Saturday, 21 October 2017

Original Learning

During the week there have been several threads of thinking going on in my head... several posts starting to grow... Metacognition and the Preschooler, Child of our Time but I have ended up with the idea of Original Learning taking priority in my thoughts and forcing its way into the written language.

A couple of years ago I attended a presentation about "Original Play" two words that Fred o. Donaldson has trademarked these words... and to be honest I don't think play should be trademarked - but this is something that he has chosen to do. You can look here on his website to find out more. And while I agree with a great deal of what he has written I still struggle with the idea of play belonging to one person... it is such an "adult" thing to do, to own and control something that should be free to all people... I also struggled with the mysticism he went on to share about being bitten through the hand by a wolf at play and that the magic of play meant that there was no mark left on his hand.

So when I write "Original Learning" here I am not writing this as an idea that is mine, but planting a seed that we can all share in the dialogue of, share responsibility in helping grow - as two words that can be a basis to understand education today and where we want it to go.

I feel very fortunate to know many people around the word that are engaged in children's learning through play, that are wanting to make change, that are against standardisation that are advocating children's rights to play and learn... hence the title ORIGINAL LEARNING - PLAY
Some of these people I have only met virtually, and yet have found a strong connection - and I am so grateful for this, as alone our voices are feeble, but together we can become loud enough to start a ripple effect that will get noticed and others will start to join in.

I would like to define Original Learning in this space as an organic manner of learning through observation, imitation, and practice through play... as babies will play and explore their hands their world, they will imitate and listen and experiment through ideas... they learn about causality, language, how their body works... and this goes on throughout life... we are continuously learning in this way but prioritise this learning less because we have been taught that learning happens in specific ways in schools in a set manner...

Processes of learning and the transfer of learning are central to understanding how people develop important competencies. Learning is important because no one is born with the ability to function competently as an adult in society. It is especially important to understand the kinds of learning experiences that lead to transfer, defined as the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts (e.g., Byrnes, 1996:74). Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school and home, and from school to workplace. Assumptions about transfer accompany the belief that it is better to broadly “educate” people than simply “train” them to perform particular tasks (e.g., Broudy, 1977). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School: Extended Edition Consensus Study Report
I see schools focussing on teaching rather than on learning, on preparing for tests rather than understanding, of teaching to remember rather than the transference of learning from one problem to another. That the standardisation has meant that to prepare for tests the lesson planning and the resources too have become standardised - and also a multimillion industry (in whatever money you use...!!!) so there will be a resistance to changing the educational system if it means losing access to all that money.




In my news feed recently has been Dandelion Education ltd who have just won Nursery of the Year 2017, of Enabling Environments 2017 and Highly-Commended for Health and Well-Being 2017 ... what this early years setting has focussed on is play - is an outdoor preschool using nature to allow the children to explore, to strengthen their bodies and also P4C (Philosophy for Children) to strengthen their minds and their interactions with each other... and those of you who follow my blog regularly know philosophy and listening is something I have been passionate about... as well as outdoor learning, the voice of the child - well basically learning rather than teaching.
So I find it very encouraging that this early years setting has been given such fantastic recognition.

I am not an educator that believes in an outdoor only education as I believe not all children thrive in the outdoors - but there again their opening times are much shorter than those we have here in Sweden - they are also closed certain times/weeks of the year and during other school holidays have even shorter days. It is also for children from three years of age and upwards rather than from age one that we have here in Sweden... so there are quite some differences (plus the fact English winters are neither as long or as cold as the ones we have here in Sweden). But back to the being outside all the time... as a child the outdoors was much more overwhelming than a familiar indoor environment for me. Don't get me wrong I loved being outside and I was outdoors a large part of my childhood, but I also had a huge need for the indoors too...and I see the same in children I work with.
I think the need for all day outdoor early years settings these days derives from the fact that children are not outside themselves when they are with their families, and that settings are now needing to take over this responsibility. (Dandelion Education do give children the option to be inside). You can watch the below film to get an idea about the outdoor aspect of the setting.



If adults are focussing on a specific standardised form of teaching as being what constitutes learning then this outdoor exploration, this Original Learning is not being valued or truly understood as learning... and by adults, I mean parents and policy-makers - I have found that many teachers desire a change in the educational system to be able to teach the way children learn.

During the last year I have visited a variety of early years settings across the area and what I have noticed is that in many of these places there has been a focus on the teaching in the sense of school book training rather than Original Learning - and while those children have been picking up information and stuffing knowledge into their backpacks they are struggling with communication, with positive interactions, with self-regulation and their executive functions... all of these I find children learn through play.
The Swedish preschool curriculum is in the process of changing again with even more focus on the "teaching" which both excites me and frightens me... as I meet up with many amazing educators that understand how children learn and react to this and offer the children the chance to explore the whole curriculum - but I have also met plenty of teachers that are proficient in teaching but are not open to the children's learning - so I fear that subjects will be taught in a non-meaningful way that gains a great deal of adult approval - because it is product based rather than process based.
I also see preschools that have far too many children in their space... and they have resolved this by the children having to be outside or inside at set times... for me this is not responding to the children... Dandelion Education Ltd has an indoor area that can be used but tends not to be... but having to be inside or outside at set times to manage the number of children in the space at a time is not listening to the way children learn... or what their bodies need... I have seen children who need to be outside to play in the BIG manner their bodies want to explore... but it is not their turn to be outside... and vice versa children who have to be outside because its not their turn to be inside yet. For me this is not creating a positive relationship with the environment around them and also we are not listening to the children's needs and how they need to learn right now to make sense of the world.

Also if we are viewing "learning" as a school sort of learning - behind desks, learning how to write, read and remembering facts then we are not valuing other forms of learning - and I can understand why there is a reaction to preschools in Sweden having a pedagogical environment for the whole day... since we are legally open for 12 hours a day every day of the year except for national holidays (which are DAYS not weeks) and four planning days a year.
But if pedagogical is interpreted as Original Learning then we are doing that all the time... it is not about lessons, it is about creating interactions with people, with materials, with nature, with the indoors, with time, with themselves that allow the children to learn naturally and at their own pace. It is about creating space and time for the children to use their imaginations so that the learning from one situation can be transferred to another...

This brings me back to why I chose the words Interaction Imagination as my blog name... as I find them so essential for children to learn... they are most certainly essential for Original Learning.

When it comes to play I am not just talking about free play and child lead play... but a vast range of play types and experiences... I want to offer children a 100 languages of play if not many many more!
This means adults are allowed to be a part of this play... but just like a healthy diet we should not have too much of one food type I feel it is the same with play... we need a healthy play diet. If adults are controlling play too much then children are not getting to explore all their other play languages... children need space and time to be able to explore their other play languages. They require adults to trust them too - they also need to be able to trust in adults - there needs to be a need for mutual trust for children to engage in risky play that does not expose them to danger or fatalities... and adults need to trust in the competence of children.

Original Learning.
This is a post to open a dialogue...
There are plenty of us that want to make changes to the educational system... but what are we going to change it to... let's see if we can put those ideas into words so we can disseminate our ideas to an ever wider audience... to create that ripple that will eventually make a difference...


how do you want to learn... how do you want to teach?




The up and coming posts - Metacognition and the preschooler and Child of our Time will continue these discussions... keep posted.

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