Anji Play – a public kindergarten service running in 140 centres for 14,000 children aged 3-6 in Anji County, China – is gaining an international profile for its emphasis on outdoor play and its relaxed approach to risk. I first stumbled on it a couple of years ago, thanks to this widely-shared video on Facebook. More recently my curiosity was piqued by its inclusion in a superb episode of the Netflix TV documentary ‘Abstract’, on the US construction toy designer and play advocate Cas Holman.
Then I realised that an upcoming trip to China was going to take me literally to Anji Play’s doorstep. So I persuaded my Chinese clients to exploit this lucky coincidence and set up a visit.
My first view of the schoolyard at Anji Play
This post shares some thoughts on what I saw and heard. It ends with a short interview with Anji Play’s founder, Cheng Xueqin, who has just stepped down from her role as head of service.
Posted in early childhood, Education, Morality, Outdoor play, play
Tagged Anji Play, China, early childhood, early years, education, outdoor play, risky play
A few months ago I was asked to do an email interview by Maya, a senior high school student from California, as part of her project. (She has asked me not to use her last name.)
The questions were smart, she knew her stuff, and she had read some of my writings. (Top tip to other students who ask for help with their projects: always do this.) So I agreed.
When I was finished I thought: Maya’s questions were so astute that maybe I should share the interview more widely. So I asked her. And she agreed.
Here is the interview, published just in time for the Child in the City conference in Vienna (where my keynote speech will give a sneak preview of the key findings of my study tour on child-friendly urban planning). As always, feedback and comments are welcome!
What would you say are the biggest health problems/hazards facing children living in large cities? Are there particular issues for children living in low income areas?
[Note: I have added updates at the end of this post] Last month, as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, I met Viola Zürcher, the leader of a German forest kindergarten (strictly speaking a waldkindergrippe or forest crèche, which takes children aged under three). Her setting runs five days a week in a wooded area on the edge of the city of Freiburg. Like other similar settings, it has a small, temporary hut building as an indoor base.
The visit was meant to be a brief social call, arranged by Freiburg residents and play advocates Peter Höfflin and Ellen Weaver (my tour-guides-cum-translators for the day). But the conversation took an unexpected turn.
Recently my work has had a strong focus on the built environment: how the decisions and actions of planners, highway engineers, designers and others shape children’s lives. Which has meant that the other side of my work – connecting with educators, playworkers and others who work directly with children – has taken a back seat.
But last weekend at the Natural Phenomena conference in Whangarei, New Zealand, the educators were to the fore. And it reminded me that there’s nothing quite like hanging out with people who are deeply committed to children, and deeply engaged in the sometimes messy, sometimes challenging, sometimes joyous art and practice of supporting children’s learning and play. So at the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I’d like to share some of the feelings and experiences of that remarkable time and place.
As a teacher or educator, the classroom is your domain. You are in charge. You set the rules and the learning goals. Your children are close at hand, and under a close watch.
Once you leave the classroom, things change. You have less control. Children have more space, literally and metaphorically. So there is a shift in responsibilities. And this can feel frightening.
So why would you consider taking learning outside? And why would you give any thought to what children learn through free play?
Adventure play is enjoying a moment. And at the centre of this is The Land, an adventure playground in Wrexham, North Wales. So it is great to see a 14-minute documentary feature on The Land – from US filmmaker Erin Davis – being made freely available online. Click on the image below to watch it.
It was Hanna Rosin’s 2014 Atlantic magazine cover story ‘The Overprotected Kid’ that thrust The Land into the public eye. It also features prominently in the new book Messy by Tim Harford, writer and self-styled ‘undercover economist’ (and front man for one of my favourite BBC Radio 4 shows, More or Less). Harford’s take is revealing: Continue reading
Posted in Education, Outdoor play, play, playground, Risk
Tagged Adventure playground, education, Lady Allen, outdoor education, outdoor learning, outdoor play, playwork, Risk, The Land, Tim Harford, video
[Update 16 May 2017: the BBC has rejected a complaint I submitted about the story. Its response includes a blatant untruth. The piece is still online and, so far as I can see, unchanged. So I have submitted a further complaint. More details at the end of this post.]
A major news story on the BBC website this morning uses false comparisons and basic errors to create a highly misleading picture about the sums paid out for accident claims in schools. Far from revealing a ‘claims culture’, the figures actually show that payouts make up a tiny proportion of education budgets, and are not on the rise.