Why I Want to Hear Marc Armitage

The bio for Marc Armitage opens like this... he is an independent consultant, researcher and writer in playworking and the wider social world of children and young people. That doesn't tell you why I want to hear him speak and why we have decided to host a session of his 2013 East Coast Keep Calm and Play On tour dates on March 13th. This is why...or more specifically a couple reasons why. I was first introduced to Marc Armitage, through his writings, by Donna Ridley-Burns of Irresistible Ideas for Play-based Learning. His paper, All About Mary: Children's use of the Toilet Ghost as a Mechanism for Dealing with Fear - but Fear of What? caught my attention. I mean, come on, you had me at "toilet ghost". I read through everything I could. I began to see play patterns in our own little playground that evolved, yet remained consistent over time. We had shaped the renovation of our playground around this idea of "destinations for play" and lo and behold, the perfection in this idea could be found in his papers. I could recollect components of play from my own childhood and I understood how important it is to talk about play comfort zones with my teaching partners, the parents.

The other reason why is that as I grow and evolve as a professional, I come to new conclusions and find new questions to ask. I wonder if I get locked into some ideas about early childhood education and why I would walk away from others. As a teacher in a parent cooperative school, I have a responsibility to explain my educational philosophy to my employers/partners, the parents. I cannot land and stick in just one way of thinking and viewing the world. This is why I want to hear Marc Armitage speak, especially about Overcoming Barriers to Play. I want to think (and share) about how we view risk and since we know that risk is important in gaining life experience and gaining information, how we find balance and feel safe in creating a space in which risk is not only accepted, but opportunities for it are created.

"Make mistakes. Get messy!" chirps Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series. Good books, sure, and it seems like the message would be loud and clear that making mistakes is something that is socially acceptable in educational settings, because I hear it a lot in classrooms. In most cases, when I have heard it -- or maybe even said it myself! -- it means, "Don't worry. Get over it!"

Children have to make actual mistakes to gain the confidence to try again. This is how I view risk in an early childhood setting. This could be physical risk, sure, but it is not just physical risk, it includes the risk that each of child takes to share ideas, feelings, try new foods, spill paint, lose a favorite toy, play with a friend, pick up a pencil, oh the list goes on and on. The thing about physical risk, to me, is that it kind of wraps up the try and fail, try and succeed into a nice experiential learning package.

This is from a note I wrote to parents this past week:

A really excellent and practical example of risk-assessment and balance happened earlier this week. The children were spread out across all three tables of the Project Center working on clay, painting their third layers of paint on their Sense of Place, Shadow Site studies, painting on the easels, AND cutting. (Note: for folks who have not visited our school, this means 17 children in one space, at one time). The (4) adults were waiting tables as if it was the dinner rush. That is what it feels like during project center days. During this busy time, two children engaged in some child-led play that we will call scissor alligators. They had a pair of scissors in each hand and these alligators were snapping at each other. Risk assessment time. 

Does the risk of injury (danger to hands, chest, and face from jabbing and snapping at each other with scissors) balance with acquisition of skills and knowledge?

Now consider leaning a board up against the Teahouse in order to pretend that you are putting out a fire on its roof. Does the risk of injury (breaking an arm, leg, or my favorite adult-to-child warning "cracking your skull open") balance with the acquisition of skills and knowledge?

Well, what would you do? This is what we are going to do...we are going to host a Marc Armitage session, Keep Calm and Play On: Overcoming Barriers to Play on March 13th at 7:30. Tickets are available through brown paper ticket sales. We encourage parents and educators to attend. The tour is being booked through Pop-up Adventure Play (what a great pairing that is!). Let's begin shaping the discussion here in Takoma Park.