Monday, February 27, 2012

Freedom in creativity...

Children are artists...  Give them the opportunity and an environment or experience that invites them to create and they will!  Last summer I was able to create a little "atelier" by closing in my balcony and putting painting easels out there.  For most of the children this was their very first experience of painting BIG, and for a number of them it was their very first painting experience altogether.  Needless to say it became a favourite place for the children to be during the warm months, and during that time they really honed their skills.

But when the long cold winter days came it turned into a freezer.... literally, so painting out on the balcony was no longer an option!

So we moved back inside, and they tried their hands at some drawing...



and collage.  Drawing is always popular, but the collage really drew great attention. The children choose their own materials and designs and are free to be as creative as they like... 

I think what they enjoy more than anything else is the freedom to choose.  At home there is not a lot of opportunity to create, and if they have been to kindergarten (preschool) before they know that they are given a certain amount of materials to replicate the teacher's example.  But when faced with the option of doing ANYTHING they like, well it is very liberating, as you can imagine.  They pick out interesting materials, they share ideas about how to use them, they come up with creative new ways to place, cut, glue and design.  It's a wonderful time of exploring and creating.

Lately the children have been asking to paint again, and I am hopeful that we will be back out on the balcony soon (it warmed up to -7C outside today, and the ice is melting!), but in the meantime we tried something a little new and different...

For some this was an exciting new experience...

For others it was fun, but they were not as keen on getting quite so messy...

All in all it was a great experience!
 And one that we will use again, and adapt as we come up with new interests and ideas... such as:

bathing the dinosaurs in the water meant for washing hands after painting!  This is an interest we should follow up on....    

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A precious gift

I have lived overseas for almost 6 years now.  Being the kind of teacher who is constantly trying to look at things through a child's eyes and forever on the look-out for something that will spark an interest I ALWAYS end up returning with a suitcase that is practically overflowing with lovely bits and pieces for my children or the classroom, and am always just a little nervous as to whether or not the lovely staff at the check-in counter will actually allow me to check my heavy bag in.  A lot of the extra weight often comes in the form of children's books which, when they are quality, happen to be one of my passions.  I recently returned from a trip home to Australia for Christmas with my family and a few weeks in Thailand visiting friends and attending a conference.  Needless to say I came back to Mongolia with a bag full of surprises- a new baby doll, some baby clothes (many of which were saved by my mother from when I was a bub- not sure that the children could quite wrap their heads around that one!), books, books and more books, puppets, craft supplies, puzzles... J

Last week Solongoo (one of my girls) commented on how when they (the children) come to my place there is always something new.  She asked "Are you a rich person?"  I told her that, no, I am not rich but because I am not married and don't have children of my own I can spend money on them.  And also that I have friends who know that children come to my home so they like to give or send things especially for them.  She thought for a while.  "Why aren't you married?"  I explained that I simply had not met my husband yet.  "You should get married," she said, with quite some authority for a four-year-old.  I asked her why she thought that.  "Well, then you could have children of your own." (duh!) "When I grow up I will get married and I will have children" she told me.  When I later saw her taking very special care of a baby doll, I realised what a precious hope she had for me.  She tenderly dressed her baby, propped her up with a book, fanned her with a beautiful bamboo fan...Yes, Solongoo thought it would be so special for her teacher to have a child of her own, not just because it is the "done" thing (especially here in Mongolia) but because children are a precious gift to be cherished.  It was a beautiful reminder.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Playgroup Mongolia

When I first arrived in Mongolia I had come from 4 years of teaching three and four year olds full-time.  Going from that to a one-on-one language learning context was a real challenge for me!  So, at the request of a Mongolian friend who had two young children herself, I started a playgroup in my home.  This was so fantastic for me on many levels- a context in which to practise my language, connecting with local families in the community, keeping my own learning fresh by spending quality time with children, as well as taking the edge off language study and providing me with very life-giving and energising interactions! 

I host playgroup two afternoons a week.  It is a challenge sometimes- my apartment is not very big and I am constantly trying to "create" more space for the children to play, explore, engage and learn.  I have moments when my language fails me and there are miscommunications (thankfully children are generally much more forgiving and gracious than we adults are).  I have times when my ideas clash somewhat with the culture in which I am living and working with these children, and I need to find the balance between introducing new ways of thinking and knowing when to allow culture to take it's rightful place. 

But despite all these things I find myself SO refreshed and inspired after our interactions together, and it makes me all the more determined to see this thing through.  It makes me smile at the beauty of early childhood; that children around the world are precious and unique and yet pretty much the same- they learn through play, they delight in exploring and discovering new things, they engage deeply, they live passionately,  they see possibilities that grown-ups often completely miss, they challenge my thinking, they know how to "be". 

Yes... being an early childhood teacher would have to be the most amazing, challenging and life-changing profession around.  I am so glad I am in it!

Here are some videos I made for my family, friends and supporters.  They give you a glimpse of the children here and the learning taking place.  Please do stop and take a look!

The story with Mongolia

I came to visit Mongolia back in 2009, at a point where I knew I would be moving on from my wonderful job teaching at in international school in Bangkok, but not knowing where I would be lead to next.  I had the opportunity to visit some government kindergartens as well as some NGO run "ger" kindergartens located in some very poor areas of town during that time.  The government kindergartens were big groups of children (sometimes up to 50), with limited resources and a very teacher-directed atmosphere.  The "ger" kindergartens on the other hand were small class groups, children engaged in their learning and a very child-centred atmosphere.  I was so impressed and I wanted to encourage these teachers who had worked so hard to create such positive learning environments and experiences for these children.  But my heart was also broken at that time- thinking about those children whose parents, for whatever reason, could not get their children into a kindergarten.  The ger kindergarten could only take 30 children (two classes) due to space and funding, and I asked the teachers what would happen to those children who had no kindergarten experiences once they headed to school?  The first year of school is quite academically stringent here, and at that time children were expected to come to school knowing the alphabet and working with numbers up to 100.  My fear was that once these children got to school they would just fall between the cracks, as a teacher of 40 children does not have time to stop and help the struggling student, and that at the age of 6 - an age where ANYTHING is possible, dreams are BIG, and children should have EVERY hope in the world- they would be destined to fail before they even had a chance to really begin.  Because, if they can not succeed in their schooling and education there is very little chance for them to break out of the cycle of poverty that they have been born into.  I cried.  Right there, in front of the children, in front of the teachers.  The teachers commented to my friend who was translating for me- if your friend were here longer and heard some of the stories of these children she would cry even more.

Through this, and many other experiences during my time here, I left Mongolia that year with the conviction that this was the place I was being led to, these were the little people that I was being called to help.  I moved to Ulaanbaatar (the capital of Mongolia) in September, 2010.  I have been working hard at learning the language since then, and to begin working on the dream- opening a kindergarten that will provide affordable quality early childhood education, supporting and educating parents and families as well as facilitating teacher training and professional development.  It will be a model kindergarten, and eventually a centre of training for student teachers as well as those who have been in the "business" for years. 

The hope is that influencing, encouraging and training teachers will over the long haul reach right throughout the country and touch as many children's lives as possible.  And to be an agent for change in the way that children and teachers, learning and teaching are perceived and how they take place in this nation.