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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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An Early Years Conference – A platform for play and a good craic!

It’s been a while since I attended a two day conference where I could participate. My recent pattern has been to attend a conference as a presenter and if possible stay to hear the morning speakers and then be gone. This conference organised by Global Gathering Early Childhood Ireland was attended by 600 delegates from around the globe and provided two long days of interesting networking and conversation or ‘comhra’ as they say in Ireland.

WP_000231The Conference was opened by the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. The Minister is one of only 15 Cabinet Ministers in the Irish Dail.  She is not an Under-Secretary to the Education Minister but his equal.  She was very articulate and set out a very positive stance asking for full engagement from the sector. (I know, not quite what we experience here!)
The Irish budget had just been agreed and the country remains very vociferous on the matter.  The Irish do not mince their words or their humour when it comes to the ridiculing of pompous politicians. However, Minister Fitzgerald was appreciated by the audience for her efforts to fight her corner to secure funding for childcare, mentoring and training to help professionalise the sector. This was considered a step in the right direction and the room was warm towards her.

Over the two days I was particularly delighted by some presenters.  One was Professor Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Play.  He was simply overwhelming in his arguments that play shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.  He made powerful references to the child’s right to play, something he argued was becoming increasingly embattled and beleaguered. He showed beautiful footage of animals, children and adults playing and it was obvious that play creates an altered state of being, to be attuned and bonded rhythmically as well as a musical and aesthetic dance of joyous responses.

play

According to the lively Professor, play is deep rooted and wired in our cortex. He regaled us with beautiful and joyful images of body play with children rolling, jumping, falling and sitting and splashing in water and managing the risks – great evidence to counter the health and safety brigade. He showed how object play supported brain and hand co-ordination leading to 3-Dimensional metaphorical thinking, the basis for invention and innovation.  He shared images of social play in action at festivals and games and included great photos of how humans learn, give and take through rough and tumble play.

He talked about the importance that role play has in helping us to become self organised especially because it stimulates the cerebellum and increases new connections; something that Professor Stuart Shanker, Research Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at York University, Toronto spent time discussing later in the conference.

Naturally, he was equally articulate about the negative impact of limiting children’s play. Sadly, the UK is not the only part of the world desperate to dismiss play in favour of schoolification and learning. He was quite stark in his analysis; children and animals that don’t play have very high stress levels.  Abandoning our impulse to play results in higher levels of aggression, no sense of empathy,  high levels of inflexibility, rigidity, interpersonal conflict and a diminished curiosity.

He asked the question ‘What is the opposite of play?’ His response a low grade depression. His example made the audience cry. A US researcher went into a home for the elderly and spent some time talking to very infirm people.  One lady was asked how she had liked to play when she was fit.  Her answer was that she loved opera. The researcher brought her a tape and played Verdi.  The change in her eyes, her rapturous smile and her great joy said it all.
Professor Brown asked us all to talk to someone that knew us when we were young and ask them “What kind of player were you?”
…a joker / storyteller/ collector / explorer / artist / creator / competitor / mover?  Find out and understand your own playful instincts and comment on what your discovered.  We need to understand the power of play to save it from the ignorant.

Children's Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It shows 80 different types of play

Children’s Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It shows 80 different types of play

 

We don’t stop playing because we grow old

We grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

About June O'Sullivan

An inspiring speaker, author and regular commentator on Early Years, Social Business and Child Poverty, June has been instrumental in achieving a major strategic and cultural shift for the award winning London Early Years Foundation, resulting in increased profile and profitability over the past eight years. As CEO of the UK's leading childcare charity and social enterprise since 2006, June continues to break new ground in the development of LEYF's scalable social business model. She remains a tireless campaigner, looking for new ways to influence policy and make society a better place for all children and families. June is a champion of community-based, multi-generational projects and a great believer in the potential of greater social and cultural capital as a means of delivering long-term social impact. She continues to advise the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years. June is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Director of Early arts, Council Member of the Early Intervention Foundation, Chair of Paddington Farm Trust, Founding Member of the Institute for Early Years and was recently voted into the ‘NMT Power 20’ - top 3. June was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2013, for her services to London’s children. June continues to work closely with the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years, to improve quality and promote a better understanding of the incredible long-term benefits of play-based Early Years education. June is a published author, with an MA in Primary & Early Childhood Studies and MBA from London South Bank University. Read June’s blog: http://www.leyf.org.uk/blog or An inspiring speaker, author and regular commentator on Early Years, Social Business and Child Poverty, June has been instrumental in achieving a major strategic and cultural shift for the award winning London Early Years Foundation, resulting in increased profile and profitability over the past eight years. As CEO of the UK's leading childcare charity and social enterprise since 2006, June continues to break new ground in the development of LEYF's scalable social business model. She remains a tireless campaigner, looking for new ways to influence policy and make society a better place for all children and families. June is a champion of community-based, multi-generational projects and a great believer in the potential of greater social and cultural capital as a means of delivering long-term social impact. She continues to advise the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years. June is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Director of Early arts, Council Member of the Early Intervention Foundation, Chair of Paddington Farm Trust, Founding Member of the Institute for Early Years and was recently voted into the ‘NMT Power 20’ - top 3. June was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2013, for her services to London’s children. June continues to work closely with the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years, to improve quality and promote a better understanding of the incredible long-term benefits of play-based Early Years education. June is a published author, with an MA in Primary & Early Childhood Studies and MBA from London South Bank University. Read June’s blog: www.leyf.org.uk/blog or www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/june-osullivan-mbe/ Follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/JuneOSullivan Follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/JuneOSullivan
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