Learning through play…

“To have respect for children is more than recognising their potentialities in the abstract, it is also to seek out and value their accomplishments – however small these may appear by the normal standards of adults.”

David Hawkins in The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd Ed., 2012.)

I first began my teaching career as a way to support my art one. I enjoy being around children, I’m good at talking to them and I thought I could be a good teacher. At first I fell in love with it slowly, studying and reading, and then suddenly, in the classroom, all at once. I returned to university straight after finishing my Fine Arts degree to study Early Childhood Education because being with children felt important and even though my Masters was a thousand times harder than I expected it to be, I am so grateful for this part of my education. I learnt so much at university, from knowledgable, experienced lecturers and from my peers. But possibly, the most meaningful learning I experienced happened alongside the children I worked with in everyday play situations. I am honestly still astounded by the important learning that occurs during play. My education not only provided me with a qualification, but it also gifted me a deep respect for the youngest members of our society.

Just before starting my degree, my Aunt spoke with me about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, a philosophy built upon a genuine respect for the competencies and capabilities of children. I was lucky enough to recently visit the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy, where the philosophy was founded and the feeling of social respect even just in the streets was amazing. It was a beautiful city which felt like moving inside a painting. Being here made me really think about how I could advocate for respect for children and their play through my own art practice. But how is it possible to put so much information into still, single images on paper?

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Later, I came across an artwork on a postcard. It’s entitled ‘Junge Mit Buch’ (Boy with Book) and was illustrated by Quint Buchholz in 2013. Somehow, I really feel like Buchholz was able to translate this deep respect for the play and enquiry of children into this one image. I was in awe. I silently set myself a challenge – I could do it too…

boy with book

And then I couldn’t. Sometimes, I go into the process of art making feeling like my grand plans for an image are fully resolved in my mind, even before I put pencil to paper. You become elated by a golden anticipation to create something special, important. When this happens for me, most of the time, it works out. First try. No roughs. No scrunched up pieces of paper on the floor. Mostly, I’m pretty lucky like that…

But this time, that’s not what happened. I really struggled to make this idea come to life the way I had seen it in my imagination. It was so frustrating and disappointing. Honestly, I just about gave up. Maybe, my work isn’t meant to speak for anything so huge and powerful.. Maybe Buchholz had already done it and there wasn’t a point of making something myself.. Maybe you can’t capture the magic of learning on paper because it’s not a still, two-dimensional event to be drawn… Sometimes, failing really sucks.

These images aren’t ones I’m super proud of, but they have been a part of a process…

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“Although learning is a serious matter, the teacher must approach it in a spirit of playfulness…”

Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd Ed., 2012.)

Children learn through play.

Play involves a willingness to be involved in an experience which comes from your own centre of being. It is about joyfulness, trial and error, repetition… As adults, we so easily forget that we can learn through play too. As I moped about my failed drawings, I was reminded (by someone much cleverer than I am,) that just because I saw my drawings so far as failures, didn’t mean they were a waste of my time. They were play. I was playing. This whole challenge was about learning was it not?

I’m still not convinced that the image I’m showing you here perfectly sums up what I am trying to say about children and their play. But, I think it’s a pretty good start and I’m proud of what it’s developed into so far and for what it’s shown me. I hope it can help you think more deeply about the capabilities of young children and maybe think more about the importance of learning through play and early childhood education.

I also hope that it could be a reminder that giving up gets us no where, sometimes failing is just play and that’s a good thing.

Magic Play - Edited

(*If you are interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, I highly recommend reading ‘The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation’ (3rd ed., 2012,) edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini and George Forman. It’s a beautiful read, bound to open your eyes and heart to a whole new way of think about young people.)


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