Category Archives: teaching

Scrap Workshop

Scrap Workshop cover

One of my favourite workshops to lead at a local play centre was scrap workshop.

I liked it because it was suitable for all ages, it was a natural extension to my heuristic play workshops with toddlers and it gave children the freedom to develop both creativity and skills.

We collected all kinds of scrap materials, large and small and displayed them in separate containers.

Examples of materials

  • boxes
  • tubes
  • plastic containers
  • fabric
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • shells
  • pinecones
  • bottle tops
  • straws
  • netting

Sometimes we would give the children a project

  • make something that moves
  • make something that makes a sound
  • build a replica of the Mayflower

junk boat

or a problem arising from a project or book

  • invent something to help Rapunzel get out of her tower
  • Can you build a house that can’t be blown down
  • How could you be rescued from a desert island?

but best of all we would make sure there was plenty of tape, string, scissors and markers and let them create and explore.

Sometimes they worked on small projects

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a boat with an anchor

or larger group constructions

building a boat

they practised threading

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and joining

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made things for dramatic play

wings

and problem solved

‘ When children engage with people, objects, ideas or events they test things out and solve problems.  They need adults to challenge and extend their thinking. (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

 

scrap workshop
How can you balance 3 boxes without them breaking?

They made choices

Provide flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children’s play and exploration’  (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child).

 

joining parts of the boat

and tested strategies

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they discovered how two different materials could work together

‘ Every child’s learning journey takes a personal path based on their own individual interests, experiences and the curriculum on offer.’ (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child.)

 

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and nobody asked them “What is it?”

Active learners need to have some independence and control over their learning to keep their interest and to develop creativity.’ (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

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They worked at a table

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or on the floor

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and made discoveries using all of their senses.

An open-ended project like this gives plenty of opportunities to observe and work alongside children, guiding them towards their next steps and sharing ideas together.

’ When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things.  Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions’  (EYFS 2008 – Creativity and critical thinking)

 

filling and emptying

This child wasn’t interested in joining pieces or making anything. They explored filling and emptying.

scrap workshop

This child wrapped and wrapped their construction with tape.  They went on to wrap their hands with string. We provided them with materials they could explore wrapping in more depth – paper sheets, tape, string, ribbons , blankets, paper strips with tubes, poles, boxes, and table legs wrapped in string.

‘ Children need and will respond positively to challenges if they have a good relationship with the practitioner and feel confident to try things out.’ ( EYFS 2008 – Supporting learning).

The children were able to work in mixed ages. The youngest children were 2 and the oldest 10. All the children enjoyed the workshops and learned from and supported one another.

‘ In their play children learn at their highest level’  (EYFS 2008 – Play and Exploration).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Questions to Encourage Sustained Shared Thinking

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To be perfectly honest I hate that in my profession they keep inventing new buzz words for age old ways of working and interacting with young children.  It feels to me that it is a way to make some feel superior in their understanding to others.  If you don’t quite get what it means it is quite likely something you are already  naturally doing, but without giving it a name.

‘Sustained shared thinking’ occurs when two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity, extend a narrative etc.

Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding. It was more likely to occur when children were interacting 1:1 with an adult or with a single peer partner and during focussed group work.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project (2004)

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If you are engaged with a child’s play, if you are working together, listening and sharing ideas, if you are helping a child to understand something, you are likely engaged in sustained shared thinking.  Imagine blowing bubbles for a toddler, they watch the bubbles and watch you blow them.  As the bubbles blow away, the bubbles pop and the child continues to look for them.  You might blow a bubble onto their hand so the child can feel it pop or show them how to pop it with their finger.  The child engages in a new game, popping the bubbles for fun. This is sustained shared thinking.

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I often see questions asked about suitable activities to promote sustained- shared thinking.  Any open-ended, creative activity will lend it self to sustained shared thinking – the key is the level of engagement and nature of interaction between teacher and child. Also any genuine discussions you have with the children when you are learning from one another and discussing in depth opinions, thoughts and ideas are examples of sustained shared thinking.  Take time to listen and understand what the children are thinking, before jumping in with our own ideas.

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It might be helpful to think of these questions.  If you can use these questions in your interactions with the children then you will be engaging in sustained shared thinking.

 

Elaborating

That’s really interesting, can you tell me more?

Re-capping

So you think that…..

