• Suzanne Axelsson

Original Learning...

I first wrote a blog sharing my thinking about Original Learning in October 2017... And I have just returned to that post to reflect on my first attempt to share my thinking. This post is weaving the old post threads with my reflection threads.. text in blue comes from the original post...



I would like to define Original Learning in this space as an organic manner of learning through observation, imitation, and practice through play... as babies will play and explore their hands their world, they will imitate and listen and experiment through ideas... they learn about causality, language, how their body works... and this goes on throughout life... we are continuously learning in this way but prioritise this learning less because we have been taught that learning happens in specific ways in schools in a set manner...


This is central to my thinking about Original Learning, that it is a part of life-long learning and that play is integral to learning throughout our lives... how we play evolves over time just as how and what we learn does too.


The ability to transfer facts, skills and knowledge is an essential part of learning... for example skills and facts learned in one lesson can be applied in another. Play is a wonderful tool for putting transference into practice. Children use facts and skills, learned through interactions with their parents, teachers and peers, in their play where they can be processed and creatively reworked, to deepen the the play and the learning. It is not just about learning subject for subject, or lessons and play being separate entities... but the interweaving of subjects, play, learning and teaching.


I see schools focussing on teaching rather than on learning, on preparing for tests rather than understanding, of teaching to remember rather than the transference of learning from one problem to another. That the standardisation has meant that in order to prepare for tests the lesson planning and the resources too have become standardised - and also a multimillion industry (in whatever money you use...!!!) so there will be a resistance to changing the educational system if it means losing access to all that money.


I am not an educator that believes in an outdoor only education as I believe not all children thrive in the outdoors. I prefer to weave outdoors and indoors with equal value. Each space, each room, each play-space or forest or field offers experiences that differ from each other and allow the children to explore all their learning and play languages... prioritising one can mean weakening some languages. Seeing each space as valuable, regardless of indoors or outdoors, allows you, as an educator, to make informed decisions about the needs of your group... some might need more time outside, other more inside, but a balance between both I find personally best.

As a child the outdoors was much more overwhelming than a familiar indoor environment for me. Don't get me wrong I loved being outside and I was outdoors a large part of my childhood, but I also had a huge need for the indoors too...and I see the same in children I work with.

I think the need for all day outdoor early years settings these days derives from the fact that children are not outside themselves when they are with their families, and that settings are now needing to take over this responsibility. Just as they are also needing to take responsibility for creating time for children's free play... free play is much harder within the walls/fences of an early childhood education setting - as there are rules and regulations set by local authorities, and a greater number of children to be responsible for than there is in home environments. Creating space and time for play outside of school and preschool is essential for children's well-being and cognitive and physical development. There are more and more cities around the world working on becoming "child-friendly cities" and I think this is something society as a whole needs to reflect more and and collaborate to ensure cities are child-friendly. A child-friendly city is a safer city for everyone...


If adults are focussing on a specific standardised form of teaching (sitting at desks in classrooms) as being what constitutes learning then Original Learning is not being valued or truly understood as learning because the play part of learning is being separated off and devalued... I have found that many teachers desire a change in the educational system to be able to teach the way children learn but are thwarted by policy makers and parents who want learning to be completely measurable. The problem is play, relationships, connections are all hard to measure, and play is too unpredictable to ensure a certain learning content for school.. in the sense of following a curriculum of certain facts being learned at certain times... if learning happens through play (and the joy of learning, where the child's learning is the focus rather than the teaching) then there is no absolute guarantee that the exact desired facts are learned at a specific time... others might be instead.


During the last year I have visited a variety of early years settings across the area and what I have noticed is that in many of these places there has been a focus on the teaching in the sense of school book training rather than Original Learning - and while those children have been picking up information and stuffing knowledge into their backpacks they are struggling with communication, with positive interactions, with self-regulation and their executive functions... all of these I find children learn through play.

The Swedish preschool curriculum was renewed in 2019 again with even more focus on the "teaching" which both excites me and frightens me... as I meet up with many amazing educators that understand how children learn and react to this and offer the children the chance to explore the whole curriculum - but I have also met plenty of teachers that are proficient in teaching but are not open to the children's learning - so I fear that subjects will be taught in a non-meaningful way that gains a great deal of adult approval - because it is product based rather than process based. I am a play-responsive educator, not play-based... as I view play-based as interpreting play from an adult point of view and basing teaching and learning on this... while play-responsive is my response to the children's play. I need to learn and understand their play in order to design appropriate pedagogical experiences.


