Vancouver on the practice of pedagogical narration I decided in a split second decision that I would present my narration on the dead duck. I told myself it was because I wanted to challenge myself and present something new, a narration I wasn’t comfortable with, that I couldn’t predict or expect the questions or reflections that it would inspire. We had a thoughtful conversation about the narration.

 As I was driving home from the presentation I realized that wasn’t the reason. Truth, I want to talk about death. That moment on the beach with the children has raised so many questions.

 Why are children able to discuss it so openly but adults tend to shy away from the subject?

What age do we stop talking about it? 5, 8, 12…?

 How does one learn to stop talking about it? Are we confronted with the taboo, are conversations rejected, dismissed or are we scolded for talking about it so openly?

 Where did this assumption that children don’t understand death come from?

 I wonder how I can explore death with the children in a meaningful way. (A way that wouldn’t freak out my colleagues or families)

 So I invite you to add your perspective, your layer to my inquiry. What are your thoughts? What questions does the dead duck bring up for you? What stories do you have about death?