Saturday, June 23, 2012

A slight detour... taking the scenic route

It seems like I start every post like this, but goodness time flies by quickly!  Next week I will finish my last week of language study.  Might not seem so big, but it will mean that I will have finished 2 years of being a full-time language student!  Hurray!!  But on the other hand it is also a little scary... I have been studying this crazy, hard language for 2 years now and I still feel so inadequate (language wise) so often.  Help!  I guess what this means is that even though I will be finishing language study next week, I will never EVER really finish Mongolian language study.  I know people who have been here for 10 or 15 years, and they say the same thing- you never stop learning!  So, encouraging as that is, it is a little daunting too!  But either way, next Thursday is my last class as a full-time language student.  The other exciting (and scary) thing about that is that it means the next thing must begin.... am I really ready for this?!

A fresh-faced learner excited for the adventure
that is called "Mongolian language study"
Hitting the books
The plan all along was to open a kindergarten (preschool) in September.  As you can read in my very first post, The story with Mongolia, there is a real need for change and a fresh look at early childhood here in Mongolia.  The plan is to open a kindergarten that will be quality, that will be a model, that will facilitate teacher training and development, as well as family support (you can read our Mission, Vision and Overview here). 

The last few months have been busy as my team and I have been meeting, and planning, and running around for papers, and looking at buildings, and then we hit a road block..... all paperwork, documentation AND the building had to be ready and submitted before the 1st of March to be considered for registration for the new school year.  Detour #1.  Then soon after that: you may not rent, you have to OWN the building.  Smack!  Detour #2!  That kind of brought things to a grinding halt for a moment, and left us a little dazed.  We can wait a year, OK, but where on earth will we find the money to buy our building?  That's the big question (and still is!).  But, within a short while we realised that detours were actually blessings in disguise.  To start up in September, after me finishing language study next week, would have left us very rushed, and not able to do this thing to the highest quality that we really want.  So blessing #1:  We now have 9 months to think and plan and prepare, and do this thing REALLY well!  Blessing #2 is that we will be able to spend some time working on establishing the teacher training aspect of things, and continuing from where I left off at the beginning of the month.  Starting the KG in September would have meant that all of our energies would have been poured into getting that up and running well, and the teacher training would have gone on the back burner until who knows when.

Teacher training seminar

These lovely ladies are the core of my team

So... what is the plan, you may ask?  To take the scenic route, and enjoy the things we would have missed by taking a short-cut! J  We are starting an NGO called "Bfjff;lnay utj dol", which doesn't translate quite as well into English ("Dream family") but our vision and meaning behind the name is that families would be supported, that they would be learning a new way to "do" family life, that they would be reaching their potential, and raising their children with love and nurture and knowledge, being all that they could be... kind of something along those lines.  Family life looks very different here than it does back home.  Things are definitely changing, but in a culture where children are told they are "ugly" or "bad" or "naughty" (all are the same word) since they are a baby in order to protect them from bad luck, where parents and children have never uttered (or heard) the words "I love you", where children are "encouraged" to eat their food by being told that "If you don't eat your food the monster will come and get you!" or "A drunk person will come and get you!", well it is in this culture that we would like to see families changing, developing, growing and learning.  Please don't think that I am degrading the culture or thinking that mine is superior, but I think we could all agree that there is a need for a change in outlook, for a culture of encouragement, for families to be supported to love and nurture their children- and to TELL them these things.  This is what we long to see- families living with hope, and a new way of interacting with each other.  And the more I talk with Mongolian parents and families, the more I see their desire to learn, to see things change in their own families and culture.

The NGO will cater to 3 groups of people: children, parents and teachers.  Firstly we plan to host mother and child playgroups.  More and more mums are choosing to stay at home with their children now, and they are mostly stuck at home as there are not a lot of other options for them here.  The playgroup will provide a lovely environment outside of their home, where mothers can come and connect with other mums, support each other, where their children are stimulated, can play, and where we can provide support in sharing information on child development, nutrition, ideas for interacting with and nurturing children, family development and other topics.  Secondly we will host an after school care program for early primary aged children.  School finishes at 1pm, but parents don't finish work until 5 or 6pm, even kindergartens finish around that time too- so what do the children do?  They often end up home alone, or wandering about.  We will provide a safe environment where children will be supervised, where they can come, have a place to do their homework, and have opportunities to play, read, create, learn and relax until Mum and Dad get home.  Thirdly we will continue on with the teacher training that started last year.  One of our goals is to see partnerships developed between teachers and families.  And to see teachers really teaching in a way that nurtures and develops the children in their care. 

Mother and child playgroup
After school care
Teacher training
 As you can see this scenic route is actually pretty interesting,  and has a lot of potential for great adventure and new learning.  All of these things will be connecting us with children, families and teachers, providing valuable services to the community, and get us started as we take the next nine months to prepare and find (and buy!!) the right building.  

So, that's where things are at.  Not bad, just different to what we had first thought and planned.  Scenic! J

I would like to give you the opportunity to respond to this:

1. If you have any knowledge, wisdom, advice or suggestions on raising funds to purchase a building for the kindergarten please do share them with me!  I am very open to it, as I have never done anything like this before and feel a bit like a fish out of water.  I'm the girl who originally only ever planned to be a classroom teacher and to stay there, as that is what I love to do.  Now I find myself setting up an NGO, starting a kindergarten and training teachers, in MONGOLIA- talk about taking the scenic route!! J

2. If you have any baby/toddler toys that your little one has maybe outgrown, but are still in good shape that you would like to pass on for a good cause, that would be wonderful!  I have mostly worked with children aged 3 and up, so I don't have many toys and resources for younger children.  Finding quality toys here in Mongolia is a challenge, and when you do find them they are crazy expensive, so we are very open to hand-me-downs.  I received an awesome package last year from a lovely friend back home in Australia:

These foam blocks have been invaluable, and utilised over and over again!  They are pracitically impossible to find here, so they are such a lovely treasure!

