Haere mai! Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

Nau Mai Haere mai. Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Monday, 29 October 2018

PART ONE: How does Mairtown Kindergarten's teachers uphold our code of professional responsibility and standards for the teaching profession

As teachers in early childhood education the one thing that I feel that we are constantly trying to evidence to others outside of our sector is our ‘professionalism’. At Mairtown Kindergarten this is a huge part of our teaching teams’ practice and philosophy. Together we aim high to provide a high-quality service for our children, their whānau, the community and each other. We are very lucky to have a great amount of professional support from the Northland Kindergarten Association who are our umbrella organisation and who make sure that their teachers are providing an excellent service for their community.

But how do our teachers at Mairtown display their professionalism on a day to day basis? How do we make it visible to our whānau that we are working hard to provide a high-quality educational service for their children? How do we prove to society that we are a very important part in the chain of our countries growth and development?

“The first years are the most important in the life of every child as they set the basis for overall success in life. They are also very important for every society as this is the best chance to influence future prosperity, inclusiveness and social stability. Early childhood development is considered to be the most powerful tool to address inequities, a chance to provide opportunities to all children to develop their full potential. Every child is needed, and every child has the right to get a good start.” (Radocaj, 2014)

Although research shows that the first years of a child’s life have a huge impact on the rest of their life, our profession still seems to be undermined, not only in the education sector but also in general. So, how do we make sure that our community understands that we are hard working professionals? And what does professionalism look like at our kindergarten?

All teachers are governed by the Education Council who provide us with ‘Our Code, Our Standards – Code of professional responsibilities and standards of teaching profession’. This is a wonderful document that reinforces our practice and makes us accountable for what we do. In its opening statements its shares, “As teachers, we respect our trusted position in society and recognise the influence we have on learners, their understanding of the world and the future well-being of our society.” (educationcouncil.org.nz)

From the deep reflection that our teaching team has done to unpack this document we have become more aware of how we uphold ‘Our Code’. This has then enhanced our awareness of how to create a learning environment that authentically considers the six standards (Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, Professional learning, Professional relationships, Learning-focused culture, Design for Learning and Teaching) which has the child at the heart of the matter all the time. We believe that as a collective we provide and design a learning environment that reflects our community that we serve and that the ‘child’ is the driving factor that influences what we do and why we do it. ‘Our Code, Our Standards’ is a wonderful piece of work that helps guide our professionalism to a high quality and uplifts our teaching vocation, particularly in ECE.

When this is broken down it can be seen in many different areas of practice. For example how we honour the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, how we use professional learning to extend on our knowledge and better our practice, how we build and maintain professional relationships, how we seek to create a learning focused culture in the places that we design for learning and then how we teach in this environment. I am going to break these standards down and give some examples of what they look like at Mairtown, however I also would like to note that our practice is not limited to these aspects because if I wrote everything we did down you would be reading for hours!

How do we honour the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership? We cherish the dual heritage of Aotearoa/New Zealand and work to uphold the spirit and intent of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, fostering an environment where children will experience the values, traditions and language of the bi-cultural heritage of Aotearoa. We celebrate Māori success and acknowledge our tamariki Māori as leaders in their own learning journey and as being able to positively recognise their learning progress and potential. Inherent in our practice is our focus on being welcoming and inclusive of the diversity of all our children and whānau. We love to acknowledge and celebrate cultural diversity within our community, and value the opportunities that enable us to learn about different people, their beliefs and way of life.
Bicultural practice is something that we have a lot of respect for and through our work I feel that this is represented in the way we celebrate and hold the Te Āo Māori values of manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga in high regard. The relationships we uphold and continue to build on daily are a credit to this. We feel that it is part of our role as early childhood educators to help create a culture of respect towards tikanga, te reo and everything Te Āo Māori, as well as supporting and building on our community’s knowledge and understanding of this, as it is an important and integral part of our nations identity.  This can be seen in our daily interactions with whānau, making sure everyone feels welcomed and acknowledged. It can be seen through our assessment from a Te Āo Māori lens in the children’s portfolio’s, through the te reo that we use, through the waiata that we sing and through the whānau participation that we have within our service.

