This week...It's been a hugely busy week so far with a two day visit to a school in Bristol exploring provision and interactions in Reception and Year 1. Really great to see schools beginning to want to embrace childhood but also a reminder that it's not just as simple as 'continuous provision in Year 1'. Neoliberalism doesn't let go quietly but in this particular school they wanted to begin the adventure away from its grubby grasp. So that's a great thing!
I learned so much as part of my visit, primarily because the team were committed to maximising the opportunities for children to immerse in the outdoors and choose freely. So the ideal time to learn from childhood and what it's looking for - some amazing use of messaging as well as a Stroke of Genius using sand timers to create a puzzle, something I've never seen before!
It felt good to be back in schools once more and one or two are now making enquiries for the near future so it's an indication that the world of face to face is slowly opening up - following protocols and plenty of LFTs of course! Next up is Coventry and I can't wait because it's where my grandparents and parents lived, so an emotional visit to a degree in amongst exploring provision and co-play :)
The online sessions around the Message Centre, Drawing Club and Adventure Island have been fantastic and it's so good seeing how adults want to step into the joy of learning and Time Together. I've updated the programme for June 2021 and you'll be able to catch Drawing Club and the Message Centre via the button below (and Adventure Island or Play Projects for next week for that matter...)
Probably the most exciting thing of all has been a development within my weekly Wednesday Joy! CPD sessions that has unearthed a really simple way of adding magic to the Home Corner - it's been shaped by those in Joy! and the feedback has been so good to hear. I can't wait to pull it altogether because the group can feel the possibilities for enriching language, co-play and immersion into make-believe. Keep eyes peeled because it's going to be a beaut, I can feel it...
It's also a timely reminder that the Joy! Patreon group exists. We meet each Wednesday at 8pm UK Time and share ideas, research and trial concepts - it's like the home of the Play People and you're warmly invited to come and join us. It costs just £10 a month which I like to think is a bargain for all the richness that it brings as a community :)
You can join here
Lastly I've had an amazing chat with an upper primary teacher in Shetland who has been exploring the joy of Drawing Club and Play Projects within her week. She's been blown away by the engagement and the learning the children have shown her. It's so good to know that teachers further up in schools are finding childhood. I hope that excites you too!
I also hope wherever you are, you're feeling the joy of play - keep playing and keep playing hard. Childhood needs you like never before,
Have a great weekend when it arrives, take care - Greg
Waking early, I could hear Brahms the Robin singing outside my bedroom window. His chirping and chirruping sounded different today and opening the curtains, I saw why: snow had arrived. Not the thick-set, knee-deep snow of my East Midlands childhood, but a sprinkling and one that needed exploration if nothing else - time for some adventures with Bonnie and Eppie...
Pathways are central to my concept of co-play. The idea that education can be done with children, not to them is key to creating education-as-adventure. I often think that phonics teaching typifies the 'to children' approach, a zombie apocalypse of letter sounds, sound blending, comprehension, tricky words, book band books and do-this... As we followed the path through the woods, Eppie couldn't help think that there might be another way to teach phonics. Bonnie and I looked at one another and winked because we both know that there is one and that it's coming...
As the traces of snow became more apparent, Eppie couldn't help but play in it. It's because play is in her DNA, as it is in children's too - the impulse to explore and discover, not out of triviality, but out of the need to make sense of the world. Eppie's play drew Bonnie in, a reminder that play is a solidarity, a coming together of energies - an inter-play... When they'd finished, Bonnie and Eppie got to thinking about how the Adult World breaks the Natural Order of childhood by constructing High Ability, Low Ability, intervention groups and Red Table/Blue Table/Green Table. I wondered how many children begin their school lives on Red Table and then spent the next seven years there....?
Bonnie decided to have a sniff about to see what she could see. While she did that, Eppie was really quiet and just took it all in. We both got to thinking about how the Adult World always seems to have the expectation for children to prove they are being busy and yet fails to see how quiet reflection is equally part of the magic of children. Eppie knew that this reflected the inability of the Adult World to value the mystery of childhood... We got chatting about the idea of children writing a TripAdvisor review of their educational experiences and wondered what they might say, especially if those days are dominated by 'do-this-do-that'....
