Monday, December 19, 2011

A Curious Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree is a source of delight for all of us. It is a new one, quite posh and 7 feet tall.

You may remember last year I wrote in a blog about the joy I have each year in greeting all of the decorations as 'friends'. The decorations are prompts and reminders of special times in my life. Decorating the Christmas tree is a time of re-visiting my life for me. I love decorating the Christmas Tree.
This year its life as an 'adult' Christmas Tree was only a day long. In that day it looked fabulous. Stunning in all of it’s balance and symmetry. Now it is decorated in two halves - the top half is the ‘adult’ half - it drips with the breakable baubles. The bottom half my grandchildren get to touch and play with. My grandchildren check out the decorations. They take them off, move them around and now happily all three of my mobile grandchildren can put them back on. I have the most undecorated and re-decorated Christmas tree in the world.

Zane, (21months) categorised the Christmas tree decorations! He likes to remove the decorations and carry them around. He has a transporting schema. The other day he walked straight in to our house and searched the tree. He found 3 matching embroidered NZ birds and placed them carefully on the coffee table. He said “Birds". Went back to the tree found 3 matching glitter gold stars and placed them carefully on the coffee table. He said “Stars". Then went back again and searched (read rustled with both hands in the branches now) and pulled out three matching branches of berries. Placed them on the coffee table carefully and said "Strawberries". He then went off to play only once glancing back to the coffee table totally satisfied.
I am so curious about him and his learning.
Pipiana is especially curious about the lights and sparkly things. As she fondled and re-arranged some decorations the other day she looked over at her mummy kindly reassuring her and said “Mummy! just looking!!?” They both smiled at each other, mummy raised her eyebrows and Pipiana carried on re-decorating the Tree.
I am curious about the kind ‘looking’ we love in our house that looks like enquiring with one’s own hands.
Hawaiki’s curiosity lies in the vehicles on the tree and the magnificence of the Tree’s height. And... of course! the magnificence of his own 4 year old growth and height, and his own place in our family - being the oldest and tallest grandchild. He stood beside his cousin, sister and the Tree, he pulled himself up to his tallest self, and raised his hand above his head and said “Whoa this is a BIG Christmas tree Nana - and I am up to here”. “Whoa you have grown such a lot Hawaiki. You are getting as tall as the Christmas tree”. I am curious about how tall he may grow and who he may be.

I love my Christmas Tree, I love the decorations and the prompts they provide for my remembering, and most of all I love the kind of curious learning and love the Christmas Tree invites and provokes.

It is indeed a Curious Christmas Tree.
A Christmas Wish of Curiosity to you all.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lens and long grass

I was walking up the hill to my house and thinking about how long the grass was, how I hadn't transplanted the roses, how the grapes needed tying up, etc etc. It can get a little overwhelming at times. So much to do. As I paused I took in this view in front of me. I saw the roses very happily sharing their space with the lovely grass. Many of the grasses have different heads and subtly differing shades of green. Some of them almost sparkle in the light. The overgrown grapes were waving at me in the wind and I loved that they were taking over the place- like Sleeping Beautie's castle! I often say I live in a castle, so it is fitting that it is being overtaken by the greenery around me!
Looking with a different lens allowed me to see; really see and a calmness and a humble sense of wonder took over from the feelings of being overwhelmed.
I just need to do this more often, pause and really see, and appreciate the subtle beauty amongst the business and sometimes chaos that seems to surround me.
So the roses have been left alone, the grass still grows and the grapes are winning their takeover bid. Maybe visitors will need a pair of clippers to get to my front door but I promise it will be worth it!!!
So do stop to smell the roses, they are beautiful at the moment and the way the long grass dances in the wind can bring joy to the heart. A new lens can be so helpful, or maybe just dust off the lenses that we haven't used for awhile.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is Respect Part of Your Environment?

