Thursday, May 21, 2015

May Day Festival

Our teacher Angela planned a wonderful celebration for the children and has shared the experience here for everyone to read about. Thank you Angela for all the loveliness you bring to our little community.

Despite all of the recent illnesses and other setbacks, I still set out to do a small festival with the children as a part of my Lifeways training. Thankfully, festivals are a source of healing and harmony for a community, in our case the children were the community. It's very easy to forget that what is central for a festival is really to come together to celebrate, in one sense our togetherness, and in another more specific sense, depending on the festival, spring.

May Day is a wonderful chance to welcome the joys of spring and to come together after a long chilly winter. I brought a very simple small version of this to our preschool. The children don't need long explanations or fancy decorations, they really just need a few drops of magic in what is already there. We spent a majority of our festival outside on the most beautiful spring day in which the blue sky, rays of sunlight, singing birds, and budding flowers were all the decoration I needed to make it special, and of course their favorite place to be. I imbued a little magic into the celebration by introducing Lady Spring who had finally awoken from her long slumber and began to spread her springlike ways with flowers, berries, and more. These two things were really the platform of our celebration, magic and magic outside.

We started the morning with a short story about Lady Spring (whom we had the chance to meet briefly), a song, and finally a joining of hands to gather outside for the activities. 
We joined the birds, blue sky, and dandelions, to craft our own magic wands to fly in the wind, join in a spring snack of berries and coconut cakes, and finally to dance around our maypole decorated with ribbons in the many spring colors. 

A lot of these activities, small, but meaningful were special to the children. One child even suggested that before we dance around the maypole we collect as many dandelions as we could and all throw them in the air at the same time, what a small yet joyous activity inspired by Mother Nature for our festival. It was really the simplest parts of the whole celebration that brought them great pleasure; plucking dandelions from the ground, waving wands in the wind, joining on our rock for a special snack, and singing songs together. 

One of the most amazing things about sharing this day together was watching the joy in the children's faces, seeing them engage with each other happily, and playing outside joyously with what Mother Nature provided for them. We certainly felt a sense of healing and harmony in our tiny community for that time spent together.

Check out more Outdoor Fun at the...

Learning for Life

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Preschool Around the World: Sweden

I have asked several of my international friends to write a guest post about what preschool is like in their part of the world.

Suzanne Axelson lives in Sweden and is the writer behind the blog Interaction Imagination.  Suzanne and I were in the same group during Play Iceland 2014 and had a lot fun discussing and learning with each other on our journey. She is also one of the people behind the International Fairy Tea Party that we take part in every September. 

Is preschool private or public?

In Sweden there are a mix of private and public preschools... but all are funded by the state and all parents regardless of what type of preschool they send their children to pay the exact same amount of money - 1,260kr per month being the maximum amount a parent will pay for the youngest child in the family - 840kr for the next youngest, then 420kr for the next and any other children are cost-free. This is for full-time preschool (preschools are legally required to provide care between 6:30 and 18:30) - parents with a household income of less than 42,000kr per month are entitled to reduced preschool fees. Parents who are on parental leave (there is a generous parental leave in Sweden (you can read more about it here.)

These children in Stockholm can be at preschool for 30 hours per week (at a reduced cost) while in most parts of Sweden children with infant siblings may attend preschool for 15 hours per week.

I have worked at both public and private preschools - and these can have as much differences between the same sector as they can have similarities across the sector. There are Reggio, Montessori, Ur och Skur (outdoor/forest preschool), traditional Swedish, Waldorf - there are also parent co-operatives and teacher co-operatives.

My children attended a parent co-operative preschool, where we as parents contributed to the running of the preschool. Right now I am working at a private preschool, Filosofiska - we also happen to be Sweden's truly only non-profit preschool (and this includes the public sector - as they can be sold at a profit).

What does a typical day look like?

