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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

It takes Courage to be Free

The last few weeks have been busy - I was in Glasgow to participate and listen to speakers at the EECERA conference (European Early Childhood Education Research Association), I attended the Children's Culture Symposium at Stockholm University and also visited Örebro to take part in discussions about how playwork can be used in a Swedish context.

An overarching theme in all three of these events has been autonomy, child agency as well as play.

I have also been writing my book in Swedish about Play, Risk and Teaching - a focus on the risk thread of Original Learning, and what has evolved from this process is that deep down it is not play that I am most concerned about but children's autonomy, and that the language of children's autonomy is play.

But freedom seems to be a strange thing. It's almost as if we desire it yet fear it. It makes me think of what Loki said in the Marvel Avengers film

"You Were Made To Be Ruled. In The End, You Will Always Kneel."

It's as if we are programmed to follow - rules, stereotypes - due to fear of not belonging, or not feeling adequate.

Of course there are always the brave that strive to carve out possibilities so that others can safely walk new paths... but it can take many brave people before the path feels worn enough for others to follow.

For the last decade I have been actively slowing down my pedagogy, it doesn't mean I get less done, it just means I am open to see more possibilities, and a greater depth of knowledge becomes available. I remember in the beginning it was scary, it was an active choice, it was a risk - what happened if it didn't work?

It did.

And since then it became easier and easier to slow down and resist the pressure to get as much done to help children level up as fast as possible. Because if we do lack the courage to slow down then children can end up balancing on levels they are not ready for and risk falling off, not only needing to restart their journey, but also to recover from the fall. By going slow we get to where the children need to be in a sustainable manner. The autonomy means that each child has the space (physical, cognitive, temporal, emotional, social) to evolve as their own brain sees fit. And if we are working on relationships this means brains come together to inspire and learn from each other too.

This is why I focus so much on listening. The threads of interaction, listening, curiosity, time and joy are vital for relationships - but so are the others too, to understand others we need knowledge; we need to reflection to consider what knowledge is the truth or the whole truth, we need to take risks to get to know people and care for them, imagination to empathise. It takes courage to get to know people to free the self from stereotypes, prejudice and bias, because it requires unpicking at what we thought was the truth and forces us into the unknown (until we know it better).

It takes courage to be ourselves, when we do not fit in the normative template of "human" and the consequences of being true to ourselves can lead to physical harm. We need to create safe and brave spaces through listening. Slowing down, taking the time to really get to know, and not just accept the speedy levelling up strategies that chain us to fear. My book on the Original Learning Approach will be published this autumn and I hope that it will offer a way to slow down and appreciate the beautiful complexity of children, play, teaching and learning - and the world we live in.

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