Coming into second term, I interviewed each of the children about kinder. One of the questions I asked them is what they think they should be learning. There are the learning goals the children set for themselves:
Learn new things
Learn about machines
Tidy up after ourselves
We will take these into account as we plan our program during the term.
We also had a meeting of the teaching team and identified a learning goal of our own for each child., influenced by what the child said, and what we have observed ourselves. I thought about these a bit more in relation to the learning areas of the curriculum framework, and distilled them under those categories.
This is how they look:
Support developing agency
Develop emotional resilience around not getting what you want
Confidently undertake unfamiliar tasks
Broaden social circle
Promote gross motor skills
Undertake cognitive challenges
Learn to recognise and write own name
Develop conversation skills
Then I also tried finding some plainer words to capture those ideas:
I can say no
She can say no to me
I’ll give it a try
I am making friends
My body is strong and can do lots of things
This is making me think
That is my name
I have something to say
When I first started teaching, the expectation seemed to be that children should not bring toys from home. Over time, my attitude to this has changed. I have seen how bringing toys, books and favourite things from home can be a good thing. They give insight into children’s interests and help us get to know them. They can help children connect with other children, which is especially useful for children who are working on their sense of belonging. They can spark fertile directions for play and learning. There is also the idea that we should not say no to children at kindergarten unless we have a compelling reason (the ethic of hospitality).
So now, after reflection, we have rules that allow children to bring things from home to share.
We ask them to keep them in their locker if they are not prepared to share. If they bring them out to play with, they are expected to let everyone use them. We ask them to keep them inside – things taken outside are much more easily lost or damaged. Finally, we ask children to take responsibility for the things they bring.
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.
See how beautifully our red eggs turned out.
I found proper Orthodox egg dye in our local supermarket. They had two types in fact. For one the method involved cooking the eggs in the dye. I chose the one where you boil the eggs first, and put them in dye at room temperature. Much easier at kinder.
I got the kids to draw on the eggs first with wax crayon. They are quite young, and new at kinder, so just getting the crayons to make any kind of mark was a puzzle for them. We dyed them and watched them turn bright red. The children were as fascinated as any teacher could hope.
I had planned to polish them with oil as well – remembered to bring a rag from home. But we had plenty to do without that.
A new boy was a bit upset. He has a Greek name. I rightly guessed he would made some eggs with a grandmother. We drew on and dyed an egg together. It made a great link between school and home. +1 for belonging.
We painted on egg shaped paper and searched the garden for little plastic eggs with chicks inside.
Several families had remembered my request to bring in Easter egg wrappers. We used them for collage, on (vaguely) egg shaped paper.
We sent the red eggs home.
So that is what we did for Easter in the end.
We have one week to go until we break up for the Easter holidays.
There are some quite strong traditions around Easter in kindergartens. Making little baskets to put eggs in. Easter egg hunts. Imagery of eggs, chickens and rabbits. Talk of the Easter Bunny.
When I taught an Italian-English bilingual program, I always made a point of choosing different imagery for Easter. I drew from the Italian artistic tradition, and used doves and lambs. The dove is a traditional symbol of the holy spirit. The Italian Easter cake – colomba – is dove shaped. The lamb is a traditional icon of Christ as the ‘Paschal sacrifice’ – the Lamb of God. A lot of Australians eat lamb for feast days, including Easter. I did not tell the children the story of Easter, though. It feels a bit solemn for 3-4 year olds.
This year, I am teaching three year olds (mainstream) and I find I don’t want to ‘do’ Easter with them at all at the moment. I think it would be meaningless for them this week. I have asked them, and they don’t really remember last Easter, when they were 2. I don’t want to give them chocolate Easter eggs. I think they get enough sugar elsewhere.
We have chicken hatching at the moment. We chose the weeks close to Easter on purpose, for the egg connection. But we are not being very explicit about it.
When we come back after Easter feels like a better time to include this celebration in our curriculum. After they have experienced Easter recently, and with their more powerful three year old ability to store memories.
A lot of my class has some Greek heritage, and Greek Easter is the week after western Easter (15 April this year). I think I fancy dying some red eggs with them, like the Greeks do. Perhaps we will do some collage with Easter egg wrappers. We could paint on egg shaped paper. We can talk about what the families did for Easter. About families and celebration and holidays. And see where that takes us.
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) :
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.
Tomorrow, I will be working with a group of children who are new to the centre, and new to me. It is a 3 year old group. They are little.
We have a good set up. Qualified staff. Small group. Excellent ratio. Full access to a lovely outdoor area. Varied resources. Freedom to respond to the children.
some of the children will be upset
some of them are scared
they do not want to be left there, in that strange place, with those strangers
I know they are likely to learn how to separate
and how to be happy at kinder.
But part of me wonders whether we should be pushing it
while they are so not ready.
It never feels right to make a child cry.
Today is the day. January 1 2012.
All those new regulations and frameworks and systems of inspection and fines and ratios come into effect today. Australia is undergoing a revolution in the regulation of early childhood education, and this is a watershed date.
We have the EYLF – the Early Childhood Learning Framework – which describes our goals for children’s learning in terms of the three strands of being, belonging and becoming. We have a new national Quality Framework. We have an Act and Regulations that are being brought into harmony across all states. Ratios are going down. Qualifications are going up.
The EYLF is rooted in the notion that a well-prepared, reflective educator workforce is the best way to ensure we deliver high quality early childhood education for all. Educators are to be given high levels of responsibility, and high levels of autonomy.
There is a massive amount of change. There is a massive amount for early childhood educators to get their heads around. There is a massive amount of new jargon.
All of this upheaval has sparked a tidal wave of conversation. Educators are reaching out to each other like never before. They are hungry to understand, and determined to do it well.
It is marvellous to see.
During 2011, I have emerged from my own teaching cocoon and started to pay attention to what others are doing and saying, here and around the globe.
I have found a world of rich conversations and inspiring examples. I have found so many eloquent people. People who keep finding inspiration in children. People who are determined to protect childhood. People who are creative in their work. People who think deeply about what they are doing.
I feel part of a community in a way I never did before.
“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
We made a presepio – a Nativity scene – for my front garden.
The girls looked at a lot of Christmas books and talked about what characters to put in, and how to draw them simply so you can see them from a distance. We practised and drew outlines.
The following week, we got some prunings from the fruit trees and wove a shelter – the ‘capanna’.
A couple of weeks later, we drew the definitive version of some characters. We decided we better start with the most important ones, in case we ran out of time. Just as well.
We did Maria, Giuseppe, La Mangiatoia, Gesu Bambino and La Stella. We drew them; then traced around them, making the lines bolder; then filled in the shapes with collage – not forgetting the halo. For the Mangiatoia (manger) we used bark collage on the base, and filled it with straw we cut from the long grass in the indigenous section of my garden.
We sang our presepio song as we worked.
I laminated the pieces, and collected some milk bottles.
In Christmas week, we cut out the laminated figures and tied them to the handles of milk bottles filled with water.
We set up the presepio in my front garden, on the corner near the street. We placed the holy family in front of the little twig shelter. We hung the star from the rose bush above. We festooned our Nativity with a string of solar fairy lights.
I heard crows this morning. They are a familiar sound in my world.
Yesterday evening, a friend was talking about felt figures she was making for her children to play with when they go camping, including one of Waang the Crow.
Waang is a Wurundjeri Creation spirit. He is one of those mischievous characters. Plays tricks on people.
I’m thinking there is potential there for kinder activities. I’ll put Waang on my list of things to learn more about.
PS The Australian crow is technically a raven, I believe.
The Wurundjeri people are the traditional owners of the land that Melbourne was built on.