For the last 15 months I have had the great honour to have been a part of the board of children that Gästrike Vatten started as a way to not only find out more about how learning about sustainability and water can be made more accessible for children, but also to get children actively involved.
I was brought on board (pun intended) because of my work using the philosophy with children approach. I have written about philosophy with children many times over the years, and I have learned about P4C and socratic dialogue, but found that since both were aimed for school aged children (on the whole) that it would be better to take inspiration from all forms of philosophical dialogue and shared sustained thinking to create something that combined elements from all these approaches with the preschoolers I worked with.
I wanted to use a preschool pedagogical approach with 8-12 year olds... in other words, my guiding words were social security, creativity, democratic, exploration and play.
if the children were to explore ideas with each other, then we needed to create a socially safe environment... this, I feel is best achieved through play. The children also, in the first session we met as the board of children, explained that learning happens best then they enjoyed the lesson... and this tended to happen during more playful lessons.
Each session we had there was time to play... to explore water through exploration and art... to enable the children to meet each other rather than sit round in a circle and see each other only as a fellow learner.
If we only get the chance to learn one part of a person it will not allow us to feel really at ease. Play, for children and adults is the best way to get to know a person. of course this play will look different depending on age and experiences.
It became clear quickly that a combination preschool pedagogy and philosophy with children is a wonderful way for children to learn... and I really wish schools would adapt this approach. The children engaged in the learning and the dialogues... we laughed together. In the beginning there were some awkward silences - and at least once I had to remind my co-facilitator to keep quiet. I think the more a person practices philosophy with children the more comfortable you become with the silences... that they are not something that children need rescuing from... but almost a kind of test,
do we trust them
to come up with their own answers, own questions, own theories if we just give them time? It's not so easy to keep quiet... and that silence when the children are trying to think of something to say can feel painfully long but often it is not as long as you think.
On Wednesday, at the final session, where the children got to share their work with others, and their parents the children were asked by an audience of teachers, education specialists, politicians and others about what they thought was essential to start a board of children.
There was a silence.
Then one of the children said
and another then said
"and adults that believe in children. That believe that we know things,"
And I could not agree more.
it is not just about the children. It is about how the adults meet the children. How they give children space and time. How they encourage their voice to be heard, and to value what is being said.
I was approached by parents, teachers and others during and after (there were two celebrations, one official, and one private for family), who wanted to talk about the board of children and the positive impact it had had. I also had a longer dialogue with a person about the importance of having the right adults around children... that it is not merely enough to talk with children, but that it needs to be people that can take that step back and truly listen, truly believe in the competence of children.
This made me reflect on my experiences over the years within the early years sector... as colleague, director, and consultant... that there are many who can talk the talk, but not walk the talk. In other words they know about the importance of creating democratic learning environments, of truly listening to the children and not just hearing the words... but when in action this does not happen... there is teacher control and simply hearing that the children talk, rather than listening to understand.
I also reflected on how working philosophically with children has helped me as an educator to become a better facilitator... but at the same time, this was an approach that was passionate about, the philosophy was this amazing tool that enabled me to hone my skills as a facilitator rather than a controlling teacher. A weekly session not only helped the children hone their listening skills, critical and creative thinking skills and their ability to participate democratically - it allowed me to do the same. I saw that this was apparently not an easy thing to do... to let get of the power you have as a teacher and to hand it over to the children... not for them to rule, but to create a learning and play environment where we made decisions together... informed decisions...
All of the parents talked about how positive the experience had been, and that their children were sad that it had come to an end. I had some long dialogues about education with some of the parents... which will not fit into this blog today, but maybe another time.
So I really hope that this project will have had an impact... on Gästrike Vatten to consider doing something similar again, and to those who came to the official celebration and film showing, to maybe be inspired to start their own board of children.
you can pop over to Gästrike vattens webpage to read more about the project in Swedish with links to the film, and the presentation that was shared here
here is the film... it is in Swedish of course, but even if you do not understand the language, you can understand the joy the children have.
The stand out moments for me have been...
creating the game about how water is cleaned before being returned to nature... it showed me that through play and design the children learned so much more about how the system worked than what they would if they were sitting behind desks and listening or reading the facts. I think the game will probably help others understand the process... but without a doubt the actual process of designing a game was amazing and should be a technique used more often in classrooms.
when we were evaluating the course the children commented on how talking in the philosophy sessions was not the same as the talking in school. At school they got talked at... while with us they talked and learned from each other, with our support.
that they realised that they all had knowledge to share... and that a 13 year old admitted (as they all grew a year older in the time we shared) she could learn from an 8 year old - and that had surprised her.
that no matter how old you are, you want to mess about and explore and have fun... that through play they became equals.
For me this approach to learning is very much in keeping with my idea of Original Learning... which I will make sure there is more information about on my webpage ready for the new year.