Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Democracy and Original Learning... (and play)



I have just read Peter Gray's post - Social play and the genesis of democracy
and found that it struck a chord with my thinking about both Original Learning and Together-led-play - (although I struggle a little with his use of stereotype gender descriptions - bossy Betsy and bully Benjamin - why not the same word for both, either would have done, to show the equality of how we view this kind of behaviour -  if we are talking about democracy then we are talking about equal values... and the words we use also have value as most have a history with the person using or hearing them).
We value democracy. As citizens, we want our children to grow up holding and abiding by democratic values. We know that democracy is not easy. Democracy implies freedom, but it also implies responsibility. The balance between the two is delicate and takes wisdom that can only be gained through practice. People in a democracy are free, yet they must follow rules, cooperate with others, respect differences among individuals, and recognize that their own needs and rights are no more valuable than are those of every other person. How do children acquire such values and learn to live by them? Peter Gray.
The above is the first paragraph from his article and this is why I think together-led play is so vital... it is a part of the adult relinquishing power over the children and taking on equal status - to avoid the "dictatorships" of schools that Peter Gray goes on to describe where "activities (are) autocratically run by adults". Children in preschool and schools need to be active participants in their own learning.

I also feel, like Gray, there needs to be more time for children/adolescents to engage in free play - but I am not sure that the school/preschool environment is the place that should be taking all the responsibility for this... as a whole society we need to value children's free play. We need to trust in children's competence and we need to trust in the society we live in... we need to communicate with each other better instead of small isolated pockets.
As a child I remember how the whole neighbourhood looked out for us... not control or supervise... but had an eye out just in case. It meant that we, as children, knew we had to spend energy on self-regulation - it was not just about if we did not play fair that others would not want to play with us, it was also the fact you never knew who was watching, and did you want that behaviour being reported back home? This does not mean everyone was always super nice to each other - social boundaries were tested, things happened, we got the opportunity to learn about who was fun to play with and who was not. The older we got the further we got to explore.




Tim Gill reflects on how children are an indicator species for a city - the more children you see on the streets the more the city is thriving - you can read more about it here  Rethinking Childhood:The child as an indicator species for cities
When parents today look out from their front doors, they see a world that is at best uncaring about their children, and at worst hostile to them. And no wonder, thanks to relentless traffic growth, run-down parks and green spaces, and eyeball-grabbing scaremongering in both the mainstream and social media  Tim Gill.
This  is something that we need to address as a whole community. As the saying goes it takes a community to raise a child.
The together-led play that I have been describing does not exclude the need for children's own free time to play and explore - if we are leading play together then we know when to back off as adults, if it is always adult-led then we will be afraid to let go of that power, and if we are only prizing children-led play then we will see adults only as interfering rather than as equal participants in the realm of play.

I state here again how using philosophy with children has helped in my process to better understand the power I have as an adult over children - as being a facilitator in the dialogue without an agenda other than supporting the children communicate their ideas and deepen their own understanding as a community of learners means you get to practice relinquishing your power and becoming aware of it.

Recently I held a philosophy with children session as part of the "board of children" project in Gävle. This time with 8-12 year olds. The other adult I am working with this on this project has not participated in this kind of dialogue before, and, despite us talking about it before, found it difficult at first - the children are new to each other, I knew the dialogue would be slow at the start (despite us having warm-up/team-building beforehand) not only because of their newness to each other, but also because this method of communication is new too. It was obvious that the children are used to being lead by an adult/educator, and I was only acting as a guide... I felt comfortable with the fact that there was silent patches that seemed to indicate a struggle, my colleague started to fill in with her opinion... which I stopped before she had come very far, reminding her and the children that this is a board of children, that it is ONLY their opinions that matter during our meetings, that I am there only in a capacity to support their thinking, and that my colleague is there to write everything down - like a secretary on a board.
When I asked the children about how do they learn (as the board's purpose is to help design a new education about water issues) they all mentioned reading, watching films, making presentations for their class - typical sit down learning that happens in a classroom... I had to push a little to find out if there was any other way that they could learn - despite the fact that they had already expressed that it was easiest to learn when it was fun. Eventually they came to play, experiments and hands on activities and suddenly the dialogue became animated - it was like watching them walk over the threshold of what they think we expected learning should look like to suddenly being able to see this is how learning could look like (in schools).
In a way, it was for the best that my colleague made the "mistake" and started to share her opinion, because it gave another opportunity to illuminate that this meeting really was about the children's ideas, and will continue to be in the future meetings. That we adults are there in the circle as equal members, not to share our ideas, but to share our experience and our knowledge. That by listening we can provide future meetings with the experiences and access to the information the children need to make better informed decisions. And many of those experiences will be play. It was clear from the team-building that the 11-12 year olds enjoyed playing just as much as the 8-9 year olds.
blowing bubbles is fun... apparently it does not matter how old you are!!!

As I have often written in my blog... it comes back to time... taking the time to allow children to play, taking the time to step back, taking the time to enjoy the complexities of learning and play and not feeling the need to simplify things so that it all gets done (in the sense of a one size fits all, rather than the diversity of real life)


I think this is the case for many adults too, raised without the being given the time and space to learn how to think.
If we do not how to do this ourselves as adults it becomes so much harder to be able to enable children to do this. Therefore time also needs to be spent on supporting educators to reflect more about their roles and actions in the classroom - as an individual and together with others.
if you don't know happiness, how can you provide it to others? If you don't know play, how can you provide it to others... hence educators need the time to play in order to better understand play. There needs to be joy... those who are learning and those who are co-learning/teaching.

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