A conference about the importance of play for children, featuring global and notable speakers and a colourfully international audience of participants has just taken place in Athens for the first time. Organized by the progressive Dorothy Snot primary school, a private Greek school, who describes the event as “a dynamic conference (that) aims to widely present how play, that is not controlled by adults, can be the one and only Early Education element allowing children to discover the real world, at their own unique pace, through- Respect, Freedom and Trust- through this kind of play, children discover the world and become strong, enthusiastic, independent, caring and confident citizens. We see that happening every single day in our schools.”
The First International Play on Education Conference took place at the newly re-opened Serafio and featured three days (April,11-13) of thought-provoking, intellectually dynamic and experientially innovative talks and workshops run by top personalities whose work centres on inspiring knowledge and understanding through play around the world in primary-school-age kids.
The keynote speakers were Peter Grey, a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education; Swedish Suzanne Axelsson, known for her website Interaction Imagination and work on gender equality, Montessori and philosophy with kids methods; Tom Hobson from the Woodland Park Cooperative, whose blog Teacher Tom has become a go-to for pro-play parents globally; Japanese architect Takaharu Tezuka who reached fame for his design of “the world’s Best Kindergarten” in Tokyo; and highly experienced ‘play-worker’, lecturer and advocate Meynell Walter.
The man behind the idea for the forward-thinking conference is John Yiannoudis from Dorothy Snot school, who told Greek City Times that he was disappointed with the very minimal presence of Greeks at the conference: “Out of the 200 people here today, almost half are from all over the world (24 countries) and only 100 are from Greece,” he said. “I think this is because Greeks are still not striving to be the best, to live up to their potential. Greece has changed and will become globalised if it doesn’t strive to be the best in education as well as everything else, to have a strong sense of identity.”
“Greece has developed a lot more awareness about the importance of play as the engine for education, and that understanding keeps growing, but as with many other countries in Europe as well as Australia and the US there is currently a stasis when it comes to moving forward with initiatives related to this,” said Tom Hobson.
“In Australia, for example, they have established the importance of play in preschools, but follow the western example of making homework, exams and other such pressures part of the daily reality of kids after the preschool age.”
Many studies today reveal both the incredible academic success of children following the Finnish school education system, focused almost exclusively on playing rather than learning subjects and doing homework, and at the same time the high levels of stress faced by kids today worldwide, stress levels compared in some studies to those experienced of American factory workers in the 1950-70s.
“The danger right now is also the creation of software like apps that corporations are trying to sell through the false idea that kids can be educated through them via play,” says Hobson. These are basically corporations taking the words we use and repackaging them to cash in on parents’ insecurities or aspirations for their kids. Play is about children freely pursuing their curiosity, and we need to encourage all kids to educate themselves with the minimum amount of adult encroachment, preferably through outdoor play and interaction with other children.”