Previous to the snow, a hard rain had fallen and filled up the giant dips in the woodland ground. Some of the pools were waist high and reminded me of those in the Wood Between The Worlds in the Narnia tales. Eppie began to story dream about which world she would like to adventure in. She thought she'd love to go to a world with Bonnie, and together they could sniff for bones and just be happy. I like the idea of a World of Good Things. I wonder what you'd find there and who you'd go with. Bonnie reminded me that the World of Good Things is coming in 2021 and with that all three of us smiled because we instantly knew who is in that world and who isn't...
When we got home, Bonnie immediately fell asleep. And she dreamed of a place where childhood is truly valued, where children have choice and can collaborate, where their creativity is 'seen' and where their day is defined by them, not by the Adult World. I wonder if she was dreaming about your setting? I hope so, because Bonnie was actually dreaming of the World of Good Things.
We hope to see you there...
A photo story exploring places, story dreaming and wonder-wandering...
Bonnie, Eppie and I went into the woods to see what we could see. As ever, Bonnie decided to dawdle, and as it turned out she was chatting to the Minpins who told her that the Poggle was out and about so we should look for his portal...
We hadn’t gone far before we discovered the Poggle Portal, a gap in the hedgerow where the sunlight was poking through. We tapped our feet three times and of course the Poggle popped up and led us down to lane...
The Poggle showed us the Triple Trees and it was here that Bonnie remembered how to number dream so that we can 3M the world at will. She dreamed up three more trees so that there was now double 3, 6. Eppie had a go and number dreamed one less than 3, taking one of the trees away so now there were just two...
The woods gave way to a view out across Somerset. Bonnie wondered about how many trees we could see and Eppie wondered how far she could see. I really liked the way the clouds looked so we chatted about how clouds were made. I told Bonnie and Eppie that it was a really placid view and it made me feel calm looking at it.
The Poggle showed us a hedgerow Oak tree that had six squirrels in it that were all playing and chasing one another. Eppie reminded us about how there was something wonderful even in this little corner of the world and how play is the ‘natural light’ of childhood...
The rain that had come overnight had swollen the little ford and although the horse could get across okay, we felt that it was too deep for little dogs and feet in trainers. We went over the rickety wooden bridge instead and Bonnie story dreamed about what might live underneath it. Eppie said that there was a passcode to get across - we had to say ‘placid’ and then we’d be safe if there was a troll lurking around.
Bonnie and Eppie followed the Poggle up a hill and into the woods. After a little bit of running around and playing, they both went really still and took in their surroundings. Eppie said she felt like it was a placid place to be, although my heart was beating very hard as the hill was pretty steep. Bonnie and Eppie ran on ahead but waited at the top for me to catch up...
At the top of the hill stood the Owl Tree. We didn’t take a look as we don’t like disturbing the owls who live there. We did find some litter nearby so we picked that up. Eppie hoped that the owls would be happy to know we did that. We chatted about how important it is to look after nature and Bonnie wanted to know why people drop litter. We didn’t really have an answer...
We left the Owl Tree and headed homewards. On the way, we found a really beautiful part of the wood and Eppie said that it felt tranquil which then led to us talking about other words for ‘placid’ - we thought of four other words. Bonnie said she felt calm when she sniffed and dawdled which didn’t come as a surprise!
Bonnie wondered what other places there are that are placid. Eppie knew that children need placid places and that play isn’t always about noise and ‘doing’. It takes many shapes and all are valuable. I wondered why the Adult World always wants child be to be busy - as we headed home.
I wonder what your placid places might be and what placid places you provide within your practice?
Why not comment on the blog and let us know!
You can discover more about Adventure Island via the button below - the Poggle, the Minpins and story dreaming all await you...
I was really lucky when I was 17, because I was taught A-Level English by Mr Pike. He was one of those uniquely brilliant teachers who seemed to be more intent on bringing us alive to the joy of story and poetry than he was on us actually passing our exams. There was always some film to be engrossed in or non-syllabus book to pour over, and his lessons were peppered with philosophy and psychology, Jung and Nietzsche, opening our late teenage thinking to see the wider world and our own place within it.
Afternoons with Mr Pike were spent watching films like Ingmar Bergman's imperious 'The Seventh Seal' and gritty Harold Pinter screenplays, or debating and questioning the erosion of the surrounding mining communities under the thumb of Thatcherism, the destruction of the ozone layer and the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe. And in amongst all the turmoil and the unfolding chaos that we explored we kept the company of music and film and books all colliding with politics and unrequited love for unattainable girls, shaping an all-consuming camaraderie as though we were Billy Bragg, Joan of Arc and Robespierre all rolled into one. It was us against the world, with The Go-Betweens and The Lilac Time, The Smiths and Teardrop Explodes, The Cure and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions as our soundtrack, and all the while, our brains boiled with ideas, lyrics and dreams of a new future somehow.
