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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.


Biscotti al rosmarino


We made ‘biscotti al rosmarino’ at kinder this week.

We asked the children to divide into two groups for this experience. They divided into two even groups themselves. At first the groups were 5 and 10.  I was interested to see how they spontaneously started to volunteer to wait until tomorrow, until the groups were fairly even.

First they went out and collected some rosemary from the garden. The children cut up the rosemary with scissors.  They combined the ingredients, taking turns to add and stir.  Each child got a small amount of dough to roll into a ball. They pressed them down gently on the tray to flatten them.

The cooked biscuits filled our room with the scent of rosemary.

We ate some biscuits during class.  Each child had to ask  “Posso avere un biscotto al rosmarino.” We practised how to say it. They could not have a biscuit unless they asked for it in Italian.  All the children did it.

There were plenty of  biscuits. At home time, we offered a biscuit to the people who came to pick us up.  The children had to say: “Vuoi un biscotto al rosmarino?”  Most of them did that too.

And the biscuits were yum.



flour               500g           

butter            250g

sugar             125g            

eggs              3                       



Melt butter. Cut rosemary fine. Combine flour and sugar, then add melted butter and eggs.  Blend into a workable dough. Form into small balls, then flatten onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.  Cook at 180° until the colour starts to change.

Salt writing

Melinda* had drawn a picture.  “It’s for my Mum”, she said.  I asked if I should write that for her – then thought to ask if she would like to write it herself.  We settled that she would write ‘Mum’. I wrote it for her and she copied.

Melinda went to put the drawing in her bag. I asked her please to put it in her folder so it would not get bent.  She was dubious about this, so I showed her the hanging folder with her name on it.

“But why doesn’t it have an A like my name”, she said. The lower case, serif font [a] is not what she is used to at the end of her name.

I got out my computer and showed Melinda her name written in CAPS and in lower case letters in various fonts. I showed her the difference between a big [A] and a little [a].

I had recently seen a blog post about writing in a tray of salt.  So I grabbed a tray from the kitchen and a layer of salt and brought it back to the room.

I got Melinda to write her name in the salt.  Then I showed her the difference between a big [A] and a little [a], writing with my finger in the salt.

We had an audience by then:  8 or 9 kids had a turn at writing their name in the salt.  I took photos of their writing, then rubbed it out and shook it smooth again for the next child. Melinda waited patiently for another turn.  She wrote in  the salt a couple more times. Then she went to play somewhere else.

Noel* was not so confident at writing his name.  I wrote a big [N] for him, and got him to trace it with his finger.  We did it several times.  Then I smoothed the salt and told him to try it himself.  What he wrote did not much resemble an [N].  So we tried again.  I wrote it for him, and got him to trace over it.  Over and over.  I told him to feel the movement, and try to remember how it felt.  Then I smoothed the salt and told him to try for himself again.  This time he wrote [M].  I quickly rubbed out the spare leg.  “Well done”, I said “That is [N] for Noel. You wrote it yourself.”

Later, when Mum came to collect her, Melinda grabbed her by the hand. “Come and see”, she said as she pulled Mum across the room to the salt tray.

Melinda wrote in the salt.  “This is a big [A] and this is how you do a little [a]” she said.  And she was right.


*names changed

The Magic Door

It started with a squabble over a long cardboard tube.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some children stabbing it with scissors, and others trying to grab it away.  I jumped in and asked what they were doing. Turned out they wanted to cut it up and make guns.

So I said no to that.

And I told them I thought the beauty of that tube was its length.  If we cut it up, we would wreck it.  Couldn’t we think of something else to make out of it.

‘A key’, he said.

‘Great’, I said ‘Go and draw what you want the key to look like, and we will work out how to make it’.

He drew the key. He found some tiny boxes to be the teeth. (Head first in the huge basket with his feet waving while he looked for the small boxes in the bottom.)  He found some masking tape, and taped the teeth to the tube.  I reminded him to make it strong.  I showed him how to add cross pieces to make it stronger.  I said ‘It is called reinforcing’, and he nodded and said ‘My Mum told me that’.

A friend jumped in and added an extra layer of tape to cover up holes in the boxes.  He had to negotiate with some others to get the short rounds of tube he wanted to make the handle end with.   Other mates added a bit here and there, or talked, or watched.

I sent a few of them to draw the door.   Again, he was the one who delivered.

He collected another pile of boxes and started to build a lock with his mates helping.

