From lyric to language

Learning song lyrics is considered an effective way to memorise new language. Many people are able to learn lyrics in a language they do not know at all. At Italian kindergarten we often sing together and use songs to support language learning, including songs I have written to fit the program.

However, it is possible for lyrics in an unknown language to stay a string of sounds without meaning. To really make the transition to language learning, we have to break the lyrics out of the song, and bring them to life as spoken language.

This year, we have been starting each morning meeting (riunione) by singing Ciao Buon Giorno. This well known song is a comforting entry point into Italian for the children who are not used to hearing it. It is also an appropriate morning song, since the lyrics are the language of greetings.

One of the lines of the song is ‘buon giorno’. As a step in moving from lyric to language, I have now started to go around the group during riunione saying ‘buon giorno’ to each of them in turn, and providing an opportunity for them to reply the same to me. For many of the children this is well established knowledge. For some it is new. Then there are those who well know what buon giorno means, and when you are supposed to say it, but are used to leaving taller people to communicate on their behalf. And some for whom speaking up in a group is a challenge.

We are all participating in this social routine, but the learning involved for each child can be different.

Le fritelle


This week marked the end of Carnevale, and the beginning of Lent. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and the day before – Shrove Tuesday – is the last day of Carnevale. In Italian it is called Martedi Grasso – Fat Tuesday – like Mardi Gras. In Australia, we know it as Pancake Tuesday. The origin of these names is the tradition of feasting on that day to use up foods that are not allowed during the Lenten fast – things like butter, sugar and eggs.

Cooking food with children at kinder is about involving them in the process. Our choice to make Australian pancakes is partly a nod to that tradition, but also partly due to practicalities. Pancakes are one of the easier things to make and cook in class.

I call them ‘fritelle’ in the Green Group program. I don’t know what pancakes are called in Italy, or whether they even eat them. But in the part of Italy I know best ‘fritelle’ are the Carnevale speciality. There, they are a kind of small donut, and are deep fried. Pancakes are also small and fried, so I figure ‘fritelle’ is a fair enough translation. But pan frying in an electric frying pan is much safer, and is something I am prepared to undertake in class.

We gathered as a whole group to make the pancake batter – burro, farina, uova, latte, zucchero e un pizzico di sale. The children took it in turns to add a spoonful of flour and stir the ingredients together. I had some keen volunteers to break the eggs, but I decided to do that myself rather than turn it into frittata by adding 13 eggs.

Another useful property of the pancake recipe is that it is very forgiving. I needed to be able to offer gluten and dairy free pancakes, and substitute ingredients work well. I had White Wings gluten-free self-raising flour, Nuttelex buttery margarine, and ricemilk. As it happened, I did not need to go dairy-free on the day, so I went with butter and cow’s milk. I made the pancakes fairly rich, with a bit of sugar, and plenty of butter and egg, so they were tasty enough to eat plain.

We cooked the fritelle around lunch time. While the children ate their lunch, I took children aside one at a time to cook a pancake with me. By doing it with one child at a time, I felt better able to control the risk, while still giving each child the maximum opportunity to be actively involved. The children poured a ladle of batter into the pan, watched the pancake for bubbles forming on top and told me when it was time to turn it, flipped it over with a spatula, counted to 20 while it cooked on the other side, and turned it out onto their plate.

Doing it one child at a time was lengthy, so it was important that the other children were not just waiting. They were engaged with eating their lunch, packing up and moving off to play. At the same time, they were in the room while it was happening, and were able to participate vicariously while others did it first. This can be important for children who are cautious about trying new things.

There is a lot of good learning to be had in an experience like this. Children are directly involved in doing something that is often done for them*. They are involved in making healthy food. They witness ingredients changing state from solid to liquid to solid. It is a memorable experience, with cultural resonance. It introduces new language in both Italian and English.

But the component I particularly noticed this time was the impact of my decision to work with each child individually to cook their pancake. I read something last year about the value of warm individual interactions with educators, where children can feel competent and appreciated. My initial motivation in setting it up as an individual activity was simply to provide close supervision around a hot frying pan.  But I soon noticed it was providing a context for me to have an extended, supportive interaction with each child. And perhaps that was, in the end, the most valuable part of the whole exercise.


*These reflect various aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework including agency, wellbeing, science, memory, risk, cultural competence, language.



