Monday, October 23, 2023

There Is Nothing More Necessary Than Play

Geysir, sometimes known as the Great Geysir, is a geyser in southwest Iceland. It was the first one known to Europeans and, as such, is the namesake of all the subsequent geysers discovered around the globe. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Geysir where I joined a flock of tourists standing around a wet, steamy hole in the ground, waiting, waiting, waiting, until suddenly a giant dome of water, a bubble several meters across, would form before explosively bursting to send a spectacular tower of boiling water into the sky. 

In a posts last week I mentioned the weeklong International Play Iceland experience. I attended with some 30 other likeminded play-based early childhood educators. This group is about more than just professional development for teachers being presented in an exotic location. It is, I think, I hope, part of an international grassroots movement to elevate our understanding of the essential vitalness of play. This is important stuff, because if everyone understood play, the world would be transformed.

I first learned about Play Iceland through, Hulda Hreiðarsdóttir, the proprietor of Fafu Toys, a company that evolved into Fafunia, "a place or space where parents and practitioners can support learning and skill building through play." Yes, Hulda sold toys and furniture and other things, but what she was always focused on was this grassroots movement. When I first committed myself to attend this event some nine years ago, one of my highest motivations was to meet this woman, whose charm, spirit, and dedication came through even online. Sadly, I never had the chance: she died suddenly, in her sleep, in May 2015 at the age of 32. Fittingly, one of her favorite expressions was "Life is random." Indeed.

Her friends and family, in her honor, carried on and now I count myself among them, even if I never actually met her in life. The mission of Play Iceland is to take the playful magic of this place and these people and carry it out into the world.

As play-based educators, it can often feel as if we are all alone, outliers, outside-the-mainstream preschool teachers, on the fringes, thriving in the pockets of air that are rising to the surface as the Titanic of corporate-sponsored, factory-inspired education begins to sink. But when we join our bubbles together, in our neighborhoods, our cities, our provinces, our nations, and across the world; if we can bring our message to the families who already love and trust us, even if it's just one and two at a time; if we can grow this grassroots movement in solidarity with one another, we can become a bubble that puts Geysir to shame, and no one, no matter how much money or power they have, can stand in our way. No force on earth can stand before teachers, parents, and children united through play.

There is simply nothing more universal, more necessary, more unifying, than play.

Over the years, as we've chatted around our Play Iceland dinner tables and gathered around the Great Geyser in anticipation, we find ourselves asking, "Why do the powers that be seem so afraid of children playing?" 

And honestly, when we look around us, at every step, those with authority seem hellbent upon squashing play through fear-mongering . . . 

Be it with fear-mongering about the pedophile or drug dealer lurking around every corner . . .

. . . or fear-mongering that we are on the verge of economic collapse because our schools aren't producing the test scores we need to beat the Chinese . . .

. . . or fear-mongering about the boogyman of "learning loss" . . . 

. . . or fear-monger about how children will fall behind if they don't have the latest educational toy or isn't reading by the time they are four . . . 

. . . or fear-mongering about scrapes, bruises and broken bones . . . 

. . . . or fear-mongering generally about any form of unstructured time, even going so far as to limit recess, in the name of more desk time, to a mere 15 minutes per day. 

They apparently want our children corralled and controlled and programmed from the moment they are born, doing pretty much anything but playing freely, according to their own desires, curiosity, instincts and passions, as we are born to do.

They fear children playing because in their hearts they know that if humans are allowed to freely engage with the world, outdoors, unsupervised, with few toys, lots of time, and in the company of other children, they will overturn the world order in a single generation. They fear that their precariously balanced applecart of command and control will be toppled, that their profits will plummet, that their power will crumble, and that they won't have anyone left to wield the guns and cudgels they need to keep us all in line. They fear that if children are allowed to play, they will grow up to both expect freedom and have the critical thinking and creative abilities to make it happen.

We see evidence of this grassroots movement springing up everywhere we look. You may have to look carefully, but our tiny bubbles are all around us, from Iceland to China, from Australia to Greece, and from the US to England. We are rising to the surface, forming together into larger and larger bubbles, until like the Great Geysir we will be so big they won't be able to ignore us.

In the coming days, as I reflect upon my trip, the things I learned, and the people I met there. I hope to inspire you in your little bubble and, in the spirit of International Play Iceland. And I expect to see you in the bigger one we form together.


"This inspiring book is essential reading for every family choosing a preschool, every teacher working with young children, and every citizen who wonders how we can raise children who will make the world a better place." ~Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

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