Author of ‘CAN I GO AND PLAY NOW?’ and play pedagogy expert, Greg Bottrill, took the time to sit down with us and answer a view questions regarding his work – giving everyone the chance to truly understand what learning by play can achieve when applied correctly. Read the full transcript below.
To start off, tell us a bit more about yourself and what ‘CAN I GO PLAY NOW?’ do
I am an educational author and thinker who is passionate about childhood and play. My two books ‘Can I Go And Play Now?’ and ‘School and the Magic of Children’ explore how education can be an adventure with children rather than something done to them. I’m also the creator of various ‘approaches’ to early education including the Message Centre, Adventure Island, Play Projects and Drawing Club, all of which are aimed at enabling teachers to adventure in what I call the magic of children.
You mention on your website that you believe many children experience a disconnect from their learning in Early Years and KS1 due to a societal need to track and measure academic progress in a linear, easily interpretable way. How do you believe ‘CAN I GO AND PLAY NOW?’ addresses this issue?
There is a door that stands in front of all educators and this door leads to the magic of children – it’s where authentic creativity, collaboration, curiosity, story dreaming and joy live. I call it the World of Good Things. Children only have a childhood once and I believe that not only is it the chrysalis of identity itself, it holds all the things that can truly connect children to their educational experiences. There is a narrative that children’s progress has to be endlessly tracked and monitored and this has led to a huge swathe of spreadsheet-ism and the marketisation of education which in turn has shaped children’s early learning experiences into a ‘rush and push’ for early academics and ‘success’. My work is trying to show that you can have all the spreadsheets in the world, but you have failed children if you have eroded their identity by not giving them space for a childhood. The Adult World creates all kinds of ways of trying to connect children to their day with behaviour management, well-being projects, reading for pleasure and growth mindset, yet all the while, children have something that runs in their DNA that has all these things: it’s called play – it is the natural ether and ecosystem of childhood. When we embrace play in an educational sense, we create something called co-play and this can hold the key to the connection to learning that children can feel and deserve. Ultimately, I am trying to show the Adult World that the magic of children is a place to come and adventure in. The World of Good Things awaits, you just need to let go of the idea that children have to perform and complete your tasks to prove they know something, and begin to have faith in childhood and if you can hear the ‘song of play’ coming through the door before you know it you’ll be in the World of Good Things too – it really is an extraordinary place.
How long was it in the Education Sector before you realised the need for an initiative like ‘CAN I GO AND PLAY NOW’? Was there a specific moment of clarity?
Before I became a teacher, I was fortunate to go on a ten day study visit to Reggio Emilia, Italy where I saw how a society can authentically value childhood. It was a transformative life moment as it also coincided with the birth of my daughter, Lauren, who in time truly showed me the World of Good Things. It was this that I was determined to take into education with me – choice, independence, curiosity, collaboration and kindness. I taught from the soul and now talk about the idea of ‘teaching to the edge of tears’ – teaching and co-playing because you have to, because it means something, not in the future but right at that very moment. And the more I taught in this way, the more the magic of children showed itself. So in a way, it’s been an ongoing process, an adventure. The key to it all has been the realisation that childhood is a mystery, so that keeps me wanting to explore and discover what children are trying to tell us. I think in time, I have discovered one thing, but I won’t reveal it because it’s something that if you are willing to adventure into play, I’d love you to find it for yourself. All I will say is that it can be transformative and it’s waiting for you.
You describe a very interesting concept on your website regarding the position of an educator – you state that you believe teachers should evolutionise their role to adopt a position more akin to a ‘facilitator’, rather than that of a ‘knower’ or disciplinarian. Can you discuss this in more detail?
It comes back to the idea of what your role is and how you see childhood. If you value childhood then you will see its magic – you will give children choice and autonomy within their day, you’ll enable the solidarity of play, you’ll give learning as a gift not a means to tick off a curriculum. It’s why I created the concept of co-play – the Golden Blend of direct teaching (where we deliver specific skills) and then play where children explore and share their understanding as an open-ended experience with us as co-adventurers too. It’s a subtle shift but can be a really powerful one since children begin to see that we value their thinking and their explorations and more importantly that we are part of them, that we are in the World of Good Things together. Much of my thinking is based on the concept of the Hidden Soul, the subject of my next book. Learning is in the world itself. It doesn’t ‘belong’ to the Adult World however much it would like to think it does. Every single thing has the 3Ms in it – Mathematics, Mark Making and Making Conversation. When we show this to children, then the learning in the world ‘pops up’ and they can begin to see that they are protagonists in their own adventure and that learning is all around them even when not in school… It’s all about ‘show, not tell…’
In regards to question 3 [changing of teacher roles], do you believe this should simply be a classroom exercise to be used when appropriate. Or, alternatively, should it be an established method of tutelage embedded in the foundations of the UK’s teacher training programmes?
It has to be something that is felt in the soul, something you immerse in. You might do it in certain phases of the day to begin with to take your first steps but if you see the magic of children and all its possibilities then you will want to adventure more. It’s why I created Play Projects as a way of the Adult World to embrace childhood and begin to see its value. Authentically enabling play and childhood is about creating a culture which doesn’t happen instantly but that’s your part of the adventure! I think it’s about showing trainee students that there is another way. Neoliberalism’s control on education is based on the myth that there is no alternative to it’s system. But there is – children can be taught skills with play-fullness. Reading doesn’t belong in a book band book, maths doesn’t belong to a whole-school maths scheme, and parents don’t have to look for ‘performance’. Neoiliberalism relies on people not questioning, so we definitely need our students to question!
And finally, what kind of feedback have you received from fellow educators since starting ‘CAN I GO PLAY NOW?’ Has any of this input been helpful in improving your company?
The book itself has attracted lots of praise and people tell me that it has helped them reinvigorate their career, or has enabled them to see that they need to embrace play more. I think it all comes back to the World of Good Things – you either want to go there or not. It’s about feeling its message in your soul. The vast numbers of people who have felt it, tells me that the World of Good Things is out there and it is growing, so it gives momentum for my own work. I also go into schools and nurseries to help them on their adventures and that too has been amazing to see the impact. The book is just a tiny tip of the iceberg – slowly but surely, the World of Good Things is coming and if you can feel it right now in your own heart, I’ll see you in there…