Monday, 26 December 2011

Transition - the Benefits of Change!

Transition – what is it about change?

"If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me."
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

 Nature changes constantly, some changes are slow and subtle while others are drastic and to us often unpredictable - cycles of life from the changing seasons to the developmental stages of animals and plants. As humans we are part of nature and part of the cycle of life from conception and birth through the different stages of maturity until death. These changes or transitions both large and small are essential in nature and part of the natural process of growth and development. 
Winter in Scotland
Autumn in Scotland
Why do some adults and children then find some transitions so hard? We all react differently to change and some humans embrace changes and thrive in an ever changing world while others need more time to adjust. What makes change so very hard for some – is it all change that is hard or only certain changes? I have come to the conclusion that it is HOW humans support each other during times of change that affects our ability to cope with essential changes.                                                           
Now I don't need to 'dress up' in thermals to go to work!

Imagine being in a place where you don’t understand the ‘language’ – even though it is your home language, where everything is done slightly differently, where you struggle to find your way around, where others don’t realise how strange this new world is for you, where you feel incompetent and struggle to make sense of often the most basic routines. How often do we as adults experience this? How do we cope? Do we all cope in the same way? What would make it easier to cope?

These are just some of the thoughts I have as I reflect on my own recent move from Scotland to Australia. As an adult I struggled with relatively simple tasks such as withdrawing money from the cash machine – do I want ‘credit’, ‘savings’, or ‘cheque’? No, I just want cash! The jargon is different; acronyms everybody else seems to understand meant nothing to me. Different rules and regulations apply and these change depending on where you are and who you are with! Can we only cope with a finite number of drastic changes at any one time? I did wonder how many new concepts an adult can absorb in a day – I was certainly struggling ....although maybe that was partly my age!

How do children cope with transitions, do they cope better than adults, how do we best support children during changes, do we really know what they are feeling and going through?
David became the big brother when Stuart was born!
Caitlin was no longer the baby when Martin was born!
All over the world children face regular major transitions, from being a younger child to being the BIG one, moving from home to nursery, to kindergarten, then to primary school, to high school, to university. They may be transitions from one house to another, one school to another, one town to another, one country to another. These are the ones adults realise may cause children to feel unsettled and sensitive adults will have procedures in place to support children during these changes. There are many transitions that young children face that we might not recognise as such and do not realise that they may cause some children stress and anxiety.                                                       

The different rules and expectations children experience in their own homes and those of their grandparents, family day carer, preschool  and kindergarten may seem huge to some children. Some children struggle with the transition from indoors to outdoors, from one activity to another. How can we best support these children and in fact anybody experiencing transition.

As an adult I appreciated a calm, supportive environment to allow me to become familiar with new routines. I needed others  around me to patiently explain the concepts I struggled with – and being prepared to repeat themselves – there were so many new ones that I felt in a state of confusion for much of the first two months and often needed to be told a second and even a third time. Adults who became impatient just added to my stress, made me feel incompetent and reluctant to ask again. I needed clear and concise guidelines with patient explanations of the information that was new to me. I appreciated being able to have discussions about the things that confused or concerned me. I valued being given the time to reflect, try and if necessary try again without feeling a failure at not grasping concepts immediately. Importantly I needed the adults around me to be fair and consistent in the messages they conveyed to me and also to CONSULT with me at every stage of change that affected me directly.

I believe these lessons are as important to support our young children in any changes or transitions. Caring discussions – talk about the changes and possible concerns children have, give children time to reflect and come back to us. Not all children (or adults) are verbal and we need to be able to recognise non verbal messages too. Many adults offer support by allowing children to visit a new environment in advance or ‘telling’ them about a change but I feel we need to offer children more than this as this often raises further concerns or questions. Don’t assume that because you as the adult know and have told the child that the child has absorbed everything and is ready to face the changes.

Ryan all ready for his first day at big school!
I was involved in an action research project in the UK looking at transition and when children were consulted about moving from informal to formal education some of the concerns expressed were “my mummy won’t find me”, “toilets”, “you can’t go outside to play”, “there is no slide”, “you have to eat in a biiiiiigggg hall, it’s very noisy”, “ lots of big children looking”,  “I won’t have any friends”,  “there is no sand to play in”. Allowing children to express their feelings allows us as adults to really listen and respond to any concerns. Many of the concerns expressed can be addressed before the child transitions – taking mum to the new meeting place, exploring all the toilet options, reassuring the child that they will play outside and that they will visit a slide, ensuring there will be sand, etc. The adults involved in the project commented on the fact that they had not realised how relatively small some issues were and how easily the children could be reassured in the majority of concerns – many expressed their opinion that this transition group had been the most confident they had worked with! What I felt was very valuable was that these discussions were recorded by children and adults in a variety of child friendly ways so that they could be revisited and allow children to reflect on their original concerns. I used and highly recommend using the “Talking and Thinking Floorbooks™” methodology developed by Claire Warden, Scotland.

