I have now been in Athens for a week.
And in this time I have held two evening sessions - one on democratic learning and how I have used philosophy with preschoolers to enable this democratic process, and one called The first Three Years, play, learn, sleep, repeat, looking at the importance of the first three years and the impact we have on young children as adults, and the importance of play and sleep on learning. The third session was a Saturday morning hands on workshop for the teachers at Dorothy Snot... playing, creating and exploring and then evaluating how this made us feel, what we were learning and how we could let the play and learning evolve. I think it is incredibly important that we play and analyse the play to discover the learning rather than make learning fun by adding play.
I have also had the great pleasure to observe the school.. the interactions between children and adults. I have done my best o try and make myself sort of invisible, but at the same time acknowledging to the children that I am there. I prefer to give children the space to make their own decision about me and as to whether they want to interact with me. I will always engage with children who look at me and want to engage... whether it be a session of head tilting from side to side, pretending to be dinosaurs, making car sounds and even hugs. It is wonderful to see how easy it is for the youngest children to be able to communicate despite there being a language barrier... they are so much more attuned to body language and non-verbal communication, and do not rely on the exchange of words.
The older children have been interested... have tested out their English on me.. but yesterday felt like that breakthrough... a full morning together and the children had me a little more figured out, and just 10 minutes before I left was when the breakthrough came. So I went to visit them again today for part of the morning - hugs, interactions and for a few of the children full on interactions both verbally and non-verbally. I feel honoured to have been given their trust.
I do not want children to trust me simply because I have an adult status... I want to give them the time to get to know me and to really sense that I am an OK person to get to know and trust. For me this is an essential part of a democratic process, an essential part of creating relationships based on equality rather than hierarchy by age.
The joy of being a visitor is that it really allows me to come as an equal... I do not have the responsibilities of being a teacher - that role of keeping children safe, educating them socially, emotionally and cognitively - I can be just me. And that is extremely liberating.
I have also had the chance to talk with the teachers, the owners of Dorothy Snot preschool, John and Daniela and to talk and talk about all things education, early years, play and lots of other things. It is so healthy to be able to listen to different perspectives, shared perspective phrased in new ways, that add clarity and challenge my own thinking. This is how I evolve as an educator and as a human.
Two of the other keynote speakers have also arrived, so I have had the chance to talk with them... Tom Hobson (AKA Teacher Tom) and Meynell Walter, a playworker from UK. Again the chance to gain new angles, new knowledge and another layer of cultural differences - Greece, Sweden, USA and UK - we have many similarities but culture also allows us to perceive them differently or for the play/learning to be nuanced differently. Context is important, the one size fits all is not a model we should be striving for.
Now only two sleeps until I hold my keynote about Original Learning - how play and learning are woven together, and the many threads that make up the fabric of our lives.
The conference will be livestreamed, so if you were unable to get to Greece and really wanted to be able to follow it all, or just some parts... then check out the webiste, Play on Athens for more information about the various packages that can be purchased.