• Suzanne Axelsson

What is Love?

Valentine's Day is one of those (many) traditions that I wonder why it is celebrated in early year's settings... It is a tradition connected to romantic and sexual love - which I think is not the most suitable topic for the very young...

But there is no getting away from it... there are hearts and the mention of love all over the place...

I also reflect about all the activities that appear online just before Valentines day... a whole array of pink, and hearts and love... But maybe its time to stop and think... What do the children make of all of this? What is love for the children? Take the time to ask them - philosophise a little - does it have a shape? Is there one love? What colour is love? Can you hold love? And how do they know all of these things? Maybe, once you have collected their thoughts, it is time to work out an activity - whether it be paints or tissue paper, cutting out shapes, glue, glitter (try to get the glitter that is biodegradable and not the plastic) - or maybe warm and soft sensory experiences - if that is what the children are describing love as. My children, when they were preschoolers, described love as cozy, cuddles and wearing pyjamas all day! Maybe when we represent love as flowers, chocolates and hearts we are projecting a different kind of love than the love children experience. After all loving someone is very different than being in love with someone. Then maybe we should question the appropriateness of Valentine's Day celebrations with young children altogether? If Valentine is about being in love then maybe we should allow the adults to have this celebration...? In Swedish it is called "All Hearts Day" which does bring us back to hearts again. Maybe it is a chance to think about what the heart is - is love found there or is it a pump making sure our blood supplies our body with everything it needs? And what shape is a heart? Where in their bodies do children feel love? In their arms when they wrap them around us? All over? How does love make them feel - weak at the knees? Or empowered to dare to do anything?

this is a drawing to the right of "what is love" many of the squiggles are words, pre-writing, as the children saw that I was writing down their words, they too wanted to. The children talked about love being square, rhombus, star, heart shaped; it was green, blue, purple red and pink; it was when parents said "darling"... This is not the typical things that you see in the shops connected with Valentines day...

Let's take time this Valentine to find out what love is for children and see if we can capture it in words, in art and in action. I have not celebrated Valentine's day with the children at my work for a decade... many of them have not even mentioned it. Friendship is something I feel should be always celebrated, not just highlighted once a year, LOVE also... the many forms of love... parents and children, children and friends, children and their teachers, children and... well so many things they seem to love... So, personally I try not to bring the topic up in February... but randomly and often... but if I do have a group that is aware of Valentine's day due to interactions with parents etc at home... then asking about what is love and how can we draw, paint, play love... how does it feel, etc, are great questions to ask instead of just heading to the internet to choose a few Valentine activities... One year my preschoolers created "The Love Tree" artwork, - as they said love was a like a tree, that was daddy coloured (which apparently is orange) and that hearts, oranges, apples and stars grew on it. This artwork ended up being reworked when the window it was exhibited in was vandalised in local riots (something the children have no memory of a year later). We re-read the documentation together and then reflected upon whether they still felt that this represented love, or whether they had changed their minds..... this being the day after we asked them again "what is love" to see if being asked the same question a year later... a year filled with new experiences, will have changed their thoughts about what love is... and then allow them to reflect on the similarities and differences from a year ago. The children really enjoy this process and find it often really funny to hear their thoughts from previous years... in fact we asked this same question every year for four years... and parental love and friendship was mentioned every year... And always the children's favourite colour rather than pink and red... My wish is for MORE teachers to dare to abandon the traditional heart approach to Valentine's Day and to turn to the children and LISTEN to their ideas and to then work out together how these ideas can be represented in art and explorations...

If we are merely instructing children without listening to their context it means it the learning will not have the same depth. Original Learning is about using the children's knowledge and understanding of life and culture and exploring the world through play, reading, experiences etc to find out more and build on that knowledge...

#art #philosophywithChildren #democratic

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© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.

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