Friday, March 30, 2012

Little owls in the ger kindergarten

Last week Friday I had the privilege of teaching an art lesson at a ger kindergarten in the ger district.  A ger, by the way, is the traditional "mobile home" of the Mongolian people (click here for more information on gers and other interesting Mongolian customs and traditions).  The ger district(s) is all around the edges of the town, as more and more people move in from the countryside to try and find work and the chance of a new life.  Generally speaking these people are quite poor, and this ger KG is one reaching out to those who can not send their children to a government KG- similar to the one I mentioned in my very first post (which you can read here).

Prepared for 40 children (2 classes), we created a lovely little owl inspired by Mrs Brown's art class. We first talked about birds and the different kinds of birds that we knew of. Then we read the gorgeously illustrated "Wow said the Owl" by Tim Hopgood as a springboard for our art lesson. The children did a marvelous job, and were well pleased with their efforts I believe! (even though they do look quite serious in the photos...)  They chose their own colours for their owls and then got straight to creating.  Here are some pictures to show the process...

 Creating the branch from newspaper and outlining the owl...

Tearing up the paper to create feathers

 Gluing the "feathers"...

 Almost there!

 Making eyes...
Comparing notes...

Drum roll please...
 Ta da!!

After our art lesson it was time for lunch,
 and then a nap.

Sleep sweet little owl!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


When it's not possible to get outside, it is always wonderful to get a little bit of nature inside!  Inspired initially by the awesome alphabet rocks over at I am Momma - Hear me Roar I went a little crazy over the summer and collected literally DOZENS of rocks and stones when I went camping by a beautiful river out in the Mongolian countryside.  I was fascinated by the qualities of the beautiful rocks I found, the different shapes and sizes, and how amazingly colourful they became once dipped in water!  I was like a child in a lolly shop!

With those stones I made my own alphabet set, and the children have explored them occasionally (considering the letters are those of a language other than their own- I recently made a Mongolian set too)


Around that time I also saw the lovely story stones that were made over at Pre-school Play and have been meaning to make some ever since, but just never got around to it.  So, this past week when the children came they found a stone drawing invitation laid out.

Monday we only had a small group, so we brought out the invitation again on Wednesday when we had a bigger group.  The children were quite interested in the notion of decorating, mark-making and drawing on the stones.

There was great concentration, and careful work...

And the end results were vivid and varying:

From the joy of making a mark...
drawing people...
creating connecting scenes...
and exploring literacy- Mishel wrote (by sounding out and invented spelling) the names of all of the children in the group on one of her stones!

Some children stayed for only a few moments, others stayed focused for quite some time, but everyone had time to explore and to pursue as they liked.  Here is the final roll call:

We will get to making stories with these someday, but for now the children enjoyed simply exploring and the opportunity for art making using another medium.  Have YOU tried drawing on a stone lately?  If not you should, it is actually very satisfying! J

Monday, March 19, 2012

Teacher training

Last year I had the opportunity to meet with the head of "Teaching methodology and professional development in preschool education" here in Mongolia.  I went with my good friend Gabi, who had met her before, and Temka who would be our translator.  We thought it would be a good opportunity to start networking in the field and to just "present" myself as it were, and to share my vision and purpose for being here.  So, with a "meet and greet" in mind we entered this meeting.  We started out by all introducing ourselves, and when our host's turn came around one of the first things she said was: "The reason why I want to partner with you is because I see the need for change in the way that we do education here in Mongolia."  Wow!  Then soon after: "How soon can you start training my kindergarten directors?"  Gobsmacked would be a good way to describe our thoughts at this point.  What an amazing opportunity!  And having just shared that my purpose in coming to Mongolia was to serve and support teachers, children and families I accepted this request, with the encouragement of Temka who volunteerd herself as translator for these seminars.  When I asked what kinds of topics or things they would like me to teach about the translated response was: "How to unlock a child."  In that moment I knew that my being here was the right thing, that the way was being prepared for me, and that in the future I would not always feel like I was banging my head against the wall of a system that did not want to change.  Mongolia's education system has been largely influenced by the old soviet style and method of teaching.  You could say that it is often times "old school".  My host shared that many of the country's teachers, directors, trainers and lecturers where educated and "raised" in the system and that it is a real challange to break out of that.  But, now is the time for change!

I hosted two seminars last year, and my third one this last Friday.  In the theme of "Unlocking the child" we have focused on:

1. The child:
  • Our image of the child (connected to teacher practise)
  • Children's need for the development of their sense of self and belonging
2. The teacher:
  • What does it mean to teach?  Characteristics of a good teacher, teacher roles
  • Teachers must be teachable, looking at some of the ideas from a few pioneers of education: Fredrick Frobel, John Dewey, John Amos Comenius 
  • Tour analogy guide- "Because I have seen it and experienced I will just tell you about it..." Children must have the opportunity to engage in their learning

    “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

    - Chinese proverb (Then in groups the participants made playdough and played with it!)

3.  The environment:
  • The enivornment acknowledged as the "third teacher"
  • Creating "Invitations for learning"
  • The physical environment has a prfound effect on interactions and learnings- and the way that materials are presented, and the general atmoshere that is created speaks messages to children and will reflect teachers' values and their image of the child
As a part of this third seminar the participants were given a bag of certain materials and were asked to try to look at the materials through the eyes of a child and set up an invitation for learning with what they were given.  I was impressed with how enthusiastic and creative they were with this task.  There was still a significant sense of  "What kind of lesson can I teach with this? What activities can the children do?" as they set up their invitations and then talked about their thoughts and purposes, and how they thought the children would respond and interact with the invitation- as opposed to creating an invitation that would encourage children to really think, engage, delight and explore freely.  But as I said, I was very impressed with their effort, and their creativity- they certainly thought of things that I didn't think of!

The invitation "kits"

Exploring the materials...

Imagining the possibilities... 

Creating an invitation...

Time to play!

This group created an invitation with bottle lids. They even managed to make bottle lid "kimbab" for their invitation! I definitely would not have thought of that!!

Buttons and black paper- this group explained that the black paper made them think of the night, so they used the buttons to create a night time scene for children to explore. I love the owl, and its little button heart! (which you can't see clearly in the picture... but it is there!)

A wild animal invitation was created by this group.  They took this one step further by creating  "snow" (the white pices of paper on the right) and planning a conversation to extend on this invitation, asking children about these animals and their habitats and what they might do if they lived in a cold climate where there was snow.

This group created an invitation that followed the life cycle of a butterfly. I especially liked how they used the recycled mustard jar to create a cacoon around the caterpillar- very creative!

What I saw as a bunch of boxes and materials for collage and construction invitation, this group saw as a birthday party! They even made skewers, cake, traditional Mongolian cookies, and festive decorations!

Happy Birthday!