Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where is your vegetable garden?

Arriving home after 3 months away to be met by knee-length grass, muddy slopes, a disappearing gravel driveway and a vegetable garden that any cow wanting sweet green grass would be delighted by - was enough to stop me in my tracks. Well where do you start? Every time I pulled a weed out the hole filled up with water. Still the gardener in me persisted and I planted my seeds in my conservatory and my mini garden is thriving, waiting for dry days to be planted out. This got me thinking…..

Where is your vegetable garden, do you have one? Hopefully yes. And hopefully it's not stuck around in some pokey, uninteresting corner that nobody visits, but takes up plenty of space, is accessible and more importantly alive! Why oh why are we constraining ourselves with small square modular boxes for a few dying vegetables? What are we telling our children about the joy of growing our own food, and learning about the wonders of the growing seasons. Plants can grow anywhere and in almost anything. I have seen small gardens hanging on containers off fences, in tyres, in old wheelbarrows, in fact anything that can hold some soil can hold a plant. It doesn’t have to be purpose built and cost a small fortune. Soil is readily available in the ground, with a bit of additions it can quickly be ready to grow something. Children are quite able to dig, and very willing. Seeds are the cheapest way to get started. So what are you waiting for?

Let's fill our spaces with plants and start a year-round growing cycle in centres. Plants can be grown indoors, and if we make excuses that our children won’t look after them, we are setting the scene for expectations of failure. Children do respect the environment when they are surrounded by fabulous role models who have a genuine interest in what they are doing.

I would love to see fruit trees planted wherever there is a space for one to grow. Natural shade is unbeatable. Our environments are becoming so plastic, so unnatural that sometimes it is hard to believe that centres are actually located in New Zealand. So what a joy it is to see places where there is grass -yes it will be muddy at this time of year - welcome to nature. To see food being grown and picked, prepared and eaten in centres is a wonderful thing. There are places where children wander through their gardens showing a sense of ownership and also respect. Scenes like this fill my heart with hope. I know around New Zealand there are centres that have a strong and established culture of gardening. If your centre is not yet one of these, why not find a centre in your area to visit for inspiration. Clean, green New Zealand is sadly a fast fading image. However we know that what happens in Early Childhood Education can change the world, so let's get started on a gardening revolution. Find a spade and a few willing helpers and away you go……. Don’t forget to take some photos.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't be careful, you'll hurt yourself!!

In recent months risk has been a focus of some of the work of ELP, Wendy reveals a little insight into this work she has been sharing with teachers around NZ.

In a climate of increasing regulation and media hype it is vital that teachers stand back and reflect on the current notions of risk management. These risk averse views can, in the words of Michael Unger, create some very serious longer term problems, “Odd as it may sound, there is a connection between all the security we offer children and why kids behave violently, do drugs, and take risks with their bodies, minds, and spirits.” Take time to read Michael Unger’s book Too Safe for Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive, I am sure you will find this a most worthwhile read as both a teacher and a parent in dealing on the day to day level with issues of risk.

Yes, the world is full of risks. Some are good risks and some are bad. Some would say, as indeed Beck does, that the society we now live in is “no longer concerned with attaining something good, but rather than preventing the worse?”. As teachers we need to turn this around in our early childhood settings. Children need to learn from a very young age how to both recognise and respond to risks in their environment. Risks provide a fabulous opportunity to learn. The struggle is important, valuing the struggle is important. It is through struggle and endeavour that we build our skills and experience and strengthen our learning. As Carol Dweck says, “You can see how the belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning... The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives“. Carol Dweck’s book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is a must read for all teachers. In my opinion every educational setting in the country should purchase this book.

It has the potential to change lives and minds! We as teachers need to consider these ideas in relation to providing opportunities for risk and responsibility. In the words of Gever Tulley "...there are aspects of danger in virtually everything we do, the trick is to learn how mastery actually minimizes danger. Walking is dangerous when we start as babies, but we persevere and it becomes safe. Next we learn to negotiate stairs. Why stop there? Why not practice and become proficient at walking on the roof or walking on a tightrope?” Listen to Gever Tulley on, I think his lectures would provide a great starting point for a parent or staff discussion group. It is useful to consider the freedom that so many of us had as children as we explored the world beyond our homes. So many of us appear to have brought into the notion that our streets are dangerous. This is not the reality, the most dangerous places for our children are in fact their homes. The statistics show this very conclusively. Many children are no longer experiencing a world of challenge and risk. We are turning a generation of children into ‘bubble wrap children’, we need to work with families to provide environments that are rich in opportunities for children to fail and to go on to pick themselves up and have another go. Giving children opportunities to learn their limits and how to bounce back so that they build resilience and persistence. It is through these pathways that children will strengthen a growth mindset.