Saturday, 20 May 2017

Reo Pēpi

As an early childhood teacher on a journey to integrate Te Reo Māori meaningfully into my work with children I have found its really hard to find resources appropriate for the infant and toddler age group. Most bilingual books seem to explore legends or involve story lines more relevant to preschool aged children. Finally I came across the most beautiful books that are absolutely perfect for infants and toddlers! I'm really excited to share with you all about Reo Pēpi's beautiful bilingual pukupuka created by Dunedin māmā Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson. 

I discovered Reo Pēpi's first series of books in Good Magazine and immediately I knew I had to have them! As an artist, the illustrations captured me and the simple sentences both in Te Reo Māori and English were perfect for the infants and toddlers I teach. Reo Pēpi's books are interactive and really invite the children to join in. “Kanohi” has been the favourite in my room, focusing on the face and naming all the different parts. My children just love showing off their knowledge of this area and practicing the words in Te Reo Māori. The other two books in the series are called “Kākahu” which is all about getting dressed and “Kararehe” which is all about animals. As this resource became so well loved, I was beyond excited about the release of Series 2 which featured 3 books about counting, shapes and colours. I actually preordered it I was so keen! I can say they were worth the wait. The children in my classroom have just loved them and again, the interactive nature of the books really captured them. Counting, colours and shapes are concepts toddlers are familiar with and often discuss with their teachers and parents so they were excited to see something they recognised and could become involved in. Using Te Reo was meaningful for them and added a new challenge. I think what really makes these books amazing is that they are relevant to infants and toddlers every day lives and sadly its really hard to find appropriate resources that promote Te Reo for this age group.

So obviously, our infants and toddlers are crazy about these books but something else that I find so special has emerged from them. As some of you know, I work in a very multicultural community and in just my classroom around 10 different languages are spoken. One day I was reading “Te Kaute” from series 2 which is about counting with a few of the children. One of the Grandmothers who is from Germany had come to collect her Granddaughter and observed me reading to the children. “What language is this?” she asked me and I explained to her that I was reading in Te Reo Māori. She was intrigued that I was reading in another language with the children and it opened up an opportunity for me to have a conversation with her about why Te Reo Māori is important and relevant for all the children growing up in Aotearoa, including children who have immigrated here. I think it is very cool that reading these books with the children has opened up opportunities to have dialogues with families who come from all around the world about something so important to New Zealand.

These books have really increased the teachers knowledge of Te Reo Māori and we have all picked up new words from the books that we are now integrating in to our day to day conversations with children. I think its really great that these books come with a pronunciation guide included in the back. This has been really useful for us to work on pronunciation. 

I am really happy these amazing resources are out there and I think every childcare centre and home should have them! Kitty and Kirsten, you should be so proud of what you’ve achieved with these books - there really is nothing out there like this and I hope to see a series 3 in the future!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Reggio Emilia: Part 1 - "Being a citizen means you are never alone"

Being a citizen means you are never alone.

I traveled to Reggio Emilia in April for a week long study tour followed by an amazing month traveling around Italy, Switzerland and Germany with my partner Josh. It's taken me a while to write this as it was such a deeply intense learning and also an emotional experience for me, its hard to put such a profound experience in to words! My whole career (9 years) I have been inspired by the work of the teachers in Reggio Emilia and to finally go there and see it for myself was surreal and very humbling. I thought to myself, "I'm in Reggio Emilia, the actual city!"...its easy to forget it is in fact a place not an educational approach. On the day I arrived after a day and a half of travelling (two long haul flights!!) I sat in a piazza with my brother (a fellow teacher). We were both silent and it wasn't due to the jetlag...we were in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. The city is so old, so beautiful; the locals have an elegance about them, women riding bicycles in heels and pristine dresses; even hearing the murmur of people speaking Italian to one another was so amazing to us! We really couldn't believe we were was so surreal. We had a few days to explore and get over the this time I even managed to visit Venice, Bologna and Verona - AMAZING! Eventually with great anticipation, the course did actually start!

If I tried to write about my whole 10 days in Reggio Emilia, it would be a VERY long post so I have decided to do it in parts. I went with a curiosity and many questions about rights and citizenship and what this actually looks like for the children in Reggio Emilia. I especially wanted to see for myself what citizenship looked like for Reggio Emilia's very youngest citizens - the infants and toddlers.

On the first day we heard from the mayor of Reggio Emilia, Luca Vecchi. He said,

“You can not have ideas about the rights of citizens unless you have an understanding of the rights of “the least of citizens”

This statement really resonated with me and I was reminded of it a lot through out the week that experiencing the idea of active citizenship depends on our perception of the youngest children. 

