• Suzanne Axelsson

The Story of Circles

Over the years I have used a lot of circles as ways to explain my thinking. And while I like circles I still find them a little too neat and tidy...

for example I talk about sitting in a circle during philosophy sessions because of its inclusive nature, everyone sitting in the circle is of equal value, it gives all the opportunity to see each other and to be open to listening. The thing is that this circle also means that we have our backs to everyone that is not in the circle. So we have to be constantly aware of is the circle excluding ideas, people, cultures by its very existence?

I think this is in part why I like the idea of threads being woven into a loom... my imagery for Original Learning... the threads all being tangled, there being infinite possibilities of thread types if given the time to sort through... and many many ways for them to be threaded into the loom. Life is not just a series of neat circles, but also a tangle of threads, each impacting each other...

But circles still have their attraction...

I think of play as being an ecosystem... just as the water cycle goes round and round, of H2O being gas, liquid, solid, liquid, gas, - ocean, cloud, rain,

There is a circle where play is impacted by the context, the people, the knowledge, the environment etc...

In the diagram I have created to the right the knowledge and learning the children are exposed to will impact what the children inform the play responsive educator, who will then change the environment and resources to encourage more play and learning...

Of course it is not neat and tidy like this... as in reality children impact the play, the environment, the knowledge and each other as well as the adults... the play influences the design of the space, the children, and eventually the context... its not a tidy going round in a circle in a specific order...

it is a jumble of threads, just as in Original Learning. As educators we pick at the threads of the play-eco system to be better at understanding the impact of play on learning and vice-versa... the impact this has on the children and the relationships that evolve within the play eco-system. But we also have to remember that children belong to several of these play ecosystems and not just one... so these circles of play overlap and impact each other as well... a child's home situation will be brought into the preschool play ecosystem so that no matter how well we attend to our ecosystem within the walls of the early years setting, we cannot and should not look at it as a separate bubble, but as a small part of a whole.

In the natural world there are many cycles (circles) frogs and caterpillars come to mind, as they were the natural cycles that were taught in schools. Eggs Tadpoles, frogs eggs... or eggs caterpillars, pupa/chrysalis butterflies eggs. Metamorphosis.

Change Education is change. And maybe right now we could strive for a metamorphosis of the education system. Instead of treating children like caterpillars have to be constantly fed with facts in order to evolve to a butterfly... how about viewing the child as the butterfly? (image: Michael Axelsson, age 8)

Alison Gopnik writes that children are the butterflies and the adults that are the caterpillars... that children are the beautiful creature flitting from one place to another, exploring and that the adults do all the hard work... munch munch munch... And this is how I like to view things... that children are not evolving to become the butterfly... but that the butterfly is seen as the period of time when there is time to explore the world, from one flower to the next before adulthood comes upon us and we put what we have learned as butterflies to productive use. I wrote about Children as Butterflies in a post last year in connection with my visit to AnjiPlay kindergartens.

As a play responsive educator/practitioner we should be thinking in circles too... to better understand the play, the child, the learning and our impact on all of that. In the series a Beginners Guide to Pedagogical Documentation I take a look at it from a circular point of view. I have shared the last in the series, as this includes the links to all of the previous posts and also links to further reading.

Thinking and reflection is a main area that I talk about and I use this series of circles to illustrate the importance of focusing on children's listening skills... if we encourage children to become better listeners , it will also expand their ability to put their thoughts into words and share them with others...


This circle I usually share next to a pyramid of the same words... with omsorg (care) at the bottom, then trygghet (security) and Lärande/undervisning (learning/teaching) at the top. Which I think is about appropriate when it comes to the early years, the majority should be care and security so that learning can happen. The problem is that we live in a world of hierarchies and it then gives the appearance of teaching has the higher status... and that once you have done the care bit you can move onto the next step... when in reality we can never stop the care and the security stages... because then the learning will stop... and also the learning and teaching needs to incorporate care and security... how the children can take care of each other and themselves and how they can create environments of security. The children need to be learning skills to empower them to be active participants of this circle and not passive consumers of a space that educators strive to create, because then there is the risk that the safe space only exists where the educators are... and that is not a democratic approach to play and learning.

Of course, as I mentioned at the start, circles need to be complex... they need to be overlapping. The unknown can become known through play... imagination meets reality through play, science and art can meet through play and exploration... MANY circles can overlap each other creating different borderlands to explore... in my recent posts I have been talking a lot about borderlands and border-crossing.

All these circles are two dimensional... Imagine how it gains in complexity when we start thinking of them in 3D - as globes, spirals. The complexity brings more depth... it allows for more stories to be heard. It creates the space and time for listening.

Final circle for this post (I have lots of others... some I have never shared, they only exist in my notes as ideas to pursue and support for my own thinking)...

When I was in China, learning about AnjiPlay, they shared the concept of the child at the centre and the importance of play.

I like this idea of not putting a child at the centre and not putting a child on a pedestal

That we need to create a kind of ripple effect, where the the child informs the educators, parents, society and policy makers of what needs to be done... rather than policy makers informing the child what they should be learning and what to be via parents and teachers.

We talk about creating an education revolution.

Revolution refers to circular movement.. like the earth around the sun, or the earth on its axis... as well as a sudden change...

We need change. We need to stop seeing hierarchies and start seeing circles, circles that overlap and include, complex circles being woven with many threads of learning, filled with the voices of all the stories being heard (not told... heard).

Interaction Imagination

© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.

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