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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Play in a Technological World

I have been reflecting more and more about the fashion of learning... and that at the moment in my instagram feed and other social media I see that images of digital and technological play are being more and more widely shared... and more an more liked and given social approval... Although I also see there are cultural differences... here in Sweden I see a much bigger push for digital learning than I do in most of the other English (and non English speaking) countries that I follow with interest. Don't get me wrong... I think technology has loads to offer and there are great benefits... but I sometimes think that it is being given more status than it should. As a person that was raised in a country (UK) where there are social classes and the status that come with these classes and wealth, I find that I am somewhat of a rebel when it comes to status. Why should someone or something have more status than another? How have they come to get this status? Does everyone/thing deserve this status - or is it well deserved for this singled out person/experience/object? I am of the opinion that we (as educators) are too quick to elevate digital learning/play - I see it reflected in the number of images and conferences and lectures about this subject and also by the number of, especially Swedish educators, that illuminate their interest and passion in IT in their social media profiles... something that is not done to the same extent in other countries. So why is Sweden more into promoting IT in preschools than other countries? is it because we already have a functioning outdoor play and learning relationship - where we go outside every day in all weathers? Is it because we are not confined to academic learning but have more freedom to explore... so we do not have to fight for the right to play? Does this give more freedom to explore IT and digital learning? In Why the Ipad? (a post written in Swedish) the idea of the i-pad robbing time from children is taken up and discussed - the problems of screen time that are often raised in society. It also raises the questions about how do educators that are raised in a time without access to digital tools develop a healthy relationship with them and not create the age old problem of "it's not good for the children", without fully understanding... just as Elvis, the Beatles etc were bad influences and children should be protected from them! So maybe, the whole point of this Swedish focus on digital learning is about challenging the status quo... of making a stand for the reality the children live in now... with an openness of what will be in the future... Part of my digital learning with children has been to help the children navigate this medium... to understand that it can be a great tool to find out information, but also that there is a lot of misinformation - and that we need to check out several sources to get closer to knowing the truth. Also the concept of safety... to talk about why we do not put up just any photo online, or all kinds of information... that they have a choice about what photos we share, online and even on the wall in the preschool. This is something I have discussed several times before about consent when it comes to using images of the children in public spaces... even in their own portfolios. This allowed the children to develop a better sense of why we took photos... and they would often tell me to take specific photos of them in action, or ask to use the camera to take photos themselves. Digital tools have allowed us to explore projects in new ways... by making films, there was a need to slow down and learn together... how films were made and to create everything we needed to make the films, and also how images could be manipulated to create something new... should we believe everything we see online and in films? Developing critical thinking. Digital tools became a natural part of our inquiries, just as much as magnifying glasses, paper and pencil, blocks, the great outdoors, museums, the art studio etc etc. Not a separate entity or subject, but simply another tool in our learning toolkit. Of course in other countries creating more space and time for PLAY and more space for being OUTDOORS are the topics that need to be addressed. Digital learning is not about academics, it is another form of play and exploration if used wisely. Play and learning, outdoor learning and play, equality and democratic learning and play are still equally important - and all of this should be featured within the digital learning and play, not separately. The exhibition Border Crossing that has been travelling Sweden in the last year also explores these ideas... crossing the border between analogue and digital, between indoors and outdoors, between then, now and yet.... its not learning or play, it is not indoors or outdoors it is not analogue or digital... we need to cross the border and we need to be creating a new space of exploration.

exploring materials in new ways... using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways... or familiar ways to use unfamiliar materials.

here the children googled images of Stockholm buildings to draw... and despite checking and double checking where all the buildings were, one of the buildings did not exist in Stockholm, but the architects that had designed the building had also designed a building in the place we visited in Stockholm (despite checking 4 sources) This was a great way to learn about how difficult it can be to get the right information.

digital learning is in the tool kit of the third teacher too... we need to learn how to use it wisely to create spaces of wonder, play and learning that also allows other forms of expression to co-exist.

using digital media to design. These are the original ideas of making the square more friendly for everyone... using loose-parts as well as images found online... there ended up being many versions of this design as they children refined their ideas and also their understanding of how we could manipulate the photographs and source images. For more information about this project you can look at Together on the Square

getting the children to take photos, to think about the process... I have a series on this called "Through the Eyes of a child" if you want to find out more (still on my blogger account).

taking the time to look at the images the children took and to think deeply about what they represent to individual children and to the group as a whole... creating democratic learning situations through philosophical dialogues. (Above and below)

exploring the children's art and photography in new ways... how can we play in the art? What happens if we do? Can we bring the outdoors indoors... is it the same, how does it make us feel... creating space to talk and express ideas through experiences of wonder and play

exploring the internet... are wolves always bad... why do they tend to be bad in stories? Digital tools create a source of information that can trigger deeper dialogue. This was backed up with a visit to Skansen to see living wolves and pigs and also the the Natural History Museum to se the wolf installation where the wolves have many expressions... playing dress up wolves inside and out and creating wolves in different mediums... NOT just one way, but many languages to explore and discover and express.

digital photographs certainly allow for many photographs to be taken (so much better than when back in the old days when films had to be taken to be developed and you kept your fingers crossed that at least some were good). Through taking photographs together, we can make discoveries we might have missed at the time. The more of these discoveries we make, the more observant we became in nature

photos to explore play... the first session the children just explored the light in the dark... but after they saw the photos they made conscious decisions to create light shapes...

The above film was created by drawing with permanent markers on transparent plastic (laminated plastic through the laminator without paper inside). The children watched the film and decided they needed to make some adjustments... so we made a new film... the interesting thing was watching the child that made the image that could be barely seen in the first film (this child was not keen on drawing, too much sitting still, not enough of this child's favourite kind of play... role-play) - this child, then, spent the longest time at the second session creating a work of art for the film. It was so incredible to see this child make their own decision about what they wanted included in the film... and, that if it is meaningful, it is worth sitting down to do. The second film can be watched below.

The second film is done with the same kind of plastic, black permanent marker and acrylic paint used on the BACK of the plastic, so the details would still be visible. A year later another group (one year younger) who had seen these films, decided to use the technique as part of a longer film they made using several different kinds of filming techniques. Due to the fact that the children are in the film as well, I do not share that film online. Technology, IT, digital tools... are all amazing, and allow us to explore the world in new ways... they are one of the hundred languages... that clearly is expanding all the time with new languages... and we have to be prepared to not just work on the hundred, but to be learn new ones too. If we stick at the hundred languages argument, then we might miss out... maybe its a thousand languages... or more?

I have designed robots with children, ones that we made ourselves - and if you check out Ann Scalley and her work with young children and robot designing and making (she is active in the facebook group The Reggio Emilia Approach, that I am admin for) - for her it is not about the ready made robots, with the ready made set of programming (decided by adults that manufacture it) - but the idea of encouraging the children to understand how things move, how things connect and how they can programme the simplest of things, often using junk. it has been wonderful to watch her work over the years. I understand that Malaguzzi originally intended not for there to be a fixed 100, but the number simply represented a great MANY ways of learning, playing, exploring, expressing, communicating... as new languages are evolving all the time... technology is proof of that, and as educators we need to keep learning these new languages too.

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