Getting ready for the office!!
We prepare children for the move from informal to formal education by trying to ensure that children are ‘school ready’. Unfortunately this often means that there is a strong focus on academic achievement and children are pushed to achieve this at a younger age resulting in children constantly being ‘prepared’ for the next stage in their life instead of celebrating each stage of their development. This again could cause additional stress with some children (and adults) fearing that they ‘can’t do it’! To me school readiness means a child with a high emotional intelligence (EQ) who can cope with change by being able to manage their own emotions and those of other people. (Daniel Goleman)

I feel we should celebrate each stage of development or change with the adults and children around us instead of constantly racing to achieve or reach some end goal. As caring humans we should support each other to make transition processes as positive as possible, recognising that we are all different. We have the ability and I would even say the responsibility to reduce the levels of stress that can come with change, that can be crippling and that can prevent adults and children from functioning at their optimum level.                                                                                              

Positive Childhood memories are created through positive experiences of life. I see this investment in time as an investment in the future potential of the person – irrespective of age!
Small steps or giant leaps are much easier with APPROPRIATE support - creating those positive memories.
Thank you to all my very patient friends - new and old, near and far - who supported me in the many changes and transitions I have had to cope with and am still coping with and who did not make me feel totally incompetent but valued me for who I am and for what I was able to achieve!

"God makes three requests of his children: Do the best you can , 
where you are, with what you have, now" 
                                                                                                                                       African- American Proverb

Monday, 3 October 2011

Too Many Questions? Golden Silence?

and forever explaining things to them.

How often do we ask children the same questions. Children fully engaged in play, a child bursting to show us an amazing discovery, children lying quietly under the tree looking up at the leaves moving in the sunshine, a child silently watching the birds on the pond may all be asked questions! 

How often do we need to ask children the following questions....

Why do we often feel the need to ask children these questions – how much better to share the moment with the child by just being there. Children have the right to high quality interactions; to adults who genuinely want to share in and who value the child's learning and experiences.  Allowing children the time and ‘space’ to do something with the facts they are presented  with .... understanding them, connecting them to each other, sorting and categorizing them, manipulating and applying them while seeking solutions to new problems – these are the opposite to rote learning where all that is required is to repeat back what has been memorized. 

Adults who promote these higher order thinking skills through sensitive and appropriate open ended suggestions rather than asking standard questions will be part of the child’s amazing world of discovery – seeing and experiencing the world through the eyes of the child.

Natural Learning: 

“We are connected with and contribute to our world” 
“We are confident and involved learners” 

Three children aged 4, 5 and 6 years found blue bottle jelly fish washed up on the beach. Their initial reaction was avoidance having been taught by adults to fear them “cause they can sting you” but they watched in  fascination as I  use a sea shell to turn one over and they soon overcame their fear, picked up handy ‘tools’ such as shells and driftwood to investigate the bright blue shapes. “It popped!” “like a balloon but a small balloon”, “ this one can’t pop”, “ maybe too hard, no I know; it goes into the sand, it sinks when you press it”, “hey, I know, I know, the sand is soft and only on the hard sand they can pop”

They found a larger jelly fish which moved “it’s alive, don’t pop it”, “no, it’s the wind makes it move”, “ shhh, be quiet so I can see it”, “this is my favourite colour, blue but some pink, purple when you look here”, “ I can nearly see through the big bit, Niki come see!”


I commented that ”I also like the colours , all the different shades of blue and the translucence of the body. The body does not have the stingers so I can touch it gently as long as I don’t touch the tentacles because that is where the stinging bits are”. The children fell silent reflecting on what  I had just told them, studied the jellyfish more closely, some tentatively touched the float and then handled it with more confidence. 

Now the discussion turned to how they could save this jellyfish , “maybe it needs water so it can swim”, “yes, we need to put it in the sea ....but then it will swim away”, “I know, we can make a dam for it to swim in”. The children started to dig a hole close to the water’s edge and were then faced with the problem of how they were going to get the jelly fish into their dam. “don’t pick it up, it has stingers”, “yes and they shoot out, and that is very sore, maybe you will die!”, “yes, and you will go to ‘hostibal’, maybe in the ambulance”. 

They sat beside me silently and after a few minutes asked“Niki, can you put it in our dam so it can swim, cause we can’t pick it up?” I again explained that as long as we didn’t touch the tentacles we would be safe and should they ever get stung they had to wash the area with water but not rub or touch it. I picked it up and placed it in the water, the children cheered as it floated in their dam.


