Women in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Teacher Suzanne Axelsson From Sweden by Mike Prochaska
Suzanne Axelsson lives in Stockholm, Sweden, “right next to a shopping mall, the underground, tram and bus station – and also next to a lake where we can swim in summer and skate in winter. Here in Stockholm we never seem far from nature, no matter how central we live.” She came to the U.K. in 1992, not expecting to fall in love and marry a local and spend the rest of her life there. “I have always wanted to be a teacher, for as long as I can remember. But the age that I wanted to teach has varied over the years.” Read on to learn more about Suzanne...
Q. Why teach preschool?
"When I came to Sweden I started working with young children and found I had a natural connection with them. I tried working in schools, but did not like the rigid nature of teaching to a fixed curriculum. I much prefer to facilitate children's learning – and the preschool curriculum allows me to do that.
“[From] 2009 to 2011 I did a masters in ECE to deepen my understanding of my work as an early years educators – it was the best decision ever despite having three young children at home and working full-time as a director of a newly opened bilingual preschool. Mixing theory and practice has really helped me get that deeper understanding. Of course, I am still trying to dig deeper.
“I have worked as a teacher, special needs teacher and also as a director. These days I supplement my writing with working as a facilitator with the board of children in Gävle (north of Stockholm) where I use philosophy sessions with a group of 8- to 12-year-olds to support their thinking and creativity to design a new way to teach sustainability and water-related issues.
“I also spend time holding workshops and presentations – some as work and some donated time. For example, in mid-March I will donate 11 days in a refugee camp in Palestine training educators in play and learning, child development, using philosophy with children and tapping into their imaginations. I have been going back and forth doing these training sessions for a few years now – some via Skype."
Q. Why Palestine?
“I think it has been eye opening for me to work with these women in Palestine and see a different reality, a whole new perspective and the pedagogical somersaults I have had personally have been large and many as I have tried to come to terms with what I have heard, seen and experienced. Guns are an everyday reality – all of the children I met there had friends or family that had been killed, injured or arrested. Most were in a state of trauma that they were not aware of because it was everyday life.
“Play and imagination is even more important there – and yet the adults have so little of it themselves, because their own childhoods have been filled with the same trauma. It is a humbling experience to see these women striving for a better place for their children.”
Q. What is your favorite thing to do with your students?
“This is so hard to answer, because I think it is always changing and always evolving. But if I have to choose my favorite thing to do with children is to laugh. When we laugh together we are bonding, we are getting to know each other; we are relaxed together. Joy is been awoken and it makes it easier to be open to others, to wonder and be curious about things around you. And I mean real laughing, not nervous laughing – as the real laughing means they all feel safe.
“My favorite thing to make with children … probably make-believe. Pretend, whether telling stories where the children get involved with the story telling with me, or in play together, taking on a role, or doing theater together … mostly for each other rather than for parents and the like.”
Q. Why is play important for children?
“For me this goes back to a post I wrote at the end of last year about original learning … about learning and play being woven together. Play is not pedagogical, but pedagogy can be found in play. Of course, as educators we can add things to play – questions, props, new locations, etc., so that the children can expand their play and get the opportunity to discover new things.
“I really cannot press the point hard enough about the importance of outdoor play. Here in Sweden we are outside at least an hour every day. Most days more. Some days for the whole day. And we are putting winter clothes on in early October and don't get to take them off until late April. So as the Swedish saying goes, 'There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes.'
“I have taken with me rain gear to Palestine as I saw that the children there did not have clothes to be able to explore puddles or play out in the rain, and yet puddle play is one of the best play kinds ever. SO much learning can happen there. In fact, so much that maybe I should just write a blog post on that!! Having the right clothes can liberate children – inside and outside – in their play.”
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
“I truly believe that working in the early years is the most important job in the world. We are working with the very foundation of a person, and on this foundation they will continue to build their life, their learning, to reach their potential. As we do not know what each child will be, or what the future holds, then we need to help them create the widest, strongest foundation possible so that they can go on to construct whatever they want, so they have the strength to do that."
Check out Suzanne's blog, Interaction Imagination!