"Make the most of the small things in life because as time goes on, you realise these are the big things."
I read this in a shop recently and thought about these words this morning. My grand daughter Devon had stayed for the weekend. She is 8 and is lovely company. Devon likes to write on any paper she can find, this time on the small pad I keep in the car. I discovered a message on this pad today. It read "Hi,my name is Devon, whoever is reading this, I will tell you what cool is. Cool is an old Grandma! It made my day. I am not sure about the old part, in her eyes I must be ancient but I like the cool bit. Devon and I share lots of small things and this is what has built our relationship, through caring and sharing.
Children can give us well qualified reflections and descriptions, not just in our homes but in our centres. It just depends on how we do it and what relationships we have established with them. Sometimes we need to respect children's rights not to speak or to express themselves on unpleasant subjects or be challenged. Making time and space for children to express themselves and to be listened to is an example of how "in order to honour children's participation rights we must establish the conditions in which they can be honoured". (Mayall, 2000)

Thursday, November 10, 2011


We have just held our Literacy Leaderhip Retreat at the Lakes Lodge Okataina. Suffice to say that we were located right on the edge of the very beautiful Lake Okataina. We were in fact staying in what are the only dwellings on this lake, the Lakes Lodge. The lake and surrounding bush were gifted to the Crown by Ngati Tarawhai in 1921. Okataina is “place of laughter” this relates back to one of the important stories about this lake. We certainly experienced lots of laughter over the weekend. This lake is without outlets and is the only lake in the district that is surrounded completely by bush. The forest includes fine examples of  rimu, totara, rata and pohutukawa. Some of us explored the bush at night and were totally delighted to hear the sound of both kiwi and morepork. We also saw the glow worms throughout the bush. It was quite magical.

Throughout this blog are comments from teachers attending the Okataina Retreat.

“This weekend has great!! It has been cool to hear the stories from everyone else and to see how different everyone’s journey with their other centre has been. The honesty and support shown to each other made me feel more relaxed and comfortable to talk. “

“Having discussions both personal and professional is always interesting with other early childhood professionals. It’s a great opportunity to discuss and share ideas and experiences.. Today has been again insightful! Hearing and seeing others learning stories is fantastic. It is always a reflection of practice when you see other teachers practice. The different structure and content of the stories help to challenge and extend my own practice in assessment and learning for children in our kindergarten. Thank you ELp for providing the opportunity to share and learn from our colleagues.”

“I was very excited to be attending this weekend... I understand that it would be able sharing, but also talking and collaborative learning with others, which I really enjoy. Discussions not only about our ELP journeys, challenges and for us it is not over yet” .

“I was really looking forward to this weekend! For two reasons. First of all a relaxing weekend away, relaxation, the thought of ‘yummy food’, PEACE, and lots of good company. Secondly, again it was another opportunity for ‘team building’ as we were here as a complete team. I’ve noticed that these opportunities are enabling us to become a strong, resilient team, to get to know each other and to share a little more of ‘myself’.”

“This weekend has been a real treat for me, time away from home responsibilities, surrounded by great company, along with being taken care of by our awesome hosts. I have enjoyed our professional discussions, I am taking away many ideas to implement, to improve my practices.”

An opportunity to explore the possibilities of ephemeral art!

“I have never heard of Ephemeral Art. To actually create a piece of art using what you have around you to tell a story was a challenge but one that I enjoyed ...”

“ It was a cool experience to try and create ephemeral art to symbolise our journey as mentors and learners on this ELP journey”.

 “The fishing trip was a highlight for me. Fish are not on my list of favourite things and I am quite amazed with myself that I spent nearly all the time out the back with a rod in my hand, would have dropped it like a hot potato if something came on it!.”

“Yesterday was the first time I had been fishing, so now I have gained some skill and knowledge”

“It was so relaxing to be fishing on this lovely boat, a real opportunity to quietly reflect and to be in the moment”.

 There were challenges with the fishing as well! We did manage a fairly major tangle!!!

We travelled across the lake and spent time in different parts of the lake. The peace the tranquility....

“The lake was so quiet, apart from two kayakers we saw no one else on the lake over the four hours we were exploring and fishing on the lake, wow, such peace. It was so beautiful”.

Some took opportunities to get up on top and enjoy the view!

Inside the boat more opportunities to share and chat

 “It was cool to be able to just sit around on the boat, in such a beautiful environment, just enjoying the peace and tranquility and the company of others.”