I had a few opportunities to discuss citizenship, not only with the teachers in the schools I visited but also with parents at a seminar I attended called "Ethics of Citizenship and Participation" which was led by Daniela Lanzi (an amazing woman and pedagogista! I clung on to every word she spoke!). During this seminar I asked my question "What does citizenship look like for the infant and toddler?". I was so happy to see the father who was there nod in approval at my question, its refreshing to come across a parent so passionate and involved in their child's education. He answered my question in the most beautiful and poetic way (paraphrased)...

"Ctizenship for an infant and toddler is something I too have wondered about and what it means. It depends on your perception of children. For me, I believe it is the opportunity to live and be a part of everyone. Infants can participate and be active citizens, for example when everyone gathers for events like Reggionarra, they can participate with their families and be seen in the public spaces. At the beginning children begin to understand that they are a part of a group, a school, a family and of course a community. I want my child to see that being a citizen means you are never alone, that together is better in learning and in life."

The wise words of one child's father have helped to shape me as a teacher and for that I am deeply and truely thankful to him...I have been challenged to tear down the walls (figuratively) and get out into the community and also bring the community in. These children are here and I want our community to know! One of the teachers at La Viletta School explained to me that "citizenship is an ongoing process; little and big" and I have reminded myself of this back in Auckland. We have started off 'little' focusing on the centre community venturing out in to our carpark, a place we call "the front yard". It is a place the children know and feel comfortable and have an ownership of. Parents and children are always coming and going and locals often walk with their dogs through the carpark. Our children are visible here, their contribution is seen and they are able to interact with people from their community. I hope I will be able to write a post soon with more detail about our project but for now I will leave you with this photograph of the Pipi children in their "front yard" looking out into their community...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

RIE Foundations Course - My reflection

I can’t help but marvel at the splendid miracle that is the child, to observe in awe children's development unfolding. Through out the RIE foundations course, my mind kept going back to Psalm 139:13-141 which says;

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

I don’t know why we ever thought we knew better, that babies needed to be taught how to work their own bodies. As I watched the footage from “see how they move”, I was amazed at how the children moved fluidly and with so much grace. It clicked for me that this is how humans are supposed to move, it was planned all along, programmed into the brains of infants. I have been so amazed at each individual child that I care for and keep finding myself constantly pointing out what children are doing to the other teachers so they don’t miss out on the incredible things that are being accomplished. I want to share with you what I observed on my first day back at work after the course concluded: I watched in anticipation as Rehua (11 months) practiced climbing up the slide, placing a hand on each side of the slide and carefully creeping up the slope. He stood on the front part of each foot with his toes stretched out, concentrating hard as he moved his feet one by one with his arms stretched out and his hands firmly gripping the sides to keep him balanced. Each attempt he made at climbing to the top he would find himself losing his balance at a certain point and sliding back down. Each time this point seemed to become ever so slightly higher on the slide. I could see his goal was to reach the top, his eyes were focused on the top of the slide and there was a determination in the way he moved his body so intentionally. Disruption was not an option as Rehua’s work was very important and the routines needed to be arranged around his work for the day. Eventually after going back to the slide constantly over the course of a day he mastered the climb to the top. He stood tall on the top of the box and looked over to me to see if I saw and we shared a smile. In that moment I felt privileged to have observed his achievement. I can’t help but wonder how many moments I have missed like this because I was so wrapped up in tasks that I didn’t take the time to observe. Amazing things are always happening around me all the time and I really need to take more time to appreciate them. This is a big thing I took from the course, learning to enjoy the moments.

I always felt I was respectful as a teacher but I truly saw what respectful practice looks like through the footage of baby Victor and his nurse at the Pikler institute. Watching their interactions really touched me and made me think of my own work with children and how I can show them this level of love and respect. The biggest thing for me is not the physical learning environment, or changes to the running of the day (although there are changes to be made) but my relationship with each child. Through this course I have developed an acute awareness of myself and how I interact with children, I am aware of my hands when I am caring for children, aware that touch is a way of speaking. I am aware of my voice, my language has changed slightly and I put thought into the words I choose. I am aware of my pace; trying to be in tune with the individual child and less concerned with the tasks, the relationship is the priority. As I reflect on my first week back at work, the word I would use to describe each day is ‘seamless’, time seemed so irrelevant when I was engrossed in care moments with the children.

Authenticity was a key word through out the course, we talked about the authentic child and how we as teachers can support children in becoming their authentic selves. Polly challenged us to search for our own authentic selves and explained how the ‘authentic teacher’ is paramount in supporting the authenticity of the children. The course left me feeling so philosophical and I have been pondering a lot about who I am and who the children see. I am inspired by so many different things in my life and more specifically as a teacher, many philosophies and approaches inform my work with children. I realised that I will always be reflecting on and adjusting my personal philosophy, we learned through the course that even Magda Gerber did this! I am challenged to look at how the course of my life has shaped me as a person and who it is that I bring to the children. This is an ongoing reflection for me.

