Saturday, 27 January 2018

My request to begin the year...

Now let me start this post by saying this, we are all different, we all teach differently and have different strengths.  I have no desire to make you like me, I absolutely do not believe that what I do is the only way to do things.  However there is one thing we have in common, and that is the children we teach.

Although they may be different and unique in many ways, developmentally they all go through the same stages (however at various speeds) and they all have brains developing that need to be catered for in developmentally appropriate ways.  Wow, what a challenge that is, and a challenge I have decided to take on over the last couple of years.  What a journey so far!

A closer look at development brings us back to Piaget's model for cognitive development.  I am absolutely sure anyone that has done child development is familiar with Vygotsky and Piaget.  Their research remains incredibly relevant for us today and is also backed up by research into brain development.  Obviously there is more to early development than this diagram represents, but it is certainly a good starting point for anyone wanting to explore this further.

More info can be found with a quick google, but here is a good article to read.

Also this one on the work of Vygotsky, who offers a much more social point of view of learning that Piaget, which I feel is more relevant to play-based learning.  To me and a very obvious reason that a play-based approach works, is the amount of quality social interaction that goes on.  However, I am not a researcher, and am much more interested in the practical application of an approach based on play, rather than having to justify why it works.  The work of John Holt is also worth a read if you are interested in exploring more.

This along with the research of Nathan Wallis points strongly to the fact that what we are expecting of our children in their first few years at primary school (at least) is not cognitively appropriate.  It is this cognitive development that I am really focusing on in this post, however I am very aware that this development does not happen in isolation from emotional, social and physical development.

Although much of this research has been around for a very long time, and at some stage we have all studied it, it seems to be largely ignored in our classrooms.

Why do we feel the need to test children from day one, why do we rush them into learning like reading before they are ready or interested, why are we forcing them to sit and concentrate for extended periods of time, why are we expecting children to hold information in their head when their brain is absolutely not yet able to? Why are we labelling children as struggling, when they are not even up to the point in their development where they are ready to learn in this way?  Why do we think that for children to learn, we need to be right there like the fountain of all knowledge?

What is the need to use a test to 'assess' a starting point, when by simply observing and listening to a child we would have a pretty good idea of their stage of development.  Why do we not trust ourselves more than a standardised test?

Why are we wasting our teaching time with strategies that are not working or creating anxiety?  Why are we even employing strategies that cause stress for us and the child?

My plea to you is to have a really close look at the practices you are currently using.  Honestly think about the developmentally appropriateness of what you are doing or expected to be doing.  Is it appropriate to rush a child in their first week or two at school into magenta reading when they do not yet have the oral language or working memory (amongst other things) to make this learning relevant and useful to them.  What would be the harm in just letting them settle in, and taking some time to get to know them developmentally.

Is it appropriate to expect a child to write when their fine and gross motor skills and oral language abilities are still developing.  I liken this to me walking into a classroom and being asked to sit down and write a story in Chinese.  Wow how stressful would this be?  Hugely?  Would I succeed?  No...I wonder how I would feel about myself after a few weeks of this activity?  Particularly if cognitively I was not even ready of this activity and the ability to hold symbols in my head was not yet something I could do.

What harm would it do for us to wait?  None.  What benefits would there be from waiting till interest was shown and readiness was seen...huge benefits, believe me, I have seen them first hand.

From my experience pushing children into learning early has no positive long term impact, but I am absolutely sure it has a negative one.

To put this in perspective, our children still made progress last year, none of them were 'held back' many of them excelled academically because they were ready, others developed in their own time and at their own pace, and developed a love of learning.  The one thing they had in common were the development of fantastic social and emotional skills that will serve them well this year.  They learned through their urges and were exposed to learning that I would never have normally introduced to new entrants.

If you are teaching in the first three years, or even beyond, consider the benefits play will bring to your children.

Just because you have always done it, you don't have to keep doing it.  Current research and past research clearly points out that traditional approaches are not appropriate and we need to do something about it.

If you are interested my store has my 1st and 2nd 'book' about my journey so far.  (this is very much a journey)

This is the developmental checklist we use at the moment, it is a great form of assessment and a superb record of progress.

