When we stop saying “NO”

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Quite a few years ago now (and as I was just calculating back, it is a few more than I thought!)…. but anyway – quite a ‘number’ of years ago now, I set tracks to participating in my very first action research project.  I’ve been involved in quite a few more since – but this particular one, aside of being the first and a very significant learning curve for me, has almost set the tone for the way I play….. (substitute “work”)….. with young children.  And ironically enough – the broad topic of this project was – yep, you guessed it – PLAY.

At that particular time, as a fairly new director, I was still scrambling my way around a horror story of regulations – but even more so, trying my darnedest to unravel what I have come affectionately to know as the “EC myths & legends”.  You know – all those things that we (supposedly) “can’t do”.  All those things that shut down children’s play.  I had become weary of trying to box children into this little safe haven, where no harm could come to them, and they followed the rules – somewhat like the little tin soldiers of my Grandma’s that sit on my shelf.  I’m sorry – that just isn’t what childhood is about!

After a lot of throwing around different things that we wanted to change in our service, what we finally cut it to was basically something along the lines of – “how do we push it to the absolute limits of the legal boundaries to allow children to play?”.  Now it sure wasn’t worded that way – it was about 5 lines longer and no way you could orally project our question without several big deep breaths!  But that was essentially the essence of it.

Our first step was something that is still a favourite thing for me to do – it was for our educators, our parents, our community, and anybody else we could rope in – to think about what they valued about play in their own childhood, and then submit to us what they wanted for their own children.  It became very clear to us, that we had to somehow break free of the mould we had been set in by our predecessors, and get right back to the roots of play and what it was.  We did this with a great amount of gusto.

As a result of this project – I am proud to say that I became a regulation nazi!  I could almost quote verbatim every single word that people might try to use to shut down what we were doing.  I knew exactly what those black and white words said, and I knew exactly where we could go to without ever breaking a single regulation.  Instead of becoming my enemy, these words became my friend.  And I have stuck by that principal to this day – know exactly what you are talking about – and you know how to stand up for the rights of children…… in particular Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child….. which if you aren’t familiar with, I’ll leave you to research for yourself.

What is the most significant learning that came from that year long project for me?……… the thing that I have clung to the most….. well, it’s what that long winded question boiled down to by the end of the 12 months, and what we continued on with as a part of our core philosophy, and what I have now carried into a new service with me –

“What happens we stop saying ‘no’?”.

There’s a really really long answer to that question somewhere in me.  But I think to be more effective, those words should be left hanging.  Because when we stop saying “no”, and give children some agency – they give us everything in return……. amazement, surprise, wow moments, love, gratitude…… but most of all, they let us remember what is was to be a child…… what it means to be free…….. and what it means to truly be alive……

What happens when we stop saying “no”…….. is that we start seeing play.


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I'm an early learning speaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ and Explorations Early Learning.