Sightlines Initiative

promoting creative and reflective practice in early childhood education

"Play, love, investigate, test, question, argue, trust …. " - tributes to educator-researcher Pat Gura

Sightlines Initiative's friend and colleague Pat Gura died recently, and the Froebel Institute have already collected some tributesWe also want to add our voices.

Solveig Morris, Wendy Scott, Linda Pound, Robin Duckett 

Pat Gura, 1935 - 2020 . Early years professional, researcher, author and consultant

 "It is with great sadness that I learned that Pat had died recently. Always a campaigner for children's rights, Pat was a wonderful communicator.

Her passion for young children shone through. She managed to capture her audience with her stories, whether with one person or in a conference hall, but these were backed with solid theory and practice.She had a creative mind and always had a different 'take' on ideas and thoughts, leaving the listener to reflect on her words. Her writings showed clear and logical thinking.

I first met Pat through my interest in blockplay.Pat was research assistant for the Froebel Blockplay Research Group and edited the collaborative action-research namely 'Exploring Learning: Young Children and Blockplay' published in 1992 by Paul Chapman Publishing. Here Pat traced, with other contributors, the development of blockplay and the complexity of children's thinking. The role of the adult, recognising children's patterns in their constructions and the importance of presentation were keys to a better understanding. I began to see blockplay in a different light and see much more potential than previously. I also began to observe that blocks, with their different properties, were an important 'language' of communication and creativity for children.

Pat's other well -known publication was 'Resources for Early Learning: Children, Adults and Stuff' (1996) published by Hodder & Stoughton. It's another reference 'must' for early years' educators. Pat had the ability to help us see beyond the surface. In the book she refers to Reggio Emilia as one where "Adults and Children are seen as co-researchers. Their research projects are based on the people, places, events, beliefs, hopes and dreams which are the fabric of their lives."

On the environment, for example, she asks the question "What are our environments saying?". Elsewhere, when talking about Reggio Emilia, she saw their approach as not one to be copied but to act as a mirror for our own reflection and practice.Adults she would say, need to be also curious beings : curious children, curious adults.

On other things and on a personal note, I spent many happy hours talking to Pat, particularly when visiting her at home, after her retirement.We both had a love of 'Standing Stones' comparing notes on the ones we had visited. One story, I loved, was how she got permission, in a professional capacity, to take photographs within Stonehenge. This was told with great humour. A simple story became a wonderful myriad of images.

Pat was a very special person. She was my mentor, a colleague and a friend. What is more, she left a lasting legacy for future generations of early childhood educators and young children. She'll be sadly missed."

Solveig Morris: early childhood consultant,  advisor,  head teacher , Sightlines Initiative Network London co-ordinator

""I first met Pat Gura when I worked in Brockley, in south London in the 1980s. That meeting was brief focusing on community involvement – Pat was at that time I believe engaged through Goldsmiths College in work with playgroups and I was head of a neighbouring nursery school. But our interactions were to grow – partly because Pat went on to run a nursery unit in Bexley which I had previously set up and partly because I moved house, unwittingly but with great pleasure becoming a near neighbour of Pat and her husband Alan.

After that, Pat and I met regularly. Throughout the period in which she was research assistant to the Froebel Blockplay Project, over plates of home-made houmous, she would constantly update me with her latest observations. She generously shared with me her detailed drawings of children's block constructions (some of which made it into the seminal book Exploring Learning: young children and blockplay) and talked excitedly about her current thinking. But we didn't only talk about blockplay – she was hugely knowledgeable about early childhood education in general. Her encyclopaedic understanding of and endless curiosity about young children and their worlds led us to many detailed and challenging discussions – which I valued greatly. I was nourished intellectually – but also physically as Pat often insisted I take home a large jar of houmous, declaring she'd never be able to eat it all.