And these are the dispositions and habits we are working towards in the first six years.

This is the framework diagram I created to guide my practice.

If you feel a need to demonstrate progress, oral language is a fantastic way to do this as it is developmentally appropriate. The JOST tool is a good one that I have used before, it is quite easy to deliver and gives us an interesting insight into where a child is up to and the progress that is being made.

Let us all take a good look at what we are doing, discard the things that do not be serve children and amplify the practice that does.  Together we can make a huge difference.

Still in this...

Unsure who wrote this, but absolutely agree!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

What is the aim of education today?

Something I have been contemplating lately is the aim of education.  What is it we are trying to achieve?  Many of the skills still being fostered in classrooms today, are not relevant to the workplaces they will find themselves in,  so what direction should we be taking?

What is our aim?

 You only have to read articles about workplaces like google to know that times have changed, test scores do not matter, intelligence has been redefined and somewhere along the way education has missed the memo.  We live in a world today, where the most successful are forging their own path, often despite the education they have had, not because of it.  So many people are self made now, they have created viable businesses out of their passions...not because of the success they had in school, but because for some reason they were strong enough to follow their passion, they had a strong sense of self.

I think this could be the ultimate aim we should have in mind for education, allowing children to create a strong sense of self and an awareness of how they are connected to their environment and to others.  Understanding their place, their passion, and having the belief to forge ahead.

Workplaces still value intelligence, but not as measured by tests scores.  Overwhelmingly workplaces demand a different intelligence, one that displays the ability to think in different ways, to pose problems, to be creative, to be a team player, to know and use your strengths, to have an absolute passion for learning, to have resilience and grit.  To not expect there is one answer, or to even just look for one, to have initiative, humour and humility.  To have emotional intelligence.

In fact many workplaces don't really care for qualifications, they care about the person standing in front of them, not the marks on a piece of paper.  Does this person have a strong sense of self, do they know their passions, abilities and shortcomings.  Do they know where they need to improve and are they willing to do so. Can they work with others, can they cope with being wrong, do they know how to think, will they stick with it, can they bounce back from difficulty, do they have initiative and can they appreciate the points of view of others?

This article is worth a read

Within this article you can find the following paragraph...

"While in school, people are trained to give specific answers. “It’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer,” Bock says. “You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

The article goes through many of the skills or dispositions wanted by google, but try as hard as you might nowhere do they list the ability to follow, comply, complete tasks even if they have no value, work from a task board, produce a piece of work exactly like the person next to me etc...

So why are many classrooms still focusing on creating such a different definition of success, than that of the workplaces many of our children will go into.  

I advocate for planning for dispositions and habits, but while out walking in the rain yesterday I reflected on what it was I was actually trying to give to children here.    If I create an environment that is rich in these dispositions and habits, what is it I am exactly trying to do, what is my end game?

After 6km in the rain I came to a diagram in my head that I have tried, probably very poorly, to show below. Ultimately I think the end game is that I want children to have a strong sense of self, to understand how all of those dispositions and habits serve them.  To start to understand their passions and interests.  To have connection and understand their connection to others.  While contemplating this, I reflected on what the key aspects of an educational environment needed to be to enable a child to develop this sense of self.

We all hear the old nugget, you need to believe in yourself....and yes that is true, but I believe that for this to be possible, first you need to have key adults, or peers that believe in you...that validate you as an individual, that give you a sense of belonging, because everyone needs validation and belonging.  

I believe they also need the capacity to believe in others.  This comes back to be effective in a working environment I am going to need to have empathy and emotional intelligence, and this allows me to believe in others around me.  To trust them.  To sometimes even change my point of view because of what they teach me.  

 Lastly I do need to believe in myself, which can be incredibly hard...and is a process that needs to be supported in the classroom environment.  A key adult highlighting and validating the disposition and habits that I have used, not praising the final product is crucial in my opinion.  

Self-belief to me is not believing I can do absolutely anything, it is believing that I can improve and do well if I work hard.  It is understanding what makes me unique.  It is appreciating the integral role I have to play in my success.