Children will start arriving between 6:30 and 9:00 in the morning... so there is free play when most children arrive. The group that I have just now (those turning 5 and 6 this year) are also a group that tend to turn up late... so I have not been getting going with our morning routines until 9:30, to ensure that it is an inclusive group.

Preschool is not something children HAVE to do, so I feel that I should not be forcing them to get up early - let them have their slow mornings for as long as possible, as school will start between 8:00 and 8:30 - so there will be plenty of early morning to come in their future.
We start with a morning meeting with a sandwich or fruit snack, where we talk about what we will be doing during the day. Then we have our morning activity... which could be anything from art, to philosophy, to dance, to outdoor excursions... but by lunch at 12:00 we have completed the activity and played outside - we are outside for at least an hour every day... often longer.

After lunch we have rest time. We lie down and relax, listening to stories or just daydreaming for 30 minutes.. those who sleep have the opportunity to do so... and yes we have 5 year olds who regularly sleep and are healthier and happier for it. 

Having a sleep research husband means I see great value in rest and sleep.

In the afternoon until 14:30 we have quiet play and then we eat snack. After snack there is free play... either indoors or outdoors.

ALL of the activities we do are based on the children's play and interests... we have a basic plan for what we hope to do, and we have the curriculum to guide us on the learning outcomes we as teachers need to be scaffolding in order to enable the children to reach their potential.

We work at Filosofiska in a philosophical way... the children and teachers alike... this being that we are a community of learners. if you would like to learn more about how we work with philosophy then please check out

Of course, it is not common practice to use philosophy with children here in Sweden, especially with preschoolers.

As preschools are open long days we teachers work shifts.. this means we are only fully manned between 9-15 every day - so even if the ratio sounds great there are times when the child-adult ratio is not as fantastic. Some preschools have a great ratio - we at Filosofiska have a 1:5.5 ratio while there are those with many more children per teacher. Also when we need to do our planning it also means that we leave the child-group, and there is no replacement teacher while we do this. Teachers get often 2 hours of planning reflection time a week, assistants get an hour - this can vary from preschool to preschool, but on the whole this is what I have worked with the most. 

Once a week we get a 30 minute planning as a team (each class/group teachers getting the chance to plan and reflect together). This too can vary from preschool to preschool, sometimes it has been an hour each week, sometimes 90 minutes every second week. When I interviewed preschool teachers as part of my masters thesis all of them had concern for planning/reflection time - as they all felt there was a huge need to be able to plan TOGETHER to be able to offer a great learning environment, but at the same time felt guilty that the child-teacher ratio was so affected. 

This is something that teachers in school do not experience as they have other teachers that take care of the children (with the same or even better ratios) when they have their planning. They also get more planning days than teachers in preschools... I assume this is due to the fact the preschool is still viewed as care compared to school.

Our preschool does not have its own yard... this of course means that we have no outdoor space to develop with the children... which makes me a little sad, I have to admit, BUT it does mean that we are a part of the community we are in... the square is right outside our window, and is a place the children play in... there are many parks and the forest to visit... which means we can meet their play needs in many different ways. AND we see just how competent children are, even from the age of one, managing to go out on excursions every day... many preschools I have worked at have said 1-2 year olds were too young to be able to go on excursions.

We work hard on the children being able to do things themselves... a hand just behind, as a safety net, to allow them to feel safe, but also to discover just how much they can do themselves.

The great thing in Sweden is that we do not have to write risk asessments to be able to go on excursions... if the children say we need to go to the forest to look for fairies we can up and go to the forest...

In Sweden the weather requires us to wrap up a lot... either in full rain gear to deal with the cold puddles...

or wrapped up warm to deal with the snow and minus degrees... We are usually wearing winter gear between early October and late April (sometimes even early May)

We also take part in International Fairy Tea Party every year - the first year just being a small one group celebration... and last year all the children in both the preschools celebrated... and they are all looking forward to celebrating again this September... it is so much fun to see how the celebration inspires their play and learning... they have learned to see and appreciate the small and insignificant things - and to see magic in the everyday.

We always try to make use of everything... like when a big delivery arrives the boxes become a maze with so much play potential. We are lucky to have a large room specifically for movement on a big scale.

How old are the children?

Preschools serve children aged between 1 year and 6 years. These can be divided up in mixed age groups, in groups with each year in their own group (like the school system) there are sibling groups... which means that there is a 1-3 group and a 3-6 group. There is no one way to have a preschool.
The year children turn 6 is the year they will start a preschool class in a school environment in August. The year after, the year they turn 7 is when they officially start school.

The routines of starting school should be a smooth transistion, but experience has taught me that some schools are better than others at reaching out to the preschools. Some will insist on meeting the children in their preschool environment before school starts and check with the preschool teachers about any possible strategies that would enable the children to transistion better, some schools only have contact with the parents and the children visit before hand with their parents... although when we contact the school we are welcome to visit as a preschool, and then there are sadly some preschools that just ignore us in preschool altogether...

Like most places in the world, preschool is not valued in the way that it should be and more focus is placed on the importance of school. But hopefully this is something that will slowly change.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Preschool Around the World: Northern Ireland

I have asked several of my international friends to write a guest post about what preschool is like in their part of the world.

Kierna has so kindly agreed to be the first. She has a wonderful blog Learning For Life about her teaching experiences in Northern Ireland. Kierna has been a great inspiration for how we use our outdoor time at Inch By Inch over the last few years.

View of main primary school over the playground fence.

Kierna writes:

Despite the name of United Kingdom each of the 4 countries within it has their own education systems.

In Northern Ireland, all children are entitled to one free year of pre-school education in the year before they start formal compulsory schooling.

There are 2 main types of preschools settings – playgroups or nursery classes. Playgroups were traditionally set up by parents and are generally staffed by people who have childcare training and sometimes a degree in early years. The staff child ratio in a playgroup is one adult to 8 children.

Nursery classes have qualified teachers and within this ‘sector’ there are 2 main types – stand alone nursery schools with a principal or nursery units within larger primary schools. The staff child ratio in all nursery classes is one adult to 13 children.
Playgroups tend to be part-time 15 hours a week over 5 days. Nurseries can either part-time or full-time – up to 25 hours a week over 5 days.
Children attend everyday.

I teach in a nursery unit attached to a primary school so the children can attend the school from the age of 3 until 11. It is a full-time class and we operate from 8.50 – 1.45.
I usually have 26 children & work with an assistant who has her training in childcare.
The children in my class are aged 3 and 4. They have to have their 4th birthday on or before the 2nd of July, the year they enter the class.

Usually the majority of the children in my class transfer to the Primary 1 class within the same school but there are always some who go to other schools.
Some children will also go to special schools where their particular additional needs can be met in smaller classes with more specialist teachers.

The children get an opportunity to visit with their new P.1 teacher before starting school.
I share a transition report with the next teachers that gives them a background knowledge of the child they are receiving.

For children in my class I try to keep the routine as similar as possible each day but of course the weather has a big influence as to whether we go outside again after lunch or not. We also have 2 days when we stay outside until story time. But the general flow of a nursery day in my class goes as follows:

8.50 – 10.30: meet & greet, the children go straight outside to play, snack is on offer outdoors. 
                      They play outdoors for at least 60 minutes.

At 10.30 they come inside & hang up their coats, self register by moving a photo & sometime half the group will tidy up outside at this time.

10.30 – 11.40: indoor play time.
11.40 – 11.50: tidy up time & toileting before story.
11.50 – 12.20: story time.
12.20 – 12.50: lunch time
12.50 – 1.15: either indoor or outdoor play.
1.15 – 1.25: tidy up time
1.30 – 1.45: doors open for parents/carers to collect children

It is a busy, busy day & most teachers who come to cover who are used to teaching in primary school can’t understand how a nursery teacher functions without a break until 2.00!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Woven Preschool Philosophy: Reflection and Intention

Several years ago I read the phrase "Woven Philosophy" and fell in love. 