You started with…..

Offering own experiences

When I was little I thought that….

I like to listen to music when I am busy.

Clarifying ideas

So we think that the sugar will dissolve in hot water?

I think I understand let me just check what you said.

Suggesting

Can I show you another way?

How about if we try this?

Perhaps we need to think about it?

Reminding

Don’t forget that you said the sugar would dissolve in warm water

Let’s just go back to what you did/said/thought.

Encouraging

You thought really hard about where to put the door, now where could you put the windows?

Speculating

If we try this what might happen?

What other ideas might work?

Are there any other possibilities?

Do you think the 3 bears would like Goldilocks to be their friend?

Asking Open Questions

How did you…?     Why does this…..?   What happens next?

What do you think?  Where would you?

Offering Alternative Viewpoint

Let’s pretend we are…… What might we do?

Perhaps Goldilocks didn’t think she was being mean when she ate the porridge?

Disclaimer: these questions came from training delivered by North Somerset early years team but may originate from another source.

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning.

 

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning  supports practitioners in planning and resourcing topics based around popular themes in the early years. Each theme is introduced through a ‘spark’. The ‘sparks’ are an object, or group  of objects, found in the classroom, for example a magic seed.  The projects then develop by presenting letters, posters, postcards etc. from a characters ( these can be found in the appendix of each section).  The characters in the book have been invented by the writers, Jo Ayers and Louise Robson but I see no reason for not utilising other familiar, book, TV or film characters.

Each chapter introduces a new character and theme, including pirates, knights and castles and people who help us.  For those settings who revisit these themes every year, the sparks and resources presented in the book would offer an exciting new angle for engaging the children.

Who is it for?

The book is targeted at teachers in the 3-5 age group, personally I felt some of the themes and activities were more suited to the upper age group, but I would still use the sparks with a younger group and adapt activities to their level and to fit the classroom environment.

How Does it Work?

The book emphasises planning with the children after igniting the initial spark, gathering evidence from comments, questions, observations, photographs and recordings.

The introduction states that topics were chosen based on gathering children together and asking them about their favourite interests.  I would have liked clearer descriptions of the  children’s involvement in the planning, as some of the topics felt more adult directed than others.  In a session which began by finding a mysterious seed, an alien is grows in the seed but it is also mentioned that this could also be an insect.  I would have liked to have seen a description of the thought process behind the decision to make it an alien. Did the children decide it was an alien?  There is a good mind map in the appendix showing the children’s comments and questions which explains this to a certain extent, but I would have liked a little more clarification as to how these comments and questions fed into planning.

The Activities

The chapters are clearly laid out and contain plenty of photographs and support materials.  I would have preferred to see the support materials alongside the description of the activity rather than in the appendix ,as I found flicking between the two distracting. The scenarios weren’t always easy to visualise without reading the materials in the appendix.

I particularly loved the Nancy the Knight and Lord Lawrence chapter for a meaningful approach to the topic of castles. I felt the description of this topic flowed well and the activities were hands on and playful.  I could also see how the children led the learning in this topic.

Who would Benefit Most From this Book?

The book would be a great resource for settings following a topic based approach. It would add wonder and awe to familiar topics and I can see it working really well in reception, kindergarten or year 1 classrooms.  I love the idea of the sparks and think these could also be useful in settings that use more in the moment planning.  With a bit of imagination, one could listen and observe the children, discover their interests and invent a character and scenario that would help them answer questions or develop their interests further. This book would be a great starting point for doing that..  For a theatre person like myself, I can easily imagine adopting this approach in the classroom but it may not be for everyone.

What Did I Think

I love the approach but wish the book was laid out a little differently. I really wanted to hear the story of how each project developed, to hear the children’s voices and see how the children’s ideas and questions led to the next stage of the project or even perhaps how different classes adapted the same scenarios but in different ways.

There is plenty in the book for those who would like to try this approach by following scenarios that work for others or for those who want to try this fun approach but adapt it in their own way.  I think it would be a great addition to a teaching library for new teachers, teachers looking to add a but of fun to their curriculum or those looking for a different approach to topic based learning.

The authors are keen to see how settings are adapting their approach on their social media channels  – Facebook and Twitter

 

How to Stop Using Pre-planned Topics and Plan from Children’s Interests.

