… Przedszkolaki też mogą rozkwitać – wywiad z członkinią rady programowej Ewą Czajką


Preschoolers can flourish too – interview with program council member Ewa Czajka

autism book disability kindergarten Knowla Box reading technology therapy
… Przedszkolaki też mogą rozkwitać – wywiad z członkinią rady programowej Ewą Czajką
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reading time

16 MIN


2024-02-07 14:15:41
Table of contents

My first question is: who are you and could you tell something about yourself?

This is the most difficult question of all. I’m a professional combo, such a multiplex, but maybe I’ll start chronologically, because it all adds up to one thing, and against all odds it matters. In the first place, I completed my horticultural studies. Later, I stayed on as a doctoral student specializing in ornamental plants. Natural science had a huge impact on the rest of my education and the work I do now. I’ve also completed a post-graduate degree in Public Relations, and that’s useful to me, too, even though it doesn’t seem to fit with the previous ones. After the birth of my children, I could not find a job, because the job market for young mothers was and is difficult. I then decided to start my own company. First the nursery, which after two years automatically became a kindergarten. Then I completed another postgraduate degree in Pre-school Education and Early Childhood Education. After a year of operation, the first child with autism appeared in the kindergarten, as the kindergarten was not intended to be an inclusive kindergarten from the very beginning. It just happened. As time went on, children with various disabilities appeared, so I completed another postgraduate degree in Pedagogical Therapy. Of course, like every teacher, I train regularly in courses and workshops that confer further qualifications. Studying natural science, public relations, therapy, all of this contributes to the way I work at the moment, the way I build a vision for my company, but also the way I interact with my clients.

At some point, you gave up your previous interests and moved toward working with children. Why did you choose to work specifically in education?

You caught it well. Of course there is a strongly private reason, related to one of my children. It was for him that I had to look for, and in fact am still looking for, educational and therapeutic solutions to make his development proceed properly. And this inevitably pulled the topic further, because I quickly found that I was very strongly interested in it, and I was told by people outside my environment that I was highly intuitive in my work with children with disabilities. That’s where the inclusive preschool came from.

You mentioned that you also weave these previous interests into your work with the children and the work of the entire preschool. Could you give an example or overview of this activity?

Indeed, it all comes together very nicely. Starting with the name, because the preschool is called Nature Academy, and that’s how we mostly operate – nature-wise. We have a beautiful sensory garden. Sensory means that there are plants planted in it with different colors appearing throughout the year from spring to autumn, and even in winter. These are plants of different habit, to put it in language more understandable to laymen, with different shapes, but also with different textures of leaves or stems. That is, we have the name of the kindergarten, the garden, and so the surroundings, but the interiors of the kindergarten themselves are also decorated in this way. There is another thing that comes from my contact with nature and my doctoral studies, and that is the ability to observe, analyze and infer, and on that basis prepare therapeutic strategies. Nothing is more challenging than observing plants that don’t talk. They won’t say what’s wrong with them. It is not clear why they suddenly start to turn yellow. It is not known why the whole bed suddenly freezes. The same is true for children with disabilities who have serious communication difficulties. After all, you have to somehow “read” them, understand them and respond to their needs. Over the years at the university, I practiced these skills in order to transition to a man, but a man who has just such difficulties.

This may, already referring to these difficulties and children with various disabilities. They are increasingly appearing in various classes. What should be that most important or one of the most important things to keep in mind when working educationally with such a diverse group?

You are right that these children are appearing more and more, and here we are talking mainly about holistic developmental disorders, that is, for example, autism. It’s important to be aware that it’s not that there’s suddenly more autism, because there most likely has always been. Nowadays we simply diagnose better, that is, we specialists are better prepared, we have better tools in order to diagnose. Therefore, these children are appearing in increasing numbers. And fortunately, because this diagnosis is insanely necessary in order to set specific and correct therapeutic goals. You also ask about the inclusion of children with disabilities in neurotypical, fully functioning groups. This is also an insanely important topic. Initially, the focus was very much on the children themselves with holistic disorders or other difficulties. On how to include them, their needs, their difficulties. I am currently leading a very interesting project of several months at the elementary school in Radzewo. That’s where I had to convince the parents, or rather explain to them why I wanted to go there every month and explain to their children what autism is. And I want not only to talk about what autism is, how it manifests itself and how to deal with it, but also about how to prepare a group to receive such a person. The whole process of inclusion is also about the welfare of the group, i.e.: is it ready, is it knowledgeable and how does it feel about it. It is necessary to consider what neurotypical children experience when they are joined by a child on the autism spectrum, because it is often very difficult, for the reason that children with autism can present a whole range of so-called difficult behaviors. They are often loud, hyperactive. They are sometimes aggressive. The group that such a child joins must deal with this. The group also needs support. This is one thing, and the other is teachers and specialists, are they also prepared for this. And it’s not even a question of whether substantively, but whether emotionally they are ready for it. The topic is complex.

