Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mission Australia

I have worked for Mission Australia Early Learning Services (MAELS) for the past 15 months & although this may sound somewhat like an advertisement for their services, it is simply a sharing of the journey undertaken by this organisation to ensure continued improvement in their provision of care & education of young children.
MAELS are at the forefront of change in the early years education sector in Australia. Having taken over management & ownership of several ex ABC centres it has been a long, slow process of developing their own identity & reputation amongst society & local communities. More can be found out on their recently launched website: http://maearlylearning.com.au/

Part of the process is a move back towards more natural learning environments. having inherited some quite sterile & artificial environments from ABC. A few centres have already had their outdoor areas rebuilt.
An example is Shell Cove, south of Wollongong.
A remarkable change from plain artificial grass from one corner to the other.
This is much more inviting & conducive to meaningful learning as well as encouraging respect for the environment.
There is potential to influence more than the children though. By providing such beautifully natural & diverse environments it can enable parents to think about the many ways their children learn through engaging with the environment around them. It can also challenge educators to reconstruct their own attitudes, often long held, about the role the natural environment plays as teacher rather than simply somewhere to place toys & where children can play.

This is a fundamental ideal of the Reggio Emilia approach to children's learning. If we can provide stimulating and authentic environments that engage & challenge children then half our job is already done for us by this very effective third teacher. However, providing a natural setting is only the beginning. The layout of physical spaces both indoor & out should be constantly reviewed to ensure they continue to inspire, motivate, challenge & invite children.

Well done Mission Australia. You are laying the foundation stones of a pathway to excellence in the education & lives of young children & their families.

A special thank you to Mission Australia Early Learning Services, Shell Cove for allowing us the use of photos of their revitalised outdoor playspace.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thanks Dad!

A national photo competition is currently underway asking for people to submit photos of dads, grandfathers, uncles & other significant males spending positive time with their children.

This simple idea conveys an important message - that men play an integral part in children's lives, often without them even realising that what they are doing is impacting positively on the lives of children. While the focus is on male family members, the opportunity to extend this to other male influences such as teachers, coaches, bus drivers, posties, etc, exists.
An example of my spending quality time with my children was when my daughter & I attended the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter movie dressed up as Hagrid & Hermione. I'll leave you to work out who's who.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Government at the Forefront

The wonderful site of MenTeach http://www.menteach.org/ has a link to an article about how the Guyanese Government is taking the lead in initiatives to promote more men into teaching at all levels from early childhood to secondary schools. The article can be found here: http://www.stabroeknews.com/2010/news/stories/08/07/campaign-announced-to-reverse-male-teacher-shortage/ 

In this article the extraordinary statistic is revealed that in Guyana there is, according to 2008/09 statistics, 1 male teacher for every 247 females at the nursery level. This is an astounding figure that should shock all concerned.

I keep hearing from colleagues, parents & other people I meet in a range of contexts how wonderful it is that I, as a man, am working with young children. Or that the call for more men is echoed wherever I go. Yet it seems that men are leaving the profession at least at the same rate as they are entering, if not faster. For this reason alone we not only need to encourage more men into the early childhood education arena, but also encourage those already working with children to remain.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Journal of Men's Studies

The above mentioned journal has their current issue focused entirely on the topic of men working in the early childhood profession. The articles can be found at: http://mensstudies.metapress.com/content/vk7n6v12v726/?p=23d3b80c96ec4c169323bdc9827b59f8&pi=0

There are six articles in this issue & include:
Men and Teaching: Good Intentions and Productive Tensions. Kevin G. Davison & Bryan G. Nelson

Male Preservice Teachers and Discouragement from Teaching. Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower

Race, Sexual Orientation, Culture and Male Teacher Role Models: "Will Any Teacher Do as Long as They Are Good?" Douglas Gosse

Toward a Genderful Pedagogy and the Teaching of Masculinity. Shaun P. Johnson & Brenda R. Weber

"Let's Hear it for the Men": A Men's Studies Curriculum in the School System. Gordon Weber & Andrew Kitchenham.

Dads as Teachers: Exploring Duality of Roles in the New Zealand Context. Stephanie White

Let's hope that by having such a collection of scholarly articles on the subject that more men will be encouraged to consider early childhood education as a career. It would also be advantageous for more publications on the topic to follow so that the focus on more men remains at the forefront of the minds of all stakeholders.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another More Men Debate

Teacher Tom has ignited some passion regarding males in early childhood education.
And to think it all stemmed from a recollection about blowing the wrapping off straws when he was a boy.