While they were busy, I snuck out with his drawing and copied it onto the fence.

When we went outside, I told them the Magic Door was out there somewhere. I showed them the drawing. They searched for it. They looked in the fort.  They looked on the hill. They started digging for it in the sandpit.

Then one of them found it.  He called out excitedly.  They all came running. ‘Yes’, they said ‘ That is the Magic Door’.  He went inside and brought out the key.

I sat them down in front of the door.

I asked ‘Is this a real door, or a magic door?’  And they said ‘Magic’.

I asked ‘Is this a real key, or a magic key?’ And they said ‘Magic’.

‘So where is it going to take us?  Out into the lane, or to a magic place?’ And they said ‘Magic’.

I told them they could go to a magic place. They could open the Magic Door with the magic key and go wherever they like, in their imagination.  I told them I would like to hear later where they went.

I took a photo of each of them using the magic key to open the Magic Door.  Then they ran off to play.

Later, he made a book.  He stapled 8 pages together.  He cried when they came apart.  I helped him make it stronger. Then he drew in it.

I managed to upload the photos and put them into a PowerPoint on my laptop in the latter part of the class. We had mat time at the end of the three hour class.

I showed them his drawings, and the key they had made. I used the PowerPoint to tell them the story of the Magic Door.

Then I invited him to read his book.  He got up and ‘read’ it to his classmates. He told them about going up a high mountain, and flying on the back of a giant bird.

And we were both very pleased.

Flowers are red

A friend linked me to this song by Dawud Warnsby. She used to use it with students of early childhood education.

It is lovely. It vividly illustrates the idea that children should be allowed to see the world in their own creative and honest ways, and not be locked into stereotypes.

I am sure none of us would recognise ourselves in the teacher that insisted flowers can only be red.

Early childhood educators in Australia are pretty strongly wedded to the idea that we want to foster creativity in children.  We are quick to produce the right language about child centred practice, about process art, about individuality.

The song is a reductio ad absurdum. It is easy not to sympathise with that stern looking teacher and her silly rules.  We would never be that teacher.

But how good are we at seeing all the other ways that we are involved in institutionalising children?

And how good are we at questioning them?

Opal Rainbow


I learnt a song last weekend, from Stiff Gins singer-songwriters Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs. It is called Opal Rainbow, and is in Language.

Nardi and Kaleena taught us this song in a workshop.  We sang the chorus with them, and they filled in the verses.  It tells a story of going searching the scrailings for opals that the miners might have missed. Nardi provides evocative mime that helps support the story.

For the first couple of days, a gospel song from the same folk festival took up residence in my head and blocked out the tune of Opal Rainbow.  But on my walk to work yesterday, the tune and lyrics of the chorus came back to me.

I wanted to share it with the children, but I was not sure how I could manage it, and whether they could take to it.  The group I am teaching at the moment are very little.  I can barely get them to join in on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

But as circle time approached, I resolved to sing it to them anyway.  At least it might help me remember.

I had a brain wave to add clapping sticks.  I could not find the good ones at short notice, but I grabbed a few pieces of dowel from a wooden construction set.  (Nardi uses her thongs, after all.)

I gave each child a pair of sticks, set up a rhythm and sang to them.

They worked intently on their clapping technique.  They did not care about the song or the lyrics.  But as I sang to them over and over, they fell into time.

The last line of the song is chanted, and the sticks are clapped fast and out of rhythm. It provides nice punctuation to end the song. It makes the children smile.

As I finished singing for the tenth time, the children cred ‘again’.

I have a hit.

The lyrics are (have to check the spelling) :

Geyarra-gi dhay
Geyarra-gi dhay


Geyarra-gi dhay
Geyarra-gi dhay





You can hear Stiff Gins on You Tube. This song Yandool is in Wiradjuri.  It is a lovely taste of their music, though not so suitable for singing with young children.  I have not been able to find a performance of Opal Rainbow yet to share with you.

Stiff Gins also do workshops for children (though more for schools than early childhood, I gather).  They are very engaging and great performers and teachers, as well as good musicians.  Look out for them.


When we put big ideas into practice with young children, it can look deceptively simple.  Often, we do things instinctively or following tradition.  But if we pause to unpack the ideas embedded in our action, they can turn out to be profound.

Teacher Tom wrote today about how democracy should be something we live all the time, not just on election day.  An approach that permeates our whole culture. As with other important ideas we wish to live by, we do well to embed democracy into the experience of early education if we want it to permeate the rest of life.

