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'Seeing' children at play

Learning from the way young children spontaneously engage with the world.

Published onSep 15, 2020
'Seeing' children at play

I am following a track of a child’s interest, as it meanders. Crouched down at their height, doing things at their angle, closer to the ground; getting dirty, and imaginatively coming to be alongside them. Taking a step back and allowing them to do things on their own and not giving answers nor ways of doing certain things. Observing and engaging with children, as they play, has been stimulating my reflections about our engagement with and understanding of children; and also about our own engagement with the world around us as adults. It has led me to question the roles of educator, school and education.

I am not a teacher. At least I haven’t been educated as such. I work with young children and this usually implies that my work has to do with education, which is not false, but the work doesn’t begin there… It begins with paying close attention to children’s spontaneous gestures and the phenomenon of play. Children’s free and spontaneous play has a telling of its own dignity. But to really understand this means cultivating a receptive seeing that rarely attends their play. My attempt is to pay attention to the small openings in which children engage with the world of their own volition, and as they do so, they begin world-making. Questions about education come then as a consequence: could children’s spontaneous gestures in play inform an education that takes them seriously?

Since 2018, I have been involved in Brazil in a project called Territory of Play, in which eight researchers gather to observe, describe and reflect on children’s gestures, narratives and landscapes as they play, in a variety of settings. In 2019 we launched, in partnership with an organisation called Alana, a documentary called “Miradas” registering the process (the full documentary is available online at Videocamp).

At the beginning of 2020 we began a new project called “Playing in the city”, researching how and where children play in Sao Paulo. With the arrival of the pandemic of COVID-19 in March, and the confinement of people to their homes, we began to interview families on-line in their houses. We have interviewed around 100 families around the world, mainly in Brazil, within different social contexts. We are now in the process of producing a short documentary and a series of podcasts, called “Playing at home”.

I’m also involved with Casa Redonda, a study centre and school for young children in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, in a beautiful natural landscape. Children, free play and nature are intimately intertwined in this project of innovative education in Brazil.  

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