“The water has gone away”, “it can’t swim anymore, it’s not moving” they commented as they noticed that the water levels had dropped and the jellyfish was no longer floating. 

Using their hands and shells they carried the water from the sea which was not very effective until one of the little boys pointed out that they could dig a channel from the sea so that the water could go into the dam. There was a lot of discussion about the depth and width of the most effective channel as well as collaborative work with three children trying to create the channel. 

 A wave reached the dam and the children cheered but then realised that the water flowed out again “we need a wall, a wall to close the dam so the water doesn’t go out”. They closed the gap after the next wave trapping the water and then continued to extend the wall and enclose the dam, adding shells and seaweed as decoration – transforming it into a castle for the jellyfish.

 More jellyfish were collected with the children making sure that they did not touch the tentacles; they were calm and purposeful in their actions and took great pride in the fact that they could now handle the jellyfish themselves. 

Children commented on the size of the different jelly fish and exclaimed in surprised delight  when they found one with longer tentacles, “this is the longest, this is the biggest one”, “no, look that one is bigger but the stingers is short”, “long stingers sting more, they go round and round”. “Niki look at this looooong one, right up to here.... my head”. At this stage I felt it was appropriate to share more knowledge I felt they would be interested in and showed the children that the float or body could be as big as 15cm and that the tentacles could reach 10 metres by stepping out and marking this in the damp sand. They copied the actions and were soon using non standard units of measurement to do their own measuring. 

With the tide coming in the children had to repair the damaged parts and increase the height of their walls. “More and more and more water is coming, look .... the jellyfish are all swimming now”, “the wind is pushing them, that’s how they keep moving”, “that was a big one, it went over the wall, quick fix it, more sand”, ”wet sand is not working, we need dry sand” 

A large wave broke through, flooding the dam and washing away large parts of the castle  – all three children worked together as a team to rebuild and strengthen the defenses until a number of big waves came in quick succession and they were no longer able to keep the waves out. They stopped, watched their collection of jellyfish wash back into the sea and then jumped up and down laughing in delight, waving and shouting “goodbye jellyfish” before moving on to play in the dunes.

  • The children were fully engaged in this activity for more than an hour and a half
  • There were no adult designed resources or toys available and children used their imagination and creativity
  • I did not interfere with the children’s play or thought processes but waited until I was ‘invited  in’ by the children
  • Children demonstrated high levels of independent thinking without interruptions from me
  • I used an appropriate intentional teaching opportunity to pass on factual information as well as mathematical concepts

Possible Lines of Development (PLOD)
  • Research jellyfish on the internet and in reference books to extend the interest and knowledge through IT and the written word.
  • Offer children a range of resources to explore water flow.
  • Offer children a variety of materials to explore flotation and the power of wind.


Some Early Years Learning Framework Curricular links identified retrospectively

“We are connected with and contribute to our world” (EYLF outcome 2)
 “We are socially responsible and show respect for our environment”

“We are confident and involved learners” (EYLF outcome 4)
“ We are curious, cooperative, confident, creative, committed, enthusiastic, persistent and imaginative”
“We are developing a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating”
“We transfer and adapt what we have learned from one context to another”
“We resource our own learning through connecting with people, place, technologies and natural materials”

Friday, 23 September 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child

 Through the Eyes of a Child

It is Spring in Australia and I am aware of nature ‘unfolding’ around me – every day I learn something new! 
Having arrived here 6 weeks ago after nearly 15 years in Scotland I am living through new, exciting and sometimes scary moments - I consider myself very privileged to again be allowed this opportunity to experience the ‘childhood’ awe and wonder I remember feeling as a child. 

As adults we can lose this ‘skill’ as we are often too busy; rushing and meeting deadlines that we tend to then miss the amazing detail surrounding us. All too often we ‘drag’ our children with us instead of allowing them to lead us into their world – they live in nature time.

Children who are given time and space will find and enjoy the detail of nature  in even the most unlikely places – a bug under a stone, a raindrop on a plant, a weed in the corner of the car park, a puddle in a discarded plastic bag. Even a decomposing leaf as a beauty of its own.

I have observed children spend time getting really close, investigating from all angles and then exploring the play-potential of their discovery - often over extended periods of time. 

I believe that children are able to see and appreciate the minutia and detail of the world around them leading to a natural fascination that should be nurtured and valued. 

Slow down, allow children to take the lead, to share with us the world through their eyes and we will learn the true value and beauty of the world that we have access to – a blade of grass, a bee, a shell or a stone. 

Looking through the lens of my camera I can see the delicate detail I would otherwise miss and feel so privileged that I am given another opportunity to see and share the world with young children using my camera lens.