And in amongst all of this, Mr Pike dropped in the syllabus - Hardy's The Return of the Native, Ballard's Empire of the Sun, Pinter's The Caretaker, the poetry of Larkin and William Blake - a magician sprinkling core texts into a world he'd help create so that each text shone so brightly simply because they now meant something - it was as though Blake was speaking to us in our time about a new Albion that was equally shaped around Hardy's deeply emotive and painful explorations of the inevitably of lost love and existential crisis. There was no 'curriculum' because we were the curriculum. We weren't learning texts for an exam - we were learning them because it felt as though our very lives depended on it.
In Mr Pike's classroom, week after week, a Small World grew, a world in which learning meant something bigger than itself. As the pale Friday afternoon Sun found its way through the willow trees outside and cast flickering shadows through the windows to dance upon the tables and the classroom walls, it was as though its light was leaning in to illuminate the small corners of life as well as the bigger ones, Subtly, Mr Pike was showing us that learning was not defined for us by a curriculum, but instead we first needed the conditions of joy and immersion, of connection, and ultimately of 'play'. He was showing us how authentic education begins with being within it, not outside of it.
And it's my growing belief that this very immersion and joy are equally as critical within the days of early childhood so that they are seen as the Prime Movers, shaping a landscape for adventure before the actual 'curriculum'..
By doing so, we can begin to think of 'play' as beyond its physical, observable state, such as running, jumping, climbing, building, creating or pretending, and see that 'play' is equally to do with language, ideas and emotional connections. We show children that words are a glorious playground, we delight in physical play and we reveal the joy of thinking and noticing and looking - a World of Good Things where everything and anything contains learning-for-itself and has a plasticity for us to imagine and re-imagine.
Because it is in this World of Good Things where authenticity can be found. Here, we no longer teach 'alien words' so that children can pass a Phonic Screening Check, they are no longer taught because of 'curriculum', but because of connection, the adults showing children how to play with language because to do so leads to joy, and reveals its true nature, its poetry and its own Hidden Soul.
We reveal the possibility of liberating learning from potential curriculum claustrophobia and in its place we can forge a space where joy and immersion come first. Environmental sound walks no longer 'get done' so that we can tick them off, or because they are part of 'Phase One' phonics - instead we listen to the world simply because it is trying to tell us something, because we are connected to it, the birdsong, the breeze stirring the Autumn leaves, the traffic rumbling, the scissors cutting through paper, even the sound of our own breathing. We don't go on an environmental walk because we already live inside one.
We no longer sing nursery rhymes because a document says that this is developmentally appropriate for children, we sing them because the rhymes are echoing from the past and to sing them is to bring them and their characters to life so that children's imaginations can play with them. And in the same way 'completing a rhyming string' becomes a natural part of daily linguistic play, not because a document tells us to do it, but because there is play in poetry, there is freedom, there is a new way for words to be toyed with and tossed around in whatever part of the day they come to mind. Ultimately, there is joy to be found.
Yes, we are teaching skills and yes, we need knowledge and understanding of 'curriculum' or stages and developmentally appropriate practice but first must come an understanding of joy. First must come days in which children feel that the learning they are experiencing is within them, not outside of them. It is under these conditions that an adventure into learning can truly happen in a World of Good Things to explore, create, invent and dream beyond.
And it is my belief that this world is possible. When we 'zoom out' from our documentation and begin to see learning as being more open ended, less linear, less checklist, then we begin to show children the joy of 'just maths' and how it lives in the world, the joy of 'just words' and how we can bend them to our will, the joy of 'just mark making' and of 'just reading' by wrestling them both from worksheet and book band books and instead showing how the Message Centre can breathe life into both.
When we do this, we give ourselves the chance to share 'just joy'... Perhaps this is our greatest responsibility to early childhood, something that goes beyond ensuring children have the right to play. Perhaps the right to joy should be the underpinning philosophy of practice?
And this then sets us a challenge, especially in light of the recent reforms to England's Development Matters and the ELGs. How can we ensure the joy when it comes to the ELG of automatic recall of number bonds for example?
