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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Story of... the in-between

During the Play First Summit I talked about relationships as being key... the process of listening to understand rather than listening to wait for the pause to answer. I talked about togetherness. This means connection. It means being aware of the spaces in-between.

I also talk about the play eco-system, of how play is impacted by resources, stories, knowledge, the adults and context... and how all of these impact each other...

In my presentations and workshops I hold I share diagrams with lines and arrows connecting all of these things... and really when it comes down to it, education is busy measuring all the things... the child's development, the teacher's performance, the number and quality of the resources. But really, that is not where the learning happens. What we should be focussing on is all those lines... the lines that are invisible in reality... but they are the lines of connection. The relationships, the ways we interact with others and things and ideas...

it is the INTERACTION.

Back in 2012 when I started writing my blog and realised I needed to have a name for it... I decided to choose two words (so it would not be too long) that summed up what was the most important to me...

I chose Interaction and Imagination

And as I continue to reflect over play and learning, and life... I find it is still those words that are the most important to me.

Interaction is the connection between people, things and ideas... it is listening, it is the in-between.

Imagination is creativity and the reworking of knowledge

Both words connect to play and learning.

Nora Bateson writes about "warm data" - "Warm Data is the relational information; it's not about the family members, but about the relationships between them; its not about the organisms in a forest, but the relations between them; it's not about the institutions of society, but the relations between them" (Warm Data and Iced Lemonade: a deeply human response to complexity is possible. Nora Bateson and Explorers of Liminality).

It's as if those lines are now warm data - informing me how to be a better teacher... and also it is the space I work the most on. Not on helping the child develop... because I know and trust they will. Not the things...on having the "correct" materials because they are trendy or I see others use them with accolades from admirers.. but on the children's (and my) ability to connect with them, and how the things connect with other things... relationships between stuff.

The Play First Summit also encourages people to sign the Declaration of Interdependence, another word that is about connection, the in-between.

Together we can focus on interdependency and complexity (another word I love) rather than on the people and the things... because if we support the connections we will be supporting the people to evolve. If we are seeking out to build strong and empathic connections between all people then we are also working on inclusion and anti-racism etc... positive connections, positive relationships. Rather than working to change the things and the people... let's try and work on the spaces in between...the connection. It is listening to ALL the stories not just a few selected ones.

Yesterday I wrote about participation as our focus rather than inclusion... as inclusion, I feel, focuses on the things, the people to be included, while participation shifts the focus to the connection... how can we create play and learning where all can participate? If everyone is participating then they are being included...

Together we are stronger.

This was something that many speakers at the Play First Summit mentioned and was also used a great deal by participants in the Facebook group connected to the summit. Building on our connections, on our interdependency will make us stronger...

Together we can build relationships that build relationships - and this is how we can change system. And systemic change is what most in the group are calling out for. it is also what many minorities, vulnerable people etc are also calling out for...

I talked about putting the act back in action. Well acting on building these connections can be an important part of systemic change. The space in-between needs more of our attention.

In brain development the spaces in-between is important... its where the connections happen. Learning and play are complex. Synapses at the connectors... connecting the brain cells... but learning is not about building synapse after synapse... the whole brain engages, the brain structure can even be transformed by learning (different activities will impact different areas of the brain). Synapses and strengthened and pruned... both for the benefit and detriment of the human surrounding the brain. And its not just simply about the transmission between brain cells - it is also about the speed of transmission (this is dipping into white matter/myelin) - for instance if the first transmission is slow or delayed it might miss its connection, and therefore learning fails to happen (just as delayed flights can mean missing a connecting flight). Neuroscience is not my field of expertise... I will leave that to people like my husband and other researchers... but I raise this to share that it is complex... its not just about brain cells, or the connectors synapses when it comes to learning... it is about the whole brain being interconnected and that information and signals are timing the connections right too..

(and interestingly ... I read three neuroscience papers to be able to write the above paragraph, so I felt sure I was writing stuff that is not misleading!!!) This is like life. It is not simply about connecting with each child... it is about learning how to connect with each child, how that child connects with others... and that those connections will occur at different speeds depending on the individuals and the transmission methods... it can also involve transmissions being lost...

I remember working with a group of 19 three year olds in the days when I still did circle time by asking the children questions and going round the circle. (I don't do that anymore... because that is limiting the connections between the children) - but I did learn something that has stayed with me ever since and helped me enormously in facilitating dialogues between the children... On one occasion I asked this group of 3 year-olds three questions... child number 12 failed to answer question one, but there was never any requirement to answer, just the opportunity to participate. I moved on. The second question, when I came to child 12, an answer was given, but it was a little strange, I acknowledged the answer and carried on... the same thing happened with question three. As I returned to the notes and answers the children had given later that day (I wrote down all their answers) it suddenly dawned on me that child 12 had answered the first question during the answers of question two, and answered the second question during the third revolution... I had in fact failed to go back and discover the child's third answer. This child and I had missed the connecting flight so to speak. So I learned that when planning dialogues I needed to give much more time at the connecting airport (or maybe I should be saying train station so that it is a more climate friendly mode of transportation??) so that there was time to make that second flight... ie it is not enough for the answer to be delivered, it also needs to be received. So I made sure that children who needed lots of time to process a question and time to formulate an answer got that time... so that they could be active participants... meaning this child was always child 19 when it came to dialogues (in a group of 19) allowing that extra time... or I would give the questions to the parents the day before so that they could process them at home first (I also did this with shy children). For me it was never the answer that was important... it is the participation and the connection. By participating children get to hear all the stories and not just some of them...

The below image is something that I created a few years ago to talk about connection, the brain, listening etc... and I also wrote about it in a post I wrote in January 2019 (I refer to a trip to Palestine and Israel I made in 2018). In this "The Story of a Dot" I write about the connections between the dots and the importance of us as educators to provide new experiences and facts so that children can make new connections...

I also see the David Hawkins theory of "I, Thou, It" about the connections... yes the child, the teacher and the project are important... but it is the connection between these that are essential for the play and learning to happen. If the child is not interested or find joy in the project the learning and engagement will not be as deep or meaningful, if the relationship between the child and the educator is not positive and mutual then the learning and play will lack its depth and full potential (there will not be the same sense of security)... and if the teacher is not engaged or enthusiastic about the project, it will also make it hard and less effective to connect the project to learning and teaching.

And finally for this post (it's far from all the diagrams and illustrations I share on connection) - the play ecosystem.

A spaghetti plate of connections, or a tangle of threads. Pulling on one will impact another (or more). My theory of Original Learning is about these threads and weaving them into each child's fabric... but they start like this... a tangle of interconnectedness... which we learn to navigate and weave into the warp threads of play. Of course weaving is about the interconnections of threads and not just the threads... How we weave is going to impact the fabric just as much as the choice of thread types, colours and number of threads. Complexity is something we should embrace - it is the spaces in-between (in weaving there are spaces between the warp threads that are connected with the learning threads..) and the everything that is connected by the in-between. Relationships.

To read more about Original Learning I recommend you browse though my blog... as many posts refer to it (You could click on the tag/category Original Learning). I don't want to just share one post about it here... as maybe right now, the right approach is for you to make your own connection with it?

Original Learning (play and learning) is the journey connecting the destinations?

Journey - in-between.

Destination - the measurable bits

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