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.
Yesterday a friend posted on her facebook status that Grass Flowering Season is ending and Kangaroo Apple Season is about to start.
As I think about how to include indigenous perspectives in my early childhood program next year, I should remember to learn about the seasons. Aboriginal people divide the seasons and mark them by particular natural events – a plant blooming, an insect appearing.
I have already planted some local indigenous grasses at kinder. There is some of this same Slender Spear Grass that grows in my own garden. I find it very beautiful. I love how it waves in the breeze, and catches the sunlight.
When I first went to buy some indigenous grass seedlings, the nursery showed me how the seeds of the spear grasses can be thrown like tiny darts, and will stick. Fun for children. Maybe too challenging for preschoolers – I can try.
My friend said Grass Flowering Season is called Buath Garu (though she did not say in what language). It has warm weather and lots of rain. In Kangaroo Apple Season we expect changeable thundery weather.
There was a rich discussion recently among early childhood educators about how much or where to adjust a program to fit in with a Seventh Day Adventist family. I fell to thinking about what I would do myself. Seventh Day Adventists do not seem to be common in my community – though there are many other varieties of belief systems that challenge us to work out how to accommodate everyone respectfully.
Seventh Day Adventists apparently have strong views on food, resurrection and the form of religious celebrations. Only some of these are likely to impact on the care and education of young children.
Many aspects of religious belief are not likely to be relevant to early childhood care. They are issues that do not tend to come up when working with young children. Seventh Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays, for example. Our centre only runs Monday – Friday. Presumably the child will be home for the Sabbath. Though it is worth remembering that the day of worship is different for different cultures, if the subject ever comes up.
If I had a Seventh Day Adventist child join my class, I would of course have to discuss with a parent what aspects of their religion would impact on the care and education they want for their child. In some cases I would be able to change the program to fit in. But sometimes I might need an alternative activity for that child, or need to warn the parents in case they would prefer to stay away for the day.
I have read a little about Seventh Day Adventists this week. Here is how I think it would respond.
As with many religions, Seventh Day Adventists have dietary restrictions. One way to handle these is for the child to have separate food when necessary. But sometimes it is possible, or even easier, to give everyone a compatible diet. I think my response would be:
I would plan to promote healthy eating, and eating fresh fruit and vegetables. So much the better that this would fit in with the beliefs of a Seventh Day Adventist family.
It is fairly easy to avoid pork – including bacon, ham and prosciutto. I would probably not use them while the child was in my care. However, I would not stop other children from eating ham sandwiches brought from home.
I would not offer shellfish to children in my care anyway. The danger of allergy is high, and they are quite likely not to have been exposed before.
I have no interest in being vegetarian myself, but I find it fairly easy to make my education program vegetarian.
If I was in a family day care setting, with a small number of children, and one was vegetarian, I think I would make the whole diet vegetarian for everyone with the food I provide. What they bring from home would be their choice. It is easier to feed everyone the same thing. Meat-eating children are probably getting meat for dinner, which is likely to be enough meat in their lives.
I was very glad to send my own children to a vegetarian centre because I knew they would be more adventurous eaters there than at home, and would get some vegetables into them.
This is where I draw the line. I find it difficult to cook without eggs, milk and cheese. I will make the effort for allergies, but I would prefer not to have to do it for preferences.
Seventh Day Adventists celebrate Christmas. They see Christmas as a time of giving. They do not use imagery of things that are not real, so they do not want angels on the Christmas tree, or Santa.
I think I would find it easy to treat Christmas as a time of giving rather than receiving. I would be happy to set up an experience for children in my care that is about giving presents to others.
I personally prefer to focus on the Nativity story. I generally do not bring Santa into my program, or have a Christmas tree in my classroom. I usually retell the Nativity in a number of different ways – often involving the children in making a Nativity scene. I tell the terrestrial story, without much mention of the religious aspects.
The Archangel Gabriel and the choir of angels always feature in my version. I would have to discuss this with the family. If they felt strongly about it, I think I could cope with leaving out the angels, though I would miss them.
In my home, however, I always have a big decorated Christmas tree, and angels everywhere. If I were offering care in my home, I would expect a Seventh Day Adventist family to accept that they are coming into my home, and sharing in my culture. I would keep my tree and my angels.
I would prefer not to have to exclude a child from an activity. I have used angel shaped cards a few times in the past. I would not do that if I had a child whose family would not like it. I would not put myself in the situation where I had to tell the child he or she could not make one of those.
In theological terms, the nature of resurrection seems to be a key issue for Seventh Day Adventists. This is not the sort of thing I usually include in my curriculum. Not just because I see religion as a family matter, but also because I expect that level of abstraction to not be developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.
I would not raise the subject of resurrection when teaching. If a child did, that would be an interesting conversation. But I am confident I could handle it. I am already skilled at taking children’s own views seriously. I am interested in how children interpret the world. I might have to think on my feet. I might be puzzled or surprised by what I hear. But I hope I have already developed the instinct to listen carefully to the child and treat her ideas with respect. Perhaps I could even make documentation that would give the parents insight into how their child is constructing her understanding of their world and their beliefs. I would be proud of that.
This is my response in the abstract, based on a bit of virtual conversation and some internet research. It is no substitute for talking to the family about the home environment and what they want for their child. But perhaps I am a bit more prepared now, if a Seventh Day Adventist family happens to appear in my class next year.
Felt Nativity by Tumblemonkey.
Available from madeit.com.au