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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

A Play Ecosystem

As I dig deeper into trying to put Original Learning in words I am taking time to explore words... what do they mean, how will I use them, and how will I know others will understand what I mean... so this might mean that this post might get confusing, as I am practising putting ideas into words...

Play is a fundamental part of Original Learning - as is written in the programme of Play on Early Education, Athens conference where I am a keynote speaker

“Original Learning: Play on Education, Education in Play.”

"Imagine the curriculum as a loom, the structure that you use to give your weave support. The weave is the evolving child, each child using threads of experience and knowledge, that they discover themselves and also learn from others. Play is like the warp, it is essential to weave learning, experiences, and facts. The higher the warp density the more complex the weave.

Play, in this sense, is what allows a child to learn on a deeper and more complex level and this analogy will be further explored in the talk to break down the hierarchy of the words play and learning in order to see both as essential threads each person needs to create the fabric of their life.”

To read the whole programme click here

For me, play is just too complex to define - it makes me think of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where they invented a machine to answer THE question... the meaning of life. The answer was 42.

It is just too complex.

So this has got me interested in what does complex mean... what is complexity? And as I was exploring this I came across the theory "Complex Adaptive System" also referred to as CAS. CAS does not refer to play in any of the texts that I have been reading, so I have been making these connections myself as a way to explain what I mean with Original Learning.

And the more I read the more I felt that we have play ecosystems. Complex systems where we all interact and affect each other. There is a constant action and reaction to what others are doing in the ecosystem, including the environment, which means that essentially nothing is fixed... it is always evolving... the play, the children, the environment and we the teachers/adults along with it.

Part of education is prediction... we need to predict to plan. But what if education is like the weather? In the 1960's Edward Lorentz, an American physicist wanted to make long-term predictions of the weather... but what he realised was that the weather of today, and the next few days would, in fact, impact the world in such a way that it made small changes and impacted the future weather, making it unpredictable - very small changes in the initial weather can lead to unpredictable consequences.

In this sense this is like young children playing and learning... they can stumble across things and learn something that you had not expected at all... sometimes it can be something that you were unaware of yourself. it can change the direction of the learning journey.

So what to do with the unpredictable nature of learning? Do we stick to the plan of the teacher predictions that this learning leads to the next step and the next step in a nice and orderly manner? Or do we go with the Swedish saying

There is no bad weather only bad clothing...

in other words... if the children have learned something unpredicted, a sign of a great educator is the ability to change clothes and embrace it and to see it as an opportunity for a richer learning journey rather than an irritating diversion to be tolerated or avoided. (ie you do the learning without the appropriate kit, or you just stay indoors!!)

And when I say kit... I mean the teacher needs to be prepared... to acquire the knowledge, the enthusiasm and tools/equipment to be co-learners, co-researchers with the children.

So what I have come to understand is that Original Learning, in this sense, is not orderly... but it is not chaos either.

It is a state of paradox - of order and chaos, of stability and instability, of competition and co-operation/collaboration.

The weave of Original Learning allows chaos and order to be threaded into the fabric... the idea is to weave it in appropriate amounts so that is not too much or too little of either. When I talk with educators about creating learning opportunities for young children I talk about the brain and refer to the book "The Whole-brain Child" by Dr Daniel Siegel and Dt Tina Payne Bryson - they describe mental health as flow.. that you are floating down the river and not getting caught on the bank of chaos with rapids and whirlpools and the feeling of losing control, and not getting stuck on the bank of rigidity, where too much order slows you down or brings you to a halt because the order is too specific.

For me this does not mean you have to avoid both banks either, they can be used to a person's advantage, but it takes energy to navigate there, while in the middle you have flow, and therefore energy for other things, like learning and play!!!!!

In the Reggio Emilia Approach there is also this importance pressed on not things against each other, but mixed up - art AND science not art or science etc... that we should not be defining as narrowly as we do, but that the world is interconnected - subjects, learning and play.

So back to the play ecosystem.

In a preschool setting we have an ecosystem where many agents from other ecosystems come - from their homes. Each child, each adult comes with their interpretations of the world. To ensure play diversity in our play ecosystem we need to listen to and value all and everything that is a part of it. We are all important.

If we take the adults out of the equation, then this will impact the play. Adults facilitate play - through sharing of experience, sharing games, reading stories, sharing traditions, sharing norms and rules, sharing knowledge. Children facilitate play through sharing of their experience, sharing knowledge, norms, traditions, games, stories etc. The environment facilitates play through providing space, inspiration, equipment, opportunities etc

All agents impact each other (adults, children, environment) - they act and they react. The environment will change because of the play (make a den, a train track, a mess) and this will then impact the play which in its turn will impact the environment once again.

As adults we can add and take away from the environment to change the interaction of the children which will impact the play which will impact the learning which will impact the child which will impact the adult. We can also impact the children in a way that they interact with the environment in a different way...

If we, as teacher,s become attuned with the play.ecosystem then we become natural agents of Original Learning. Offering different threads for the children to weave into their fabric. Each child can weave in the same threads but in their own way. They will create patterns that allow for further and deeper understanding, making connections between one thread and another, or a series of patterns and another.

As teachers we are a part of the ecosystem, not something on the side trying to cultivate it. We are not stationary and unchanging - a finished human product encouraging children to grow up and become like us... we need to evolve with them.

Below is an early sketch I made of Original Thinking as weaving.

I have deliberately made the play threads, the warp, more dense on the left... the idea being that in early childhood children often get access to more play. My thinking, yet to fully develop, is that learning becomes a part of life-long learning, when it is embedded in play (and remember I have not defined exactly what play is... I have mentioned that slightly in this post and will go on to discuss further about the complexity of play in the future).

it is not simply about making sure children are filled with the right bits of knowledge )and who decides what is right, and why) - but about enabling children learn so that we can evolve with this changing planet of ours... it is clear that this is what many children around the world are trying to do with the #FridaysForFuture movement and yet so many adults seem to fear the change of the status quo. Children are a part of our complex system - not a separate system of their own pushed into schools and farmed into adults.

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