Friday, 15 February 2019

We are just not really needed...

Well we have just finished our first full week at school.  Seven days in it is like we never left and although our class is now made up of nine new children (27 in total) the play at our place has just continued seamlessly.

I have already learned so much over the last week.  Thanks to Marc Armitage for giving me the confidence to know that for the most part, we really need to stay out of the play and just tune into what is going on.  I had started to get there last year, but his words have given me that last bit of confidence to just let go.

What we have noticed this week is how little we are needed and how with the different mixture of urges in the class, the play has changed from last year.  We have a lot of children with connection urges, so the items that largely went unused on our shelves last year have been out in force. 

We have spent the week realising how deep and rich the play already is, and how little attention the children pay to us.  We can be standing just a few steps away and they don't even notice us.  It allows us to tune into conversations, take note of vocab being used, notice the urges, interests and be able to write rich (but short) reflections on the children that include the dispositions being used.

They come to us, just to affirm what they are doing, just to really reflect them, to quickly share, then they are off again.  They may invite us in, but on their terms and often only for a short time and for the novelty of it all.

It has allowed me to see how much the environment provokes and just how little as teachers we need to be doing to provoke this play.  In fact I can quite happily tell you I did nothing out of the ordinary this week and had the pleasure of taking part in some beautifully rich reflections where children were inspired by the big ideas of each other.

In terms of my role, well it was one of pulling all the ends together, finding connections, drawing attention to dispositions, finding moments to allow children to grow socially and emotionally, promote kindness, writing up class learning stories in our scrapbook and taking photos to share.  Our scrapbook is already really full, I have allowed myself the time to notice so much and children the freedom to play without the intrusion of an adult.  I truly am starting to feel like I have the ability to 'see' the power of the play and have come to a place where I  trust that the learning will spill out...the play is the learning and the children are the curriculum.

We've opened up our space a lot this year

Some images of play this week....wonderful fun!


A koru pattern, inspired by the art of his big brother

A wonderful story written about this in our journal because of the problem solving I was able to just stand back and watch.

Koru pattern

Our place feels so relaxed, it is full of joy, excitement, imagination, creativity, cooperation, kindness, empowerment, negotiation and moments to learn from each other.  Thanks to Marc Armitage I have taken the time to watch for children starting play independently, continuing it independently and ending it independently.  Such a great measure of a child in a play-based environment. 

Because we keep children developmentally I also have the privilege to see that shift in the children we have already spent 6 months to a year with.  It allows me the confidence to deeply know them and understand how we desperately need our system to gain more understanding about developmental progress in children.  I have also come to trust in myself, that I am getting it right, I am understanding children more deeply, discarding the need to worry about age and having the insight to engage with children individually.

I love this way of working, I truly love education in this form and my deepest wish is that every child across NZ had the right to experience school in this way.

The mind map below captures what our path has been so far.

The reality is, if we are to get this play thing right, we have to realise that they just don't need us as much as sometimes we'd like them to, and that is absolutely wonderful!

Friday, 1 February 2019

The Art Of Hiding The Vegetables

Something I have learned over the last four years of this journey is that as teachers we have a huge role to play in how children define successful learning in a classroom, this is no different in a classroom based on play.  Children notice every nuance, every facial expression, everything we say and do not say.  They notice how much weight we give to certain activities, how much positive attention we give and they seek to please us by choosing to engage in these activities.

What I have noticed over the 20 years of my career are that most children are people pleasers...particularly girls and they deeply want to do the right thing.  If they perceive that a certain type of 'play' is more desirable than another type, they will engage in this preferred type, even if it is not what they are interested in. 

Children are largely taught to people please, from the moment they pick up a book and get a huge smile from their mother or father and copious amounts of praise and pride heaped on them they learn that there are certain activities adults desire over others.  Did they get that same praise when they choose to mash the colours of doh together, jump proudly of that log in the backyard, skip around and around in circles or transport their toys one by one from one coach to another?  Probably not.  They learn early on that there are certain types of activities their adults like them to do, and often those are not the ones that their heart desires.  Add to this that they are often told by enthusiastic parents that when they start school they will learn to read and write  and when that first book comes home in the book bag is suddenly more important then the fun that they had creating a catapult that day, it becomes glaringly obvious what is desired.   Children are constantly given messages of what success does and does not look like and as adults we need to be aware of this.

What I have been aware of over the past few years, is that they are also looking for these reactions from the adults in the classroom.  These reactions are often not even conscious ones.  Do we display more approval in them selecting to draw on a whiteboard during play based time, than the imaginative play they have been engaging in with the loose parts?  Do we pay it more attention when they are counting rather than attending to their potion making?  Do we hold independent reading during play in higher regard than pirate games in the pole hut? 

What I have learned is despite how hard I have tried, I am still so inclined to be looking for the academic over the play, nothing wrong with this because I am trying to break habits of 15 years.  A smile, a look, a nod of approval, a word of praise, that is all they are looking for to work out what I value, what will make them successful, and your garden variety people pleaser will seek to do more of these things, rather than engaging in what they actually want to do.

So for play, deep, wonderful play, that is truly child-led (independently started, independently continued independently ended - thanks Marc Armitage) to flourish and grow in a classroom environment it is the play that needs to be focused on, the play that needs to be reflected on, shared, noticed and responded to.  In our space we do this a lot through class meetings, viewing and discussing the play, truly rejoicing in it and the fabulous dispositions shown, recording it in our class scrapbook.  We engage in the play as it is going on with "I wonder" statements, but to be honest my goal is to keep my nose out of it more often than not.  What I have found is that teacher interaction in the play largely comes about because we feel a need to be involved, I am coming to learn, we are not needed and need to hone our skills of observation instead. 

What I am trying to say in this post is that children easily take their cue from us.  The play may be the bit they enjoy, but if the adult is paying attention to the more academic tasks, then perhaps the 'vegetables' are more important and they will look for them in order to please us. 

They take their definition of success and learning from us, they seek to please us, therefore as teachers we can still be aware of all those 'academic' indicators but in my opinion for truly joyful, deep play to happen in our spaces...we need to keep these intentions hidden.

My goal for this year - Hide the vegetables :)