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A 7-Step Guide to Planning Child-led Learning

I have received many questions and comments asking for details about programming and planning. Questions such as, what does it look like? Where does it begin? How do you connect the curriculum? I hope that this post will give some insight to my stages of planning with children as opposed to for children. It looks slightly different each time of course and I am forever learning ways to deepen and enrich the experience for children and educators. Thank you for encouraging this rich experience to reflect on my process for planning and programming child-led learning!

It begins by listening and looking for what children are saying and doing. I use wonder bubbles and sticky notes to record the children's conversations and take photos or gather their drawings/painting to prepare for a planning session.

I then make connections among the children's conversations, questions and interests using what I have collected. I attempt to organise or group them together to see if there is a common thread. I will try to give 'it' a categorical name to focus my thinking. I maintain flexibility with this first idea as it can change multiple times throughout. Nothing is worse than limiting yourself. Doing so will limit where the children can take it.

The next phase is bringing it to my colleagues. Whether it be EA's, neighbouring teachers, year level cohorts or network groups I always seek ideas from others. Rich learning experiences call for rich planning. I usually come away with book titles, incursion/excursion ideas, provocations and mini projects that will lead the children's learning. I love using mind maps.

The most exciting phase is bringing the thinking back to the children. They always show a great appreciation for your connections among what they are doing in the classroom. I call a  meeting, pose questions relating to the common thread and record what the children discuss. We then incorporate their contributions- wonders, questions, prior knowledge and construct the begging phase of a project. You may revisit this stage during the project as well to add new pathways and wonderings.

For those of you who are wondering where the curriculum comes in to it all don't fret. It will be covered. And richly so. I have provided a sample here to show you the planning at the stage after all of the above has been completed. This is by no means the end! If you are required to show evidence of curriculum links at this stage then you can do so based on what you will be bringing to the children. Be flexible as this may change.

As the project progresses you must document the children's learning. This will be the evidence you need to show what curriculum objectives the children are exploring and whether or not they are being met or require further attention. This documentation also acts as ongoing momentum to plan for emergent curriculum. The children will undoubtedly take things further than you could ever pre-plan and write down in a pretty table with tick boxes to show they have 'learned it'. Don't forget to record the directions children take the 'topic' on your plan.

When a project comes to an 'end' it calls for great reflection both with the children and by the teacher(s). Have the children explored/answered the questions?  Is the learning visible (documentation)? What are the curriculum links? What has been left unanswered/untouched? Why? Where to next?

All the best with your planning and please feel free to share how you plan with children below in the comments! I will add photos to complete this post as our project develops over the term!


What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

I am often asked what the Reggio Emilia Approach 'means', and I find that my answer varies in the depth that I share depending on who I am speaking to! So not to scare some people off by my passionate spilling of information or to intrigue a person in just the right way to get them thinking and wondering more!

One of the special facets of the Reggio Emilia Approach is that it has to be connected and interpreted with the local culture, people and environment in mind. I believe then in turn, that we can say the same for the way educators define the Approach.

To me, the Reggio Emilia Approach is a way of being with children. The approach has encouraged me to be an attentive, intuitive, and mindful educator. I am reminded often, to slow down, dig deeper and think outside of my realm of understanding. It empowers the education system to be connected with the present moment. Teaching each child at the age they are now and not 'preparing them' for what's to come. This freedom to let a child just 'be' in the classroom makes for such a lighter workload and enjoyable experience for all. It's about believing that children are capable beings and have many ways of showing their intelligence and understanding of the world. As the educator, it's my responsibility to ensure that the environment allows children to explore those ideas and that I facilitate their learning. To do this, we explore theories through a multi-modal, inquiry based approach that is realistic, hands-on, and full of authentic experiences. As the educator, I listen to the interests of the group and connect them with multiple resources to develop their understanding and give them time to share what they know, what the wonder and what they have learned. Project-based experiences allow children to developed a deeper understanding of things they are interested in. Which lends itself to giving children time to theorise, problematise, discover and re-develop their understandings. Then, as the educator, showcasing these processes through documentation. Mindfully choosing ways to display a child's learning process to share with others, to act as a learning tool and to put value behind process focused education. All of this demonstrates the respect for children; where they are, who they are, what they think, and how they connect. And as my smile widens, I have to say that it's about love. A love for children and the unique gifts they bring. A love for discovery; the pure joy found in learning something new. A love for the unknown that each day brings. And the love that you feel when you belong, when you're connected to what you do and the world around you. Summed up for me beautifully by Loris Malaguzzi, a man who began his journey with a goal in mind, 'nothing without joy'.

What does the Reggio Emilia Approach mean to YOU? How have you interpreted it and how do you 'explain' it to others? Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts!


