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.
I promised myself this school year I would live by the mantra ‘no such thing as bad weather’. We would spend as much time as possible outside. We would let the children go outside in all weathers. We would let them be the judge of when they wanted to be outside or in.
This week was the first real test of our resolve.
We had no horrid heat in the early weeks of the year. Even with our late afternoon timetable, the summer classes enjoyed balmy days.
This week, after Samhain, as the leaves fell from the trees, a cold wind blew in from Antarctica. Temperatures fell. And today it rained. And rained and rained.
We did not push the kids to go out. We are starting inside. When the first child asks to go out, one of us goes to0, and a few (most) usually follow.
Today, they were not asking. We were all inside for a long time.
But eventually someone did want to go out. So we found jackets and coats and gumboots. A lot were not very well equipped. They had coats, but not raincoats. They had no gumboots. But it was not really all that cold. The rain was steady, but light. Inside was warm and dry, and everyone had a change of clothes.
Nothing to be afraid of.
I was just a little worried about their shoes. There were puddles. Muddy ones. I could change their pants, but I could not do anything to fix wet shoes. So we decided that people who wanted to walk in the puddles had to take their shoes and socks off first.
Most of the children gave it a go. Even one who had gumboots. Then they dried their feet and put their shoes back on.
I just wish we had worked out a system for recognising socks before we let the children strip them off.
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?
We are determined to embrace the view that there is no such thing as bad weather.
All weather is good weather, and we plan to be out in it.
Last week, our resolve was tested.
On our first day, it was 36°. That is pretty hot.
But the garden is shady, and we were ok. We let the children choose whether to be in or out, and most of them chose to be out.
The next day, it rained.
We let the children decide whether to be in or out, and most of them chose to go in. Two hardy souls stayed out. We talked about where the rain came from.
Then there was thunder. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and we went inside.
We did not turn the lights on, even when the sky filled with dark grey clouds and it got really dark.
We watched the rain spatter the windows, and pour over the gutters.
January 1 might be New Year’s Day, but January always feels to me like no-man’s-time. The long summer break when I forget what day it is. Camping and beach holidays. Heat waves that make it ok to spend all afternoon watching Buffy reruns.
The year really starts tomorrow, when I go back to work.
Tomorrow I will stand in the middle of an empty class room and re-imagine the space. I will negotiate with my colleagues, move tables around, position bookshelves, build platforms. I will place everything pleasingly, then realise I have only found a home for 70% of the furniture. I will place enough tables for everyone to sit for lunch, then feel I can’t cross the room without bumping. I will pace around trying to get a feel for how the traffic will flow, testing turns and pathways. I will look at the room from different angles checking the sight lines.
Tomorrow I will check the garden for deadly nightshade. I will sweep paths and shake leaves off the sandpit cover. I will pull spades and buckets and mobilo and tricycles out of the shed. I will check for mouldy gumboots and spiders in blocks. I will arrange planks and A-frames into a climbing course, and test the ropes on the swings. I will pick up windfall apples, and pull out lettuce that has gone to seed. Perhaps I will find some ripe tomatoes for my lunch.
Tomorrow I will label lockers and write questionnaires and search for enrolment forms and set up filing systems.
Tomorrow I will get everything ready for the children who start the next day.
And tomorrow night, I will go to bed with a knot in my stomach, convinced I have forgotten how to teach.
Niki Buchan prompts us in Too many questions to be more thoughtful in how we intrude on children’s own explorations of the world. If we are in too much of a hurry to turn something into a ‘teachable moment’ we can be in danger of turning every experience into the same experience of rote learning colours and numbers, rather than pausing to see the real potential unfold.
What I really like about this post is how Niki shows us both sides of her actions as a teacher.
Niki stands back to let the children explore for themselves. But she is also ready with her own input at the right moments.
When the children are scared of the jellyfish she is reassuring and informative. She teaches the children how they can safely touch the jellyfish without being stung. She encourages the children to see the jellyfish as interesting, and worthy of more attention. These elements come from her own agenda of encouraging explorative play in a natural environment, though they are also responding to the children showing interest.
Niki also shows us how she was able to find a moment when it seemed right to talk about measurement. She shows us how she travelled with the natural rhythm of the children’s play, but also saw potential to introduce some of the adult agenda of maths learning.
In this experience, emergent and intentional exist simultaneously. Niki’s story shows us that emergent curriculum and intentional teaching are not opposites that need to be addressed at different times of the day or use different formats or teaching styles. In the best moments of our teaching, they come together.
Niki also takes beautiful photographs.
Mindfulness is an important concept in Buddhist philosophy. It is about being completely present in what you are doing at the time; not being distracted by emotional baggage or trying to rush through to the next thing on the list. The idea has spread outside its original Buddhist context, and is seen by many as a good way to combat stress. It is even being picked up by schools as a way to help students to focus and avoid stress.
When I first heard about the EYLF, I immediately linked the concept of mindfulness to the strand on being.
Wise people remind us not to hurry childhood – to let children enjoy being children. Children are superb at being in the moment. They know how to be enchanted by a butterfly, or focus totally on the task of rolling over, or give themselves entirely over to fantasy play.
Children know how to enjoy being. Sometimes, we forget to let them.
Being, belonging and becoming are the three strands of the Early Years Learning Framework, or EYLF.
The EYLF has been adopted across Australia as the framework within which early childhood education takes place. All early childhood educators – whether they work in traditional kindergartens, long-day care or family daycare – are now expected to work within this framework.
In Victoria, the EYLF has been extended and incorporated into the VEYLDF – a statement of learning outcomes for children across the spectrum from infancy into the early years of primary school.
EYLF is a rather euphonious acronym. Puts me in mind of elves. I rather like this association, as I think about creating good outdoor play spaces. EYLFs in my kinder garden.
And I find being, belonging and becoming rather poetic.