Saturday night dinner was a celebration! Fish philosophy in action. A time to play and be a little creative!
“The props at dinner added fun to the night and shows that as adults we find dressups fun too!”
“ Fabulous food and a wonderful celebration, such a treat!”


“ All in all this retreat has been an amazing weekend filled with laughter, talking and friendship. As a practitioner I have been provided with an opportunity to engage in numerous professional discussions, be creative and reflect on ‘wise practice’. Thank you”

“Being near water this weekend has been healing. I have enjoyed being part of a group of like minded people who have this common bond and purpose. Listening to the korero lead me to think about my journey - kia ora. Having time on the lake gave me time to ‘be’. I don’t get much opportunity for that, so it has been a weekend of reflection, rest and connecting. Thank you for making it possible.”

“I have discussed this weekend, the things that make me who I am. I have enjoyed the fellowship of my colleagues and felt accepted as part of the group. I have felt supported on my teaching journey in a way that I some times miss in my professional life. I have felt my ideas and feelings have been valued. I have learnt from listening and talking with others.
I will take away with me further knowledge and an increased confidence in my ability to find further learning from a variety of areas around me, people, reading etc. I aim to read about learnt optimism.”

“It has been a very relaxing weekend, with a variety of activities. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning walks with my friends. Can’t remember when I have laughed so much and for so long. The venue was superb, fantastic choice, Okataina has certainly lived up to it’s name (place of laughter).”

“Beautiful setting, beautiful people - ka pai .... Whakawhanaungatanga is very present at Okataina.”

“Food, company and new learning has been wonderful and as I sit here looking at the photo’s of this weekend moving across the screen in front of me, I feel lucky to have had this opportunity to have fun, share ideas and just come together. To Wendy and Alison, it was a privilege to listen to your wise words and  to be treated to such a special time..thank you.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Last week I finally had time to visit Eden Creative Recycling, a charitable trust set up to collect pre-consumer waste from businesses so that members can reuse these.
I spoke to Yvonne who showed me around and we talked about sustainability through art, in particular thinking about composite art through recycled materials which are able to be used again and again.

"Our intention is to provide alternative resources for children that may encourage creativity, and a new way of reusing ‘waste‘ which may cultivate a more sustainable approach to learning. Children and adults are able to explore and engage with these resources, reinventing uses for these items and giving them new identities." Eden Creative Recycling Website

As part of your membership you will have access to the centre during opening hours, as well as workshops where you can explore the materials yourself. There is more information on their website or you can access their Facebook site through this link
Yvonne said they are keen to source more reusable materials so if you know of a good source and are willing to share, drop Eden Creative Recycling an email - the address is on the website. There is also details of membership costs as well as opening hours.

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Eden Creative Recycling

Friday, November 4, 2011

‘Through the Looking Glass … a Lens on Quality Preschools’

It was lovely to be invited by the Early Childhood Unit for the NSW Department of Education and Communities to present a keynote and also facilitate a workshop at the conference. This conference was titled ‘Through the Looking Glass … a Lens on Quality Preschools’.

 The second day saw a range of workshops facilitated by the following people and a few others.....
My keynote was entitled Sustainable Leadership: A time to reflect, re-imagine and to reconstruct’ and the workshop was titled ‘Pedagogical Leadership: A powerful opportunity to build learner identity via ‘learning story philosophy’.

The work was enthusiastically received, some of the comments sent from the organizers following the conference included the following:  
“Participants all agreed that your presentations met the highest possible rating and their comments supported these ratings. I have added a small sample of these for you as follows:

It is so good to be reminded of the importance of positive interactions.
Find the magic... I loved that. I am making it my new philosophy/goal.
This presentation was so thought provoking and powerful making me think about how/why I work with
young children. 
I love Wendy’s stories that she uses to build relationships.
I love the slow schooling theory...a real inspiration.
This was first class...a real joy. Fantastic content and presentation.
Thought provoking!
What a wonderful keynote speaker..

Thank you for helping early childhood teachers have a voice- promoting the child’s strengths and interests, not a K-6 curriculum push.”