Here is my responding comment to his post:
(I suggest you read his post before reading this)

According to research in this area you are right Tom that the two main reasons men give for not entering the early childhood profession or leave it is because of the low pay & the suspiciousness surrounding them.

There are other reasons too. Such as the low status of the profession, which in itself is a reason for the low pay. Some male egos just can't bare being outshone by their peers career wise. There's also the view that caring for children is women's work, although I believe this to an outdated concern as society is quickly changing in this respect. Finally some men feel as if they'll be an island in a sea of women with little masculinity to feed off or into.

I personally believe that there are numerous positives about increasing the number of men working with young children. However, my main point is that the sector cannot reflect society or connect with communities if its workforce doesn't more closely reflect gender representation in those communities. So many families encounter female only environments within early childhood services that their children have little or no opportunities to develop a notion of men, whether positive or negative. Most, if not all significant adults in their lives could well be female.

For much of my teaching career I was the sole income & although my wife now works casually I am still the main income earner.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Role Model?

A recent article from BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13600611 talks about how male role models, whether they be celebrities, sportsmen, educators or relatives have less of an influence on children then peers do. I believe that an effective teacher can empower children to make choices, develop skills, acquire knowledge, make discoveries, learn from mistakes, challenge themselves, take risks, hypothesize, solve problems & develop relationships with those around them. This is done in numerous ways, not least of all, by providing opportunities for the above to take place in meaningful & authentic physical & social environments.

However, educators also teach by example. Young children often learn by what they see happening around them, so if they see a male teacher comforting a peer, dressing a doll, cooking in home corner or dressing up, it can as powerful as them seeing a female teacher working with constructing, playing with cars & trucks, or engaging in rough & tumble play. These scenarios provide examples where children can witness people engaging in experiences that would traditionally be seen as less than usual for their gender. It is also not only for boys that men can be a positive influence. Girls too can benefit from engaging with men outside of the family.

Yet, my biggest problem with the essence of this article is that it suggests that to be a role model for boys is the only reason the call for more men exists. While it's true that these are qualities that we seek in all teachers, not just men, there is much more to it. How can the early childhood sector, or even individual services, claim to be representative of or connected to their communities/society when there are so few men present. At the moment in many services, children attend each & every day & only encounter females. If nothing else, encouraging more men into childcare would lead to a more accurate representation of the real world.

I am only one man, but I am the first at my centre I am aware of & almost all of my females colleagues over the years have declared that I am the first guy they have worked with. Children can benefit from males being a significant presence in their lives. Equally, blokes can benefit from the love & joy that children are usually more than willing to share with their carers. Personally, I believe I get so much more from the children then they will ever get from me.

Finally, I see children as individuals, not boys & girls. therefore any influence I have is not centred around their gender. Therefore, if a boy needs some assistance or guidance I will provide that, just if it was a girl. If we target boys because they are boys, even though they do learn & develop differently, then how can we claim to be treating all children equitably? After all, even boys are different from one another so how can we generalise?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Going Herbal

A big shout out to The Imagination Tree http://www.theimaginationtree.com/ for the exceptional idea of adding herbs to playdough. Following their recipe, more or less, led to a fairly sticky concoction. This was alleviated by adding a sprinkling of flour onto the table & dough.
Providing some rolling pins, popsicle sticks & twigs led to the children exploring the new dough with all of their senses. We all had a smell of it. Some thought it was "Yuck" while others were a little unsure of what to make of it. At some stage most of the children used their sight & pointed out the green bits in the dough (grass, trees, leaves were some suggestions of what they were). Using their sense of touch the children discovered the varying dryness & stickiness of the dough at different times during the experience. While manipulating the dough a few of the children tasted it, with mixed reactions. One child even dropped their pile of dough onto the table repeatedly, listening to the sound it made with their hearing. So in essence, the opportunity to explore with all their senses during one experience was quite unique & very rewarding.
The lack of artificial colouring as well as the natural colours & smells of the herbs led to a discussion about them & what else they could be used for. A link to home life/culture as we talked about cooking various meals & a growing appreciation of natural materials. They also had the opportunity to use conventional unconventional tools, which led to more creativity & problem-solving.
Playdough - a simple, yet very effective learning experience & now it seems, even a herbal remedy for boredom.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Get Ya Face Paint On!

