Saturday, 28 October 2017


During the last few days I have encountered and participated in discussions and dialogues about child-led play and adult-led play... and usually the "adult-led" play is being somewhat looked down on...

And I get it... there is a lot of adult interference, and adults controlling children (of all ages) - in preschools and in schools...
But I just don't see play as this black and white... and I also think that it is neither valuing educators or children if we can only see these polar play styles...

I truly believe that there is something called "Together-play" - that children and adults are collaborating, they are co-researching, co-learning, co-documenting... so why not co-playing. Not adults hijacking children's play, but listening to the children, understanding their play and their needs and creating situations that allow the play to develop on the children's terms... tis can mean that adults will go in and share their ideas, or enable new play through introducing new materials, or scaffolding the play/behaviour, or introducing games that can be played that the children can then take and re-create in their own way...

I believe in an equality between children and educators... and if we have that kind of equality then there is not a teacher down kind of structure to learning or play.
I found working philosophically with children helped me enormously to develop this together-play... where there is room for me to guide the children and for the children to guide me... that there is play that I help them with and at the same time ample time and space for the children to take these ideas and make them their own...

If the fire is their learning... then I could be a spark, or fanning the flames, or maybe adding fuel (materials) - also time to be quiet embers to reflect on their play and how they want to evolve it (as I don't want a raging forest fire that engulfs everything without respect for everything else there... peers, nature, materials etc etc etc).
At the same time I want the children to be able be their own spark, fan their own flames, add their own fuel and also to self regulate so that they don't burn-out.

This means I have to listen to know when to be a spark and when to let them, when to fan the flames and when to let them, when to add fuel and when to let them go looking for their own fuel, when to help them self regulate and when to let them experience how a burnout might feel...
in the sense that risky play is not just about falling and physical pain, that sometimes emotions can get hurt, and that is part of the risk taking too - I can't wrap them in cotton wool.

if my relationship with children is based on trust 
if I see the children as capable and competent
if I value the children's play and exploration
if I respect their opinions
if I feel comfortable with risky play
if I take the time to listen to understand
if I am prepared to let go of my agenda to embrace the children's agenda
then I do not have to fear adult-led play as something that is taking over the children's play, but is simply a part of me facilitating their play.

I think it is possible for educators to be co-playing with children without it being specifically child-led or adult-led but that the play is being democratically led by the group as a whole, adults and children alike.
Surely this is something we should all be striving towards? Democratic play?
Where all ages can interact with each other with an equality. Where there is no age discrimination. Where knowledge is valued. Where experience is valued. Where the sparks of newness is valued.
That we see children as knowledge bearers with their own experiences - and we can also see ourselves with sparks of newness - and that we can pool all of our experiences and knowledge and imagination together.

Surely in the sense of Original Learning this is part of that very essence. That we as adults are open to the new, that we value the opinions of others and see their competence, regardless of age... and that we encourage this spirit of listening, respect and value through play.
That we are able to give children (and ourselves) the time and space to explore ideas and concepts, to mess about (as David Hawkins writes) to play. Vygotsky's zone of proximal learning should not exclude adults but it should always remember the power of peers and how children learn from each other.
Hawkins "I, thou, it" is about the need to learn through a shared interest - this can be an adult or a child (in the sense that the educator can actually be a child), but that there is an equality in this learning even when there is not the same knowledge base possessed by the individuals involved. We do not have to be the same for there to be equality.

Vygostky also talks about how children recreate their experiences through play... for me this means that my role as an adult is to provide experiences for the children to recreate in their own way... and to be sensitive to what kinds of experiences the children need or want - to allow time for the children to repeat and repeat and repeat the same play, as well as offering appropriate challenges that will extend their thinking, their play and allow them to add nuances to their existing play if they deem it appropriate.

It really does come back to listening. We need to learn to listen to each other, to listen with respect, t listen to understand, to listen with curiosity, to listen to learn.... as Carlina Rinaldi writes below

I am very much in support of children's play and their right to play... but I also see it as a human right. Play belongs to us all. It is not just something that belongs to childhood - but it is an essential part of childhood, as it is an essential part of learning - Original Learning


  1. Lovely piece. You have given me so much to think about. Listening is crucial and should be the pivot from which all other things in the classroom (and life) should revolve. If we are co-constructors of learning and knowledge in class, then it only makes sense that we are also co-players. Play is the mode in which we learn. Thanks for this nugget, Suzanne. A refined way of thinking about something that we aim to do daily with our students.

  2. I'm so in awe of all your writing posts. You help me reflect on myself as a teacher and on the way I interact with my children.