Many teachers (myself included in the past) base their planning on weekly, monthly or termly topics.  Using topics helps us to come up with ideas, focus the children’s learning, ensure we cover all areas of development and makes planning easier because we can re-use plans from previous years.  All of this sounds attractive but there are downsides too.

  • Topics can lead to a narrow focus of learning that isn’t necessarily relevant to the children.
  • Topics may have to be changed before the children have explored all the concepts adequately.
  • Topics are sometimes repeated in the same way, year after year without any consideration for the different dynamics or interests of the group.
  • Pre-planned topics come from the teachers ideas and don’t  take the children’s’ thoughts views and questions into account.
  • If we follow a topic, we may miss a rich learning opportunity  because it doesn’t fit in with our theme or topic.

There are ways we can improve this while still maintaining topics and themes.

  • Don’t plan topics too far ahead. Rather than having firm topics set for the year, review them on a monthly or weekly basis and adjust them in line with the children’s interests.
  • Choose topics that are very open-ended and can encompass many aspects of learning for example, water, questions, stories or movement. The book  First Hand Experiences: What Matters to Children has some great suggestions for selecting topics from the real world.

Some settings decide to follow a child centred or emergent curriculum where children are co-constructors in the learning process. Projects are not pre-determined by the teacher but instead they are chosen based on the children’s interests.

Planning from the children’s interests can be difficult to begin with if you are used to following a topic based approach.  Below are some common questions and misconceptions.

  • My children don’t know what they want  to do next when I ask them? How do I plan for them?

A common misunderstanding is that teachers should ask children what they want to. It is more important to think about what might be driving the children’s learning and using those insights to inform our planning.  By all means engage the children in conversations about their interests but asking them directly may not yield useful answers. Rather than asking children what they would like to do, set up open-ended activities and observe children in their play.  Watch for patterns or common recurring themes, watch for resources they return to time and again. When interacting with children offer suggestions that might extend their play e.g. I have something that might work really well for that or I wonder what would happen if we tried this?

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  • If I plan at the end of one week to start something new next week how will I have time to get the resources ready?

The planning should be a natural progression of what was already occurring, rather than a completely new experience.  If the children were enjoying mixing paint colours, give them a new media to explore like a different type of paint, pastels or dough. Provide the children with a challenge e.g how many shades of green can you make or can you match up these shades?  Add one small item to their play or ask a different question .  There may be times when a completely new interest emerges. Involve the children in the planning process – what do we have that you could use for that? How could we find out more about that?

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  • How on earth can I record my planning to show Ofsted / Head teacher or an inspecting body?

This is probably the most common question.  When you are required to record planning how can you make in the moment planning visible?

  1. Have a clear long-term plan. This would outline all of the things that you intend to achieve in your setting and your core philosophy.  Also include how you will organise your environment and the strategies you will use to support learning.  This will be a core document and can be referred to if you are asked how you fulfill particular criteria.  Collate the things that happen everyday like snack times, transitions, group reflections  and explain how each of these items map to the standards you are following. 

This example was mapped to the 2008 EYFS.

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2. Medium term planning will use observations to create an overview plan of opportunities for exploring projects and interconnecting themes, based upon the children’s’ genuine interests or explorations.  A medium plan might include a list of resources to be collected or a description of some of the key materials within different areas.  You may also want to highlight key skills to be developed, for example to use a variety of ways to represent pattern or to co-operate and listen to others ( these will likely come from your observations).  These might fit with a project you are following.  Daily/weekly schedules could also form a part of your medium term plans and stories or songs you plan to share.

3. Short term planning This is a joint record of what you observe the children doing, their fascinations, questions they are  asking, clear patterns of play , an analysis of this data (what learning is taking place? can you identify schemas?) and then using this analysis to determine what will happen next.  Often the term next steps will be used.  I prefer to break this down into more useful questions –

  • How might you encourage those interests further?  
  • How could you encourage their interest to be more complex? 
  • How could you bring that interest into other areas of learning/activities?

These plans could be daily or weekly records of what you will provide in the environment and the adults role within it. Keep them simple and flexible so they can be changed and adapted easily.

Think about what you are recording – only record information that is useful for future planning – don’t record for the sake of it.

Examples

Planning for children's interests

planning for children's interests

Use any format that works for you.

  • All my children have different interests, how do I plan for all of them?