After the two day conference. We (Dave and I) went on to have a lovely weekend in Sydney. See photos of this on my personal blog

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Pleasure of Play and Puppies

During the weekend I visited my son and his family. They were out but their 3 puppies were romping on the back lawn. I sat on the deck and watched them with delight as they played together and thought about the learning that was happening for them. Sometimes all three would wrestle together, then one would detach and hide behind the tree and watch and when he thought it was the right time, would bound out with obvious glee and join in. Watching, smelling the ground, times for action and time for quiet and thinking and able to explore the environment is valuable learning for these puppies. I come from a farming background and have witnessed this learning with many young animals, through play and fun. My own childhood was filled with fun and play with my siblings and I have grown up with memories of making huts in the native bush, playing ‘birds’in the long grass, dressing puppies in baby clothes to take them for rides in the pram and feelings of peace and serenity in a natural play setting for children and having parents who realised the value of this play for us.

I reflected on how this puppy play is how our young children learn but sometimes we lose sight of this in our busy world where so much emphasis is on academic achievement. Are we losing sight of these precious years where the importance of learning is through play, to wonder, to be curious and to find out about our friends and develop social competence through being able to make mistakes and try again.

Through play and exploration, these young children will develop dispositions to help them deal with an uncertain world as they grow older.

Margaret Carr and Guy Claxton remind us that dispositions to learn are verbs i.e. contributing,exploring, collaborating, persisting,questioning etc, we do not acquire dispositions. We become more or less disposed to learning in certain ways - or not!

Are teachers through lack of knowledge, but believing they are doing the right thing by insisting on group times or kindy sessions (interestingly, I have never seen a kindy session in kindergartens!) limiting the learning of these children by denying them play over a long period. Surely short play times are just filling in time, good for teachers maybe but of little value for children.

As we nurture the disposition of ‘loving to learn’ through play, we need to feel confident that we are doing the right thing for these young children and strive for an environment where provocations widen and deepen learning and teachers are engaged in their own ongoing learning so that skills, knowledge and dispositions are strengthened for everyone in the learning community and literacy and mathematical skills sit alongside effort, teamwork, friendship, courage and curiosity to make assessment so much more meaningful and brings TeWhāriki to life in ways that show our children as capable and confident.

This learning environment needs effort to make it an environment where ‘deep listening’ is part of the pedagogy. Langsted (1994) argues that structures and procedures are important but;.... more important is the cultural climate which shapes the ideas that the adults in a particular society hold about children. The wish to listen to and involve children originates in this cultural climate. This wish will then lead to structures and procedures that can guarantee the involvement of the children. (pp41-2)

Children’s play reflects their social and cultural context and we need to understand the importance of the social and cultural context in which children live and avoid making generalisations that assume that some forms of play are typical or essential. I thought about this as I watched some boys playing ‘pig hunting’ at their centre after an excursion where they went pig hunting through native bush, carrying their toy guns and knives. This is what their whanau do each weekend and their play reflected an in depth knowledge of catching pigs with dogs, the singeing and preparing the meat for hangi, meaningful learning for these young children within the contexts of their family life. This play is upholding the mana of these boys, they are supported, respected and given choices so that their potential can be reached, an example of whakamana or empowerment.

Play has many different theories and there is so much that can be written about it.

Maybe we should leave the definition of play from those involved - the players; see ‘Play is having fun’ and ‘it has to be work if you tell us to do something’.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

She is worth pursuing, the fabulous Alison Gopnik

Hope you are all taking time to listen to this TED talk by Alison Gopnik suggested in the last blog. Here are some more reasons to listen to her if you are not yet convinced!

This video also has an ‘Interactive transcript’,this means you can click on any part of this transcript and the video will start playing at that point! Here is a little of the transcript below. Go on to the site and try this out!

You will also find fabulous comments from others about the blog, here is one from Robert Johnson
The idea that we should teach more (and babysit less) in very early childhood is, IMHO, totally correct. I have observed and believe that nearly all children are born "geniuses" and we teach them to be "dumb". Dumb in the manner of parroting and repeating, often by rote, what is taught. We grade children on what they regurgitate rather then their ability to observe and think. I totally agree that teachers of early age should have more training and more money. Children are brilliant individuals and it is a shame to waste (for the most part) that potential."