Re-reading the question posed recently on the EYLF* facebook page
‘How do you record children’s voices in curriculum decisions?’
I reflected on how this strand of the framework is about children learning a democratic cast of mind.  When children are involved in making real decisions about their education, they are not only more engaged in their learning, they are also learning about democratic decision-making.

Educators in that conversation reported a number of ways they record children’s voices. One approach was to observe (and record) children’s actions. Through their choices and conversation, we can observe children making decisions.  Our thoughtful observation of these choices is a form of communication – one of the 100 languages of children if you like.  When they choose, one of the things children are doing is telling us what they like or want.  When we build on those choices in our planning, we show that we have heard them.

The cycle of choice, observation, responsive planning becomes a conversation about curriculum.

Other educators reported a more overt approach to involving children in curriculum decisions. They actively ask children what they would like to do.  They involve them in designing and setting up play areas.

Children suggested and helped set-up this 'hairdressing salon'.

Some educators described their routines for overtly involving children in decisions – and also involving the children in documenting those decisions:

“We have a children’s program book. We sit down together and children are chosen to go into the storeroom and talk about what’s in there and what they’d like. The children who are still in the playroom talk about what they’d like (from memory/knowledge of the resources we have) and where they’d like it, and have the opportunity to draw and write their ideas in the book. This is then displayed with their name.”  (Joanne Pitronaci)

“We have a large sheet of paper each day for a brainstorm of what each person would like to do on the day. The heading is “Program’ (all the children call it the’ program’ and know what a program is). I scribe for the children and write down all the things that they suggest with their names next to it. I also draw a little picture depicting each activity. There may be several names next to one activity. By the time the brainstorm is finished it looks like a web. At rest time I glue a few little photos of children doing some of the activities and children can also write their names next to all the activities that they actually did. Children often stand next to the program and point/discuss what everyone has done. It is very much a ‘working document’ and can be added to during the day – children can draw little pictures or write their name next to activities they have done. This is children taking ownership of their own program and learning. They love it. I also add one thing that I would like to do during the day so in this way I can include any extension activities from previous observations. When I have 2 weeks worth of program sheets I make them into a big book and children love looking back at them.” (Janine Vercoe)

I am impressed.


(* Australia’s early childhood education framework)

Drawing learning

The children had a gecko. They had caught it earlier in the week, and taken it inside to observe. But today the parent helper told them it was not good to keep it away from its own world, and they should let it go home.

I found a child sitting in among the bushes where it had been released. I asked her what she was doing, and she said she was making a house for the gecko. I asked a few questions about how she was going to make it, and encouraged her.

Later I found more children had joined this project. We try to discourage the kids from picking flowers from the garden – with so many children each week, the garden would soon be stripped, so we try to get them to enjoy the flowers on the plants. With limited success of course. But I asked the children to think of other things they could make the house from. One suggestion was shells, and I heard them instructing each other to go and look for another snail shell, but one without a snail in it.

Very satisfied with the direction of this play, I left them to it and made sure we got a photo later.

Later, as the children finished lunch and prepared for some indoor play, I asked them to talk about what learning they had done outside. I mentioned some things I had seen – including the gecko house. I asked them to consider doing a drawing about the learning they had done. A few children took up the offer, and presented me with drawings. With these, I made an extra effort to get the children to explain to me, and wrote their explanations on their works.

One drawing in particular caught my eye. The artist explained to me that he had included three of the learnings together in one drawing. There was a bee. A drawing of the elaborate ball run made of big outdoor blocks that a group had collaborated on over an hour or so. And the gecko house.

I was struck by the accurate detail in his drawing. The gecko house was shown on top of a curve, representing the hill. It showed the square piece of fake grass the children had used as a base. It showed the neat row of rocks they had placed around the outside edge, and a patch in the middle to represent the small pile of flowers that had been the centre piece.

If I had not been paying so much attention to the process of making the house, and asking for conceptual drawings, I am not sure I would have noticed so clearly what a remarkably accurate piece of communication Oscar had produced.

I realized that I often look at children’s artwork as art. I see the pleasing arrangement. Balance. Colour. Representational skill. None of these were particularly present in this drawing. The gecko house picture was a small part of the whole; a single colour line drawing without particular fluency. But as a communication of learning, it was magnificent.

Posing the task for the children in that way had helped me to see the work with different eyes. I hope I can learn to always see like this.