By Valeria Scacchi
I arrived in Edinburgh on a very warm September day while one of the biggest Climate Change global strikes was in full force. As soon as I stepped out of the train station, after a very scenic journey through the length of England, I felt excited for what was to come. I have never been that far north (geographically) before, a very good friend of mine came to Edinburgh not long ago and absolutely fell in love with its atmosphere and people and so I genuinely felt ecstatic with the possibility to explore such a wonderful city. I knew, from my time in academia, that Edinburgh was home to one of the strongest Froebel Networks in the country, made up of a group of extraordinary academics and practitioners who helped to maintain a strong influence over how policy makers organised the learning for young children, with a distinctive Froebelian hue to it, something that I could only aspire to in my practice.
During a pre-conference dinner I got to meet many of the people that were instrumental in creating what I like to call, a ‘Froebelian wave of consciousness’ in Scotland. We sat around a table having dinner, talking about our achievements, our goals and aspirations for the future, and all the various wonderful examples of practice that were developed in so many areas of Scotland. I have to admit, I felt overwhelmed but also grateful to be sitting at a table with so many women that were changing the face of the early years workforce from the bottom up, starting from the practitioners working in the settings in such a vast geographical area. I went back to my hotel after the dinner feeling alive with so many ideas and feeling extremely proud to be calling myself a Froebelian.
The morning after, I was due to work with the Froebel Trust at the conference, we had a stand in the coffee area to distribute our new pamphlet on ‘Songs, rhymes and finger plays’ and to make conference attendees aware of the Froebel Trust and familiar with all the different services we provide for practitioners, students and settings. My colleagues and I arrived early but some attendees were already there, as soon as we set up the table we were absolutely inundated with so many new faces made of enquiring eyes and wondering minds, everyone listened to us with so much interest, and answered back with their own stories of practice, I learned of places that I didn’t know existed before, I listened to practice stories and used the material of the Froebel Trust freely available to help organise inset days for practitioners I never met, trying to make as many people as possible aware of us. At this point I started to understand a lot, I saw why the Edinburgh network was so successful, their ethos and ideas were reflected in the ethos and ideas of an overwhelmingly large number of practitioners. These people worked with children every day, in settings that shared and subscribed strongly to the same ethos of Froebelian practice with young children.
The first speech of the conference was by Sacha Powell, the Froebel Trust CEO. We sat during her speech unable to close our mouth, can you believe that she started from a picture of Peaky Blinders and ended up with our pamphlet on playing with clay for young children? Neither did half of the audience! She crafted her speech to connect popular culture with Froebelian philosophy, the links were modern yet respectful of our heritage and history, it felt like the audience was being taken on a journey and being shown how our life’s occurrences shape the development of our identities. The need for a ‘radical enquiry’ in order to look at a specific situation objectively so that we can put to a side our culturally and environmentally acquired identities was a critical suggestion of her opening speech. Froebelian pedagogy is understood as a pedagogy of time, and can be used as a way to push against standardization and McDonaldization as Ritzer (1993) calls it of education as a whole. Sacha also talked about the concept of seeing unity in diversity, therefore attributing a special strength and importance to the communities that surround us. I felt that this part of her speech resonated with me in particular and I felt proud of working with the Froebel Trust. For those of you who don’t know me or have never met me (believe me, you knew if you did, I am difficult to miss), I have been ‘the different one’ for my whole life, when I was younger it was something I couldn’t control, I just knew that I didn’t feel the need to conform, now this is part of my personal and professional identity and feeling so represented and included in Sacha’s speech was important.
In conclusion, this conference was a wonderful experience, such an important meeting of enquiring eyes and wondering minds all united in our differences under the umbrella of a philosophy that made us feel like we belong, Froebel unites us and suddenly it really doesn’t matter that you have pink hair because what you have inside is much more important than how you look. Thank you for this wonderful conference!