The story of "lagom"
There is a Swedish word "lagom" which I think works well when thinking about democratic play and and learning.
It basically means "it is as it should be", not too much or too little... that it is just right (it often makes me think of Goldilocks).
There is also a folk-myth about this word too...
that back in Viking days when a horn of drink was passed around the group (lag... can be translated to team (and law)) that everyone should take enough for their needs and also to ensure there was enough for everyone... lag om - around the whole team.
This idea of togetherness, of not taking too much or too little, of being aware of the needs of others. It all works well for the early years.
So how this word, lagom, guide us as educators?
Here are five possible ways...
We can focus on interaction rather than interference... on finding the balance of not too much teacher fed information and steered activities, without being completely hands off. This is the premise of Original Learning... of weaving play and learning together. Of knowing when to facilitate and when to be visibly invisible. This balance will differ from child to child and also group to group.
Of knowing what to photograph, film and document... so that our pedagogical documentation is lagom... not too much that it interferes with our interactions with the children or becomes overwhelming in volume to analyse, and not too little that there is a lack of information to analyse and reflect upon in order to make informed decisions or able to make the children's learning visible.
Using a lagom amount of resources... don't plan to use materials that are non-sustainable without careful consideration of their impact, or whether there is an alternative. How much we use and what we use is important.
Curiosity is one of the key words I explore as part of Original Learning.
Curiosity is a kind of fuel for learning and helps the process keep moving and evolving .
I see my work as understanding how to create environments of curiosity.
It’s about getting to know the children well - understanding their interests and their motivations and their preferred ways of learning. It’s also about getting to know what the children already know.
Curiosity is located in that sweet spot between too easy and too hard. Lagom.
If it’s too easy or simple there is no curiosity to find out more i.e. it is already encoded into memory ... if it’s too hard or complex it is too disparate from existing representations already coded into memory. This is probably an attention strategy that prevents wasting cognitive resources on overly predictable or overly complex events, thus helping them to maximise their learning potential.
Pedagogical documentation is my tool for finding out where this sweet spot is on an individual and group basis - to learn how to stimulate curiosity and to create democratic learning environments where the children inspire each other and spark curiosity too.
Providing spaces, activities and experiences that are not hazardous, but are not lacking adventure either...
Designing spaces to safely challenge themselves. To feel brave and to conquer those tingles of fear that both hinder and excite...
A space that is not so much about keeping the children “safe” as protecting them from harm.
And I feel that this is an important distinction
If our focus is on keeping them safe then we go about taking away all the adventure from a space - we are kind of flat-lining the play...
Play needs to get the heart racing - with that excitement that uncertainty brings - risk and joy are intertwined.
Protecting from harm means our priority as an educator shifts - albeit slightly - we are still providing a hazard-free play environment - but protection from harm means we have to know WHAT the harm is rather than thinking what safe is.
We are forced to think more deeply about what is harming the children in their development- a few bruises or a restricted play where collaboration, risk analysis, physics etc are central elements.
What is the most harmful? The lack of ability to learn how to keep themselves safe (physically, socially and emotionally) or the lack of possibilities to experience any kind of harm because it has all been controlled by adults? Lagom will be somewhere taking on both these elements... what works in one group might not in another.
Well thought out play spaces with lagom risk allow children to evolve and challenge themselves at their own pace, without serious injury, based on trust.
Trusting children is hard, as John Holt wrote, because few of us were trusted as children.
There needs to be enough play. Enough play to satiate the evolving child's needs physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. Play is how children process the facts we share with them, the experiences we expose them to, the stories we tell them, and the things that happen to them (this can be directly, or non-directly by over-hearing what happens elsewhere in the world).
In play the children test out the world. In the pre-International Fairy Tea Party dialogues I have had with children over the years I have asked children in fairies are real... one of the answers that really struck me was "Fairies are real - pretend real". This indicated to me that children are fully aware of their play being part of the imaginary world... but while they are in this world it is real... they become the cat that they are playing, or the mother, or the explorer or... they get to test our roles to understand how they work. This means that children can be extremely gender fluid in their play in order to understand their own identity and how they can best interact with other genders. If we as adults are putting value or status on some genders more than others then this is going to impact the play and how willing children will be to test different roles. The vast majority of us, adult or child, do not want to be in a position where one is not valued... therefore some roles might be avoided because of this and therefore inadequately explored.
I mostly see boys from being prevented testing out female roles, vice-versa is seldom a problem. If children, already in preschool days, are seeing that boys are being discouraged from playing female roles, then we are already cementing the bias that these roles have less value.
Lagom talking... Talking is great... ideas, opinions etc are shared. Often there is a massive focus on getting children to communicate verbally... and then it shifts to reading and writing. A typical study, though, points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. When listening is such an important part of communication one wonders why there is not more focus on it... teaching to listen and not just teaching how to talk, or read or write. If we have a lagom focus on talking, reading and writing and valued listening as a skill more then I feel there would be a shift in children's ability to play democratically with each other... and for them to evolve into adults capable of listening to other people's opinions in order to understand them rather than just being quiet and waiting for their turn to talk in order to argue their opinion.
Having worked philosophically with young children, where I focussed a great deal on listening skills, my own and theirs, I realised that children who are good listeners of their peers have more power, as they need me, as a teacher less. They were able to listen to each other's point of view and resolve issues, develop strategies, devise play rules etc without the need of me. There was more time for play, more time for experiences that could enhance their play through learning, there was more time for me to interact as an equal, co-researcher.
Sharing knowledge is great... but in lagom amounts! We need to think about creating the time and space for children to process facts and experiences through their language of play.