I think these three prongs of belief, are something we need to be taking the time to embed in our classroom environments, thus in turn will promote and develop as strong sense of self.  Once again it all comes down to relationships.

Anyone that has read my posts before knows that I advocate for play.  I do so, because I believe this environment is one, that created well, can deliver all the dispositions and habits that are absolutely valued by the workplaces children will eventually go into.  In these environments children are given the ultimate gift, to see how their passions and interests have an absolute place in their education.  Best of all, they get to share this with others.

I also advocate for approaches like Mantle of the Expert that encourage creativity and all the wonderful dispositions that will allow children to work as a purposeful team

However I believe absolutely that whatever the approach that is taken, children's interests and needs must be at the centre of it.  Planning should not be something we do at the start of the term and then deliver to children.  For them to develop a true sense of self the curriculum that is presented in a classroom needs to be living, breathing and evolving, not governed by timetables and intentions, or the big topic I have to cover, but by the passions and interests of children and the relationship they have with each other and their teacher/s.

Sadly I believe that our current system advocates 'sameness.'  Even sadder is that Teacher Education seems to be also based on this sameness.  How is it possible that in a world that values and desperately needs people with passions and interests, and a strong sense of self, is it that education still promotes this blanket approach.  

You only have to watch Dragons Den or Shark Tank to know that age is no barrier to inventing or creating, and certainly not a barrier to success.  The children, I've seen as young as 15 in there, have one thing in common, someone has believed in them, they have belief in others (to take the risk they are taking) and the belief in themselves and their passion.  

Now, not every child is going to be an entrepreneur, but I believe that once we find our passion, the world is our oyster.  Learning through passion is then no longer just learning, it is a vocation that we are driven to explore and develop.  It is very hard to learn through passion, or to develop a sense of self, if someone else is in the driver's seat.

Or this girl, incredible at 15.  

Children are capable of so much more than we are currently expecting, we are just expecting the wrong things.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Through the eyes of a five year old

This post has been brewing a while, but while I have been occupied writing my next play-based book it has taken a back seat.  That book is now finished, has been proofed and I am just in the middle of reading it through one last time. 

The further I get into play-based learning, the further away I obviously get from who I was as a 'traditional' classroom teacher.  The more research I have read in the process of writing my book, the happier I become about my choice.  The flip side of this is the sense of frustration I now get when I look at some of the developmentally inappropriate things taking place in the classrooms of our youngest children. The practices that are causing our children great stress and slowly stripping away the strong sense of self that they often walk into our classrooms with.  I had no idea how I was making children feel, that I wasn't adding value by accelerating them into learning that they were not ready for.  I was kind and caring, gentle even.  I really couldn't see that what I was doing was causing them anxiety. 

I understand why these practices are still going on, after all it is how we have been taught to teach, we think we are doing the right thing, believe me, I thought I was too.

From the front of my book....

Just a Thought…

We are so busy preparing children to be successful adults that we forget to embrace the brilliance of a child.  Their honesty, often to the point of bluntness; their openness to new learning; their inquisitiveness; their quirky senses of humour and the way they can belly laugh at just about anything. Their ability to freely use their imaginations without the constraints of reality; their intelligence to be able to turn the tiniest, most obscure thing into a wonderful world of play; their inventiveness and their ability to truly be absorbed in the moment. Their innate ability to embrace difference; and their dispositions of wonder and joy. Not to mention their overwhelming ability to forgive.  Children gradually learn to modify these behaviours to become what they think we need them to be, but maybe it is us that should be modifying ourselves.  The world needs the qualities of a child, now more than ever.  Bringing play back to classrooms could be just the answer we are looking for.

So back onto the point of this blog post.  I wanted to write it from the perspective of a five year old and their adventure into  school.

Traditional Classroom(these are things that have happened in my class, that I was completely oblivious to)

I am so excited about starting school.  Everyone has been telling me how amazing it will be.  I enjoyed the visits, but I am a bit worried because everyone seems to know a lot more than me.  
I started today, it wasn't too bad, but we had to sit still for a long time.  I found it difficult because I'd just start to play with something and then I'd have to pack up and come to the mat.  I wanted to go back to this play, but the teacher told me I had to do other things.  We sat for AGES! I feel a bit stupid because the teacher is talking about things that I have no idea about.  We had to colour a picture, the other kids told me I was scribbling and that I needed to strive for accuracy, but I was doing my best.  I won't try next time.

