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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Story of .... a box

This post was first written in July 2015, and I am now re-sharing it, updated and edited with my thinking over the last five years...

It all started when I suggested to one of my daughters that she should think outside of the box in order to solve a problem... she answered

"well I think inside my box, because it is bigger on the inside, and travels through time and space".

We, of course, had a good laugh... my daughters have been big Dr Who fans, so it is obvious where her inspiration for that box came from, and at

the time she was busy knitting a long Dr Who inspired scarf... which since then has become a little famous due to being photographed so much as part of her climate activism... even to the point it has been made into art!!!


This got me thinking...

There is so much focus on thinking outside the box that we are forgetting about the boxes themselves.

Maybe children come to preschool thinking creatively in their radically different boxes - a safe place to think, but also with the ability to share ideas with others... the ability to look into each others boxes, to be inspired.

I get what the phrase is about... thinking outside the box... because we have been lead to believe that we are all in the same kind of box, so to imagine and discover something new we need to think outside of it...

I reckon that at school we are all forced to abandon our own personal boxes where we are creative and told to get inside the school box... all of them uniform, I imagine them like a brown cardboard moving box, functional to pack with many things but severely lacking in creativity and individuality.

It is that one way to approach life - change your box to look like this and all will be well, be the norm, you need to fit in. Of course we need to think out of the box all the time when things within the box don't work! And in these days where more and more people are becoming more socially aware that there is not just one story, that the white western (often male) interpretation of the world, history and education, is not the only one, and is certainly not the most important or most suitable one for all circumstances (it will be sometimes). The danger of the single story (see my post here - Story about a Story) means that we are colonisers of the complexity of the all the stories and this is similar to the dangers of the single box... if we are forcing children to get into the same kind of specific box then we are limiting their ability to be creative, to share their own stories and learn from others, of being able to process information the way they need to in order for it to make sense... teaching and learning is being over.simplified and over controlled... so when it comes to solving problems and being creative suddenly there is a demand to think outside the box

I work with preschoolers... children not yet conditioned by this one box way of thinking. Children that are filled with play and creativity - who are still learning about taking inspiration from other boxes in order to furnish their own.

If we are all encouraged to curate our wonderful variety of boxes (and by curate I mean stay true to your own individual creativity, as I assume a box would change over time with new experiences and inspirations changing the fabric, design and technology of the box) - then there would not be the need to think outside the box, but to think by connecting, by box collaboration.

Loris Malaguzzi talked about a 100 languages that became 1 in school... which is more or less the same sort of thinking as this box theory I am developing here (lol). What we as preschool teachers need to learn is how to identify the boxes and how to enable the children to stay true to them and how they learn how to learn, be inspired and interact with others to fuel their box creative drive.

How, though, can we, who have been taught to think within a specific box, re-find our childhood box of creativity?

I believe it can be done through play.

I believe that if we as teachers/adults take the time to mess about with ideas, with loose parts, with nature, with each other... to play then we can learn as children learn... and down this learning path is where we will find our original packaging ready to be filled with all our experiences.

David Hawkins developed the idea of Messing About and was one of those people that had inspired Malaguzzi. I do recommend that you take some time to find out more about his ideas, as I have found them so valuable in developing a better understanding of my role and responsibility as a teacher and how I can improve my interaction skills with children... by better understanding play and learning.

So I am never going to ask a preschooler to "think outside the box"- instead I want to arm them with the strength to never exchange their box for the standard issue at school (it would be even better if we could persuade the politicians to think "outside the box" or better still re-find their original box - and encourage schools to be a place of play, learning, creative and critical thinking - a place that allows children to be creative and to collaborate).

I think when it comes to school, there are those of us who have managed to fit our own box into the school box... to maintain that sense of wonder, creativity and imagination. I often feel that I have been lucky to be have been one of those people... parents have often throughout the years sent me thank you cards where they have described me as part child part adult. And of course I see that as a compliment... my part child is my ability to connect with other children in their language with the maturity of my own age - I never put aside the play and imagination like many others did that gave up their boxes to climb into the school box in complete trust of the adults around them.

There are those children who spend all their energy trying to work out how to fit their box into the school box, and therefore waste so much energy that could have been used learning and finding the joy of learning. There are those children who simply fall through the box, or deep into the box and go unnoticed by the school system, and there are those, like one of my children, who totally refuse to change boxes or even try to get their own box into the school box (too much effort or just too stubborn to want to give up their own way of being) - of course school is not a smooth ride for such children, because school is basically about conformity and learning to a set curriculum.

To be able to ensure a multiple box approach to education, rather than a single box approach, we need educators and policy makers that are better at listening to the complexity of each child, each classroom, every context and all the cultures that make that up... to create spaces that are safe for all ideas to be shared... sharing ideas is a part of risky play, and creating safe places makes sharing ideas less dangerous... and in many places in the world ideas are dangerous - for example my daughters are in touch with climate activists in China, South American countries etc - all of these activists do this at great personal risk - and we forget just how privileged we are being able to protest without the risk of being killed or interrogated for thinking outside the box... (so next time you meet a climate denier that says China should be protesting blah blah blah... then let them know, there are protesters there and they work hard to try an inform others about the story of the climate at great personal risk... I could mention names... but I won't because, again, this would add more risk to these activists in their various parts of the world)

here are a few more posts to check out that I have written and connect to listening, togetherness, learning as a community and not adhering to one way of being..

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