Much debate has sprung up online about this particular ELG with argument and counter-argument around its appropriateness. However, I've yet to hear or read anything that has suggested how this goal might have joy at its heart or how it lends itself to creating a culture of joy in maths or of children feeling like maths is inside themselves.
I hope I'm wrong but last time I looked the children who 'don't know' will almost certainly face the Berlin Wall of interventions which might just 'get' them to know, but can more often than not keep them from finding the joy of maths or being part of it.
I would love to know how you might go about this particular ELG. Is joy possible? If not, then what questions does it raise? If you draw a blank perhaps it's time we all give Mr Pike a call...
It's Mental Health Well-Being Week this week, and it brings the importance of finding time within our squeezed days to take care of ourselves into sharp focus. Taking care is something that many of us find hard to do however - often we put ourselves at the end of the queue...
If you look back over the past month and you count the times you did something that helped you relax, switch off and temporarily 'step outside of life', you'd probably count no more than three or four if that. Modern Life was already condensed into a rush and push, and Covid-19 seems to have only exacerbated the pressures both physical and mental. It can begin to feel that what we see around us is the only possibility, stretching out to the horizon - we want to see hope, to feel that the present challenges will come to an end, but the path to this seems remote and dim.
Uncertainty and stress seem ever-present companions in each day nowadays. Not only do we need to meet the practicalities of coping in the face of the ongoing pandemic, many of us will also find ourselves in environments that feel 'different' and untypical of Early Years spaces that we might hold as being effective. We want play but it feels, just like the path out of Covid, far-off and distant. Relationships with parents may feel less personal. Rules and updates on the use of playdough, water, sand, Lego, books all seem to have sprung up and impacted on our provision. We may feel at a loss, unable to spring the richness of play to life. Some of us may also be under pressure to ensure 'catch-up' especially if we work in schools and settings that are driven by the spreadsheet and micro-management. It's as though we feel leaned on from all sides.
All of this can have a significant toll on our mental health, and it's certainly true that if we are not at our best, then we can fall short of giving our best to our children. Do we ever feel like we have somehow been pushed to the side of our own lives, as though we are a bystander watching on, an observer in a maelstrom not knowing which way to turn? We want to feel joy. even a glimpse of it, but the days seem bloated with external forces pressing down on our ability to do something, to act. We can quickly discover ourselves in a state of mind that has its finger permanently on the 'react' button, pinballing from one thing to next. Pinball Brain can lead us to another state if we are not careful: Unravelled Brain. In this state our good intentions for children, our playful pedagogy, our self-perception as the 'teacher-who-is-me', the Controller of our little world, can often represent a chicken coop when a fox gets in...
Can we find a way in which the joy we and our children need to feel so desperately can be taken by the hand, especially if we currently feel unable to bring play into the room for the majority of the day? Well, yes, perhaps we can...
I would suggest that we take some time to look at our week. Look to see what moments there might be for co-play, that rich and immersive phase of a day when we can become embedded in children's play and its magic. It might only be an hour a week, it may be an hour a day. One hour of co-play a week is better than none. And why is it better than none? Because it is here, in co-play, that the magic of children will bring us to life - the starlight that children have within them, that they have in their souls, that light that just wants to burst forth and show us how to live once more, with wonder, curiosity, creativity and collaboration will sweep into the room.
It is here that the mystery of childhood will reveal itself - that Great Unknown of play that will embrace you and pull you in. The choices children make, their re-imagining and inventions, their ability to cross-pollinate language and ideas, and their delight of being valued and listened to. of being seen because we let go and stepped into their world. And like them we can become 'play-full' even for that hour. For it is there that the joy of life awaits us. It can fill us - we'll feel its warmth in our limbs, even when we anticipate it - that Golden Hour(s) - we will have something to look forward to. It will be the hope...
Because there is hope. There is a way forward. We may not be able to fully sense it yet, but the moments of co-play might just be the lens that we can put to our weary eye and see the possibility of joy once more. And this hope that is co-play is not just for the adult alone. It is for our children too - for play is buzzing and humming inside of them 24/7 and the moments in our week where we make space for co-play, very subtly but critically, will be showing them that they can change the world around them. It will show them that they are protagonists in their own adventure, an adventure on which we are by their side, there for them, with our own skills and and magic and curiosity to lend them when they need it.