“Te Whāriki affirms the identities, languages and cultures of all children, whānau, kaiako, and communities from a strong bicultural foundation. All children are given the opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding of the cultural heritages of the partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi. Each ECE setting’s curriculum whāriki recognises the place of Māori as tangata whenua of this land…The integration of kaupapa Māori concepts (Māori values and philosophy) and te reo Māori (Māori language) supports cultural, linguistic, social, and environmental diversity and enables all peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand to weave their perspectives, values, cultures, and languages into the early learning setting…From a bicultural foundation, the early childhood curriculum supports the identities, languages, and cultures of all children, affirms and celebrates cultural differences, and aims to help children gain a positive awareness of their own and other cultures.” (tewhariki.tki.org.nz)

How do we use professional learning to extend on our knowledge and better our practice? As a teaching team we are reflective, regularly reviewing our practice and our environments to provide successful and rewarding learning outcomes for children. We all share a passion for inspiring young minds through our dedication to excellence in teaching.  We believe life is a learning journey for all, and are committed to our own ongoing professional development and professional dialogue. Our team works collaboratively to support one another on their professional development journey, often sharing inspiring and forward-thinking articles and research with one another. The teaching team undertake lots of professional learning opportunities and engage in professional dialogue during termly meetings and appraisals and this enhances their teaching practice in meaningful ways and has a positive impact on the children that the team work alongside due to them being more aware of a wider range of teaching strategies that they can implement. This is evidenced in many ways, including our internal evaluations, the research we use in our assessment, blog posts and documentation, the way in which we set up our kindergarten environment with intent and how we communicate why we do the things we do with our kindergarten whānau and the wider educational community.

“Ongoing professional development keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools for the classroom, new curriculum resources, and more. The best professional development is ongoing, experiential, collaborative, and connected to and derived from working with students and understanding their culture.” (Edutopia, 2008)

How do we build and maintain professional relationships? Relationships and partnerships, based on trust, respect and open communication are central to our philosophy. Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face conversation) is something that we value immensely. When these genuine, authentic and reciprocal relationships are established, Mairtown Kindergarten becomes a welcoming, safe and inclusive place for children, whānau and teachers.  This secure and warmly respectful environment supports children to explore, play freely and fosters their ability to be learners and leaders. We believe that everyone in our learning community is beautifully unique and has a wealth of knowledge, which we love to honour. This is shown through our day to day practice, through the participation levels of our kindergarten whānau and through the relationships that we have with external organisations and other services in the education sector. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships is a common thread through all the teachers personal teaching philosophy. This, I feel, is one of the key factors that underpins our success as a team as we are all passionate about being great role models for the profession. We all understand the importance of positive partnership and relationships with all parties that we work with and our success is a group effort supported by professional relationships.

“Professional relationships asserts that teaching is not a professional activity that exists in isolation, but that we need to build and foster a range of relationships in the interests of learning and improvement for all involved: with colleagues, with family/whanau, with community.” (educationcouncil.org.nz)

To be continued in part two of this blog...

Nāku noa, nā

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The 'process' of art at kindergarten

As an early childhood teacher encouraging and supporting the development of creativity in children is one of my aspirations, and in all honesty is one of the reasons I teach, and I love teaching. Valuing the arts is extremely important to me. It is through our arts programme at Mairtown that children enhance their social development (through turn-taking and collaboration), their emotional development (by transforming their ideas into a visual form), their physical skills (for instance fine motor control and hand eye coordination) and their cognitive development (such as creative thinking, experimentation and cause and effect).

I love art, and promote it daily in my teaching for its many benefits to children’s learning. Children however, are not always so aware of these benefits. For them they ‘do’ art for the experience; to create, to explore new concepts and ideas and to experiment, but perhaps mainly for the enjoyment. As I sit with our children at Mairtown kindergarten and support them in their creative pieces, I get to see how children discover joy through art, yet also challenges; how they learn to take a risk, to persevere and at times to overcome frustration. It is all these factors combined that make art and creativity for young children so very vital and so essential in any early childhood programme, and one that we certainly promote and thoughtfully nurture here at Mairtown.

With this in mind at the beginning of term 2 many of our children at Mairtown enjoyed creating some wooden art work. This was something I did many years ago with the children, and it was a parent reminding me of this work that made us look into re-visiting this experience once again. This art experience takes time (lots of time!) and focuses on the process of the art work, rather than the final product – although the final product, as you will see, has turned out to be quite stunning.

Process focused art is quite different to product focused art. Product focused art is not something I am a particular fan of, as this is the type of art where templates are often used or perhaps the teacher may have created an example for the children to copy and invariably all the finished pictures will look almost identical. This is the art form that I feel stifles creativity and imagination.

Process focused art however is quite different. There are no examples, no templates, the experience and how to follow it, is up to each child. Each finished piece will be individual and unique, basically there is no right or wrong and for each child the experience should be calming, one of engagement, relaxation and focus.

Creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty but a characteristic of our way of thinking (Loris Malaguzzi).

When we allow children the freedom of self-expression whilst working on an art experience, we give them the opportunity to plan ahead and predict their work, to make changes, to problem-solve, to utilise their imaginations and to be creative. It is through these opportunities that children are more willing to discuss their art with you and you can sense their excitement as they share its story.

With this in mind, when I introduced the children to this particular art – of painting on wood and later layering these painted colours with PVA glue and gold and silver pens – it was the process that I had in mind.  