I have, over the years, seen preschools that have far too many children in their space... and they have resolved this by the children having to be outside or inside at set times... for me this is not responding to the children... having to be inside or outside at set times to manage the number of children in the space at a time is not listening to the way children learn... or what their bodies need... I have seen children who need to be outside to play in the BIG manner their bodies want to explore... but it is not their turn to be outside... and vice versa children who have to be outside because its not their turn to be inside yet. For me this is not creating a positive relationship with the environment around them and also we are not listening to the children's needs and how they need to learn right now to make sense of the world. It is sad indeed when interacting with children who hate being outdoors... because there is seldom joy connected to the outdoor experience, it is connected to control instead, and quite often negative attitudes of the adults/educators who actively dislike being outside and do not shy from sharing this fact with the whole group.



Also if we are viewing "learning" as a school sort of learning - behind desks, learning how to write, read and remembering facts then we are not valuing other forms of learning - and I can understand why there is a reaction to preschools in Sweden having a pedagogical environment for the whole day... since we are legally open for 12 hours a day every day of the year except for national holidays (which are DAYS not weeks) and four planning days a year.

But if pedagogical is interpreted as Original Learning then we are doing that all the time... it is not about lessons, it is about creating interactions with people, with materials, with nature, with the indoors, with time, with themselves that allow the children to learn naturally and at their own pace. It is about creating space and time for the children to use their imaginations so that the learning from one situation can be transferred to another...


When it comes to play I am not just talking about free play and child lead play... but a vast range of play types and experiences... I want to offer children a 100 languages of play if not many many more!

This means adults are allowed to be a part of this play... but just like a healthy diet we should not have too much of one food type I feel it is the same with play... we need a healthy play diet. If adults are controlling play too much then children are not getting to explore all their other play languages... children need space and time to be able to explore their other play languages. They require adults to trust them too - they also need to be able to trust in adults - there needs to be a need for mutual trust for children to engage in risky play that does not expose them to danger or fatalities... and adults need to trust in the competence of children.


Original Learning.

I visualise Original Learning as a loom, where the warp threads are play, and learning, teaching, playful lessons, experiences etc are woven into this.

It starts with a tangle of many threads... of different kinds, colours and properties. They are not all neatly ordered, and pulling on one thread impacts other threads. Sometimes they are extremely tangled, and if we do not slow down and look closely there is a chance that we break threads instead of de-tangling in our hurry to weave them into the warp.

In the beginning, we educators, select the threads, detangle them for the child... always showing how it is done, how to select, the different techniques of weaving... so that the children can start to learn to weave themselves... to become aware of their own learning.

The play warp is essential to weaving in the learning. Too few warp threads and the learning threads will not have the same stability. Play impacts learning, just as learning impacts play. Interwoven and strengthening each other. Equal value.


Play is important to everyone... not just young children... although the younger the child the more new everything is and the more they will need play to process things. But we all need play... just play tends to look different depending on age and our personalities... we need time to process what we have learned, transfer facts and experiences to new ones, creatively rework, collaborate with others on self regulation and self-esteem. Our well being is tied up in it. Not simply playful lessons - these are threads that are woven into play... but real time for the children's own play. And the more children's out of school time becomes filled with activities the less time there is for their own free play, and the more important it becomes for schools and early years settings to ensure that there is the time for children to play. I believe children need at least an hour chunk of play... 20-30 minutes is great... but the deep plays kicks in then... when the children process the facts, use them to imagine new things... or use the time to process things in their lives so that they have the energy and focus to learn during lesson time. Bodies, minds and souls ready to learn because they are satisfied... Play satisfaction.

Linné felt that...

...eight hours of sleep, as many hours of work and the rest of the day in the fresh air is when one felt best (thrived)... iso one could say that in a 24 hour day this probably means an equal number of hours for learning, resting and play...

And as I feel that learning can be both inside and outside, that leaves room for play being both inside and outside too. If you are wondering who Linné is - he is often referred to as Linnaeus and is known as the "father of taxonomy" (giving the two latin names to every species, and sorting and classifying plants, and animals)

Interaction Imagination

© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.
suzanne@interactionimagination.com 

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