L’uomo ragno

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.



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.

Pizza bianca al rosmarino

The next instalment of our activities with herbs was pizza with rosemary topping – pizza bianca al rosmarino.

I like to cook with yeast with my classes.  It is such as great science experience, seeing the dough rise. The kids can knead the dough as much as they like – and that is a pleasure in itself.

This is a simple dough of granulated yeast, olive oil, strong white flour, salt and water. It is called pizza bianca (white pizza) because it is made without tomato. The topping is rosemary, salt and olive oil.

Our classes are less than 4 hours at the moment, and it can be hard to complete a complex activity in a day. So for this, we made the dough during our afternoon session, and then made up the pizzette the next morning. I also find it good cooking with yeast in winter in our centre, because we have heating in the floor.  We can put the dough on the floor, and be sure it will rise.

We gave each child a piece of dough to work, flatten into a pizza shape, sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and drizzle with oil.  We put each of them on a separate piece of baking paper, and wrote the child’s name in pencil.

We cooked it in a hot oven, and the children ate them for lunch.

Spice it up

Spicy nature table

Our interest in rosemary got us thinking about spices in general.

We removed all the pine cones and insects and other things that had been our nature table, and replaced them with herbs and spices.

We harvested fresh herbs from the garden.  We raided the centre kitchen for dried herbs and spices, then brought some from home, and finally went to the supermarket and stocked up.

We tried to include as many as possible of the herbs and spices in two forms, placed together for comparison.  Fresh and dried herbs.  Whole and ground spices.

At first we left the table without comment.  Children came singly or in small groups and explored the colourful powders and interesting shapes.  They soon started to sniff them as they noticed the aromas.

When we joined them to talk about the display, they made comments like

‘That smells like gingerbread.’

‘My Mum puts that on my porridge.’

They had differences of opinion about which ones smell good and which ones don’t.

At mat time, we talked about the display, and pointed out the different states and types. Being an Italian class, we also introduced the names of some herbs and spices in Italian (though we did not attempt to turn it into a vocabulary memorisation exercise). We discussed how to use them.  We passed them around and smelt them.  We talked about which parts of the plants they come from.

When we went outside, some children were interested in seeing the living plants in the garden.

We have kept the display out for several weeks now.  We don’t put out all of them all the time.  We swap them around a bit. Sometimes the aroma of one or another gets stronger – especially when something gets spilt as happens from time to time.  We have added screw top jars so the children can choose individual spices to smell. (Just the commercial ones they are sold in.)

Spices are a treat for the senses – interesting to look at, rich in colour, aroma and flavour.  We are also finding them a rich vein of ideas for learning activities.



Our Biscotti al Rosmarino grew out of our rosemary play dough.

Actually, I need to go back a little further.  I wanted to attract the children’s attention to the rosemary in our kindergarten garden.  I remembered seeing posts on using aromas in play dough, so I decided to give rosemary play dough a whirl.

We took a couple of children out to the garden to collect the rosemary, then sat a small group down to cut it up.  The performance of our Kiddie Kutter knives was disappointing. We found that scissors worked better.

My co-educator took the lead in making the play dough with the children, adding the rosemary, and taking the colour from its flowers rather than the leaves.

The play dough has interesting flecks of green that add texture and visual difference.  It does not smell particularly strong at first, but the aroma emerges more as it warms up while you work it.

The pretty terracotta pot turned out not to work very well. The children stuffed it full of play dough when then dried quickly to the thirsty unglazed pot and was extremely difficult to get out again.

But it was the conversation while playing with the fresh warm dough that turned out to be really productive. They chatted about what rosemary is and what you can use it for, and came up with the idea of making some biscuits.