In reflecting on the course, I could have written pages about all the things I want to do to improve my program such as implementing primary caregiving, providing children with more equipment to develop their gross motor skills or my plan to rethink the design of our change room; all of which I plan to do and all of which are important. But what I gained from this course runs so much deeper and has me reflecting on who I am as a teacher. it is hard to put it all in to words but I hope this reflection has left you with the essence of what I gained through my time on the RIE foundations course which is an appreciation and respect of children which has me truly wanting to be the best I can be for them. I will always strive for this.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Paving the way for purposeful play!

 Reggio Emilia inspired school in Hong Kong
EtonHouse International School - A Reggio Emilia inspired space for infants and toddlers
A while ago a group of teachers from outside my centre came through our classrooms for a tour. We had some amazing comments from each individual and everyone walked away really inspired. I ended up having a big conversation with a teacher who is montessori trained and she was explaining that the Pipi environment felt slightly montessori inspired to her, in that all the materials were in the child's reach and that the environment strongly promoted independence. I had never thought of our environment as Montessori inspired before but I guess a lot of our aspirations for children align with that of Montessori especially our desire to create opportunities for children to practice and gain independence. One thing this teacher did explain to me was that Montessori environments offer a lot less of a material (for example a small basket of duplo instead of a big plastic tub) to the child and that everything is visible to the child and not hidden inside baskets. This really got me thinking and I observed our children at play in the months following. They did not seem to play with the things in the baskets unless the basket was placed on the floor so that they could see the contents. We noticed that the toddlers play with the most familiar materials (blocks and duplo) had become rather destructive and that the children were moving materials around the room and throwing them. They were not as purposeful in their play as they had been when the resources were new. My team and I wondered whether there was too much available and decided to put some toys away and rotate the options so that they may become more special. This seemed to help with some resources and children's play was certainly more purposeful! One day I decided to put out only a small basket of duplo and I was amazed that the children were engaged for a lot longer in their play with this material. My goal now is to de-clutter our classroom! 

The clean, uncluttered nature of Montessori environments invite children to reminds adults that it is not the quantity of works to be offered, but the quality. An orderly environment helps children to play productively and with purpose. RIE environments also promote this idea of organisation and predictably for infants and toddlers. They put only a few play objects in each shelf so the infant or toddler can see exactly what they need.

I feel a cluttered environment with too many resources is overwhelming for a child. I feel it promotes more destructive behavior in toddlers. I want to provide a calm environment that promotes productive and purposeful exploration!

Here is some inspiration I have had for this goal...

A very beautiful interpretation of RIE - What an empowering space for an infant to work!

Asilo Nido "Katia Franci" - A montessori environment for infants

The amazing Kate from an every day story has created the most beautiful (and organised) environment for her two children! This space is both inspired by Reggio Emilia and Montessori.

I'll keep you posted on our mission to pave the way for purposeful play!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Its spring, get outside!

It's finally spring! I have been so excited to finally have a few sunny days where I can get outside with the children and do a bit of work on our outdoor environment. For months and months we have been staring out a window at a patch of dirt which once was a lovely patch of green grass. It was driving me mad! We have a bad drainage issue and every time we try and grow grass it quickly turns into a mud patch which of course has its benefits when your a toddler! But as much as we love our puddles we finally decided to try create a sensory garden for our children so naturally the second we made this decision plants were brought and I was excitedly mapping out the garden while toddlers sneakily moved each plant when my back was turned. Honestly, I am not a gardener, I have no idea what i'm doing so i'm really hoping all these plants don't die.

I really believe that if children are invited to take part and have a little ownership over their environment that they are far more likely to respect and care for it. With this thinking in mind, we created this garden alongside the children and took the time to talk about the process and the living things we were working with such as worms and plants...

We have found so many worms! Its been really awesome to see the children becoming aware that there is life underneath the ground. They have been so respectful and caring towards every living creature we have found on our little journey. They know that they need to live in the mud with all our new plants.

It was really important for me that all the children had an opportunity to be involved in the garden. Even our youngest baby, R (6 months) was able to be involved, sitting amongst it all, kicking and feeling the new plants. I can't wait to see him crawling through the garden this summer!

So here it is, the very nearly, mostly finished garden...

It was really important to me to create a garden that challenged all the children in my classroom including 'crawlers', the 'just walkers' and the 'runners'. The mound in the middle and the stepping stones have created that challenge! Now our children can experience different terrain and slope while engrossed in nature!

As you can see, the drainage issue hasn't been completely resolved but the puddles provide nice little habitats for our dinosaurs!

This space used to be completely unutilized, it was just a retaining wall. Jess who has recently started a new adventure came up with the idea to allow the children to access this area by putting a ladder up to it and installing a fence. The children now have a space where they can feel they are away from teachers which is so important. It has been amazing!