Do you have any such advice that you could give to such a teacher, educator who meets with such a group?

Yes. First of all, to give himself time. He didn’t set the bar too high. He has the right to be wrong. This is embedded in our work. We often learn from our mistakes. We are not omniscient. We cannot say with certainty that the strategy we have embraced is the right one and will succeed 100 percent. One must be prepared for change. Do not worry about failures, but also gain emotional distance from the situation. Give yourself space to look for solutions. Draw from a whole range of methods. Do not stay with one, because there is no one right one. Also, observe. Keep in mind that working with a child with disabilities is a process and an activity that with one child is stretched out over several weeks, with another it may be over several months, and yet another over several years. It may also be that we will not see the results of our actions. Specialists of the next educational stage will have this pleasure. We also have to be ready for the fact that no one will put a crown on our head at the end, pat us on the back, or maybe even thank us or, worse, resent us. I emphasize again that giving yourself space for failures and setbacks, emotional distance and understanding that you are part of the process is very important. Then we will avoid frustration and burnout.

You have also translated your educational and therapeutic work into your other passion, namely writing. How did this happen?

The first book to appear this year (ed. 2023) is “The Autistic World of Tymek.” I decided to put the topic of autism in a different way. This is an inventory of my experiences, the way I work with children and parents. The following stories are told by a high-functioning boy (this is very important), i.e. speaking and intellectually normal. He tells of his difficulties. By force, educating and moralizing are intertwined and in the second book, which also this year (ed. 2023, the second book with the title: “Helpful Fairy Tales”) appeared.

As it is in fairy tales.

Now there is a trend, and I wonder if it is right, that there must be a moral at the end of every fairy tale. I think this is more of a hint to the parent than to the child himself, because the children, I have a feeling, could do without it as well. They would know what the fairy tale is all about. Who is evil? Who is good? What happened there? Now parents need some prompting, and there is also a tendency that a fairy tale is always for something: for bad dreams, for wetting, to teach to do pee on the potty, and so on.

What is the most important thing for you in creating a fairy tale or story in general?

I’ll answer perhaps in a different way, what I find most enjoyable about this creation. This is a total escape from reality. Diving deep into your own mind and that high level of abstraction you have to apply. He is even higher than when we write adult fantasy, for example. You have to think like a child, and at his level of abstraction.

What values or behaviors would you like to pass on to children as they read your stories together?

There is always some value presented in the content itself, although perhaps more of an advice. It’s a kind of modeling of behavior, it seems to me, such as how to cope when we can’t have what we want or when we are sad because we lose a loved one. I do not shy away from difficult topics. I also always try to convey to them, the most important social, relational, emotion-related principles. When reading together, in addition to discussing the contents of the book, I also talk a lot about how to handle the book. I present the old school, although I may be mistaken that it is the old school, in any case of respect for the written word, for the book as such paper. So I tell you how to take care of it, that we don’t treat it as a mug pad, for example, that the bookmarks we use for books should be flat so as not to spoil the spine. Your hands should be clean before you start reading, and it’s a good idea to find a place to focus on the content. I also encourage them to discuss related to the content they read.

This is how I felt that reading, learning to read or reading together is an important sphere for you, which you capture in your educational work in the kindergarten.

Yes, absolutely, and I think there’s a rationale for this, too, for the reason that there are more and more children whom we teachers, as early as at the preschool stage, say are at risk of dyslexia. These children are unlikely to read, or at least not as much as their peers who do not have these difficulties. That is, if I at the preschool stage don’t show them ways to familiarize themselves with the written word, most likely no one will do so later, maybe there won’t be time or opportunity to do so. What’s more, if I don’t encourage them, don’t show them that it’s interesting, enjoyable, then later it can only be a chore.

That is, how to encourage children to read? You already mentioned such a certain ritual that can be created. You sit down with your children, read and discuss this content, but is there anything else?

I think this is something that in fantasy we describe as the presented world. We adults are able to create this in our minds. Children probably do, too, but not all of them. I, for example, when reading any content, illustrate it in the way available to me. They may even be symbols. I am not a visual artist, an artist, I draw as I can. Sometimes I print something from the Internet and stick it on the board. When reading a fairy tale, I give the content through several channels: auditory – because I am talking and visual – because I am showing. In this way, I stimulate their imagination. This also applies to people who have, for example, hyperactivity and are unable to focus. If they can’t hear, they can “see” and vice versa. On the other hand, I give blind children accessible spatial attributes that appear in this fairy tale so that they can “touch” the text. Reading hygiene is also hugely important to me, that is, focusing on the here and now of sitting down, and listening.