Sometimes there will be clear group interests but often, children will show an interest in different things.  For individuals, watch for patterns in play –

  • are children following a particular schema?
  • how do they play,?
  • what questions are they asking and can these be incorporated into the future planning for the whole group?

  Some weeks you may be planning for a particular group of children or developmental milestones for a few individual children.  Some children will not display a clear fascination every week. Talking as a team and documenting learning will help you to reflect on learning and decide on next steps.  Don’t overcomplicate things.  If there isn’t a clear interest put out exciting materials, follow something seasonal, share an interesting book, observe children in free play or talk to parents to develop ideas.

  • My children love Pirates/Fairies/Star Wars what ideas do you have to support those themes?

Don’t assume that the idea the children appear to be interested in is necessarily their fascination.  Think deeper – what aspect of cars do the children love, is it the motion, is it speed, is it building roads and tracks or do they like them to be transported from one place or another?  Watch and listen over a period of time before organising complex and sometimes expensive resources to support a theme.

  • If I always plan from interests how can I make sure that children are challenged to try new things and cover all areas of the curriculum?

Use the children’s interests to channel them into other activities by linking resources, moving them into different areas or using slowly adding new elements to their existing play. Use small group times to focus on specific skills that children may not choose to demonstrate at other times.

What about small group time?

For small group time the teacher may decide on an area of focus e.g number, rhyme or cutting with scissors. Through recording the children’s progress the next session can be planned according to the children’s skills, needs, questions or next stage of development.  This probably won’t be the same for every child. 

Turning Planning on its Head

When I was a student teacher we were taught to plan by asking the following questions:-

  • What will I teach?
  • Why will I teach it?
  • How will I teach it?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What will I do next?

For child led, in the moment planning, turn these questions on their head.

ALWAYS START WITH THE CHILD

  • What are the children learning and what do they  already know?
  • Why are the children learning? (interests and fascinations)
  • How are the children learning?
  • Which resources/materials do they find  motivating?
  • What is my role as a teacher in extending this learning? What resources can I provide? How should I present them? How could I present this learning in a different context? What questions could I develop further?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when planning in this way is that the teachers role is not to let children do as they wish.  The teachers role is to reflect on how the children learn, to interact with the children and to work as part of a team that shares ideas for the benefit of the children.

I like the analogy of throwing a ball used by Filippini in The Hundred Languages of Children,

We must be able to catch the ball that the children throw us, and toss it back to them in a way that makes the children want to continue the game with us, developing perhaps other games as we go along.

As I see it, the children throw us an idea, we think about it and toss it back to them from a new angle or in a more exciting way and this back and forth continues as we learn and develop together.

Art Project for Kids: Oil Pastel Still Life Inspired by Georgia O’Keefe

img_0664December’s Art project with Kindergarten and 2nd Grade was a still life Poinsettia using oil pastel.  The Kindergarteners had only used chalk pastel up until now, so our first lesson introduced them to oil pastel techniques.

The children were given a selection of oil pastels and a piece of paper and asked to try them out and think about how they might be different to the chalk pastels we used in the previous session.

Here are some of their observations.

The colours are brighter and you can press harder.

When you press hard it gets softer and easier to mix

They are like crayons

It didn’t blend across the colours like the chalk pastels but it worked when you put one colour on top of another.

You can blend chalk pastel with your finger. You can still blend with oil pastel but it is harder.

I can add white to blue to make light blue.

I showed them how to blend the pastels using baby oil and a Q-tip/cotton bud. the children practised making pictures using the blending technique.

I can colour just a little bit with oil pastel  and then use the oil on my Q tip to fill in the rest – it makes a lighter color.

It looks like paint when we add oil to the pastels, it makes it smoother

 You can use the Q tip like a paint brush

If you use too much oil it rubs the color away.  You need just a little bit to blend.

I gave them another piece of paper and they drew around their hand using pencil.  They then coloured the hand in stripes using the oil pastels.  The colours were blended using oil. We painted the background with liquid water-colour. They thought it was very cool that the pastels repelled the paint.

