Tuesday, 24 April 2012

What I learn at Kindergarten!

“Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.” Piaget

"More than a quarter of Australian fifth graders believe yogurt is grown on trees and three out of four of them think cotton is an animal product, according to a study from the Australian Council of Education Research."


Children who believe that cotton-wool grows on sheep? Now where could they possibly have got that idea from? Could it have come from adult's intentional teaching? I will let you decide after reading this light hearted journey around an early years environment! Could "THEY" be YOU?

Little Emily (4) was taking me on a guided tour; "That is Spring up there, THEY told us, that is my lamb, oh, maybe not that  one, I forgot which one. THEY gave us a paper and there was a lamb on it and then we had to put that white glue on and then that white stuff THEY call cotton wool. It was really hard, it was very sticky and I did it wrong and THEY came and changed it, THEY said the tail was wrong. I did one of those flowers too but we had to make yellow flowers and had to paint a bit of egg box with yellow and green sticks. I wanted a pink flower but THEY said these ones are not pink. Pink is my favourite."

Celebrating individuality and creativity?
"We also have dough, you can roll it like mum rolls the biscuit dough, but ours is bright red or blue or green and THEY say we can't put it in our mouth. You can make cupcakes and little shapes and pasta BUT you have to sit at the table and you can't take it to the home corner to cook it in the oven. THEY say it is too messy. I made a birthday cake for my baby but THEY said it was time to tidy up and THEY squashed it. I was sad, I wanted to show my baby but THEY said tidy-up time. My daddy cooks in the kitchen, there is no carpet in my kitchen."

 "This is where we can do cooking. This round shape with white at the bottom has some brown stuff on top - THEY call it Spaghetti Bolognaise and you have to take turns to share it THEY say and it is really hard to stir in the pot, it goes bump, bump. We also have potatoes and carrots and onions but you can't cut pieces, they don't go soft or lumpy like my dad's in the cupboard, feel them, when I put them in my mouth I can't taste it and THEY tell me not to eat them cause I have germs! THEY are silly cause I am not eating them, just pretend!"

"This is where the dinosaurs go. We made that volcano! We take newspaper and then THEY put it in watery stuff and then you have to wait and wait for it to go hard. THEY make a hole in the middle....... mmmm I think mountains have a hole in the middle? Then THEY put some white powder in, like my baby's powder, and then some water stuff but it smells bad and you have to hold your nose and then the bubbles came out the top. THEY say that's a volcano. I don't know who put the white powder and smelly stuff in the hole at the top of the big mountain when the dinosaurs came, maybe a giant cause mountains are very big. My dad says the red stuff that comes out is lava and is very hot and burns but our volcanoes just had bubbles and it wasn't hot."
Bubbles from volcanoes - is that really what we want children to learn?
"Those balls up there, see the ones on the string? Those are balloons but THEY said put yucky wet paper round them and then they got hard and then THEY said we must paint them. We had to make lots, THEY said lots but I was tired. I wanted to paint mine with lots of colours and dots but THEY said that is not what Planets look like. I don't know what that is....something in the sky I can't see, maybe they are in the sky balloons!"

"This is the place where THEY say we can play with water. Those are fish but they can't go under the water by themselves, I push them and then they just pop up. My fish at home can swim under the water. THEY put blue stuff in the water because THEY say water is blue, the sea is blue. I don't know, my water in the bath is no colour. When I play in the mud I can make the water brown and mummy laughs and says I am mucky! THEY say I can't play in the mud cause it's dirty."
"This is our fire. THEY say take some plastic stones, THEY say real stones are too dangerous so we can't have those, and you put them in a circle, then some paper in the middle cause THEY say sticks are too dangerous and then you squash some red tissue paper in there and THEY say that's a fire! Fire is not that hot, you can even touch it! At camp we make fire and we cook food and that fire is hot and can burn if you touch. I don't touch real fire cause I know it's hot. If you want to put out fire you have to blow and blow, I blow my candles at home and they make smoke. THEY say candles are dangerous and when it's birthday time THEY fetch a little candle but THEY have to put the fire on with the little button at the bottom and you can't blow it out, THEY put it out with the little button again." 