In April 1995, Pat and I – together with Wendy Scott and Shirley Maxwell – took a wonderful trip to Reggio Emilia. In preparing to write this tribute I was delighted to unearth the copy Pat gave me, along with several related articles, of an account of the trip. It was written for inclusion in the Froebel Newsletter and with her usual thoroughness the article is carefully referenced, and the trip rigorously described. Pat's description is forensic in her desire to both understand and help others to understand the work we had seen in Reggio Emilia. What I do remember of the trip is the conversations that the four of us had at the end of each day, over meals and during the journey. Pat writes that although we'd come across many 'good ideas', "the four of us were agreed that it would be a mistake to isolate any one of these from the whole with the intention of transferring it to English soil". She ends the article with a quote from David Hawkins (1993: xvii): "our social landscape is different, so must our battles be".

In July 1997 Early Education published a booklet entitled Reflections of Early Education and Care, which was edited by Pat. In the same year, The Hundred languages of Children exhibition was shown in this country for the first time. From the time of the visit to Reggio Emilia, she had been proactive, often quietly but determinedly behind the scenes, in making sure both the publication and the exhibition happened.

During my time at London Metropolitan University, Pat served as an external examiner to the very popular Early Childhood degree course. She was highly supportive but combined that support with challenge and was thus instrumental in enabling the team to develop and improve the course. At the same time she was actively supporting a number of early childhood organisations, with ferocious drive, energy and scouse humour.

I would like first to remember Pat as a friend and colleague. Many will remember her as a rigorous researcher and as an inspired writer. We should all remember her as someone who battled throughout her life for children. Amongst the papers accompanying my copy of the article describing our trip to Reggio Emilia, Pat had included a set of relevant quotations. Amongst them was something from R. V. Laing which reads: "Many things about children can be learned only from children". Pat devoted her life to this – writing that she was proud and humbled when Professor Lilian Katz compared work arising from the blockplay project to work in Reggio Emilia – arguing that what the two contexts had in common "was that the children in both places knew that adults cared about what they (the children) cared about". And she really did."

Linda Pound,  early years' consultant and author

"I knew Pat through her work for the Froebel Blockplay Action Research Project.At the time, I was early years inspector for the quadrant of Inner London where much of the practical work was undertaken, and well recall the way the project involved staff in a nursery school in a very disadvantaged area.Pat's questions stimulated their thinking, and helped them to become researchers too: they observed the children's choices more closely and were led by their comments to look in much more detail at the provision available, extending children's opportunities to build with blocks over time as well as providing more space.Structures were photographed so that they could be replicated and elaborated, and records were kept of the children's imaginative development, extended through the provision of additional stimulating props.The interest of staff was ignited through the project, and sustained through Pat's involvement: her questioning approach, coupled with her deep interest, insight and involvement in the children's ideas, helped them to take on the perspective of a researcher, which transferred to other aspects of their work in the nursery.

The ability to move from an adult perspective towards deep understanding what a situation might mean to a child, and the many ways in which children express their thinking, linked powerfully to the increasingly influential approach found in Reggio Emilia, which Pat endorsed wholeheartedly.I was privileged to visit Reggio with her and two colleagues in 1995, when we had outstanding opportunities to observe practice there, to discuss Malaguzzi's guiding philosophy and think through the practical expression of these ideas with the staff.Following the introduction of an exhibition of work from Reggio that was shown around the UK in 1997, Pat became involved in the Sightlines Initiative.Her publications express complex and imaginative ideas in a straightforward way; the underlying principles as well as the practical suggestions, informed by sensitive observation and responsive extension, continue to inspire and influence practitioners to this day."

 Wendy Scott OBE, early years' consultant; President of TACTYC

"I first met Pat through our participation in hosting the Newcastle and London showing of 'The Hundred Languages of Children' exhibit in 1997, and we quickly became firm friends. She was quick to seize on so many profound lessons from this time, as you can read in her 'Reflecting on Mirrors' , and in the editorial and production role she subsequently played in the 1997 BAECE collection of papers: 'Reflections on Early Childhood Education & Care … Inspired by visits to Reggio Emilia, Italy.'

From the first meeting, Pat was a stalwart supporter of Sightlines Initiative, not just because of our links with the preschools of Reggio Emilia, but because we were also experimenting with our small teams of educators and creative enablers, researchers, practically, in projects in schools. This diligent and honest re-viewing and trying out was very much at Pat's core. Cutting through the garbage, being ready to see things freshly – often things which were actually right in front of us.

