Do you ever play the game where you imagine what people would write on your gravestone once you’re gone? Examples might be:
“Here lies the final remains of Greg Bottrill - he hated Monopoly” or “Here rests Greg Bottrill - he loved dogs”. It’s usually a frivolous game to play and I’ve not played it for awhile. However, I have a new orbituary after my visit to Athens: “Here lies Greg Bottrill - he was once in the same room as Peter Gray”.
Just being in the space as him felt incredibly powerful, spiritual almost - here was a man whose book ‘Free To Learn” had inspired me to continue exploring the education system, had opened my eyes to the damage, to the erosion, the ‘disappearance’ of children. It’s a book that was partly responsible in my decision to leave school to go out from beyond four walls to at least try to impact on something bigger. While at the conference I don’t think I said one word to him. I didn’t need to. My soul seemed to be roaring inside of me just being there with him.
And yes I know he’s just as normal as you and I, I know he is no greater than the lovely Nikos at the conference who said of himself “I’m just a parent”. It’s just that the first six or seven chapters of Free To Learn transformed my understanding and enabled me to see myself within the current educational epoch. Peter Gray didn’t show me the magic door, he showed me the reason why I’d gone through it and why I should sing the song of play as loudly as I could.
Plus I think he’d make a great Grandad...
So it’s hard to try to summarise my thoughts on his keynote speech. I was admittedly starstruck. One thing that spoke to me hugely was his exploration of ‘pick-up’ games that children play. The games where the rules just happen, the way there is almost an unwritten, psychic understanding that a game of baseball amongst children can exist without the adult world’s insistence on competition, the way a game can be played in a cooperative spirit instead, where each child is ‘heard’ by the others - the stronger batter has certain T&Cs imposed eg if you smash a window then you’re out whilst the weaker batters are pitched at more gently. All these negotiations, these ‘reasons-for-being’, the unspoken-ness of free play, of play-for-play’s-sake are the definitions of ‘play’perhaps - a world without adult paradigms, without the the illusion of learning that erodes our young children. Pick up play is ‘soul play’, from the heart to the heart.
It feels impossible to write this blog without being terribly emotional. Every day around the world children are being ‘invisibled’, a slow cancellation of their own futures, futures that will remain unknown because their creativity, their curiosity, their very core is being subtly erased by the adult world.
It’s why I’ve come to realise that play is politics, that every time we enable children to choose, to explore, to wonder, to create we are an advocate of their magic in that very moment - we sing the song of play because we have to. Because the adult world often can’t hear it, because it denies the magic of children, it refuses to go through the magic door.
But we know the door exists and just like the magic, Peter Gray stands on the other side of it too, in the magic realm. So what other reason can you think of for not wanting to turn the handle and to step through to go further, to go deeper into the magic?!
So thank you Athens. Thank you John and his wonderful team at Dorothy Snot for being such fantastic hosts and organisers. And thank you to all who came. Here’s to the magic door - I hope to see you and your children on the other side :)
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....