The first step in this process was for each child to choose a piece of wood from a selection that were pre-cut. Then choosing paint, they painted their piece of wood in sections of bold colours. Next came the really difficult bit, we had to wait for it to dry! When it was dry I then invited the children back to revisit their painting and we talked about carefully adding PVA glue in black, silver and gold. Next again, came the hard part of more waiting as it dried, and this took a couple of days. The third step was to create finer more intricate details and patterns with the addition of metallic gold and silver pens.

Now, that all seems quite straightforward, but there were certainly some challenges encountered. Squeezing the bottles of PVA as well as moving them to create a line requires a lot of fine motor skills and concentration. However, after lots of practice, everyone could proudly say that they succeeded in this, and made interesting marks and patterns on their wood. 

 Patience was our other challenge. Our children were so focused and engaged in this work, that they could have happily done all the stages in one day. However, again, we practiced our powers of self-restraint as we waited first for the paint to dry and then the PVA.

Art strengthens focus and increases attention, it develops hand-eye coordination, whilst also requiring practice and strategic thinking, and finally involves interacting with the material world through different tools and art mediums.’ (Mark Wagner)

 Reading so far, it would appear that the creation of these art pieces was a three step process. This was interestingly not the case. One of my aims was for the children to be totally immersed in their own creativity and in doing so I wanted to encourage the children to take time with their work and to re-visit often. Many of the children would tell me they were finished, but would choose to collect their art and add an extra layer of PVA or pen to it again a little later, the next day, or even weeks later. This certainly made me reflect on the words ‘I’m finished’ possibly not meaning ‘I’m finished for good’, but rather, ‘I’m finished just for now’.  I felt as I watched the children collect their work many days in a row and add a little bit more that when children are able and invited to revisit their work over time, they are able to view it though a different lens; for instance, what can I add to enhance my work? What does it mean to me? Am I finished? It is when they see it from this different perspective that they may then decide to add to it or even change it.

There's no doubt about it: Creativity is as natural and necessary for children as fresh air and sunshine! By exposing children to creative experiences, we give them the gift of a rich and memorable childhood while laying the foundation for a lifetime of creative expression – all topped off with a heaping helping of important learning skills (Mary Ann Kohl).

My role as the teacher in this work was very much to support and reassure that taking time can be valuable. By slowing down the children’s thinking (and at times their actions) they could process their thoughts and then transfer these into their work. I really wanted to emphasise the importance of lingering to the children – of not rushing to get to the end – but of reassuring them that this will still be available in half an hour or tomorrow or next week; to assist the children in becoming fully immersed in their work in a relaxed and thoughtful manner.

Although at the beginning I mentioned the importance of process over product focused art – I would have to admit the product is quite spectacular. These art pieces do however demonstrate each child’s process; they demonstrate each child’s ideas and imagination as they reflect on past and present experiences, and for us, these pieces give us a little insight into each child’s expression of the world. 

So finally after several months of work the children each, one by one, and only when they were ready, began to announce they had definitely finished – once and for all! As each child had worked over many weeks to complete their work we have had plenty of opportunities to discuss how artists give a name to their pieces and how many artists also choose to tell a story through their work. Here are some of the finished art pieces with their title and story.

Mana: Well mine has a name, but I don’t want it to have one story. I’ll call my picture ‘The Wind Blows’.

 Levi: Slices of Cheese
This is my story as I eat cheese sandwiches and cheese by itself. These are two cheeses!

 Taikura: Tama nui te rā 
My picture is a story of tama nui te rā, it's right there in the picture and there is a whale and a tomato and a fish.

 Charlize: Rainbow Sparkle
There's a rainbow in the sky, there's a unicorn in the sky following it and the kitty is following it. They go to follow the unicorn place. The End. 

 Matthew: Racing car and train painting: 
The racing car is in a race, he’s racing the other cars. Someone does a double flip and another one does a jump and the racing car does a double bounce. The racing car does a jump and then the racing car does a turn round the corner. The next racing car does a jump over the corner. The End

“There is more to art than just drawing a picture that looks like something. The process of creating a piece of art is precious, especially when you make something relevant and make a bold, personal and contemporary statement” Source unknown

After all the children’s hard work it was an honour to have them, very proudly, displayed in the Whangarei Central Library, and for others in our community to see and value the young artists we have at Mairtown.

On leaving you with a final thought, I believe all children need to be submersed in rich artist experiences and given time to revisit and create in an unhurried manner. When you follow the children’s lead and ideas – as you can see here – you will go to some wonderful places.

If we could see the world through the eyes of a child, we would see the magic in everything. Chee Vai Tang

Ngā mihi, 

A big thanks to Scooters, Whangarei, for the off cuts of wood that we used, to Rob for kindly collecting the wood and cutting some pieces into smaller panels for us, to the Whangarei Central Library for displaying our work and to Meredith at the library who warmly welcomed us as we visited, giving us our own private tour and putting on a very entertaining show.