Real fire - mesmerizing,an opportunity to be together and share while learning.

"That's our tools, they're pretend! THEY say real ones are dangerous. The yellow saw doesn't hurt, look you can saw your hand! The hammer, we have a red hammer but THEY say you can't use it to hammer nails because the hammer breaks....THEY say just tap the blue block and then it is safe. Jason's grandad got him a saw that really cuts wood and he brought it but They said it was too dangerous and took it away and put it on the high place. Jason says tools here are really boring cause they don't even work."

"Our coats, that pink one is mine, THEY tell us we have to put them on, THEY say it is cold when the clouds come or the wind is there. I run and run and run and go red and my heart goes boom, boom very fast. I tell them I want to take my coat off but THEY say it is too cold and cross their arms like this and make shivery faces when THEY stand by the door. When it rains THEY say we can't go out, sometimes it doesn't rain and THEY say we can't go out. I love to play in the rain and splash in the puddles, THEY say keep away cause you will get wet!"

Trusting children to self risk assess leads to competent, confident and able children.

"The trees - they are not for climbing THEY say it is too dangerous. My mummy lets me climb to the top of the tree in our garden, to my big brother's tree-house. She says are you feeling safe and I nod my head like this. My tree looks the same but THEY say these are too dangerous. I don't know why. I like to climb and THEY say I can go on the little slide but I have to slide down on my bottom, THEY say it's too dangerous on my tummy. Sometime we quickly climb up and we jump from the top, that is best fun! THEY keep saying be careful but I don't know why?"

"Those are vegetables but we can't go in there, THEY say the tomatoes are poisonous and can kill us. My dad lets me help to plant tomatoes and then I eat them when they are red but I don't die, my tomatoes are not the same, I love tomatoes but not these ones, THEY say they are too dangerous."

Experiencing the delight of growth - the time it takes for tomatoes to change colour - another valuable learning experience

"You see there by the fence. All those sticks. THEY say sticks are dangerous and when THEY see one fallen off the tree THEY throw it over the fence. When we find one we hide it, sometimes the boys make guns but THEY  say that is bad and we can't make guns. They are just pretend and can't really shoot but THEY say guns are bad. My daddy has a real gun and he is good, I love my daddy, he is a policeman!"

"These are beans, well not the white stuff but THEY say you need the white stuff and THEY call it cotton wool and THEY say you put this hard bean on it, close it with more soft stuff and then THEY say put water on, water every day, not blue water, just water like the bath. When THEY say you can open it then some green and white bits are coming out! I like beans. I know, sheep make cotton wool so we can grow beans on the plate and clouds are made of cotton-wool, THEY say so!! I love coming to Kindergarten, THEY know everything and when I am big I want to be like THEM"

I wonder how many adults are brave enough to admit that THEY might have been responsible for generations of children with these or similar misconceptions? I have to admit to the volcano 'experiment' - sorry children!!

Exploring the properties of real materials - natural stones and water.

"Children are investigators, little scientists. They are busy forming their ideas, developing their own frameworks of understanding - how things work, what belongs together, they are making connections between their own experiences and the world around them and then transfer this knowledge to other situation. This is the time adults should support those little explorers by offering real and true experiences to allow the appropriate connections to be made."

We do have to laugh at ourselves at times........ I certainly do!

"Childhood has it's own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than to try to substitute ours for theirs."       Jean Jacques Rousseau

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Loose Parts - Nature Indoors and Outdoors

"Children are the only brave philosophers. 
And brave philosophers are, inevitably, children".

When I am stressed, I choose to be in nature where I find peace! I believe that young children have a natural affinity to nature – they will find bugs in the most unlikely places such as in car parks, little hands reach out through fences surrounding artificial play spaces to touch the weeds on the other side. Just watch the delight in a child’s face when they spy a puddle and the disappointment as the adult guides them away from this magical play opportunity. 