Anyway, as I said, if you are interested in being a part of this venture by sending on some toys that would be great!  I even have my very own PO Box now, which is rather exciting.  If you would like to send, please send to:

Mother and child playgroup
c/o Naomi McKenzie
PO Box 602
Post Office 51
Ulaanbaatar, 13343

Thanks for reading!  I will keep you posted as we continue down this road... the scenic one! J

Friday, June 8, 2012

An end... and a beginning

The other week I hosted my final seminar for this school year.  Since December I have been presenting seminars, every other week, to a group of around 35 kindergarten directors from around Ulaanbaatar.  When I first met with Bolormaa, the head of teaching methodology here in the country, she was very keen for me to teach some seminars to her directors.  When I asked what kinds of things she would like me to talk about (having never presented seminars to teachers or directors before) her response was "Unlocking the child"- how to really connect and engage with children, how to go beyond the surface level teaching, and how to really draw out a child.  Wow!  I was so thrilled that this was the direction of their thinking, this desire to really connect with children.  It was great!  So the first three seminars I presented revolved around the child, the teacher and the environment.  Since then we have explored topics that they have been interested in and some that I have been interested in.  8 seminars later and I was glad to have had this wonderful experience and opportunity, but also glad to be finished- it was a lot of work! 

At the end of the very last seminar each district from the city stood up and, as a group, presented back to me (and everyone else) the things that they had taken away from our seminars and implemented in their kindergartens.  Wow!  I heard and saw that the practical elements of the seminars had been taken back and the training replicated for their teachers, for their assistant teachers, and even in some case for parents!  I saw examples of teachers stepping back and observing the children's interests and then moving together with the children in those interests!  I saw a mini plant project started where the children planted seeds, watched them grow and then- with the help of some parents- planted them in the playground!  I saw them taking on practical ideas such as setting up invitations for play and exploration, presenting materials for children's independent use and attractively displayed.  I saw children learning about interesting things such as the life cycle of a butterfly!  I saw thoughtful representations of things that we had discussed and explored over the past 6 months.

Presenting back to kindergarten staff

Sharing ideas and "training" with parents

Following children's interests: birthday party play
My heart was warmed by these presentations and the feedback that the directors gave.  When you are standing up the front it can be hard to tell what people are thinking, what they are really engaging with and taking away, if they even really want to be there...  But these presentations really showed me that the things we were talking about were really considered and thoughtfully applied in the different kindergartens.  SO AWESOME!  I am really thankful to Temka and Ariunaa, who faithfully translated for me and made this wonderful learning possible.  I look forward to the day that I can teach without a translator, but in the meantime I am so grateful for their time, effort, commitment and servant-hearts.

At the end of it all we celebrated with champagne and chocolates (the Mongolians do love to through a good party!) and I was presented with a beautiful thank you speech and gift.  I felt so blessed, and proud of these directors who had been willing to come and listen to and really engage with me in these things.  And not only that, but to be willing to take it back to their kindergartens, their staff, their children, their families and begin implementing some of these things.  Small steps.... but small steps still take us forward, right?

Bolormaa made a toast towards the end of our time together- saying that as far as she was concerned this was not the end, it was only the beginning... I'll toast to that!  J

Celebrating in style!

Presented with a beautiful gift

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Story stones!

Remember those story stones that I was going to get to some day?  Well, that some day has arrived, so come see the children in explore mode:

My lovely, dear, creative friend Mirjam drew me these gorgeous fairies which I cut out, stuck on, and varnished (with good old nail polish) for this fabulous set of fairy stones! (the photos don't really do them justice, but do give you a little bit of an idea...)  I had some sequins that fit the theme very nicely (butterflies, leaves and flowers), so added them to jazz up the play a little.  These are not exactly story stones in the truest sense, but a play set that I hope will inspire and encourage imagination, and all of those other fabulous things that naturally flow out of play.  I must say, the children were not really quite sure what to do with them at first.  A lot of Mongolian children (not all) find it hard to get started in imaginative play, they don't always get a lot of opportunity for it!  But, with a little bit of encouragement (and a few extra props) they got underway...

Recognise those little toadstool treasures?  This was what I envisioned for them!

Certainly not a bad first effort! Here's to more story stones, and more opportunities to play, explore, and imagine! J

The month of May...

Wow... can it be that the month of May has come and gone?  Where does time get to?  We've been plenty busy this month.  Playing, doing, learning, building,  playing, writing, exploring, thinking, playing... would you like to see?

Sharing a book with a friend was one of our favourite things...
and talking on the phone of course!
Architectural feats were accomplished...
and scientific notions explored.
Puzzles were pulled out...
as well as the silly glasses and dress-ups!
Drawings were drawn...
and a shop was created (the children wrote the sign and made the produce themselves)
Writing skills were practised...
and making great progress!
The stamps were stamped...

 the dolls had a party...

 time was made for a little bit of "Playschool"...

 babies were cared for...

and of course art was created!

With all that we had going on it is no wonder the month passed quickly!  And now onto the next... with more playing, more exploring, more learning.  This is life, and we are living it!