Tag Archives: co-learning

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?

An Empty Table

 

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An empty table. Not what we usually consider part of our morning set up in early years settings. We in ECE have the habit of setting out a lot of stuff. We spend our early morning getting out materials, arranging paint, glue, paper, putting the playdough out with some enticing tools. An empty table signifies a lack of planning, a lack of time, maybe a lack of interest. An empty table means we haven’t done our job.

But maybe the empty table needs to be reconsidered. Maybe an empty table is an invitation. Maybe an empty table opens up a space for us to listen.

Consider this:

I am visiting a drop in program for young children and caregivers. Most of the families come with some regularity and are familiar with the program and materials. On this morning an empty table sits at the back of the room. Eleven month old Cate goes over to it and pulls herself into a chair. She puts her hand on the table and begins moving her palm slowly in tiny circles. She sit there silently, just making tiny circles. The educator watches her, and then moves quickly to a shelf and brings out the clay. Cate and her caregiver settle down with it and Cate smiles as she moves her palm in circles in the clay.

The educator told me later that she knew Cate was asking for clay by the movement of her palm, that Cate often made this motion as she worked with clay.

A small piece of clay with the impression of a small palm and fingers
A small piece of clay with the impression of a small palm and fingers

 An empty table became a place for a small child to make a request, to be heard. This child knew she was a valued member of the drop in community whose interests would be respected and listened to, who could contribute to shaping the curriculum.

Listening means the capacity to respect others, to take

them out of anonymity, to give them visibility, enriching

both those who listen and those who produce the

message.

Carlina Rinaldi

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The Heart Shaped Leaf

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“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson

 

Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.

 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson

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An Unapologetic Rant

IMG_4661 copyAre you ready for a rant? Every once in a while a topic comes up that simply won’t be addressed in a ‘nice’ ECE way. Sometimes a rant is needed. So here we go….I want to rant about “the pressure”.

As Danielle and I travel the province talking with ECE’s, parents, teachers, child care consultants and administrators they tell us how they are expected to ‘prepare’ children for academic success. They are told they must teach 3 year olds how to write their name, 4 year olds how to count to 100, and 5 year olds how to read. They tell us of children being labelled  as behaviour problems and removed from kindergarten because they can’t sit for long periods of time and do ‘work’. We hear of kindergarten prep classes in preschools that teach letters and numbers and science. We are told of 3 and 4 year olds being referred for extra support, and the support workers being required to teach academic skills. We hear the frustration and the sadness in their voices.

These educators feel they are working against what they believe. They want to spend time with children investigating, exploring and listening. They value play, they value taking on a role of co-learner alongside children, delving into the questions children bring. They want to step back and observe, to find out what children know and to expand their thinking together. But they can’t. These educators feel powerless. They feel alone.

But here’s the thing: they are not alone. When Danielle and I begin a dialogue on values and reflective practice, Bang! a story will emerge. And as soon as one person opens up, a second person will tell another story. Soon the entire group is engaged, sharing their frustration.

When we begin to speak out, we find we are not alone.

So here comes the rant part (in case the rest of this wasn’t rant-ish enough!)

WE MUST BEGIN TO SPEAK OUT. We must begin conversations, we must begin to articulate our values and beliefs. We must begin to push back against ‘the pressure’.

We must begin conversations with anyone who will listen, and especially those who won’t. We must find allies and speak out together. We must tell our colleagues, our administrators, our families that children do not need to be prepared for school. School should be prepared for children.

We must tell everyone that children are strong, capable, and full of ideas and theories. Our job is not to provide all the questions and all the answers, our job is to “think with” children and find out what questions they have.

WE MUST BEGIN NOW. The 3 year old who can’t sit still and cut with scissors will thank you. The anxious parent who’s  4 year old can’t read her name will thank you. And the educators who are daily working with the impossible stress of ‘conforming’ will thank you.

And if you can’t figure out how to begin the conversation quote this:

“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” ? Ken Robinson

Or this:

“(The educator)  needs to be attentive to ‘creating possibilities rather than pursuing predefined goals’, assuming ‘responsibility to choose, experiment, discuss, reflect and change, focusing on the organisation of opportunities rather than the anxiety of pursuing outcomes, and maintaining in her work the pleasure of amazement and wonder.”  Peter Moss

The pleasure of amazement and wonder……now that’s worth ranting about.