Transient art sculpture created by a 20 month old child in Family Daycare WA
 Childhood is precious and as adults we have the responsibility to support the building of childhood memories by allowing children motivational and memorable opportunities. Asking the majority of adults about their childhood - they usually recall these special moments as being outdoors; usually with no adult in sight, lots of time to develop their ideas, very few resources and often doing something they were told not to do! I certainly remember climbing onto the shed roof and doing somersaults through the air and into the compost heap, fine until I landed on one of the pumpkins growing wild! I also remember hours of trying to create fairy boats that really float using leaves and pieces of bark and decorating sandcastles using shells, seaweed and sticks. Do we offer our children these opportunities that will build such childhood memories? 

Sand and water that can be mixed offers a very high play affordance!
What 'resources' do we need to offer children for effective and memorable play and learning both indoors and outdoors?

Most important is the skilled adult! Somebody who understands what children need, is able to empower children to take the lead and can analyse the learning taking place without needing to structure activities or opportunities.  

The loose parts theory was first developed by Simon Nicholson, architect, who suggested that if children have access to a range of materials which have no defined purpose then they will access a wider range of play types and be more creative in the ways they play. “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”.   Nicholson. S. 1971

Adults analyse the learning. Cornish College, Melbourne
 ‘Loose Parts’ are materials that children are able to collect, move,  transport, attach, use on their own or combined with other open ended materials and can be made into many different objects. There is no right or wrong way of using them so children can be as creative as they want to be without feeling that they are not using them correctly. This means children have full control and can direct the play activity.

Nature’s store cupboard offers us the widest range of loose parts; some of the advantages nature offers is that the natural resources are highly sensorial, come in so many different forms which offer selection and challenge, are freely available and inexpensive. They also come in ranges and tones of colour that reflect the gentle colours of Nature’s palette instead of the standard very bright primary colours I so often find in young children’s environments. Too many bright colours are visually distracting and I feel add to the visual clutter in an environment that many children and adults struggle to concentrate in.

The best is that they offer a very high play affordance!

Children take ownership of their objects which become their treasures as they have been allowed the choice to select from amongst a large and complex selection with each child choosing specifically what is special to them - favourite colours, shapes, sizes, textures. They will combine their ‘treasures’ with other open ended materials they have free access to -  both natural and man made, offering them many hours of effective learning both indoors and outdoors. 
Seashells for children to collect - treasures they choose, colourful, broken - each one a chosen treasure for the child

So what do we need??
The type of natural resources that motivate and stimulate young children are sticks, stones, shells, water, soil, sand, seedpods, pinecones, wild grasses, plants, leaves, flowers and more. Objects that can be lined up, collected, arranged, hidden, used for construction. These should be available both indoors and outdoors – the outdoors tends to offers opportunities for large scale play which generally allows children more freedom. Adults tend to be more relaxed allowing children to 'make a mess' and allowing them greater freedom !

Offer these objects on their own or combine with man made open ended materials such as:
  • ·         containers of various sizes and made of various materials; buckets, bottles, boxes
  • ·         tools; saws, drills, rakes, metal and wooden spoons, spades
  • ·         resources: guttering, boxes, long sticks, cellophane, large bits of fabric, assortment of balls
  • ·         materials to join objects: string, twine, Sellotape, masking tape, wire

A cubby for children and one for fairies made indoors with natural materials collected. Cornish College, Melbourne
By offering children these inexpensive and easily accessible resources we allow children free exploration and we can see their own creative way of thinking and doing. As the psychologist Eric Erickson stated, we can see their “natural genius of childhood and their spirit of place.” 

"The natural connections children make to formal learning through the use of open ended and naturalistic resources should be a motivation to all adults to ensure that these are freely available to young children both indoors and outdoors."

"There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago".