Thursday, 23 February 2017

Children's right to play


Professor Roger Hart talks about the importance of play for children's development.  This is the same message we are hearing from many researchers and experts such as Sir Ken Robinson and Peter Gray 
Sir Ken Robinson said, "Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives.  It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in their own culture." (Creative Schools,2015)

Play is something that is part of all cultures and cannot be considered a luxury but something that is essential to the development of children.  Adults/teachers should be aware of the importance of play and create the conditions and environment necessary for children to deeply engage in play.

Peter Gray describes play as:
1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit.
2. Play is activity in which means are more valuable than ends.
3. Play in guided by mental rules.
4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality.

In order for children to play with their own ideas we need to consider whether the environment invites curiosity and inquiry.  When thinking about the environment it is not only the physical space but how we use time within the space.  If we slice and dice children's days through following a teacher imposed roster then we run the risk hindering deep engagement.  Children need time to deeply engage in their own ideas and thoughts.  Creativity and playing with ideas cannot be time allocated - nor does it have an on/off switch that can be flicked to suit a time structured day.  Children's play belongs to children, teachers should not inhibit children's play through insensitive planning or pursuit of teacher directed learning or by following programmes the see learning fragmented into curriculum areas or school readiness programs.

Tinkering with their own ideas inside play and inquiry allows children to solve their own problems, learn through the questions and hands on experimentation.  Tinkering/playing with their own ideas supports children to think divergently.  "Divergent thinking is the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions, involves fluidity of thinking, broad scanning ability and free association.  It is thought to be a major cognitive process underlying creativity."  (Guildford, 1968; Russ & Cougars, 2001)  When children have the opportunity to play with open-ended materials, there are numerous approaches that can be taken.  As teachers we need to consider offering children open-ended experiences and remove the word activities from our vocabulary.  Activities are usually closed and teachers often have an outcome in mind as well as a time frame.  Whereas an experience or provocation allows for children to view this as a time to play with their own ideas inside the experience or provocation being offered.  Teaching and learning becomes vibrant because both teacher and children may be delighted and surprised by where the experience goes.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016

I never thought I'd.........

During the weekend I went to look at a gym with the idea that I might sign up as a member.  I invited my sister to come along with me  - she has a good understand of gym culture and what to look for.

While standing outside waiting for my sister I said to myself, talking to myself is certainly something that happens frequently in my world, I never thought I would see the day when I considered signing up for a gym.  My brother Bruce and sister Shona got all the fitness genes when they were born leaving me  feeling quite allergic to exercise all of my life.  So I never thought I’d see the day I joined a gym!!!!!!   Through my one way conversation I realised that there have been many times recently when I could have used that same term - ‘I never thought I’d …’ and therefore came to the conclusion that life is full of ‘I never thought I’d….’.

It does seem that in recent years the term ‘I never thought I’d…’ has been used with more frequency in my life.  For instance I never thought I’d jump out of a plane  especially since I have a fear of heights and get vertigo - hmmm but I did.  I never thought I’d go to Phuket for a holiday with my son - but I did.  I never thought I would speed out into the open ocean in a jet boat - the bounce terrifies me and the rock and roll of the sea when we stop certainly makes me feel squeamish.  But I did and laughed at the rolling swells which were higher than the boat. I never thought I would speak in front of a large crowd of people and enjoy it - but I do frequently.  Actually I use to be mysteriously absent from school during school speech day.

This growing change in attitude originated from when I realised that I was a learner.  I trained later in life to be a teacher having failed at secondary school.  I say failed very purposefully because that was how I felt - and how I felt about myself as a learner counts because the end goal of all education is to create life long learners.  I did not feel, or know I was a learner when I left college and the outcome of this was to lessen my horizons. As I studied to complete my teaching degree (in my 40s) I connected with a passion and found that I was a learner after all.  Knowing that I am a learner was life changing because it changed my attitude to life or more importantly my understanding of what it was possible for me to achieve and experience.  My view was lifted to the possibilities for learning and for experiencing life to its fullest, broadening my horizons.  The change has gathered momentum, this maybe due to realised successes that have spurred me on to try different challenges and experiences which often take me out of my comfort zone.  There is a saying, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’

In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset she wrote, “What or earth would make someone a nonlearner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn.  Infants stretch their skills daily…..What could put an end to this exuberant learning? The fixed mindset.  As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid to challenges.”

As teachers of any age group we should be driven to support life long learning.  In order to do this we need to give learners the opportunity to learn through their passion, to tinker with their own ideas, find solutions to their own problems, take responsibility for their own learning and to have opportunities to succeed through persistence.  Writers such as Carol Dweck, Nathan Mikaere-Wallis, Peter Gray, Sir Ken Robinson and many more have influenced me and the way I think about teaching and learning.  Learners of all ages and developmental stages need to have the opportunity to lead their own learning otherwise as Nathan Mikaere-Wallis says we can just be parrots who are able to parrot back the right answers. 

The goal is to grow learners who are resilient, who have grit and a growth mindset.  We want young adults to leave the education system knowing that they are learners who are able to rise to new challenges with a positive attitude to learning and life.  Growing this starts in early childhood and continues into every sectors.  Teachers have the possibility to grow thinkers and learners by being open to the possibilities when thinking about brain development research and the implication this has for education.  Education has the possibility to shift from an industrial model as teachers reflect on world wide research and models of education that are working well.    Play based learning is gaining momentum in primary school as is inquiry based learning.  There are growing conversations about continuity of learning between sectors which means we have to focus on the commonalities and create a shared understanding about wise teaching practice across all education sectors in order to sustain meaningful and deeply embedded change.  What is different about 21st century learning or are we using the same model that our great-grandparents used.

We want to support learners to have a growth mindset in order for them to cope with an ever changing world.  The question is, are we as teachers confident that we are accomplishing the desired outcome to grow thinkers and learners, young people with a growth mindset who are able to rise to the challenges and experiences that the world has to offer? We want young people who are able to face uncertainity and think I always thought I could….

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Stick

In my workshops on Tinkering we look at the five most popular toys of all time.  According to an article on Teacher Tom's blog the stick is number 1. As this video shows the stick is so diverse in it's uses.  Gever Tulley started the Tinkering School after hearing comments about sticks.   These words were his inspiration to think about creating opportunities for children to tinker with their own ideas.  We may have heard these words or even used them ourselves:
"Is that a stick. You know the rules about playing with sticks" said a parent to a child.
Sticks create many possibilities for using your imagination and to create wonderful conversations.  I discussed this in another post on the ELP Blog about my grandchildren and their use of and questions about sticks.  To view follow this link:
Sticks are loose parts at their very best.
This is a wonderful rap to the power of the stick - to its ability to open up imaginative play, create problems in building and encourage meaningful and engaging learning.
I was asked by a teacher, " I am looking for help in what the relationship  is between loose parts/open-ended materials and creativity?"
My short reply was, the link between loose parts and creativity is the ability to use the loose parts in many ways unlike closed resources that have only one way of being able to be used.  It is divergent thinking that is being nurtured through loose part play."
Here is a link to an excerpt from Contemporary Perspective on Play in Early Childhood Education Olivia Saracho and Bernard Spodek

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis also talks about divergent thinking in this excerpt from a radio interview he had on Radio NZ Talkback.  To hear the whole interview go to:
Nathan said, "Intelligence is really problems solving at its heart and problem solving is hugely enhanced by creativity."
So that brings me back to the stick.  The stick is a divergent rather than convergent (only has one purpose) resource.  The humble stick allows children to dream and be creative and by doing this opens up the possibilities for children to tinker with their own ideas.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The planning dance.....

Below is an excerpt from the book Insights written by Fleet, Patterson & Roberston.  Many writers have contributed to the book and this excerpt is written by Jill McLachlan who is a Sydney teacher working in a school that cater for children from three to eight years old.  I think she writes so well about the internal struggle teachers have as they consider how to share the power while building a curriculum around children’s passions, play/inquiry and questions.  

Our view of the children certainly impacts on the way we think about teaching and learning. If we view the child the way that Rinaldi has described below it is easy to think of children leading their own learning through play and inquiry.  When I think of play it is not a narrow view of play but it is about giving children the opportunity to play with their own ideas, problems, creations and of course free play.

To ensure that children are leading their learning it will mean that we cannot have planned out days, weeks or months as this potential will highjack the learning.  We need to be able to move in response to children, like a dance.  A dance is such a wonderful metaphor for planning.  Imagine the waltz with the child as the leader.  There are guidelines and boundaries for the dance, but, well the direction is up to the child.  As the child leads you get a glimpse of where you have been as you peer over their shoulder.  This is retrospective planning - looking back to see where you have been.   A great waltz, so I am told - this is not my strengthen, requires a partnership and a deep trust from both partners in the dance.

“Following the interests of children is not a predicable process, no matter what the context.  Children see differently, walk differently, care differently and talk differently from adults and from each other.  Walking beside children, rather than leading them, requires constant and committed reflection with every step.  It means getting down low, adjusting your pace regularly, and following through to completion.  It requires negotiation, questioning and risk, recognising and respecting the difference that exist among a group of thinkers.
Engaging with children’s real concerns and thoughts requires careful and intentional decision-making on the part of a teacher.  When the question asked or the situation that has occurred touches on issues we don’t have clear answers to, we begin to ask ourselves may questions:
Is the discussion worthwhile?
It is okay for me to share my opinion?
When do I challenge the group?
When do I choose to stay silent?
How can I relate within the group without exerting control over the process?
How can I create space for the children to have a voice?
How can I protect all of the children if I can’t control the direction of the responses?

In other words, this list might be simply put: ‘How do I facilitate meaningful learning in this moment?’……

I am reminded of Italy and the schools of Reggio Emila.  They seem to touch the ‘untouchable’.  I admire and respect them for the risks that I so often fear to take.  How have they come to navigate so confidently through such unexplored territory?  Why are they open to risk, adventure, questioning and open-ended experiences in a way that I have only dreamt about?  There is such power in the way they ‘see’ and therefore relate to children.  They seem to carry with them an almost mystical faith in children; faith in the sense that they pursue the unseen, confident of a goal that can only be described in retrospect.  It seems to me that their faith in the children themselves is what frees them to share their power.
They see a child who is:
Rich in resources, strong, and competent.. unique individuals with rights rather than simply needs. They have potential, plasticity, openness,     the desire to grow, curiosity, a sense of wonder, and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate….children are also very open to exchanges and reciprocity as deeds and acts of love that they not only want to receive but also want to offer. (Rinaldi, 1998, p.114)

Who wouldn’t take this child’s lead?  So the journey towards shared power and control has begun for me.  Children are powerful; I am learning  to give some of my power away.”

Monday, 28 March 2016

Aspirations without fears.

Follow this the link to an article  that is great to reflect on when considering gathering parents aspirations for their children. Lego children learn through play

These conversations with whānau need to really be kanohi ki te kanohi rather than a form to fill in. Through meaningful conversations parents are asked to consider their hopes and dreams for the children.   As the article says there is so much unnecessary pressure for parents regarding their aspirations.
2014-07-21 12.43.31Imagine the moment that the father or mother gazes upon their child for the first time, what would be going through their minds. I could imagine, “I want the world for you, for you to be happy, healthy, loved …….” without the pressured thoughts of getting ready for school, life, a job, or being left behind as the article talks about.
Ka Hikitia Accelerating Success 2013-2017 states,
A productive partnership in education means a two-way relationship leading to and generating shared action, outcomes and solutions. Productive partnerships are based on mutual respect, understanding and shared aspirations. They are formed by acknowledging, understanding and celebrating similarities and differences.
For Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013– 2017 to be successful, stakeholders must form productive partnerships where there is an ongoing exchange of knowledge and information, and where everybody contributes to achieving the goals.
A productive partnership starts with the understanding that Māori children and students are connected to whānau and should not be viewed or treated as separate, isolated or disconnected. Parents and whānau must be involved in conversations about their children and their learning. They need accessible, evidence-based information on how to support their children’s learning and success.
Reflective question:  How do we incorporate parents/whānau voice, aspirations, knowledge, passions and past experiences into the day to day curriculum, our annual planning and strategic plans?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

I am really enjoying Peter Gray's book, Free to Learn.  It is so thought provoking and inspiring.  I have typed out a small excerpt from the book in response to some wonderful conversations that I have been having with teachers about giving children not only the time to play but the the time to play without adult intervention.

“In our culture today, parents and other adults overprotect children from possible dangers in play.  We seriously underestimate children’s ability to take care of themselves and make good judgements.  In this respect, we differ not just from hunter-gatherer cultures, but from all traditional cultures in which children played freely.  Our underestimation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - by depriving children of freedom, we deprive them of the opportunities they need to learn how to take control of their own behaviour and emotions.”

Gray then talks about the rise in narcissism and the decline in empathy and the findings of a study carried out on a group of college students.  From this point he concludes:

“From all I have said in this chapter, it should be no mystery why a decline in play would be accompanied by a rise in emotional and social disorders.  Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals.  There is no substitute for play as a means of learning these skills.  They can’t be taught in school.  For life in the real world, these lessons of personal responsibility, self-control, and sociability are far more important than any lessons that can be taught in school.” (Free to Learn, Pg.174-175)

While I am inspired by Peter Gray, Sir Ken Robinson, Nathan Mikaere-Wallis and many others I have recently re-looked at Te Whāriki.  This too is such an inspirational and forward thinking curriculum that is talking about much of what current research is now saying.
Within the principles of Te Whāriki there is a lot of the current discourse that we have now about children leading their own learning.  
For instance:
"The early childhood curriculum builds on the child's own experiences, knowledge, skills, attitudes, needs, interests, and views of the world within each particular setting.  Children will have the opportunity to create and act on their own ideas, to develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them, and to make an increasing number of their own decisions and judgements." (Pg. 40)

"Adults provide encouragement, warmth, and acceptance.  They also provide challenges for creative and complex learning and thinking, helping children to extend their ideas and actions.... (Pg.43)

I will certainly be looking more closely at the links between Te Whāriki, the New Zealand Curriculum, current research and the importance of inquiry / play based learning. 

Note to self:  Maybe I should just call inquiry/play based learning - tinkering.  Tinkering with your own ideas, thoughts, passions, environments, resources, words, relationships, the list goes on.  Yes tinkering it is,  because it gives me and others the freedom to consider many possibilities and this will lead to limitless thinking and learning.