If we can feel joy deep in our soul as we read these words, then we are halfway there. If we can't play for the majority of our week, then at least that hour or two can enable the one thing that will bring us and children well-being from here to the moon and back - play.
Play IS our hope - it's our Excalibur, let's pull it out of the stone that life has become and step into the fray. The children will be right there with us as we hold it x
Welcome to issue 3 of Play People, the pop up mini-magazine sharing people's commitment to play and the magic of children.
This issue introduces us to Emma Lambert, who is passionate about enabling creative, big scale construction with all its benefits of language, physicality, collaboration and co-play.
She shares her thoughts about what the past few months have potentially taught us about childhood and learning - perhaps a shift might be coming, and education systems are waking up to the magic?
A chance to meet Amy Platt, a fab Year 1 teacher who is continuing the adventure into play in her school in Gloucestershire. Discover her journey in Issue 2 of Play People below - happy reading :)
Here it is. Play People issue 1. Each issue will highlight someone who has a story to tell that I hope will inspire, challenge or make you nod your head in agreement...
I'm delighted that Fran Horsford agreed to be featured as Issue 1 - she is passionate and always honest, and I am proud to say that she is a parent of children I once taught back in the mists of time.
If you like the idea of being featured in Play People, then please get in touch - it's an ad hoc mini magazine that'll pop up now and again as a reminder perhaps that we are a community and share a vision for children and their magic..,
Now, happy reading. Here's Fran in her own words....
THE LITTLE THINGS
In the current global situation we now find ourselves in, with all its financial and social turmoil, and all its erosion of ‘normal’, I’ve increasingly begun to focus on the little things for solace.
Although The Unknown has arrived liked an all-consuming ocean, exposing our vulnerabilities and some of our biggest fears, the little things are going to be the reminders, the remnants of joy and hope that lie along the way, wherever this path eventually leads us to.
So, I’m going to look for them in the light between trees and the wind in their branches, in lengthening shadows, in the emerging Spring flowers, in the cathedral of birdsong and the high-overhead cloudscapes, in my children’s voices and their laughter, in the sunrise and the sound of my little dog’s feet on the woodland carpet of dry leaves.
At the heart of all my work with Can I Go And Play Now? there have been three principles for childhood: faith, hope and love. These remain unaltered, in fact they are strengthened and my resolve for all three to authentically come to life is now deepened.
Wherever you are in the world, I trust you are staying safe. Our children need us more than ever. And maybe everything they need from us lies in the little things too ✊🏻🧡
Be safe, stay home and keep playing hard and as hard as you can x
F U N N E L V I S I O N
“And I wasn't worried at all / Sneaking through the back door / No, I wasn't worried at all / Dreams are what you live for...” Tears, The Chameleons
I keep coming back to this diagram from ‘The Green and Black Books’ as I believe it sums up the simple choice we can make within our children’s educational experience.
Childhood has such richness and so many possibilities within its world of magic that when we step into it, when we immerse ourselves into its infinite potential then we have the opportunity to add to children’s sense of self whilst at the same time sprinkling skills over the top of them.
It’s why I’ve become a such a strong advocate of co-playing, the idea that we go on an adventure with children into play, with each point of direct teaching being like a ‘base camp’ of drawing breath, introducing skills for the next leg of the adventure before setting off once more into the magic and mystery of children’s choices and how they see the world.
Learning does not have to be separated from childhood. It is integral, as though both hold hands, fingers interlinked. It’s down then to the choice we make to either hold childhood’s other hand and walk or break the hold and lead children away from their natural programme towards the single vision path of agenda and control - I guess it depends on which way round we see the funnel...
LETTING LIGHT IN
Sitting in my hotel room, I couldn’t help but think how several conditions need to exist in schools and settings if children are to have an experience that it authentically rich with their own imaginations and ‘storytelling’:
• A leadership team that has faith in teachers and children
• A leadership team that understands that interactions and genuine bonds do not require mountains of evidence and observations
• Educators who see that simplicity is key especially in planning and paperwork
• A learning landscape that is open ended and offers children possibilities to follow their own pathways
• A simple rhythm to the day based around the Golden Blend of ‘tight teach’ and ‘open play’
• Children knowing that they are authentically valued and accepted, and that the adults are there to guide and support, not control and ‘get them to do learning’
• A team that has rich dialogue and knows their children, not for Ofsted or any other watchdog, but because they genuinely want to know them
• Children’s next steps are explored and skills are central to practice, rather than timetable or topic
There are others I know, and I’d love to hear your own thoughts. I have a unique opportunity to speak at a Headteacher conference this Thursday to outline what they should be looking for in excellent nursery and Reception practice. Feel free to chip in on the comments below and add to my voice - I intend to highlight childhood as being critical!
