Thursday, June 24, 2021

We're Planting For Our Children and Grandchildren, Our Future Elders

Yesterday evening I was talking with my friend John Yiannoudis, the proprietor of the Dorothy Snot preschool and kindergarten in Athens, Greece. One of the things he and I share is that we both came to education later in life, after having had other careers. John's background is in business and while I've sometimes tried to argue with him about economics, at the end of the day, I've always wound up seeing his point.

As I'm writing this, we're on the cusp of Day 5 of Teacher Tom's Play Summit, an international online event that was conceived with the idea of igniting or furthering a transformation in how we educate and parent young children. Of course, I have no illusions that a one-week event in our little corner of the internet is going to prompt the global epiphany that we must give up on our idea that children are ours to control, that we need to bring children back to the center of society, and that we can and should trust children with freedom. I've been going on about the need for a transformation in my own way for decades now. The collective efforts on behalf of children represented by our summit presenters amounts to centuries of advocacy for children, parents, and educators. 

I believe that I've seen evidence that we have, in our ad hoc efforts, moved the needle in some areas. For instance, it wasn't that long ago that I could ask a roomful of early childhood educators, "How many of you call your program 'play-based'?" and see only a few raised hands. This doesn't mean they weren't play-based educators, but rather that they were using euphemisms line "hands on learning" and "experiential education" because the word "play" seemed too frivolous. More recently, however, when I've asked that question, nearly everyone raises their hands. And there are pockets of real success around the world, like New Zealand with its truly child-centered Te Whāriki national ECE curriculum (as discussed at the summit by Brenda Soutar and Wendy Lee, who also both had a hand in creating it). Other summit presenters talked about Anji Play in China, Reggio Emilia in Italy, forest schools in the UK and the US, not to mention homeschooling and unschooling.

The data, the research, the evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, is all on the side of giving up on our hubristic notions that adults always know best. Our elders across the globe remember a time when children were permitted their own childhoods. Every one of our summit presenters has talked about positive signs, giving us real world examples of the power of trusting children with the freedom to learn about life through their own curiosity and play, to fully connect with nature, other people, and themselves. Several of our summit presenters feel like we are at or approaching a "tipping point." 

The facts and momentum seem to be on our side.

The thing is, when I step back and try to take in a more panoramic view of the lot of children in our world, I have to squint to see the real progress we've made. As John told me yesterday, "From a businessman's perspective, of all the types of institutions there are, education is the slowest to change." Every other type of business has been dramatically transformed over the past decades. Indeed, they are in a constant state of transformation and they adapt to a changing world in order to survive, yet the experience of education for most children around the world has remained stuck in a model that was created during the Industrial Revolution. There have been ebbs and flows over the decades, but schools and the way "education" is conceived of in schools, has proven to be exceedingly resistant to change.

As I approach my 60th birthday, I'm growing increasingly impatient with the pace at which change is happening. If we are nearly at a tipping point, and I have no reason to believe that we aren't, then maybe I, maybe we, can be the force that finally pushes it over. This was why my wife Jennifer and I felt that now was the time for a summit like Teacher Tom's Play Summit. Our call is for early childhood educators and parents to unite. There is no force on earth that can stand before us if we do.

We may be nearing a tipping point. We may be on the verge, as a society, of fully embracing Raffi Cavoukian's philosophy of Child Honouring by bringing children back to center of our lives. But it may also be true that "on the verge" is a relative term. "It's a journey. It's not a destination . . . And we certainly have not reached it if it is," says Brenda Souter from her perspective as a Maōri educator in a nation that is striving to overcome the sins of its colonial past. Whether we've been successful or not is a judgement for what Aboriginal educator Jackie Bennet calls "our future elders." What we are doing today is planting seeds for a crop that we ourselves may not harvest. 

This summit is one of those seeds. In the coming months, we can, together, tend the soil, water it, and make sure it gets light. But otherwise, like with our children, it is the seed's destiny to grow. I'm clear that change is needed. I see it in every child I meet and in every adult who loves them. I may not live to see the harvest, but it's not for me anyway. We're planting for our children and grandchildren, our future elders.


There are still two days left in Teacher Tom's Play Summit. It's not too late to join us. What if the whole world understood the power of trusting children with the freedom to play, to explore their world, to ask and answer their own questions? What if everyone respected their right to learn in their own way, on their own time? What if we remembered that children must have their childhoods and that means playing, and lots of it? Teacher Tom's Play Summit  is a free, online conference that takes place June 20-25. Click here to get your free pass to our incredible sessions with early childhood and parenting experts and thought leaders from around the world. Every one of these people are professionals who have placed children first. You will walk away from this event transformed, informed, challenged, and inspired to create a world that respects children and sets them free to learn and grow. Together we can, as presenter Raffi sings, "Turn this world around!"

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