Pat was a first supporter of our 'Young Children's Creative Thinking in Action' project, and in 1998 travelled up from Kent to the wilds of Northumberland to contribute to our first group reflection weekend. She brought humour, groundedness, encouragement and EastEnd radical grit. It was Pat who coined the title 'Adventuring in Early Childhood Education' as part of her very insightful – and trenchant - editing of our 2004 book of that name. She was great in drawing together threads of thinking – she brought the phrase 'adventuring' from John Raven, who its worth quoting as also a 'spirit of Pat': "…an adventure involves not knowing where one is going or how one is going to get there. The successful adventurer relies on his ability to sense what is going to lead somewhere… He has to acquire the ability to be an astute student of his environment and confidence in what his feelings tell him …"

In Pat's Introduction to the 1997 booklet, I picked these words as of hers as a message to us all from her: Play, love, investigate, test, question, argue, trust …. "

Robin Duckett, Director, Sightlines Initiative

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Dens of Imagination: Learning Together at Home invitation

 Here is another in our suggestions series: Learning Together at Home (If you haven't already, click on the link to sign up for news and to participate.)

What hiding-places for imagination are you finding?

I came across a den like this during last weekend's walk and I wondered how many children are finding the opportunities and time to find and create these hideaways in which so many enchanting ideas and games can brew?

I remember the dens

Under my bed
In cupboards
On top of cupboards
In the cupboard under the stairs
Behind the sofa, with a blanket
Under the fire-guard, with cushions and blankets
Up trees
In the hole under the railway station (secret one, that!)
In the loft

I remember that one of the best things was that adults were Not allowed.

Some years ago (well twenty now) a couple of us who were managing our Woodland Preschool project set up a place for den-making at a summer family festival down south. We called it 'a community of dens.' In the tiniest of woodlands, children would come and venture in, sometimes alone, sometimes brother & sister … They'd find an enticing space, they'd come and seek additional material, bring some from their belongings, and over a few days the place became buzzing, children inviting their parents in sometimes to their magic places.

What places are you finding? What stories and new worlds are growing 'under our feet' in young minds as corners become transformed and precious?

Do post your stories and pictures (join in via the subscribe page to Learning Together at Home.)

Our 'Dens for Imagination' page is here.

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Seeing from other points of view: Learning Together at Home

This invitation - to look at things in new and unusual ways, or from someone else's perspective  - is a strong component of our  growing knapsack of suggestions at Learning Together at Home .

The same is true of Reggio Children's suggestions to children, which may also inspire you and  your children. Here are links two two such, and there are other light inspirations  to be found at At Home with The Reggio Approach.

Trees have wrinkles that make them more interesting. , Virginia, 5 years

Trees are family

Trees have developed an intelligent way of living that means even though they always stand still they can feed, reproduce, communicate with each other, defend themselves, and even play together. ...

We're proposing some suggestions for work, inviting adults to provide the practical support with materials, but not to intervene in the children's drawings.

We'd like to give them the freedom to investigate how trees are structured and organised, not only the formal structure, but trees as an incredibly interesting life form that we would like to understand more deeply

Click the link below to read more ...

Do share your children's creative investigations on our Learning Together at Home section..


Trees are family | Reggio Children

Reggio Children protects and promotes children’s rights and potentials valorising and safeguarding the experience of Reggio Emilia Approach®.
The first thing to do is attach three sheets of paper together with sticky tape. The paper can be medium size, like A4 printer paper (21x30cm).

What if you were a…? 

When we all look at something, we think everyone is seeing what we see, but that isn't exactly what happens. This is a game for reflecting and thinking about how the same object can be seen and interpreted in different ways.

There are many eyes, many minds, many ways of perceiving.

Everyone has a table and a chair at home.

Let's try and draw them on the first sheet of paper the way we usually see them.

 ...  now let's try and make ourselves as small as small can be… as small as an ant.

    ... Now we're going to grow as big as big as big can be… as big as an elephant

Click the link below to read more ...

Do share your children's creative investigations on our Learning Together at Home section..


What if you were a…? | Reggio Children

Reggio Children protects and promotes children’s rights and potentials valorising and safeguarding the experience of Reggio Emilia Approach®.
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