International Play Iceland – October 2022

Well, what can I say… I have been blown away by the experience of International Play Iceland 2022.

It all started with a little apprehension as I don’t particularly like being away from home, but I packed my suitcase and travelled up to Luton to begin my journey. Once I arrived, I was greeted by a great bunch of people, people who share my passion for PLAY in Early Years! Oh, and some very cold weather; so glad I packed my thermals.

The First Day

Day 1 took us to the Sky Lagoon, an oceanside geothermal lagoon that overlooks the North Atlantic Ocean; now, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t looking forward to this… -4 degrees and putting on a swimsuit, no thank you! However, I had to join in and I am glad I did; it was the most amazingly surreal, relaxing experience even with the wind blowing a hooley … the laughter we had with people I had never met before was amazing.

Later that evening (once back in our warm clothes) we had an adult’s games night, time for us to ‘play’. Now if you could hear the laughter and shouting from everyone you wouldn’t believe some of us had only just met. Laughing until our sides hurt and who knew Early Years were so competitive.

The Second Day

For the next two days, we visited preschools and kindergartens to experience and observe the Icelandic way through the eyes of a child. We learned to watch and observe and have talks with practitioners who all have the same problems we have in the UK with staffing and ratios which was good to know we are not on our own. One of the settings I visited was a kindergarten called Ugluklettur in Borgarmes which was set in the countryside; where we started off at the Little House, where children were able to explore their surroundings. It was great to see them working collaboratively on something; they were trying to move large pieces of ice from the frozen pond to the bench… without breaking it. They risk-assessed the situations and worked together with their friends, making the magic happen. In such low temperatures, they did not worry about their frozen hands, wet gloves or coats. They just concentrated on getting the ice safely from one place to another.  This setting had amazing interactions with children and even though I could not speak their native language the encouragement and motivation I observed from one practitioner to each child was just gorgeous.

They encouraged and praised, had so much warmth and motivation and I could hear the enthusiasm in their voices even in their own language. I could tell they were questioning the children, resulting in the children thriving in their play.

It made me think…

I wondered if I ever feel that I am too brainwashed or regimented in my feelings of what I need or want to see when I inspect or audit.

The answer to that is no –

I know what I know and I am proud of what I know, as it makes me who I am.

But I also know that seeing amazing practice is something to shout about and what I saw that day I want to SHOUT about!!

Thank you Ugluklettur for a great day.

The Third Day

Day 3 was exciting, a morning of provocations. Everyone bought their own provocation with them and set it up in a big hall. The children then entered and played freely with what had been provided for them, experiences to provoke their learning through play. It was wonderful to see them using all of the provocations and be excited in simple things such as water beads which I am sure they had not seen.

Later we listened to the Minister of children discussing how they plan to move things forward in Iceland and how children are paramount to everything. AMAZING!! We followed this up with a Play Iceland discussion with Tom Shea, Niki Buchan Natural Learning, Tom Hobson, Michelle Wisbey and our Icelandic hosts about the power of play and taking a step back, and back again and back again to just observe and see how children risk assess and learn through their own play.

The Final Day

The final day… what can I say.

We started it off by visiting a beautiful toy factory where everything was hand-crafted, prepped and completed by individuals from the local community who just needed a helping hand to succeed. Oh boy, they succeeded; the toys were beautifully made, each and every one of them crafted with love and care. I might have made a few purchases ready for the EPOP raffle next year.

After the toy factory, we loaded the coach and took a trip to the most amazing waterfall, got a bit wet and a bit cold but my goodness the view. We stopped for lunch with a view to die for. We swam in the hot spa and some of us dipped into the Atlantic (not me!). The seals even popped their heads up to see what a bunch of play people were doing.

Then we ended the day with something that I can only describe as powerful. It spoke more than words into my heart; it spoke calmness using the story of the four elements. The fire, the air, the earth and the water each having a purpose in the remit of play.

We shared our thanks to each other and then it happened. To finish the night, they decided to come out and PLAY- and oh did it PLAY. The Northern Lights.

I feel truly grateful and extremely privileged to have experienced such things over the last 5 days – Tom Shea, you truly are the most kindest person and I feel very humbled and proud to call you my friend.

Thank you, Play Iceland, for an experience I will never forget and for something that has really given me food for thought, lots to think about… So now, to get home and implement it.