                            L’uomo ragno

We always celebrate Carnevale in our Italian kindergarten program. Carnevale is an Italian cultural tradition with a child focus so it is a natural fit for us.   We take some inspiration from the Venetian Carnevale. Our celebrations include things like masks, constumes, and traditional pre-Lenten foods. We also continue the Australian kindergarten tradition of making pancakes in class.

One of the things we do is invite children to wear dress ups to kinder. This year, with Easter falling quite late, we have started dressing up the week before Ash Wednesday, and the dress ups have the been the focus of our week.

Some children stuck to the same favourite costume, while others chose a different one each day. There were no restrictions on what they could wear – a Carnevale tutto vale.

It is convenient that Shrove Tuesday falls so early in the year, as this is a time when the curriculum focus is often on Identity. We are getting to know the children and settling them into a sense of belonging in the group.

Wearing a costume allows children to explore and play with identity. They can enter into fantasy play in that role. They can adopt different ways of behaving. They can explore taking on aspects of personality.

This week, we particularly noticed how Paw Patrol costumes created opportunities for different combinations of children to connect with each other. The costumes scaffolded social play by giving children a known role to perform, pre-established by their shared knowledge of the Paw Patrol world.

We also noticed how some children who have been a little socially reticent seemed released by the costume. They appeared more relaxed, and leapt into social play with an ease we had not seen before. It was as if the freedom to pretend to be someone else gave them an opportunity to perform an identity with more social confidence.


We put tomatoes on the drawing table, with red pencils.
We got great drawings from that too.




My colleague brought in some Jerusalem artichoke flowers she picked on the way to work. We put them on our drawing table, with lots of yellow pencils and textas, and a black one for outlining. They did some lovely pictures.


Solar dyeing

I have discovered a new super cool thing to do in my teaching – solar dyeing.

We were making felt, so we had some white wool tops. Then I stumbled across a whole lot of online chat about solar dyeing in a wool enthusiasts group.  I asked about it, and a helpful person posted the instructions (see below).

We decided to give a go.  We got the children to mix up colours with edicol dye.  We added vinegar, and put the coloured water and wool in ziplock bags, so we did not have to worry about broken glass.  We taped them to a window in the sun – and enjoyed the stained glass effect from inside.  The weather promptly turned cold, so it took longer.  But after two weeks, when we had a look, lo and behold, the dye had indeed ‘exhausted’.  We rinsed them out (we just used cold water) and we had brightly coloured wool.

Like magic.


This was so easy.  We already had the wool and the other materials were things we already had around.  It is safe.  The colours are gorgeous.  Though I suppose we will find out eventually if it is colourfast.

We did it with wool tops for felting, but you could probably do it with knitting yarn as long as it is pure wool.

Basically what you should do is soak the fibre you want to dye in a tepid/hand warm vinegar/water solution before you put it in the jars. Make sure the Fiber is saturated, and no air pockets remain within the fibre (you can usually see them)

Once that’s done, gently wring them out taking care not to rub them or vigorously smoosh them together.

Get your jars half filled with tepid/handwarm water and add your food dye, ( I would say about 1/4 of a bottle of queens food dye) and give them a good stir. Add a good slurp of vinegar (I would say for about a 500gm jar you would need about 50ml (approx) BUT to be honest I just put a good glug in. You will have problems if you don’t put in enough, but putting in too much is not an issue apart from a vinegary smell. I don’t measure amounts too much with food dyes.

Layer your fibre into the half filled jar, the more room in the fibre has in there, the more saturated and consistent the colour will be. But if you like a little bit of a semi solid look then chuck a bit more in there. I tend to pack my jars out, because I like the variation.

Top the rest of the jar up with more water (same temperature) fill it right to the top, so that when you put the lid on there is very little or no air left in the jar.

Set them outside in an area that gets sun for most of the day!

Temps generally need to be in excess of 30deg for a good 8 -12 hrs for the colour to fully exhaust. If the weather is not as hot as that, then leave them out a few days.

You can test the jars to see if the dye has exhausted, by opening the jar, and using a white plastic spoon to sample the fluid in the jar, if there is no pigment in the fluid in the spoon you sampled, then the dye has exhausted and your ready to rinse the tops and hang out to dry!

Remember that the jars can become reaaaaly hot especially is your using thick walled mason or preserving jars.

Take them inside open the lids and let them cool, tip out the contents into your laundry tub and them them completely cool.