I have grown to embrace the phrase and pride in the fact that our preschool isn't labelled under any specific curriculum or philosophy. The children and program are continuously growing and changing. This means that our approach, environment, and opportunities should be changing along with them. Instead of saying we are Montessori, Waldorf, Play-based, High Scope, Reggio Inspired or any other system of teaching, we belong to a Woven Philosophy. A method that takes pieces and parts from any philosophy to fit with the children's changing goals and growth.

I love aspects of all of these philosophies and many schools do follow them exclusively and that works for them! I don't feel there is a need in our community (or for myself) to create a focus or label for our preschool.

If you put two adults and twelve children into a room together, you are going to have so many different learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and interests. People say variety is the spice of life and I think this is true in the classroom. If I only offer activities in a certain way, then I am possibly excluding certain children who need me to present it in a different way. Some children are going to miss out on certain skills if they are not interested in the activities offered, unless I encourage them through multiple approaches.

Intention and Reflection are the most important pieces to making my work successful. If I am not constantly reflecting on my day, conversations, interactions and activities, then I will never know what is working for my current group. I then need to intentionally plan the environment and routines based on the children's personalities, learning styles, personal goals, and relationships with their classmates.

Know the children and their backgrounds.
Know the families and community.
Be thoughtful about the environment.
Be thoughtful about the materials.

Find a balance that meets the needs of the group you are with.

Here are three of my favorite blog posts that demonstrate further how being intentional and reflecting make a difference in working with children.

Not Just Cute: Intentional Deficit Disorder
"Consider what you really hope for and turn that into intention.  Use your intentions and purposes as filters.  We can simplify our classrooms and our homes by knowing our intentions and living and teaching by them.    Begin to recognize that we don’t have to do everything.  We just have to do what matters most." -Amanda Morgan (Not Just Cute)

Interaction Imagination: Do Templates Kill Creativity?

"Can templates be a skeleton for children to hang their own creative skins on? Or do templates kill creativity?" -Suzanne Axelson  (Interaction Imagination)

Child Central Station: Sometimes We Craft.

"I have spent a lot of time in my journey has an early childhood educator exploring, growing, and learning, coming to conclusions of what I believe to be true, and the best path for the children I work with."  -Amy Ahola (Child Central Station)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Storytelling: Who? What? Where?

This week we have been focusing on the parts of a story. This includes both storytelling and also investigating the books that we are reading.

We have been focusing on the Who? What? and Where? of the story. 
When we create the story, we start with "where?" and create  a scene. This can be as basic as setting out a piece of fabric to stand on. 
Then we move to who. Who is going to be there? We choose fabric or costumes to show our characters. 

And then finally, what are they doing there and what props do we need? 

One of the stories we worked on was our own version of "The Big Turnip."

Each child got to choose their character and the costume they needed to represent that character. We also practiced taking turns being in the audience and clapping at the end of the show.

Group One

A bear planting the seeds in the garden.

Bear's friend Chicken watering
the seeds.
The sun shining on the seeds.

Bear pulling on the vine of the giant berry, but it was TOO BIG!

Bear, Chicken and another Bear trying to pick the berry.

Two chickens, two bears, and a blue monster all working together.  And the sun up in the sky.
"And the pulled, and they pulled, and they pulled..."

Group Two

Blue Monster planting seeds in his garden.

The sun shining on the seeds. 

Blue monster, a bear, a duck and a red monster trying to pick the watermelon.

Along came a tiny green chicken. They pulled. And they pulled. And they pulled.
Until FINALLY! Pop!

The children continued the storytelling after I stepped away. A couple of the children took turns being the narrator/director of the play. I can't wait to see if the same story line appears again during free play. This has been just as much of a learning process for me as it is for them and I look forward to taking it further with them.