Today is my second day, I didn't really want to come.  We did writing today.  I couldn't find my book, I felt stupid.  I've never really learned to use a pencil.  I prefer to play outside.  We had to write.  We had to write in silence.  It hurts to hold this pencil, I don't think I'm cut out for this writing stuff.  I had no idea of my own, so I copied the teachers story, hers is perfect so if I copy hers, I can't be wrong.  She didn't seem very happy that I did this.  I even copied her name, she told me that was her name and I needed to do my own.  I don't know what my name looks like yet.  

Today is my third day, I cried, I feel worried.  I didn't want mum to go.  The teacher told her I have settled in well.  That is what she thinks.  I saw some toys in the corner today that I really wanted to play with.  I got them out, but got in trouble because I was supposed to be using the puzzles and books at the front of the room, it was reading time apparently.  I don't really like puzzles and I'm not really interested in books yet.  Reading time is boring.  The other children seem to know what they are doing, I don't...I think I am stupid.

Today is my fourth day, the teacher sat next to me and asked me about the alphabet and numbers.  I had no idea and she kept putting dots next to the letters.  I think that means I got it wrong.  I felt yucky in my tummy when this was going on.  I don't want to try, I might be wrong, so I just gave up.  I just want to play with the trains and trucks, but that is for choosing time and that is after lunch.    Are letters and numbers different?  I have no idea.  The teachers seemed frustrated that I didn't know anything.  We did maths.  Oh dear.  We had to make a group of ten.  I don't know what ten looks like.  The other kids tried to help me.  I just felt like a dummy.  I hate maths too.

Today is the fifth day, the worst one yet.  I was put in a reading group.  The teacher says I am going to learn to read.  I sat in the group.  She tells me to point to the words, what are they?  They other kids know what they are doing, I don't.  I feel stupid.  How come they know and I don't?  That yucky feeling is in my tummy again. I have decided that I hate reading, if this is what reading is, I don't want to read.  I did see some books about horses they looked interesting to me, but I wasn't allowed those ones, they were for the other children that can already read.  I just want to go outside.  I got brave and I asked,  The teacher said we don't go outside until playtime.  She seemed annoyed.  She's really busy trying to read with other children and I interrupted her.   Why can't we play outside?

I told mum that I felt worried at school.  That I feel nervous talking about reading, writing and maths.  She talked to the teacher and the teacher said she hadn't noticed anything.  She isn't lying, she probably hasn't, I hardly ever get to spend time with her.  She's so busy getting all the groups done.  I am going to be sick next week. I want to go back to Kindy, my teachers loved me there and I loved them.  

A Classroom Based on Play (probably a little fast forwarded, but you get the idea, once again based on a child staring in our class.)

I am so excited about starting school.  Everyone has been telling me how amazing it will be.  I enjoyed the visits, but I am a bit worried because everyone seems to know a lot more than me. That's ok though because everyone spent a lot of time playing, and I know I am good at playing.

Today was my first day. I was worried but I loved it.  We spent most of our time playing.  The teacher talked to me a lot, she already knew I like trains, she had asked me at my visits.  We talked some more about trains today.  She showed me where there were some toys I might like, and she showed me where the special train books were.  I spent a lot of time looking at these, they were really interesting, and guess what, the teacher let me take one home.  Wow.  I made a friend too, we hadn't met before, but we played and we both like trains and tomorrow we are going to make our own train track.

Today was my second day.  I made mum bring me early so I could play outside with my friend.  When the bell went, we were allowed to go back outside into the busy.  When we came inside we made our train track and the teacher loved it.  She let us keep it up, we didn't have to pack it up, she knew it was special to us.  My friend likes to draw so I decided to have a go.  It didn't matter that I hadn't drawn before, we just had fun.  We got to make our own books, I ended up turning mine into a paper plane and the teacher thought this was cool.  She took a photo.  Some other kids liked paper planes, so we made some and had a flying competition outside.  The teacher wrote a story about this and sent it home.  Mum was so happy to see how happy I am.  Now I have lots of friends.