Ultimately I guess, it’s about being open to letting the light in, being open to the magic and mystery of children and all its wonderful possibility. And yes, it’s absolutely about love...
S O N G B I R D S
“I've been chasing another horizon / That's the place I can't forget...” On and On, Sea & Cake
The concept of childhood as being like a fragile bird is something that I keep returning to. It’s something that I explore in ‘School and the Magic of Children’ and increasingly I’m seeing that children aren’t the only people full of birdsong. Educators and parents are too, yet often their song is replaced by expectation, demand and the day-to-day, life being funnelled into tighter and tighter circles. In an educational context, we absolutely need teachers to be full of birdsong, creative and joyful with an ability to listen to the echoed song of childhood...
Having read the proposed revised ELGs for the English curriculum, I can’t help think that the Adult World missed the opportunity to show children how they are valued.
Instead it would appear that measurability and accountability got its way and is creating a curriculum of knowledge and whole-schoolism. It’s going to take a real birdsong to emerge and here’s hoping that play isn’t going to get squeezed even more.
Play can still have a life and if you can hear the birdsong within you, let’s continue to advocate childhood and the song of children as widely and loudly as we can... 🧡
S I M P L I C I T Y
“Help me / Find my way from this maze / I can't help myself...” Living In Another World, Talk Talk
There’s a mythology about paperwork and ‘spreadsheetism’ that suggests the more the Adult World scrutinises, and the more it analyses and delves, the more likely it is that children and teachers will ‘perform’ better.
This leads to layers of added complexity, a veneer that focuses educators on outcomes and curriculum delivery rather than skills and childhood. It creates the conditions in which play begins to be steadily eroded, to be replaced by ‘work’ and product.
All too often the Adult World scrutinises play and admonishes it in spite of all its rich potential and its ability to be a dynamic learning process, because the Adult World believes it lacks apparent clarity.
Yet, in the same breath, the Adult World is more than happy to see the shallow ‘clarity’ of holding activities, pre-fixed challenges, page after page of ticked number sentences, children lining up for teacher approval, teaching assistants working with the same children day in day out, worksheets and ‘Golden Time as a reward for good work’ further up its a school ladder.
It does so, because it will always approve of what it already understands. Play makes the Adult World feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, because play lies outside of its scope of understanding, because play has its own vitality, because it is not the ‘control’ passed on from the ghosts of the past.
The Adult World wants children to be busy with production, with assumed and imposed purpose, with output. And to achieve this, it demands planning and topics and timetable and data and monitoring and evidence, but only the evidence that it understands, not the evidence from the simplicity of play or from the dreamscape of children.
And when it can’t ‘see’ what it wants, the Adult World demands the ‘what-are-you-going-to-do-ness’ of interventions and challenge cards and learning intentions, yet further removing children from the centre of their learning and putting them to the side of it.
The complexity of the Adult World jars against the programme of play, its simplicity and, at the same time, its mystery. It demands children to ‘know’ yet closes its own eyes to the ‘unknown’....
The Adult World attempts to bring order to the ‘chaos’ of play. Yet play IS order. It is the Natural Order itself. And so in its attempt to superimpose order over children, the Adult World unwittingly throws children into chaos. It goes up against the ‘flow’, the stream of childhood. And then, in the landscape of disarray, it brings more interventions, more impositions, more ‘listening to children read’, more stasis...
It’s this repetitive cycle, round and round, Adult World order vs Childhood order that erodes the magic of children. It’s why we need to keep advocating play, keep reminding others of just why it is so critical that children experience adventure and head towards the simplicity and away from the ‘magnet’ of over-complexity.
Simplicity is out there and it’s increasingly time to discover it...
Thinking back on my teaching career, I've been reflecting on my interactions with parents, how I created positive relationships with them and how I 'sold' them the idea that co-play was the best thing for their child. Many parents ruefully said that they wished their experience of school had been that way, some even said that they'd gladly go back to school if it could be based on the principles that they saw their children so richly benefitting from, and a small number even volunteered their spare time to come and in and play and chat within the setting.