Also have a look at Alison Gopnik's website

On this website are a number of interesting links to her books, papers, research and a range of other videos to listen to.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Alison Gopnik: What do babies think? | Video on

Have a look at this great and very entertaining talk of Alison Gopnik on "What do babies think?"

"Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species," says psychologist Alison Gopnik. Her research explores the sophisticated intelligence-gathering and decision-making that babies are really doing when they play.

Alison Gopnik: What do babies think? | Video on

If you want to learn more about Alison Gopnik's reasearch, you might want to read her article: Your Baby Is Smarter Than You Think or her book The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Go, the Rugby, Go

We got up close and personal with the Namibian and Fijian players at their game at Rotorua International Stadium a few weeks ago. I was struck with the players ability to get up and face another tackle again and again. And... to run fast into another tackle just after having the magic water applied.

Hawaiki, 3 1/2, and Pipiana, nearly 2, play rugby. They have balls and some black tshirts and ALL BLACKS socks!! Hawaiki said, "I am going to be an ALL BLACK." I replied, "Oh yes and I will come and watch every game you play - it is such a lot of hard work to be an All Black and you have to do lots of practice." He nodded. I said, "Pipiana could be an All Black too". Hawaiki looked at me, the disdain and disbelief apparent on his face. "No," he said "she can be a ballerina." I gave the lecture on the women's rugby team, the Black Ferns, who have won four world cups. I know, I know, I have some work to do there! and on me too - I am not sure the lecture was the best teaching tool with a 3 1/2 year old.

Hawaiki and Pipiana play rugby with Nana. I chase them and tackle them, push and lean on them, and try very hard! to get the ball off them. They wrestle and roll, pick themselves up and run again. Pipiana sometimes falls to the ground and feigns a tackle just before I make contact and lies there "injured". I know, I know, I have some work to do there too! We play this until Nana is tired!

Last week I visited an early childhood centre and went on the 'Farm Trip' with them. We had a lovely time and lots of learning happened there for us all. They enjoyed the experience of the farm and the animals. Lambs and chickens to hold and feed are opportunities for lots of dipositional learning. We shared a birthday party with a three year old and her family. After lunch some balls appeared and it was all on. Well an expansive learning environment just appeared. The invitations and provocations were all there. Space, grass and balls.

We played rugby. Teachers and children -18months to five - were on the field. The teachers chased and tackled, and ran and refereed. I, a strange adult, tackled one little girl- yes I know a teaching intention risk that I thought I may have got very wrong as she lay on the ground and was unhappy. Another teacher came over and we supported her recovery - no magic water - just magic kindness and care - teaching about how to recover and be resilient.

And so... I have been thinking about the learning that happens with 'rugby' play. Or any play like it really. I take liberty with Margaret Carr's statement now and say 'It is not about the rugby, the running or the popular culture, it is about that activity of the child's own choice being the vehicle for the learning, and for the dispositional learning we value most'.

Learning I value such as;
  • trying something new or practicing something familiar - being involved and courageousness - some children watched for quite sometime before they were ready to join in - but join in they did.
  • being brave and persistent, picking yourself up even after a hard emotional or physical knock, asking for help or having another go and keeping going.
  • helping a friend or care for the toddler who has joined the four year olds in the ruck, or giving the ball to the chaser who now wants to be the runner.
  • being delighted and happy at the chase.
  • being satisfied and reflective about the outcomes.
  • being resilient. Playing the game another day or choosing another kind of game and learning something new.
  • knowing that these are learning strategies that will work with other new learning.
This learning will take children far beyond knowledge and skills, it will take children in to a 'possible self' and a future we know nothing of.

A future that involves winning or losing or getting badly injured and maintaining your strength of character.
Go the All Blacks Go! and Go our passion and pleasure in joining in with children and following their learning leads.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Caring Spaces, Learning Places

I have been reading...Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Children’s Environments THAT WORK by Jim Greenman

Over the last two months I have had many wonder-filled opportunities to visit airports, railway stations, churches, abbeys, museums, art galleries and early childhood settings.  So often these have been interesting, awe inspiring and jaw droppingly beautiful. All places and spaces evoked a response in me. Sometimes I felt over-joyed, amazed or overwhelmed. Sometimes I felt like staying a long time and other times I felt like screaming “get me out of here fast”. At all times I had the power and resilience to go or stay.

