As some of you may know, I recently attended a 2-day training opportunity about Froebel’s theories of early childhood. As I sat in the training room, I glanced across at a quote from him that had been displayed on the wall.
‘What is this play of the little ones? It is the great drama of life itself’
(Froebel cited in Liebschner, 1992: 21)
I wish to draw upon this quote, specifically the words ‘play’, ‘drama’ and ‘life’ in my reflection.
For the early childhood field, ‘play’ forms the very bedrock of learning and development experiences, as a route for self-expression, a tool for tapping into forms of knowledge, a site of freedom and empowerment and as a cultural factor and practice of children and practitioners, as a community. Despite its appearance, play, as a function of living, can indeed be a very serious act of learning. A detachment from the known, stable and fixed, paves way for the delving into a fluid, free and expressive space. It is in this playful space that I engage with and understand the lifelong learner. The majority of our students work full time within early childhood settings and in attending their evening sessions with me, they quite literally transition from the play space of young children, to their own spaces through which to playfully engage with theory, policy and practice.
Through our ‘Policy-to-Practice in Early Childhood’ module, we try to untangle ourselves from the seemingly fixed nature of early childhood policy texts and as a community, strive to infuse the learning experience for children and ourselves as learners, with the core components of individual identity, instinct, spontaneity and our own wisdom. In doing so, we play around with notions of roles, responsibilities, policies and ways of being and learning. Recently, having taken responsibility for a young child with medically complex needs in her setting, a student on the early childhood programme became aware that a special policy for the safe evacuation of this child in an emergency situation had not been considered or produced by the setting. In light of discussions had on this module and the subsequent module they have with me, Safety and Risk in Early Learning Spaces, she approached the manager and through discussion, has been given permission to create this policy herself in order to cater for the needs of the individual child. Often then, the lifelong learner who works in the field full time connects with the learning in sessions, as a lived experience the next day at work. Consequently, we are in a unique and valuable position to foster and nurture direct connections between learning and the enhancement of practice.
Moreover, as our students progress, they are encouraged to respectfully (and from an informed position) disrupt “the mundane…simple questions that only offer us code maps for narrowing the bandwidth of our thinking, living and producing” as said by Parnell and Iorio (2018: 1). As such, in order for play to be at the heart of learning in early years practice, we must be playful learners ourselves. This is in line with Basu’s ideas (2017), in that we spend our time as playful, lifelong learners appreciating that the world and our space within it is characterised by movement, mediation, relations and connections. This is undoubtedly infused by and experienced through the stories of the children, students and tutors, each at different stages in their own learning journeys.
The second key word from Froebel’s quote ‘drama’, taps into a particular area of interest for me personally and professionally. In partnership with ‘play’, everyday dramas and performances through storytelling lie at the heart of our work in early childhood settings – it’s what we do every day and it holds significant value as a vehicle for learning. When engaging in sessions on the early childhood programme, lifelong learners enter and participate as characters in their own individual stories, then become storytellers as they share narratives from experience and practice and as characters, to use Goffman’s ideas (1959), in the wider early childhood student community story here at CLL. Indeed the word ‘story’ appears in our marketing leaflet. For me, this is about individual stories and collective voices of experience. I have recently written on this matter suggesting that “in hearing the stories of others and paying attention to our own stories, we are able to make links between aspects of our past, giving us the opportunity to engage reflexively with our present and thus develop our understanding and awareness of practice for the future”. This provides the learner with an opportunity to shift from the inner learning experience in their authentic engagement with us, to almost immediate, outward expression and translation into practice. And for me, this is what it is to understand, feel and be the lifelong learner.
And so, ‘life’ as Froebel’s third key word in that quote – life as something that the lifelong learner breathes into their learning in that connection between theory and practice, as well as the generation of new life experiences for the very children that lie at the heart of our students’ work. By its very nature then, the pursuit of the lifelong learner and my role in relation to that, feels, for me, autobiographical and autoethnographical. My engagement with lifelong learners is therefore underpinned by more of an autoethnographical pedagogy in that there is an opening up of the lived experience of the early childhood student and practitioner that also involves me offering and sharing my own stories and narratives of experience. This generates a playful space, a space of risk-taking and breaking down the dominant educational structures, some of which have perhaps previously silenced the voices of the individuals who enrol on our courses. It is a delving into the personal self in seeking to enhance our professional self – self is the springboard and experience of self as child and learner serves as the initial knowledge base. In this learning space, we care deeply for our students and their past, current and future lives. For me, this is about affective engagement with our students, empathic connection, genuine interest and encouragement in their learning experience. In working with young children as learners at the start of their lifespan, we are connecting as adult learners, to an experience of life that we have all had –childhood. So here, the lifespan, direct translation to and impact on the real world, continuity and connection, become key concepts for learning.
And so, I’d like to close as I began, with a quote from Froebel (cited in Marenholtz-Bulow, 1891: 4), that for me encapsulates life – long- learning and its connection to time. This quote resonated with me after an experience of speaking with a prospective student who was about to embark on her present and future journey with us here at CLL on the Early Childhood programme. Having heard of her own childhood – a traumatic past, and having learnt that she has been told in her present, that she would never be able to achieve a degree, I was reminded,
“We cannot tear the present from the past or from the future. Past, present and future are the trinity of time. The future demands the renewing of life, which must begin in the present”.
Basu, P. (2017) The In-Betweenness of Things: Materializing Mediation and Movement Between Worlds. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.
Liebschner, J. (1992) A Child’s Work. Freedom and Guidance in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press.
Marenholtz-Bulow, B. (1891) Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel [trans. M. Mann]. Boston: Lee and Shepherd.
Parnell, W. And Iorio, J. (2018) Vivid Life and Learning: Rendering Through Illustrations Rather Than Chopping Human Stories To Bits. In Parnell, W. and Iorio, J. (eds) Meaning Making in Early Childhood Research: Pedagogies and the Personal. (pgs 1-8). New York: Routledge.
About the author
This blog piece was written by Dr Charlotte Jones, Associate Professor and Course Director for Early Childhood, 2+2 and part-time degrees