When you see someone painting children's faces it's usually a female, often dressed as a fairy. I therefore find it ironic that as the only male at work I am the one applying the face paint & also the only one prepared to get painted up myself.
Not only that, but I went shopping after work still painted up. I visited a costume hire store (probably not too out of place there), a health & beauty spa to buy a gift certificate (raised eyebrows, but nothing said) & walked throughout a shopping centre. It was in the centre that I predictably got the most reactions. These ranged from quizzical looks to whispered comments as I walked past. There was even one lady who stopped & told me she loved my face paint.
I love getting in & doing everything with the children. I am also not ashamed to go around in public displaying what I've been up to. My view is if you're willing to let children see you that way then  it should be fine for adults to see you that way too. I love what I do & am proud to be doing it, so I tend to celebrate it whenever I get the chance. I may be the odd one out, but most people who know me will attest to that anyway.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Taba Naba, toddler style

A lovely group time today when our 2 year olds made paddling motions with their hands as I sung "Taba Naba" to them. After the third rendition they began attempting to sing along. I could quite clearly hear some "Taba Nabas" issuing from their mouths, but the rest seemed to be some mumbles sounds that loosly fitted in with the tune. I so loved it as that is exactly how I sing along to songs; belting out the chorus & bluffing my through many other parts. The aim is to make it appear as if I know the words, although I doubt I fool anyone. These toddlers were implimenting the same strategy. I felt so connected to them. :)

Monday, July 4, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - Conclusion

I will keep this conclusion brief as I don't really have much more to add. Through a suggestion from my wife, this year my daughter & I began a monthly ritual of just the 2 of us going to the movies. We take it in turns to select what we are going to see. The highlight of this exercise will be us sharing a midnight viewing of the final Harry Potter movie together, complete with us dressed in character - her as Hermione & me as Hagrid. These monthly events have provided some lovely moments of reflection about the movie we have seen as well just plain chatting. Our relationship appears to be at its richest for some time.

So, just as I act on feedback and reflection to better myself as a teacher, not to mention acting on the ideas and inspiration of others, so it seems I am doing with my parenting. I hope that in both cases it results in me becoming a better & more effective teacher/father. What it also highlights is that just as parenting is more effective as a partnership, when that is practical, teaching too is a works best as a team approach.

Finally, I would like to think that I am at least a half decent teacher & a more than adequate father. However, that is for others to decide. All I can do is continue to do the best I can in both roles.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Being a Dad and a Teacher - Part 5

When my children were little it was amazing how much my daughter gravitated towards me, being in many regards a real 'Daddy's Girl', while my son did similar with my wife. This lasted till well into their school years. However, due a number of factors, not least being them maturing, their attitudes changed. My son & I spent more quality time together through hos sports & general 'hanging  out' while my daughter developed interests that didn't involve me as much. We still have our moments of simpatico, discussing particular movies or tv shows we share a passion for. A she approached & entered her teenage years, those moments became less frequent. I have taken this 'rejection' very hard at times, but as my wife and other keep reminding me - "harden up & don't take it personally." The teacher in me knows this is a natural path for parents & children (fathers & daughters especially) to tread through life's journey, but the dad in me can't help but feel left out.

My son will probably go through the same stage & it may affect me in a similar fashion. Part of me thinks it will be tougher as I realise the last of my babies doesn't want to be around me as much. Sadly though, I think the hurt will be less for a  umber of reasons. I will hopefully have toughened up due to my experience with my daughter, emotions tend to be more heightened in relation to the first child & the 'Daddy's Girl' factor. This by no means I love my son any less, but my reactions to events in his life are probably less vivid then with my daughter.

What this has to do with my teaching is that, as with my approach to teaching, I need to be flexible & be prepared to change the way I approach certain contexts. I am fully aware of this as a teacher & embrace it in order to be the best influence I can be on the children in my care. Why then is it so hard to take the same approach with fatherhood? Sure these two children are the most important I will ever have in my care so I should be ensuring I can adapt as the landscape changes. Otherwise I will be doing myself, my wife, & particularly my children a great injustice.

Time to bite the bullet & man up so to speak. I couldn't live with myself if while striving to be the best teacher I can be, I wasn't doing the same as a parent. Hopefully my Teacher self can influence my Dad self effectively in this. Afterall, there's high stakes involved.