Once cold, rinse in water the same temp as the tops. (If you are seeing dye washing out of the fibre, stop rinsing, and make a bath of vinegar and water (same temp) to fix the dye.

Hang up to dry and viola ! Food coloured dyed fibres!!!!”

It doesn’t get easier

I have been teaching for over 15 years. One of the things that struck me this week is how it doesn’t actually get easier.

My first task of the year is to get to know the children and their families. This involves being organised and strategic about how to make sure we quickly make everyone feel safe and secure. It also involves emotional work – reaching out to create connections and forge relationships with a bunch of strangers.

We learn from experience. I think we can get better at this job. I am certainly happy to be able to draw on a depth of experience about how children behave, about what helps them settle, about when to counsel a parent to stay and when to encourage them to leave.

But I also find that the emotional task of reaching out to connect to new people is new every time. I don’t think it is something we can get used to. Perhaps we can withdraw and teach in a less emotionally available way. But when we set out to create a new meaningful relationship, we have to make ourselves emotionally open.

This process does not form callouses. It is new and fresh every time. It does not get easier, because each experience is wholly new. It is not a repeat of a past relationship. So the fact that I have done it many times before with other children and other mothers, and fathers, and aunts and nonni does not really count.

This is a new person. A completely unique new person. And we are going to get to know each other. For the first time.

It can be pretty demanding. I can find myself exhausted at this time of year, avoiding friends and cursing when the phone rings. My energy for people is absorbed in getting to know these new people in my life.

I have been doing this for a long time, and I have learnt a lot. One of the things I have learnt is that this does not actually get easier.

Is the Holy Grail this way?

This year, I have decided to try something new with my pedagogical documentation.

That, in itself, is not new. I don’t think I know a single educator who is satisfied with how they do their documentation. We are all always looking for that Holy Grail: the perfect way to document.

Perhaps we are asking for too much. We want it to be rich and meaningful and holistic and thorough and presentable and up to date. For each child we are teaching. Small wonder we are still searching.

Anyway, I have decided for this year that I want to use this blog as part of my documentation suite. I have pulled it out of moth balls, and plan to tell some of my 2015 teaching story in this medium.

In my long hiatus from blogging, I have been involved in the more dialogic world of facebook groups. There was a massive explosion of ECE onto facebook and there have been some fascinating groups appear. I have learnt so much about the situations and thoughts of other educators around Australia. These conversations often give me food for thought.

But we seem to have come full circle in parts. I am seeing the same topics crop up. The same questions asked. I know they are new to those posters, but I can’t find the energy to retype my views all over again. So I am coming back here.

One of the conclusions I have come to over the last year is that it is good to share more of my thoughts about teaching with parents. They need to understand where I am coming from. I am also heeding advice to do less documentation, but try to make it more meaningful.

In this site, I speak as an educator and my imagined audience is other educators. But I have now decided that the families I work with should be able to see me in that guise as well. So I plan to consider this blog part of my suite of documentation – up the reflective practitioner end of things – and invite parents in the group to read it if they like.


I’m back

This blog has had a long hiatus. Over the two years since I last posted here, rather than blogging I have been interacting with groups on Facebook. I have had some fascinating conversations, learnt a lot from others and learnt a lot about how others think and what they they want to know, made some friends and answered a lot of questions.
Now I have decided it is time to get back into blogging.
I will just get the end of the kindergarten year out of the way, and then I will start posting again.

Pizza bianca al rosmarino

The next instalment of our activities with herbs was pizza with rosemary topping – pizza bianca al rosmarino.

I like to cook with yeast with my classes.  It is such as great science experience, seeing the dough rise. The kids can knead the dough as much as they like – and that is a pleasure in itself.

This is a simple dough of granulated yeast, olive oil, strong white flour, salt and water. It is called pizza bianca (white pizza) because it is made without tomato. The topping is rosemary, salt and olive oil.

Our classes are less than 4 hours at the moment, and it can be hard to complete a complex activity in a day. So for this, we made the dough during our afternoon session, and then made up the pizzette the next morning. I also find it good cooking with yeast in winter in our centre, because we have heating in the floor.  We can put the dough on the floor, and be sure it will rise.

We gave each child a piece of dough to work, flatten into a pizza shape, sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and drizzle with oil.  We put each of them on a separate piece of baking paper, and wrote the child’s name in pencil.

We cooked it in a hot oven, and the children ate them for lunch.