Thursday, February 03, 2022

Teacher Tom's Play-Based Learning

I started this blog in 2009 simply because I'd written a couple articles for Seattle's Child magazine that I thought were pretty good and felt they deserved a life beyond the recycling bin. That was the entirety of my ambition. This blog would provide an online home for these two articles. Period. They didn't have any readers beyond my friends and family, and that was fine because that's all I expected.

Before long, however, I began adding posts, inspired by the children as they spent their days playing at Woodland Park. It became a place where I told their stories, where I told my stories, and where I told our stories. As the only teacher in this school owned by the parents who enrolled their kids, I began to crave connection with other educators who felt as I did, who were learning from young children as they played. It took some hunting back then, but I finally found a handful other educators scattered around the globe that were, like me, celebrating play-based learning.

The cocktail of being a relatively new teacher, children at play, and these inspiring women, who to this day I think of as sisters, was a heady one. Our little informal collective began to inspire one another. We shared ideas and projects. We challenged one another. We one-upped one another. We had each felt alone in our play-based worlds, but now that we had found one another we began to realize that maybe we weren't crazy after all. In a world in which preschool was becoming increasingly academic and, frankly, hard-hearted, we were creating, in our own ways, and in our own corners of the globe, the opposite.

We were trusting children.

We were following children.

We were embracing this radical idea that, through play, through their self-selected activities, the children in our care were learning to be self-motived, to work well with others, to be critical thinkers, and, most of all, to love learning. 

Slowly at first, then suddenly, we all began to see our audiences grow. There were others like us! I guess I knew that something big was happening in 2013 when I was invited to speak in Athens Greece where a man who I now count as a dear friend, John Yiannoudis, had started his own urban preschool based, he told me, "on your philosophy." 

I have a philosophy?

When I met John face-to-face he confessed, "At first I thought, 'Who is this crazy guy in a red cape doing all these crazy things with kids?' But then I started reading your posts and realized that this is what I wanted for my own daughter."

John had organized an event at which I was the only speaker, scheduled for 6 pm on a Friday night, and the venue he had rented seated 400 people. Talk about crazy! When I saw all those empty seats on the day before the event I felt sorry for him. I imagined how disappointed he was going to be. There was no way, I thought, that more than a couple dozen people would turn out for this event featuring an English-speaking preschool teacher from a little cooperative school halfway around the world. 

When the day arrived, however, there were people sitting in the aisles. Maybe this idea of play-based learning wasn't so crazy after all.

Over the years, as I've continued to write, I've tried, each day, to share something true, something I've learned, or something about which I still have questions. And nearly every day someone tells me, echoing John, that they want "this" for the children in their lives -- play. Over the years I've received thousands of messages from educators and parents asking how to "do what you do."

This is the motivation behind my new 6-week course, Teacher Tom's Play-Based Learning, in which I share my "philosophy," one that places the pure joy of learning at the center. In this course, I provide the details, insights, and reasons behind my unique approach to child-led, play-based learning, with the idea of helping you to develop your own unique approach, one that honors the children and families in your life.

My career as an educator has been an accidental one in many ways. I was lucky to find my way to where I am. I'm grateful to my readers, my mentors, my blog sisters, and especially the families and children who continue to inspire me to look deeper, to think more radically, and, ultimately, play harder. You have helped me realize that I do have a philosophy, one that has emerged one blog post at a time, one question at a time, one epiphany at a time. I've been sharing it little by little for well over a decade now, scattered over nearly 4000 posts, two books, and hundreds of talks. This new course is my attempt to pull it all together in one place, not so that you can do what I do, but rather so that you can do what's best for the children in your life, which is, as always, to let them play.


Please join the very first cohort for Teacher Tom's Play-Based Learning, a brand new 6-week foundational course on my popular play-based learning pedagogy, designed for early childhood educators, childcare providers, parents and grandparents. I can't wait to share it with you! For more information and to register, click here

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