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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.


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.

Seeing beyond red


I had an interesting discussion with my online colleagues this week about colour themes.

It used to be fashionable in kindergarten to adopt a single colour theme.  “Tomorrow we will have everything red.  Wear something red to kinder.”  And then there would be red paint, and red pasting, and red pencils and red everywhere.

I have not done it for a while.  It does not seem to sit particularly well with current emergent approaches, or a view of kindergarten education that runs at a more conceptual level than ‘learning their colours’.

But I remember those sessions fondly.  I learnt some valuable lessons.

The most striking lesson was that when you make everything one colour, the last thing you can talk about is colour.  A single colour scheme is not a way to learn about colour, at least not through language.

A single colour scheme put the emphasis on everything but.

When I selected only the red bits of all my sorting sets, we had to sort them by their other attributes: into insects, vehicles and teddy bears; into flies, dragonflies, spiders and caterpillars.  Where the children had tended to sort the sets mostly by colour, when colour was gone as a distinguishing feature they started to notice other attributes and groupings, and I started to use other language. 

When I provided only red paint at the easel, I provided different types of red paint; acrylic and powder paint and watercolour and dyed glue.  Each behaved differently on the paper.  Each had its own shade.  Each had its own texture. 

When I provided only red materials for collage, the emphasis moved to shade, and texture.  Different red drawing media had different weights and required differing strokes and effort to transfer to the paper.

Making everything red did not make us focus on red.  It removed red – and every other colour – from our conversation. It made us focus instead on other characteristics and attributes.  

Making everything red pushed us to more subtle colour perception.  We noticed shades and gradations of red.

Finally, making the whole room red was a strong sensory experience.  Being surrounded by red made it harder to talk about red for long.  But the experience of redness was dramatic.


I have a dilemma.

A parent told me her child wants a different locker.

I want to say ‘NO’.

The thing is, I try not to say no without good reason.  I think of myself as someone who does not set unnecessary limits for children.

Why do I want to say no to a change of locker?  The locker is available.

Well – None of the other children got to choose their lockers.  It is much easier to have the lockers in use grouped together. We have extremely limited time to do admin work, and I am reluctant to spend it creating new locker labels or peeling off old ones.

Those are reasons, of a sort.  But they are not very strong ones.

And my real reason, when I think about it, is that I want to say no to this child.

I am finding this child demanding.  There is difficult behaviour.  Requests are ignored.  Help is not given.  Boundaries are not respected.

I believe I should work to get the child to feel involved.  Build a strong relationship.  Praise.  Connect. Recognise strengths.  Interact. Be responsive. Create a sense of belonging.  And I am doing those things.

But I also feel a strong need to say no to this.

I want to send the message ‘you don’t get everything you want just because you say you want it’.

And I feel a need to assert hierarchy.

I want to say no so the child learns I am in charge.

I don’t like recognising this in myself.  I am conflicted. I wonder if I am wrong to feel this way.

But I still do.

Is this love?

Anne Stonehouse poses the question whether educators should describe as ‘love’ the relationships they have with children.  She is dubious about the phrase ‘I just love children’ as often used by educators in interviews. She argues that respect is more the issue than love.

I agree that ‘I just love children’ should be treated with caution. It is often a thoughtless, throwaway line, produced to avoid thinking of a more careful answer.

But I do not think ‘love’ is an inappropriate term for what we do. Educating young children is emotional work. It involves forging genuine relationships. It involves deep personal bonds.

Family love is, of course, different. We do not love the children we work with in the same way we love our own children.

And yet.

Love is unconditional. Love is supportive. Love is a deep commitment to a relationship with that person.  Isn’t that what we aim for in our relationships with children?

We do – we must – have a deep commitment to each child we teach. When we do our best work, I think perhaps ‘love’ is the most appropriate word to describe the strength of the bond we have with that child.