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Still Life

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For the follow-up session and with the 2nd Graders who are familiar with oil pastels, I chose a still life drawing of a Poinsettia.  The Kindergartners haven’t followed a project inspired by an artist, so I asked for suggestions of still life oil pastel artists on a Reggio-inspired Facebook group. After a bit of research, I decided upon Georgia O’Keefe.  I liked the way that O’Keefe draws flowers but doesn’t always focus on the whole plant. I felt that if we looked at examples of her work as inspiration, the children could choose to zoom in on one part of the flower,if they didn’t feel confident enough to tackle the whole thing.

I limited the  oil pastel colours to shades of red and green, black for shade and yellow and white for highlights.  The children drew the picture with the pastels and then blended using oil.  The final touch was painting the background with liquid watercolour.

Since the children hadn’t done anything like this before, I was aware that they may find it challenging.  To start the lesson we read ‘Ish’ by Peter Reynolds. This is the story of a boy who gives up drawing in frustration because his pictures do not look like the real thing.  His sister persuades him to look at his pictures in a new light, as tree-ish, afternoon-ish and vase-ish .  I wanted the children to understand that this was not an exercise in replicating exactly the plant in front of them because each of us view it differently.  My aim was for the children to study the plant and replicate it in their own way.  I think we achieved that aim perfectly.

Kindergarten Class

 

Interestingly the Kindergartners were less anxious about the task than the 2nd graders, who found it hard to decide which part to draw and spent a lot of time considering how to make the shapes. A few children needed a lot of encouragement and support to make their own marks on the paper.

2nd Grade Class

I love how different they all are. The Kindergartners really focused on the shapes of the leaves and the 2nd graders paid more attention to the details in the leaves and petals and were more abstract with their use of colour. I’m really impressed with the finished results and it was a really valuable exercise to see how differently we all see things.

 

 

 

Clay Cup Cake Pots, Inspired by Wayne Thiebaud

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Wayne Thiebaud is an American artist, known for his paintings of everyday objects.  These include many works depicting food; in particular, cakes, pies and pastries.  For our second grade clay project, we used Thiebaud’s cupcake paintings as inspiration for teaching two basic techniques for making pots.

The base of the pot was a simple thumb pot and the lid a coil pot.

Preparation

Each child was given two pieces of clay, a selection of clay tools and a damp sponge in a pot, all laid on a slightly damp cloth.

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Step 1.

Take one of the balls of clay and knead it to get rid of any air bubbles.  Then press thumbs into the centre to make a hole.

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Step 2

Push thumbs outwards to make a pot shape.

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Step 3

Smooth fingers around the top edge to make it flat and even.

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Step 4

Carve patterns into the bowl.  Some children made lines to make it look like a cupcake case and others chose their own designs or carved names into the sides.

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The coil pot lid

The base was put to one side and the second piece of clay kneaded to make the lid. The lid was coiled to look like frosting.

Step one

Shape the clay into a cylinder with your hands and roll it on the mat until it makes a large sausage shape to equal the length of the mat.

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Keep moving hands along the length of the clay to avoid thin parts that will break off.  The paper moved around a bit so it was helpful to have their partner hold their mat down whilst they rolled.

Step 2

Measure the sausage around the top of the thumb pot.  Keep coiling, sloping the sides inwards until it closes at the top. Add a  clay cherry, if desired.

Step 3

Dampen the inside of the coil pot with a sponge and rub your fingers over the joins on the inside, until the surface is smooth.  This will stop it collapsing and falling apart.

Fire in the kiln

 Session 2 :The Glaze

I showed the children pictures of Thiebaud’s cupcakes for inspiration.cupcakes

The glaze colours were selected to match those used in Thiebaud’s paintings. Pastel shades, along with red for the cherries and brown for chocolate.

Each table had a paper plate with a selection of glaze colours on it and every child was given a fine and a thick paintbrush, a pot of water and a paper towel.

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They applied two layers of glaze, being careful not to leave white spaces.

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The finished results were pale and matt. I explained that the colours would become vibrant and glossy once they had been fired.

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The Finished Results

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The glazed pots are placed on stilts when fired in the kiln, so they don’t stick to the shelves.

I love the results. I think they will make a perfect Christmas gift.

 

 

What is my Responsibility as an Early Educator in the Wake of the US Election?

Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with  questions.  These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.

My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue.  I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia.  He worked with the community, to create  new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another.  Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.

Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and  am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?

I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.

More questions arose.

Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?

If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?

Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?

Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.

When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs.  America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?

I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language.  We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us.  Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.

I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened.  This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same?  We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.

We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.