8 Ways to Show Children's Learning; Documenting and the Reggio Emilia Approach

It's been a while since I have last posted...the term has been full of amazing opportunities for me and I have been spending my time soaking up all of the wonder and love from the children :)

This coming week I am helping to facilitate the Perth Reggio Network Documentation meeting and I thought that putting my ideas forth now and gathering other's suggestions would only enhance our meeting. PS. If you are in the Perth area contact me for more information about attending our meetings!

Firstly, I would suggest that everyone read this article, which discusses the process and stages we go through when learning how to document children's learning. It is a great read and helps you to feel good about where you are and excited to see where you can evolve to! 

1. Daily Journal
  • I use an A3, unlined, coiled book (find what works for you!)
  • The educators AND children include photos, scribed conversations, word/wonder maps and updates on our current projects 
  • Families, children and visitors to the class have access to the journal
  • Together we revisit our projects, special events and the experiences of other groups by looking back through the journal
  • The journal is also a planning tool; where to next?
  • Never make the class journal a chore...quality over quantity! 
2. Wall Displays
  • Showcase PROCESS as opposed to product
  • Simple, uncluttered displays are key to conveying the message you intend and to use as a tool to scaffold learning
  • Include photos, work samples, descriptions, scribed conversations, resources
  • Great for multiple groups coming through the space; children love to know what the other's are up to and each group can extend their thinking twofold! 
3. Children's Portfolios
  • An authentic and individualised way to represent a child's learning journey
  • Allow children to be active participants in choosing what goes into their portfolio- what do they value? what is something that is meaningful to them? what are they proud to display and share?
  • Include a timeline or overview of projects throughout the year, class list/photo, friendship messages, autobiography's, 'Wonder Notes' from over the year, artwork, photos, teacher and child comments, project contributions
  • Try keeping these portfolios accessible to add, reflect and share on a daily basis instead of tucking them away in the filing cabinet until the end of the year
4. Media Journal

  • Utilising a SmartBoard, laptop or computer is fantastic when in a time crunch!
  • PowerPoint presentations or Picasa collages with added text (playing as a slideshow from the photo folder on my computer) always gather a crowd and showcase what is going on in the classroom 
  • Great to show class excursions, incursions and experts who visit the class
  • Children can orally tell the story of what is happening in the photos
5. Story Boards
  • Great for wall displays AND individual portfolios
  • Draw attention to what the inquiry was/is; give an introduction
  • Less is more and a simple layout is most effective for readers
  • Include photos of the child working through the inquiry; choosing pivitol moments to enage your reader
  • Short, clear captions (quotes from the child, educators input)
  • Think of these 4 questions to take your reader on a journey:
    • 1. What was the provocation?
    • 2. What was the inquiry(s)? (questions, wonders) (child or educator)
    • 3. Who/How/What was involved in the process?
    • 4. New ideas and/or understandings
6. Project Books
  • Condense your wall displays into book format!
  • These are handy to have around to share with families and colleagues
  • Use colour, laminate and bind to keep in sturdy condition and look appealing!
7. Learning Stories
  • This is a very popular catch phrase in Australian early childhood settings; I find it to be difficult to live up to others' perception of a learning story but once you find your voice it is a beautiful way to share a child's learning journey
  • These are usually typed from the educators perspective and is a story about an 'a ha' moment that a child experiences
  • I use these to document a child's progress in areas that challenge them as well as areas they flourish in; therefore these are usually confidential and private for educators and guardians only
8. Learning Showcases
  • So, what to do with all of the accumulated data over a year?! Invite people to come and view your documentation and visit with children to share what they have done at school.
  • What better way to show children that we value their thinking, their learning, their individuality and demonstrate a community of learners come together to create amazing things?
I hope some of you leave a comment on ways that you document children's learning. Try out any and all ways you come across until you find what works for you, your style, the time you have, the display space you have access to and what your children and families need from you. With this post I want to express to educators everywhere that documenting is such a rewarding experience and valuable for so many!


How To Create An Amazing Sandpit for Children!

Today, most learning environments will include a sandpit but the key to truly engaging children in meaningful and purposeful play is providing a wide variety of materials to accompany the sand. I believe open-ended resources hold a lot of value in this area as they encourage children to use their creativity, imagination and bring personal experience from their lives into their play.
I often have to reassure other adults that it's okay to offer children tools to use other than the plastic 'children's' version. I believe that children are capable of using tools made of many materials and I also believe that they benefit from exposure to 'real life' objects and tools in their play. I want to educate children in a way that they become contributing citizens to their world and I perceive education to be the PRACTICAL experience towards learning life-long skills- not a place where educators are meant to be over-protective and expect that one day when they get to the 'real world' they will have to use the skills they have been taught in an UNreal way. This is the real world, now. This is time to educate children mindfully and with purpose. Children need to be exposed to 'dangerous' things and educators need to model and teach appropriate use, safety measures and common sense. So...advocate for children, the future of our world, and how they are very capable beings!
Below is my list of resources to revamp or enhance your sandpit! Please feel free to comment with other ideas!

