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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The 10th International Fairy Tea Party Celebration

On August 1st 2013 I wrote my very first post about the International Fairy Tea Party.

It all started by accident.

I had seen a photo of a decorated shoe and thought it was a fairy house - the photo was one of several photos with a description at the start, and I had connected the wrong description to the image!! it happens.

And sometimes mistakes lead to wonderful things.

I shared my mistake and it triggered a series of dialogues with the magical folk at FafuPlay - Tom Shea and the late Hulda Hreiðarsdóttir - where the seed of the first International Fairy Party was created - the first one the theme was for everyone to convert old footwear into a fairy house!

The photo was taken when I participated in Play Iceland - and event that has also continued over the years - an amazing opportunity to visit settings on Iceland and deep dive into all things play. The first celebration had just over 50 participants from all over the globe except South America (And Antartica - no-one has ever joined us from there, funnily enough. haha).

There are schools and preschools, and families that have joined in the fun every single year.

And new ones that have joined to... there were about 200 last year... and several in South America - so fairy play on every continent.

Right from the very start the International Fairy Tea Party has been about sustainability, equity, play and imagination. My very first post included questions to ask the children to find out what they know about fairies - so that the celebrations would be rooted in the children's ideas and not just adult made events - but real involvement.

These are those initial questions

  • What is a fairy?

  • Do fairies have magic powers? What are they?

  • Are there boy and girl fairies? mummy and daddy fairies?

  • Where do fairies live?

  • Have you seen a fairy?

  • What do fairies look like?

  • What do fairies eat? (if you are going to have a tea party - we are a sugar free preschool for instance)

  • Do fairies fight? if they do - what about? and how do they resolve their fights?

  • Are fairies good or bad or...?

It was important for me that a more complex way of looking at fairies would be the most inclusive, would help with breaking down stereotypes and open up the imagination. Tom and Hulda, like myself, were, and continue to be, very invested in advocating for play - and finding ways for adults to step into the realm of children's play and imagination is one way to encourage adults to remember how it feels to play.

To be play responsive educators we need to know what play is, how it feels etc, so that we know how to respond appropriately as educators - to make our teaching fun, but also to know when we are providing adequate time and space for children's autonomous play and to avoid adulterating the play.

So why fairies - well - for a start it was a bit of a mistake... as I already shared - but also they make so much sense because of their magical properties it gives such a wide repertoire of play opportunities and experiences - from magic potions, flying, to wands turning others into all sorts of things, to the aesthetics, to nature to...

Equally it is also something that is often seen as girly and this has been something that I have really worked with over the years - so that what is seen as girly is valued, and that boys can access the wonder of the fairy realm play potential too. Society has a tendency to devalue the feminine - and that this can cause problems for boys as much as girls - especially the boys who like to dress in pink and as princesses. I remember with great sorrow in my heart how the parents of one boy forbade us to allow their son to wear princess clothes while at preschool ... he would sit next to the dress up box and stroke the pink dresses and the high heels with great affection... we would have loved nothing more than to allow him to wear the clothes, but he would look at us with his big sad eyes and tell us how he would not wear them because his parents had said he must not... and as teachers it is NOT our job to teach the children to defy their parents and to lie to them, no matter how wrong we think they are... but to give children the strength to talk with their parents and explain what they want and what feels right (and yes, we advocated as much as we could to his parents - I think if it had just been the mother it would not have been a problem, but for the father this was simply not ever an option...)

What I saw over the years was how in the first year some of the boys came as dragons and other magical creatures (all were/are welcome) but in subsequent years they came as fairies, because within the group we had erased the stereotype that fairies are only for girls.

I think the equity thread of the fairy tea party has been incredibly important for me. To acknowledge that every celebration would be different - dependant on local traditions and fairy-lore (or whatever the magical fairy-like creature is in that part of the world), on what resources are available, and the general context of each space which affects attitudes towards play, children, imagination and hierarchies/stereotypes.

The celebration is close to the September equinox - chosen because even though we have all our differences on that day we are united through daylight hours... no matter where we are in the world we all have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. It feels like an extra layer of magic.

In the coming months I will be sharing more posts about the International Fairy Tea Party - using old posts from my old blog - and bringing them here and adding more reflections.

But I hope there are many joining in this year to celebrate play and imagination.

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