I am proud that we have utilized our small outdoor space in way that immerses children in nature, providing them with opportunities to connect with and experience the natural world.

"We need to allow children to develop their biophilia, 
their love for the Earth, before we ask them to 
academically learn about nature and become guardians 
of it" - Department of Conservation (2011)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Theories about puddles...

Blair (2 years old) and Thomas (2.5 years old) are keen explorers of our garden and venture into it everyday! They began to notice a few months ago that sometimes there was a puddle in one area of the garden. This was an exciting discovery and the first few times they jumped and splashed in it, giggling away. It quickly became their routine to check the garden every morning to see if the puddle was there. They would inform me everyday on wether or not it was there and lead me over to have a look. Eventually the boys began to notice that the puddle was only there some days and wondered why this was...

Some days we come to 4kids and there are lots of puddles!

Blair: Lou Lou’s plants made it!

Thomas: There are fish in the puddle

Blair: It rained...theres a puddle

Thomas: They are like mud and splashy

And some days there are no puddles...

Blair: I’ll find more puddles

Thomas: The sun is here, it dried it all

Blair: Thomas stomped it all out, no puddle today!

Thomas: There is no water

Every day we check to see if the puddles are there and wonder why some days they garden is full of puddles and some days there are none at all... 

Blair: The water is gone! The water is gone in the air, the clouds have it.

Thomas: The sand made it dry (the boys had brought sand into the garden the day before)

Blair: Elise, look the puddle! The sun put water in, theres water in there!

"Each child is unique and the protagonist of his or her own growth. Children desire to acquire knowledge, have much capacity for curiosity and amazement, and yearn to create relationships with others and communicate. "

- Loris Malaguzzi

Friday, 11 July 2014

Pipi Whanau (Infant and Toddler classroom)

The Pipi Whanau is the infant and toddler classroom at 4 Kids . We are both inspired by Reggio Emilia and RIE in this room which I hope you will see through the photographs. I have only recently moved in to this room and alongside my team we have spent the last few months organising and rearranging our classroom. In a few weeks it seemed our class had evolved from being dominantly a toddler room to an infant and toddler room as a few of the older children moved through to the preschool room and two very young infants started. We really needed to rethink the space to accommodate pretty much all ages and stages from 3 months - 2.5 years. At the moment we have very young infants, crawlers and toddlers. It can be a challenge to create an environment that can provoke and inspire all these different children but we have given it a good go and it will continue to evolve!

We developed this area for our infants, the aim was to create a sensory space. The hanging materials are low enough that the infants can reach and grasp them. They all make different sounds and reflect the light in various ways. The tactile canvases are interesting for children as they learn to crawl and sit. The mirrors are low so infants can see themselves play during tummy time. Our toddlers have been just as interested in this area and use it in very different ways to the infants. They love to walk through the hanging materials and touch the canvases. 

Being RIE inspired, we believe children should have freedom to move so we avoid placing children into things they are unable to get out of themselves. The Pipi Whanau does not have any cots, highchairs or swings. We use these baskets as an alternative to cots. Each child has a frame above their basket with a photo of them and their name. Our children have ownership over their space which we believe creates a sense of security and familiarity for the children during rest and sleep times.

We believe it is important to provide children with places to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the centre especially since some children are with us for very long hours. The teepee has become a bit of a retreat for the toddlers and often we will find them in here just pondering quietly to themselves. We change it around but at the moment we have ribbons hanging and loosely placed on the floor and fairy lights pinned to the roof. 

Noah's Ark provocation. This is a familiar story for our children and perhaps one that may inspire their play in the construction area...

Tinfoil is a great medium to use with infants and toddlers. It is easy to manipulate and tear and it has some qualities that are very interesting to children such as the way it reflects and captures light. Our infants have been fascinated by the sound this material makes when they scrunch it, pat it and kick it with their feet.

This provocation is very open ended. The children enjoyed sorting the objects in to different containers and investigating the tactile nature of the materials. One of the older toddlers used these materials to make his own ephemeral art. 

As we all know, young children are very sensory learners. We want our classroom to reflect the sensory nature of children. These are sensory bags. We refresh them every so often with new and different natural materials. A variety of herbs, lemon, garlic and cinnamon are in these ones. The children are able to engage their senses especially their sense of smell. 

A play dough provocation with lemon and orange rind as well as a variety of asian herbs. 

The toddlers have been very interested in the dolls since two infants started in our room. They have been closely observing the teachers caring for the infants and we have noticed them mirroring what they have seen. One toddler was patting the dolls back and I realised she was trying to burp her doll. This provocation was set up in response to this interest with photos of infants being cared for in different ways such as sleeping, being fed a bottle, being winded, played with and cuddled. 

Thanks for reading :)