All of these spaces gave cues to what is valued here and the purpose of the place. The purposes included: serving food, providing curation for precious items, displaying fantastic art, praise and worship, corralling and facilitating the movement of people, caring for and educating small children. All of these places are work spaces for people and colleagues. Some of these places are living, learning and loving spaces for our most precious and most vulnerable human beings. These travel and learning opportunities gave me cause to think about the places and spaces we provide for children in our early childhood care and education settings in New Zealand.

For ideas and reflective prompts I reached for Jim Greenman’s book ‘Caring Spaces, Learning Places’. In the foreword to Jim’s book, Lella Gandini says, “We have all experienced how even a small improvement in a learning space can reverberate in positive ways, but we have also learned that one cannot stop there. It is the value that we attribute to the potentials of children and our respect for their learning as individuals and as groups that can truly create a shift in our teaching, transforming us from being “only” teachers to being true listeners and learners.” (p. vii)

Experiences and time spent in our settings in New Zealand is as diverse as the children and families who use the service. Jim Greenman tells us that if fifteen-week-old Hannah continues in Childcare until elementary school, (NZ 6 year old) she will have spent around 12,000 hours at the centre, more time than she will spend in all of elementary and high school.  Her brother Michael attends pre-school a few hours a day, he may spend up to 1,000 hours at the service. (p.54). 

In this book Jim Greenman inspires by sharing the stories, insights and poetry of many people as he kindly challenges and supports us in reviewing and re-thinking the lives of children and teachers in our early childhood settings. He provides many good ideas and tools for changing and improving early childhood education environments in early childhood settings.  The review, changes and improvements to our early childhood care and education settings can and will transform us teachers into “true listeners and learners”.

I particularly liked the discussion on institutionalized childhoods (p.64) which concludes with a list of reflective questions that would be a very useful review tool to work through as a team of teachers. I recommend this book to those teachers who are “... carrying out one of the most delicate missions in life, namely sustaining the growth and learning of children as individuals and in groups.” (Lella Gandini p.vii)

Kathryn Delany

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trying Something new for 30 Days

I have been inspired by Matt Cutts after watching his TED talk on trying something new for 30 days, he says, “30 days is about the right time to add or subtract something from your life.”  I have heard that if you are going to try something new then 30 days is long enough for it to become a habit. Matt describes some of the things he did, which included; biking to work and hiking up Mt Kilimanjaro, with these challenges his confidence grew. He said,  ‘the days became more memorable’ and in one of his self set challenges which required him  taking a photo every day he remembered exactly what he was doing on each of those days.
With this inspiring short talk (it is only 3.5 minutes long) I had heard enough to try something new, the first of which was to cut out sugar from my diet, this was relatively easy for me, except the odd craving for chocolate, so one down on to the next. After a borderline cholesterol result I decided to give up as much saturated fat as I could. This was harder than sweet food for me as one of my instant gratifications is potato crisps! After a bit of label reading in the supermarket I have found bagel crisps are okay if I really need a snack.
My next thing for 30 days was a complete disaster, I decided to buy an Exercycle (luckily, cheaply on Trade me) as I have used it 3 times and I suspect shortly it will be on the road with a ‘free’ sticker on it!
My latest is to buy a bike and go out to ride, this is a very new interest for me and I am only up to day 3, so far I am really enjoying it. I have found the Western Cycle trail to be a great place to ride,  and today I managed 14 km! There is a certain agelessness about biking and I feel like a teenager again as I cycle along, I could say I am in my Element on the bike, but it is a bit early for that on day 3, but watch this space!
We talk about children being curious learners, trying something new, be brave and giving something a go, taking a risk, practicing and like a challenge, have you thought about how these apply in your own life? Are you prepared to give something new a go? Matt finishes his talk by saying, ‘the next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not so why not put into action something you have always wanted to try for the next 30 days.’