• Suzanne Axelsson

Responding NOT following

Responding to the children not following the children is key in Original Learning - plans are made, activities designed to provoke thought, to challenge and to create the space and time to develop skills and enter dialogues...

Instead of following I strive to empower children, to ensure they have agency. That TOGETHER we create a curriculum of learning and play.

This requires that I am a play responsive teacher - designing appropriate experiences and also being flexible enough to allow the children to take it in the direction that is most meaningful - because I understand the children, the play and learning and the relationships between all of these, as well as my role in this to know when I am interacting to enhance their experience and to also know how to avoid interfering

It requires a mix of theory, practical experience and also joy in observing and learning from and with children...


Below is one example of being play responsive

Sometimes things don’t go at all as you envision them - and you simply have to go with the flow... literally.

This group had just started a space inquiry and this was one of many stages of creating a large space "together" artwork. There were many children in the group that needed sensory experiences, some of the children had problems with pronouncing words clearly, and the group also needed support with their social interactions where joy fuelled them due to reasons I cannot go into here. The idea was to blow bubbles in different sized jars, in different colours decided by the children, and catch the bubbles on paper to create moons and asteroids. This is a fun activity, where each child will have their own jar to blow bubbles in, but with the possibility of swapping with each other to change colour. Blowing through straws (I now never use plastic straws) helps strengthen mouth muscles which is great for supporting pronunciation.

It turned out that catching the bubbles on paper was very low priority

Blowing bubbles and watching the overflow was essential

So they got to do that. A few bubble patterns were caught and put aside to dry in the beginning - but the wonder was not in that process. The wonder, for these children, was watching the bubbles flow across the table and the colours colliding. When they were finished we collected patterns with paper that we could use later in the art work.

Then we cleaned up the tables together, collaborating, teamwork - the soapy nature of the paint made that lots of fun too.

Being a play-responsive teacher not only means planning activities that will be meaningful, appropriate challenge and support but also flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the children and to be able to see the value of the new process.

This new process brought dialogue, lots of mouth muscle training, science, math (volume, size, area), pattern making + shape making in the clean up process, met sensory needs, and created joy and agency amongst the children, it also provided a situation for social interaction.


Over the, soon, three decades I have worked with young children and education, I have noticed that the phrase "following the child" has often been used as a description of what quality, play-based educators should adhere to.

I think this brings with it a lot of confusion...


"Following the child" puts an awful lot of responsibility on the children if adults are only following them and not leading or being afraid of leading (or even admitting they are leading)... It has a "hands off" - "let them do what they want" feel about it.

This phrase of "following the child" is often connected to play-based and also the Reggio Emilia Approach inspired pedagogy.

As for the latter - it might have come from some mistranslation of children guiding, or interests guiding, the educators in their work, which then got translated to "follow" I mean, people follow tour-guides... they just listen, and sometimes ask questions, as a way to learn - but that is a one-way mode of learning - the guide has the responsibility of providing the information. The guides seldom get information to expand their knowledge or their experience from this interaction.

As educators we DO have that responsibility to guide our guides - the children.

It’s a relationship of mutual respect and equality. A kind of dance where both teach each other the steps and not one just following the other... A dance choreographed and practiced and performed together... (together-led)

So absolutely, Original Learning is about responding to the children, not following.

I think it is much easier to be overwhelmed by "following" the interests of children because there are always so many interests that the children have, as individuals and also throughout the group, and this makes it virtually impossible to follow all the interests...

If we respond to those interests, respond to the needs of the child as individuals and respond to the needs of the group as a community, we can begin to design experiences that weave in those interests and needs to create a fabric of learning and play that engages all the children and includes all the children...

For instance I launched the Together on the Square project and the Leonardo da Vinci project as responses to include many interests and meet all needs I had observed in the group (as well as through listening to the children through dialogues and with the parents) and also an opportunity to cover the Swedish curriculum as I am required, because I understood how all of this would fit within the projects. Once the project is launched the children then continue to help navigate the direction of the project (or reject it... but I have yet to experience a project idea to be rejected, although they have often taken unexpected turns... for example, I was secretly rooting to explore bridges during the Leonardo da Vinci project, but once the children discovered LdV had designed a robot that is the direction we went in... the project took us from exploring the medieval streets of Stockholm, and medieval artefacts in the museums (to connect with how da Vinci lived) to the present and then imagining the future...).


Original Learning is play and learning as equals. It is teaching and learning as equals. It is educator and learner as equals. It is imagination and knowledge as equals.

Original Learning is teaching in response to the play. The teaching can be playful, or play-filled activities, but is fully aware that this is not the same as play.

Original Learning is aware that what is being taught - through activities, dialogues, reflections, storytelling, art, dance, information transference through any and all of these metods - will fuel the play, and that there needs to be enough time and space planned into every day, every week for the children not only to process what they are learning, but also to creatively rework this information. Imagination must be fuelled. Imagination is where creativity comes from. Play is where the imagination is free to experiment. As I frequently say and write... knowledge and imagination go hand in hand... the larger the island of knowledge the longer the coastline of imagination.





Interaction Imagination

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

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