Tag Archives: researching

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.


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.






Can We Talk?

“Our current educational systems ‘seem stuck in a time warp….displaying an unwillingness or inability to engage with either new thinking or the state we are in–and worse, the state we are heading towards”

Peter Moss,  Michael Fielding

figure 2 copy

In her post A Tale of Two Wardrobes Danielle generated great dialogue by linking wardrobe choice and professionalism in the field of ECE. Lots of discussion ensued, people with strong opinions voiced their ideas and were countered by people with equally strong dissenting opinions. There was a lively debate that resulted in no clear answer but got us all thinking.

 This is exactly what we need more of in our field. We need more lively debate, and it needs to go beyond what we wear to work. We need to be discussing big ideas, and big questions about the field of early childhood care and education. We need to debate questions like: What are the values we hold about children and families? What is our idea of learning? What is the meaning of school? What education is for?  Who is responsible for education? Whose voices are heard and whose voices are silenced?

 In a society where test results and predefined outcomes dominate our educational systems, early childhood care settings often become sites for preparation for school readiness. Our role is often reduced to providing programming that will allow children to ‘practice’ for school.

 So rather than educational spaces being sites for adults and children to  explore new thinking and investigate new ideas together, educational spaces become standardized. Instead of being places where independent thinking and experimentation are valued, we have places with preplanned curriculum.

We need to debate and challenge and be challenged.

 We need to talk about this.

Chanting and Banging and Shouting

IMG_1658 copySing along….you know the tune…..



Gummy bears are good to be

One is yellow, one is red,

One is blue and one is dead


Gummy bears are good to be


Not lyrics I’m familiar with but to the 4 girls I who were singing it was very familiar. They were sitting outside a coffee shop, swinging their legs and singing. And singing. They sang it about 10 times that I heard, continuing to sing as they walked so that their voices reverberated throughout the street.

I lingered in my walking so I could listen and it made me smile.  The song was silly to be sure, but there was great joy in the voices, I perceived the warmth of friendship, of sharing, of belting out a song communally.

As I walked away I thought about how children seem drawn to communal sound making, or as one sound artist put it, organized noise. How spontaneous chanting can erupt at a snack table, how a chorus of spoon banging can ignite in a second, how one happy shouted phrase can spark a cacophony of shouted phrases.

I thought about how we adults really don’t like the spoon banging and the shouting, how we are tolerant of the chants but usually only when we deem it appropriate.  I thought about how children seem to love the spoon banging and the shouting, that it seems to always be appropriate, no matter the time or the place.

I continued on my walk with the ABC refrain running through my mind, thinking I just might try joining in the chanting and banging and shouting next time. I might be missing out on something good.


paint tower

On Being Helpful


paint towerThe paint tower.

Small jars of paint, paper suspended and trailing, chairs and stepladders to reach the highest level, an invitation to extend, experiment and test paint, paper and oneself.


A small boy, perhaps 2 1/2, stands on the floor and sees a jar of paint and  a paintbrush on the very top level of the paint tower. He stretches as tall as he can to grasp the brush, then very slowly lifts it out of the jar.  Every muscle in his body is stretched, and every nerve is tensed  so the brush doesn’t make the paint jar tip over.  His concentration is absolute.


The boy makes two thick black lines on the paper, then stretches again to dip the brush into the paint. He repeats this process, and not once does the paint jar move.


A adult is chatting nearby and glances at the boy as he stretches. The adult says “Let me help you there” and moves the paint jar down to the lower table, and then resumes chatting.


The boy looks at the paint jar now within easy reach, and walks away.

How often are we the ‘helpful’ adult?

Could You Just Stop Talking?


r6 copyWe in ECE are talkers. Yes I know I am making a big swath of a generalization and you can tell me I’m all wrong. But I think I’m right. We are talkers, we like to talk to everyone, big and small, we are story tellers, singers, and humourists. (Danielle and I are finding that ECE’s are wine drinkers as well, but that’s another post)

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking, just ask my husband. And I love working with ECE’s who love talking. We’re trained to talk, ask open ended questions, engage with children and parents, facilitate, negotiate, build relationships, all by talking.

But I think it’s time we thought about not talking. I think it’s time we stopped, looked and listened.

Yesterday an educator was telling me about bikes, a familiar story; lots of kids on lots of tricycles going fast in a fairly small area, a perfect opportunity for an ECE to caution, remind and offer rules of the road. But she didn’t do any of that, she just watched. And you know what happened? Nothing. No crashes. Nothing.

I’m in the pretend hospital, sitting on a small chair in the furthest corner. I’m watching a baby being born, nurses and doctors bustling about.

“Is it feeling good?”  Sara says “Your baby is in danger, your baby is in distress.” She then delivers the baby and hands it to Bria saying “Here she is, here is your baby.” Bria takes the baby, cradles her gently and says “I’m going to name her Cinderella”.

As I watch this scenario I bite my tongue…..over and over. I want to ask why is the baby in danger? What does it mean to be in distress? And why Cinderella?  But what would all those questions accomplish? Do the answers matter? And most importantly, would the conversation have continued if I had interrupted?

Listening to children, really listening, opens up their world to us, allows us a glimpse into how they may think, how they are interpreting what they see around them. We can get clues as to how they make sense of media, of what families and friends do. And we can be filled with wonder to see just how much children know, how they solve problems with great logic. And we can see that each child understands the logic of the other child, it is we who can’t quickly follow why the baby is named Cinderella.

What are we missing when we keep talking?