Thursday 10 January 2013

Freedom - free - free-play

What is freedom? Free? Free-play?
If we are to be creating opportunities for children to experience free play - do we all know what free means? Does it mean something different in childhood than it does in adulthood?

For those of you who follow me on facebook you know that I linked up a preschool in Japan today that seems to offer preschool children a kind of freedom in their play - well at least that is what it looks like - and that was the aims of the architects who designed the preschool building.

But all this talk about free play has got me thinking about what is free? - what does it really mean?  Stephen Nachmanovitch has written a book called "Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art" where he writes that free play is a the creative activity of spontaneous free improvisation - music, art, play and conversation are all included in this... (as conversations are not rehearsed). He also writes about the sanskrit word "Lila (Leela)" which means play - but apparently a much richer version of our word - a divine play of creation and destruction and recreation - it is free and deep and there is delight and joy in the moment. It also means love. 
For more information check

If freedom is the ability to act - or play without confinement or restraint, exempt from external control, unhampered, independently, with full right to make all of one's own decisions - are we able to provide this at preschools? Be honest, brutally honest.

I do not think that even we adults are truly free.

I think about how it was moving to Sweden, every one telling me how liberated it was in Sweden for women. Yet to be honest I haven't found it more liberating than England - sure, more mothers work here - but that does not mean that we are liberated? I have friends that have chosen to stay at home to be full time mothers, they are virtually looked down on by others here in Sweden. Why? Because they are letting the side down by not working...? Liberation comes only with CHOICE - and feeling forced to work is not choice and therefore liberation is lost. Yes, I understand the fear that WOMEN will be forced to be barefoot and pregnant chained to the kitchen sink - but what is so bad about looking after children?

If we are going to devalue mothers looking after their own children and their desires to meet their own children's needs - then how on earth can we ever expect respect for our work in early years? ALL people working with children - as a profession or as stay at home parents (mothers AND fathers) deserve respect.

I would have LOVED to have stayed at home with my three children but I was not free to make that choice - economics made that choice for me - instead I put my children into preschool so that I could work in preschool!!! It cost Stockholm MORE money to take care of my children (since there is the universal preschool made available to everyone who want it at an incredibly cheap price) than I made as a part time preschool teacher - think if I had the choice to have the money Stockholm paid for my children to stay at home instead!!!! But that will never happen because of the fear ... well many fears ... and some of them valid ... but they take away choice and freedom all the same.

So back to the children. In a home, children often do not have to compete with so many others to get attention, to exert their will. My sister has one child - and she is able to offer her one child a kind of freedom that I can only dream of giving my three. If I was to give that same freedom to my three there would be chaos - yes they get freedoms, yes we discuss things (over and over) and yes we can change our minds if the children can present things in a logical way that shows us we should reconsider... but all the same our family of five has five wills to negotiate - not the three wills of my sister's family. At preschool there are even more wills to negotiate... in fact the larger the group of children the more rules have to be put in place just to maintain a pleasant atmosphere. Smaller groups are able to go with the flow so much easier...

In a family of five we have enough days in the week to be able to do an activity a day that will please everyone... groups of 12 - 15- 18 - 24 or 30? how are all needs going to be met in the same FREE way. Of course they are most likely not each going to have their own individual plans (or are they?) many will plan and create and play together - in pairs or groups.

I had started this academic year with the children presenting their ideas to the other children to see who would want to join them on the project - I had envisioned (or even hoped - or dreaded, not sure which) that some would say no, and that we would have parallel projects - but ALL SIXTEEN children wanted to do each of the projects that the children presented to each other - sweety volcano, ice experiment and theatre/film - two children had come up with each idea together in their play and were given the option to present it as a project idea for the whole group...

Is this a kind of free play? - it comes from the children - but it is still controlled by the adult?

During free play when the children get noisy indoors or start play-wrestling  - then its time to stop and take them out and get rid of excess energy - but what happens if there is a purpose to the wrestling? - have we given it time? Have we listened to their needs? - is it just the adults who do not like the noise or the boisterous nature of the free play? What is their play saying? - and what are we saying by cutting it off - "sure you have free play now - but only on our terms..."?

I am thinking out loud here.

I am trying to work out what is it I want to offer in "free play" - at a preschool setting. I can offer a better quality free play to my own children when we are at home, on holiday or out at the little house in the woods (get pictures of Laura Ingalls Wilder when I write that - by the way those are the books that made me want to be a teacher...).  - I want to be able to do the same thing at work.

I guess there needs to be a mutual understanding at the setting of what free play is. All the teachers need to understand where the limits are - when do we as adults need to step in?
There would be no point in me getting deeper into free play if my colleagues believe that I am not supporting the children - and I would get frustrated with colleagues who would jump in sooner than my theories of free play called for.

Discussing free play on a deeper level is a necessary thing if we are to work together to support children's right to free play...

1 comment:

  1. You've got me thinking there Suzanne. My natural answer to your question originally would be that free play is when children are free to explore and follow their interests without adults interrupting or stifling them. However, your point about being truly free has moved the bar. I think with regulations and policies it would be almost impossible to provide completely free play, just as we as adults would not be completely free due to the laws and rule we must abide by.

    You are a thought provoker if nothing else.