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  • Suzanne Axelsson

Being Slow in a Speed-up Society

I thought I would start off the year with a simple message to slow down.

My usual New Year wish to everyone is to make glorious mistakes - inspired by Neil Gaiman's statement

Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it

But I realise that making mistakes in a speed-up society is probably not the wisest thing, because then we are not giving ourselves time to learn from them. For mistakes to become truly glorious we need time to reflect on them, and to think about how actions/responses could be done differently. Otherwise we are likely to make the same mistakes again and again.

For quite some time I used F.A.I.L as a mantra - First Attempt In Learning - to remind myself that learning, true learning, is not about getting it right the first time, but about practicing. Sadly this practicing part of life seems to be forgotten and we are all seemingly expected to get it right all the time, every time, from the first time - which is totally unrealistic. But this expectation brings with it fear that erodes our curiosity, creativity and bravery to take risks to discover new knowledge, wonders, interactions and the full potential of our imagination.


When I suggest that we slow down I am not saying we all need to go at the pace of a snail - simply that we should not let ourselves be hurried - or hurry children. That, instead, we find our own pace and enable each child to find their own - and that together we create a rhythm that tunes into the learning.


The Thinking Pause is something that is truly worthwhile using in your work with children, but also with colleagues. We all think at different rates, and many of us need more time to reflect before coming up with an answer - by expecting everyone to answer directly after the question has been asked will mean only children/adults able to quickly process what has been said, retrieve a fact/s from their memory and process that into words are afforded the opportunity to respond - those people who require more time to process and consider their answer are seldom given the opportunity to show what they know.

The thinking pause slows that down - providing an opportunity for every child to process and to also reflect on why they think what they think. To create inclusive listening environments this slowing down has been essential, so that everyone has the chance to be heard.


Slowing down does not mean that we are slow all the time - it is simply that our tempo is unhurried. In other words when we go fast it is because we are curious and excited and filled with joy - not because we feel stressed and compelled to complete something.


I am a person that is nearly always early to wherever I am going - because I dislike the stressful feeling of being in a hurry. I like to be able to go at a pace that feels natural and stress-free. I would much rather sit and wait than have an entire journey filled with anxiety about not being on time. My husband is the opposite - he hates waiting, so is always very last minute (often late) and does not get stressed by that. We are all different. Finding middle ground has been important - and for the both of us to acknowledge that my anxiety of being late trumps his dislike of waiting - so when we do things together we are early and then I ensure the waiting time can be filled with interesting things - conversations, sometimes things to do - depending on where and what.

This is what slowing down means - finding a pace that can work for everyone, and not just some. It is a pace that allows for deeper and more genuine connections and relationships. It is not about being lazy and doing nothing, but about being intentional, committed and noticing.


For a decade now I have been taking close up photos of nature as a way to practically #slowdown #lookclosely and #listendeeply

To understand and physically feel what slowing down and truly noticing feels like. This feeling is then applied to my work - so I can tell when I am hurried and when I am unhurried.

My walks in the forest have also been a part of this, and arboreal methodologies (created together with professor Jayne Osgood) is a slowing down to notice the more than human. I am fully aware that when I am unhurried I hear, see, and sense so much of the forest - but there are times when my head is filled with thoughts - which usually occurs in the forest when I feel stressed - and I no longer notice the forest because my own busy-ness has consumed me. And I am unaware that this has happened until I am accidentally reminded of where I am, and because I entered the forest with the intention to be with the forest I become aware of how much I missed when I suddenly realise where I am.

It made me think of how often does that happen to us in our work? That we are so busy with our teaching and keeping children safe and all the other required "must-do's" that we have failed to truly notice what the children are doing and saying?


So let's make 2023 a slow down year.

Are you going to join me?


January 3rd my book The Original Learning Approach is finally available!



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