  • Bricks
  • Logs hollow and solid
  • Sticks thick and thin
  • Rocks of all sizes and weights
  • Wood (2x4, planks, chip board etc.)
  • Chicken Wire
  • Burlap (Hessian)
  • Crates
  • Rope
  • Pipes
  • Wheels

  • Shovels
  • Spades
  • Hoes
  • Sifters
  • Buckets
  • Funnels
  • Brooms
  • Bowls
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Baking Trays
  • Ice Cube Trays
  • Muffin Tins
  • Wooden Spoons
  • Spatulas
  • Ladles
  • Rolling Pins
  • Flippers
  • Spoons
  • Forks
  • Butter Knives

  • Cardboard Boxes
  • Milk Jugs
  • Plastic Bottles with Lids
  • Plastic Containers

Thanks for reading!


15 Light Table/Box Ideas for the Classroom

I have so many beautiful photos of my classroom light table ideas that I had to share them here! Children are usually drawn to explore things closely for the finest details and the light table only enhances this experience for them! A light table enables children to look at things in a different dimension from everyday life. I have been fortunate to have a light table and projector readily available in my learning environments in the past but found this easy DIY project for those of you keen to bring this valuable learning tool into your environment! DIY Light Table Ikea Lack Table
Photos of children photocopied onto overhead sheets, kaleidoscopes, sand sifters
Laminated flowers and leaves collected on a nature walk! The heat from the laminator also changed the colour of the items which started an interesting discussion as to why.
Early Print- A young girl spelling her name using the colourful counters
 Emergent Mathematics- A small group of children sort the colourful counters in shapes
Printed, laminated mandelas and other art work from our Studio
 Children's drawings on laminating sheets with Sharpie Markers
 Coloured water with glitter in bottles and loose parts in glass petri dishes (buttons, marbles, cellophane)
 Ceramic objects, beads, gel letters, glass marbles, glow in the dark stencil creatures
X-rays- human and animal
Coloured perspex blocks, mirrors
Studying crystals, rocks and minerals
 The light table surrounded by mirrors, dark billowing fabric and wicker baskets for organisation
 Our lamp projected a soft yellow light onto this white sheet and we explored shadow towers
 Light table items don't always have to be see through!
 Storage for light table items 
 Agate, crystals, beads, coloured fabric and cellophane on overhead projector
Loose parts available to layer with perspex blocks on overhead projector


Meaningful Art in Today's Classrooms

Wassily Kandindsky once said 'there is no must in art because art is free'. This message is something I not only find inspiring but useful when helping colleagues and parents understand more about the value behind open-ended art

In the Art Studio I allow the children to explore materials freely. Of course, my job as the teacher is to facilitate, extended and enhance their learning and I do that by choosing appropriate materials for them to work with. I always provide a variety of mediums with the freedom for children to explore them in their own way.

Each child takes their own journey with paint, clay, pastels, construction etc. each day it is set out for them to explore. Documenting their process gives value to their work and allows for reflection by both child and teacher. This has more value than displaying only the finished product. I like to take photos and collect quotes during the children's work. I then select relevant pieces to highlight and display. 

Something that I find absolutely necessary in the Art Studio is a workable space where children can leave their unfinished projects. I want the children to feel their work is safe and that they never need to rush. It's often over an extended period of time that a project changes and evolves and even surprises the child! They are able to tell you about how the project changed and why, and this is a lovely experience at Showcases (where families come to see our space and current project work).

I hope this post gives you the courage to try open-ended art experiences and begin to document the process! Thanks for visiting :)
A child explores paint using brushes and rocks WITH the freedom to make what inspires him! (No problem with paint on the table, floor, paint apron, brush handle in our Studio!)

Collecting nuts from around our yard and using fine brushes to paint each in a unique pattern!

Space! This child had plenty of floor space to construct with recycled materials.

Marble Painting is an alternative way to explore paint and inviting for those who are not keen on getting paint on their hands yet!

These 3 girls started a large painting project with the inspiration of RED!
Then it evolved into an outdoor painting with other children!
After many conversations about what to do with our large painting, we decided to glue things onto it!

Source out recycled materials to add a new way to explore everyday art mediums. Here we found some mesh and rubbed chalk on to it...it went through onto paper too which made a find 'misted' look!

Another child enjoying the space to work on her construction!

This child was curious to add paint to her hands while enjoying the easels outdoors. 

Paper Mache without anything particular to create!

Drawing freely develops fine motor skills without frustration!