I talk about the importance of parents in my first book 'Can I Go And Play Now?' because I'm convinced that they are the people who have most potential to change educational practice. What the Adult World has skilfully done, especially in England, is transform education into a consumer marketplace. It created the idea that children were products and that schools were accountable for the product that came out of it and could therefore be graded against one another.
It built a story that children were also accountable within the structures of schools, accountable to behave and conform and become the product that schools could then claim to have got to a certain level, percentages, progress, monitoring, scrutinies, rigour, action plans, strategies all pouring into a model that now has CEOs and school business managers in abundance, with corporate companies waiting in the wings with test papers, reading books, maths schemes, all of them playing on the fear that education finds itself in... Fear of falling behind, of judgement, of visits, of takeover...
Yes, there are many great schools out there and many, many hardworking teachers under immense pressure who are achieving fantastic things, but there is a greater proportion that have been swept into the meta-narrative of child-as-product... When this happens we discover that children have had their childhood pushed to one side. We end up with adults teaching phonics so that children can pass a test, so that children can progress through book band colours, instead of focusing on the joyful gift that reading and writing can be, teaching mathematics in blocks because teaching schemes tell us to rather than focusing on the children's unique mathematical understanding.
None of this is a criticism of teachers, most have to do as they are told. What results however is both teacher and children are alienated from their true selves. Neither are robots after all. Most teachers enter the profession because they are creative and interested in children - how they leave on the other side is probably summarised in the teacher Facebook groups discussing burn out, workload, overwhelming expectations etc....
Can the tide be turned? I would argue it can. I only need point to Scotland, Wales and New Zealand as nations who have woken up to the price children have paid for far too long: the price of an eroded childhood. The concept of childhood is something that needs real exploration within our schools. ‘Play’ is possibly too easy to dismiss, but I believe that childhood is less so. When does childhood end and what defines it? I would say at 18 and that its definition lies within creativity, confidence, active learning, collaboration, curiosity, independence and choice. These are just some of the key components of childhood and you may want to comment on others.
So it therefore begs the question what are our schools doing with it? Are they immersing children in childhood or are they eroding it? Does a school value childhood? If so, how? It's one reason why I speak less about 'Early Years' or use the hashtag, because I believe it allows the Adult World to shrug its shoulders and turn its back on it - it belittles it "Well that's Early Years..." it says whilst leaning a heavy finger on the photocopier spewing out worksheet upon worksheet and creating ways that 4 year olds can be absorbed in the drudgery of wholeschoolism.
Yet, is it easy to dismiss 'childhood'? I don’t believe it is. If you don't value childhood, I'd want to know why the Adult World is in education. I can understand that the Adult World doesn't understand play. I get it. It has forgotten to remember, It can't make it fit neatly into its systems so instead comes up with ways of fitting children into the systems. But what about childhood? How does it value it?
And it's this question that i believe we need to put in the hands of our parents. Thinking back, my parents at school were very concerned if their child’s lunch box was missing, or they had the wrong jumper or bag of wet clothes, or their jumper had paint on, or they hadn't drunk out of their drinks bottle.
They very rarely complained about ‘missing childhood’ because they could see that skills were flowing through our practice and they were filled with the one thing that disappears if childhood is let go of: joy.
Yet, in schools and settings that erode childhood, do those parents notice? Is it within their prism of attention? Arguably not because they haven’t been woken up to looking for joy and childhood, to demanding it...
So if parents are quick to spot the missing things at the end of the day, might they be equally as active if they were made more aware of childhood? Where at the end of each day, they look to see that childhood remains strong and intact and in that book bag along with the next reading book and secret messages and junk model robots there's also creativity, confidence, curiosity, collaboration and choice in there too.
The Adult World created a marketplace. It created the ideas of Outstanding Schools and league tables and systems and reports and school values pinned up in lobbies and on websites. It made a culture of conformity, of curriculum-ism and it has done so at a heavy price.
So if this market exists, then let's use it. Maybe it's now time to bring a new product to it. Maybe it's time to present 'childhood' as the New Improved object to desire. Maybe that's what needs to be advertised. Maybe that the question that parents need to ask of schools: "what are you doing with my child's childhood...?" Maybe this pear-shaped hill that the Adult World created can be altered? After all, children only have one childhood and once it's gone it's gone,..
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....