In your opinion, does the use of technology preclude reading?

Don’t. Don’t. I think.

Can they go in one direction?

They can go in one direction. Of course, it is good to have moderation and a high awareness of the use of high technology. I’m talking about the conscious application of them by an adult to a child. Controlling and determining what for a given age may be available. I think technology can be helpful, as much as possible, although I happen to work with children who generally have this type of media severely limited, because Polish researchers, but foreign ones too, I think, believe that in the case of children with autism or hyperactive children with ADHD or ADD, these technologies should be completely withdrawn. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for them to be withdrawn at all, because the forbidden fruit always tastes the best, which means that this need in the child is there anyway. Controlled and consciously administered amounts should not harm him.

How can they be responsibly introduced in the classroom?

I think, first of all, by planning. The plan is a buzzword that teachers are not fond of because they think it is bureaucracy. I used to think so, too. On the other hand, now I think it makes education and therapeutics very orderly. Planning allows us to program our work, and on this basis, after a few months of such action or even after a few weeks, we can determine whether there are some activities too much or too little, but also what was helpful and what was not. If in the process we see that the use of high technology brings benefits, why not, let’s plan ahead. That is, first of all, to establish a strategy for action.

How about a smooth transition to Knowla. What was your first impression when you saw or launched the device and the Educational Universe on it?

I like news very much. I like to learn. I am extremely curious about this device. Absolutely open to what it offers.

What caught your attention the most when you had the opportunity to interact with Knowla Box?

I look at any such device through the prism of its application to children with disabilities. I’m talking about such broad disabilities, both mental and motor. So what I paid attention to was the ability to project in two dimensions: on the floor and on the wall, which in my case makes it very easy to work with all the children, because then none of them is turned off. The one that can’t reach the wall will reach the floor and vice versa.

Preschoolers can flourish too

How have you been working with Knowla Box for several months now?

As I said, I have a plan. During the vacations we worked two-three times a week with this device for half an hour each. Of course, we could work with him for much longer, because it absolutely absorbed the children, but we have to pay attention to the so-called overstimulation, that is, so that these emotions are not too much, because this can result in difficult behavior. On the other hand, at the moment, when we have already started the school year and we also have to implement the core curriculum in various other ways, we had to reduce our work with Knowla a bit. It is scheduled now as a workshop, that is, such an additional special event that happens once or twice a month. Any group can participate. This is a time of about forty minutes, which means we have extended it a little. We choose activities so that children are not over-stimulated after the class.

What are your current findings, working with different disability groups and Knowla Box at the same time?

That it can be combined. This is a universal device. Well-planned. I’m impressed by this versatility, but also by the tools we use, because the author thought of attaching something that resembles a pen, a writing tool, to the device. It’s not swiping like on a tablet or jumping like on an interactive floor. This is writing, drawing, connecting the dots with a writing tool. In almost the same way we hold a pencil when we write on a piece of paper. Balls are also included and this is very thoughtful. My primary objection to high technology is precisely that we use it similarly to a tablet or phone, that is, we swipe. Here we have a writing tool and we have balls that we throw, that we touch. This requires eye-hand coordination, and this is one of the most important functions we use in therapy. It’s good that Knowla is satisfying this.

What would be your advice for people who are launching the Knowla Box for the first time and are afraid to touch the device?

The concern is completely unnecessary. No IT knowledge is necessary. Using Knowla Box is so intuitive that you can’t mess it up or get it wrong. The best way is to include it and give it to the children. They know what to do with it.

Which activities do you or your charges enjoy the most?

It turns out that such completely basic. We are at the pre-school stage, which means that some higher functions in Knowli will not be discovered or used. Although who knows, maybe next year yes, but for now no. What we use every time is simple drawing (ed. Planet Fruu, Applications for pens). This is a huge amount of fun for the children and we do, in different ways. Sometimes we make it so that each child has a completely blank board, that is, he erases what the child before him has drawn. And sometimes we use the chain rule. The first person starts, the next person adds something to what was already drawn previously, and great things are then created. Another way is to create a common drawing. They really like to experiment with colors. The coloring itself is also fun, but a little less so than drawing alone. What I will point out here is that Knowla can stimulate the child’s creativity without imposing its solutions on him.

This may be the end of it. What does the slogan “It’s smart to have fun” mean to you?

Play is the primary line of a child’s development, and this is probably the most important. If it is led by an adult who is aware of what they are doing, such designed play is the best learning.


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Knowla team

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