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Beyond the comfort zone lie the riches of new possibilities
January 2nd 2013 | 61 comment(s)

Over the last year I have been posting a regular Monday Morning Quote on my Facebook page. I haven’t managed every Monday but there have been twenty-nine quotes in 2012 and apart from the obvious - they all have something to do with children and young people - there is something else about them that is a little less apparent.

Here’s a clue. This year’s quotes have included contributions from:

An actor, an evolutionary biologist, a primary school headteacher, a couple of sociologists, a physiologist, two folklorists, a social-psychologist, two educational psychologists, an educator, a play theorist, an early years specialist, a landscape architect, a physical architect, a playground designer, a historian, two philosophers, an ethicist and an anarchist.

Bear with me, there’s a point here.

It’s very easy to unconsciously fall into the rut of limiting our knowledge base. In fact, right from the point of our initial training we are conditioned into reading material that is generated within a narrow disciplinary focus and which fits the dominant paradigm of the day. Without realising it this mindset often follows us through our process of continuing professional development.

For those teaching in early childcare and education that usually means reading material written from a developmental perspective which covers very young children only; for those teaching the middle years it is equally easy to read only pedagogical works written by educational psychologists. We could say much the same for most other branches of the children and young people’s workforce.

This is not a deliberate act. It is a subtle and unconscious one and for that reason it can be a difficult rut to break free of. It also means that attempts to encourage us to extend our thinking or even think in a completely different way can easily be taken as a personal criticism and a judgement on the way we are working.

It was reading works by the anarchist writer Colin Ward  in the 1980s that brought this issue to my mind. All too often a book written by an author from one particular field is likely to be full of references to other works from that same field. To give you an example, one of the books I am reading at the moment is about children and communities. It is written by two people from the community development sector and almost all the major references made in the book quote other community development people. In other words, a significant chunk of the written material we may have access to can simply add to the rut.

That’s not true of a Colin Ward book though. His work typically contains references from just about every professional and academic field you can think of plus a handful that you never even knew existed.

Variously employed as an architect, a local authority education officer and a town planner, Ward was also a lifelong anarchist and this background philosophy was a central influence in his work. Those of us working as British playworkers in the 1970s and 80s found an instant connection to Ward’s writings, including his books ‘Streetwork: The Exploding School’ (1973) and particularly ‘The Child and the City’ (1978). After all, what is play and playing if it is not about taking personal control and challenging old structures and power relationships? Not for nothing is New York States first adventure playground called ‘The Anarchy Zone’.

The real learning lesson in reading someone like Colin Ward is that to truly understand any topic it has to be approached broadly and not just in a ‘multi-disciplinary’ way but in an ‘every-disciplinary’ way.

Some of the titles on my book shelvesThis rut can extend beyond our choice of reading material too because it also affects our choice of conferences, seminars and training events in which to invest our often limited resources. Over the last couple of years I have been fortunate to be able to attend events aimed at social policy development, folklore, linguistics, design, education, history, toys, game theory, storytelling, film and media, playwork and childcare. And there were relevant learning lessons and exciting possibilities suggested by them all.

The way to break out of the rut is to deliberately seek out and engage with stuff that is outside of our current experience and possibly outside our comfort zone, because beyond the comfort zone lie the riches of new possibilities.

That’s what the Monday Morning Quotes are about.

Marc Armitage
1st January 2013


Just in case you’re interested, the Monday Morning Quotes for 2012 came from the following writers (some featured more than once and be honest here, ask yourselves how many of these names you recognise):

Clive Barker, Marc Bekoff, Michael J Boulton, David Brown, Roger Caillois, Vincent Dethier, Norman Douglas, Greta Fein, Frank Furedi, Judith Rich Harris, Barbara E Hendricks, Tom Hobson, Robin Moore, Janet Moyles, Simon Nicholson, Iona and Peter Opie, Plato, Alasdair Roberts, Brian Sutton-Smith, Lev Vygotsky, John Wall and Colin Ward.

Comments add comment

January 2, 2013 15:01 by Amanda Bartlett
Thinking outside the invisible "square"
This discussion highlights the unintended ways of thinking we subconsciously adopt and challenges us to look at our knowledge and understandings from different perspectives. Being a kindergarten teacher for almost 20 years, my perspective has changed somewhat through the experience of writing a thesis. Mark is right, we need to think with different lenses to get a true understanding of our knowledge base.

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Marc Armitage



Marc is an independent consultant, researcher and writer in playworking and the wider social world of children and young people.

He is a regular speaker at conferences and seminars around the European Union and beyond engaging with practitioners, educators and policy makers.


This website is a collection of writings and news, published pieces, conference papers, discussions, thoughts, ideas, Blog pieces .. and general ramblings.

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