Today was my third day.  We were pretend agents today, there was this funny puppet.  It had a funny voice and the teacher made me laugh.  If this is maths, I love it!  There wasn't a right answer, we just made stuff out of popsicle sticks, I knew a lot about triangles and I could help my friends to make them.  Some of the other kids are learning to read.  I asked the teacher if I could read with her, she said yes.  I sat beside her, I even snuggled in and she didn't mind at all.  I made the story up and she said how well she thought I had done.  Then she read the story to me because I asked.  The other kids came and listened to.  It was so much fun I love reading!

Today was my fifth day.  I played in the bush with my friends a lot today.  We had a bit of an argument and the teacher helped us to sort it out because we asked for her help.  She told me I had done well using my words.  I was really happy.  We spent some time on the mat doing writing today.  All we have to do is draw a picture.  The teacher told us a story and drew it out and then she said have a go.  We didn't have to stay long and when we had had enough we could go.  I spent some extra time drawing because I really enjoyed it.  I love writing.  

My mum came in to thank the teacher for making my start to school such a good one.  The teachers said that I had settled in well and have friends.  She is right, I am really happy.  I still like trains, but I also like lots of other things.  I feel so proud of myself.   I like school.  


Obviously this is a rushed version of events, but a very real reflection.  I really want us to be conscious of the stress of we inadvertently cause children.  Why do we think rushing children into magenta as soon as they start school is benefiting them?  That testing their early literacy and numeracy is valuable?  Why do we think that the earlier we get them onto cognitive learning the better?  Where is the research that points to the need to accelerate children beyond their developmental stage, because I certainly have not been able to find any.  If we are expecting children to do, something they are not developmentally ready for, I'm afraid we are the ones that need to look at ourselves.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Starting Out - A skeleton plan for going forward in agency 2018

The set up of Number Agency is absolutely crucial to its success. As with any Mantle the children need to believe in this world and be intrigued by it, that takes a little time. The more children buy into this imaginary world, the more effective Number Agents will be.

With older children it can probably be done slightly faster, but with younger children I like to take our time. It is not like they are not doing maths during this time, as a lot of their maths comes out of their self-directed play.
A lot of this initial process is guided by the children and where their wonderings take us, but this is my initial first step planning into agency.

A large amount of maths will come through play and will be encouraged through provocations,

and reflected on through learning stories and class reflections.

Number Agents - Week 1 - 3 (really only two weeks as we go back halfway through week one)

Playing a variety of drama games, to develop confidence, positivity - Preparing children to

work in agency. I have some drama game packs on TPT if you are interested.

Emphasis is on participating and contributing - settling in

Prepare file box and secret files. The secret files I use are here. Ensure puppets and clients are

all ready to go. Client pack here.

Put up question mark on wall where Number Agent will eventually be. Why might this be here??

Week 4 - 6

(hooking in pack here on TPT)

Hooking In and Building Belief -

Head agent revealed via photo next to question mark...I have my eye on you...who is this man?

Series of problems arrive via a message in a bottle.

These are from fairy tale characters and nursery rhyme characters

and are mathematically based.

Message appears at any time during the day and if a child sees it first they alert everyone

to the problem and gather as quickly as they can.

Once we have worked through solving these, head agent will visit via voki, he has noticed our

problem solving skills and needs a team like us to

join forces against a group of Villains that are wreaking havoc on our world.

Imagine our office space

Have agent photos taken and numbers assigned to us.

Map of NZ appears on agency wall. Question marks are located on this map,

what do these represent?

Lead agent props arrive.

Focus is on working with others to solve problems and building intrigue.

Week 7

Start working in agency, set up rituals, what song plays when we go into agency.

We face the villain that is hovering over Whangarei on that day, who might it be.

Start slowly with simple sessions, as a villain is introduced, their picture is turned over on the


Client pack available here. I use static images to introduce a client.

Put up the villains photo on wall as we face each one.

Introduce professor.

Introduce Cowgirl as children demonstrate they may be ready for talk moves.