Pooky Ponders: How can we let go of our ‘adultness’ and play? | Greg Bottrill

Today’s question is “How can we let go of our ‘adultness’ and play?” and I’m in conversation with Greg Bottrill

Greg Bottrill is an education author and childhood advocate.  A former Early Years leader and assistant Headteacher, Greg is the author of two books ‘Can I Go and Play Now?’ and ‘School and the Magic of Children’ both of which explore the richness of play and how education can embrace it so that education is done with children not to them. He is also the creator of the Message Centre and Adventure Island, two wonderful ways of sprinkling magic over early learning, as well as the Play School TV Youtube channel that shows how learning and play belong together and always will do. 

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Further resources:

Creative Education courses about play

Greg’s Books: https://amzn.to/3jjgAbV

Greg’s Website: http://www.canigoandplaynow.com

Greg’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/canigoandplaynow/  

Greg’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/canigoandplay

Greg’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/can_i_go_and_play_now/

Show transcript:

Please note that the transcript is auto generated

Greg Bottrill: My name is Greg Bottrill and I’m the author of two education books called kind of go and play now. And the other one’s called school. And the magic of children not just came out in April. And I’m also the creator of the YouTube series, which is called playschool TV. Um, and all of those things explore play, which is what I’m.

Incredibly passionate about that’s my life in a nutshell. 

Pooky Knightsmith: So it’s all about play. Why is plays so important to you, 

Greg Bottrill: Greg? Um, well, um, I was, I used to be, yeah, aye. I’m an early years leader and assistant head teacher in a primary school. Um, and I was lucky enough before I went into train in education to go out to Reggio Emilia out in Italy.

Um, and that, that they have, um, sort of education system that really values children. And it was a real eye-opener when I went to kind of consult sort of, um, uh, coming sided with the birth of my, my daughter. And, um, I just slowly began to see that children had something about them, that they were magic. Um, and I hope every parent believes that children are magic and I would also hope every educator believes children are magic.

Um, and it kind of, I don’t know. I saw a saw as it opened the door. Cause I do believe play is like a door that you have to step through. And once you step through it, you never want to go back. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Tell me more about that. See what happens when you step through that 

Greg Bottrill: door? Oh, well, um, you realize that children are trying to tell you something.

They’re trying to show you something. It’s trying to show you how to live. Um, the trons remind you of your own childhood. Um, I’m a great believer that our, our identity is born within our childhoods. Um, and unfortunately, uh, education systems in the Western world, much of the Western world, um, that they know us, who we really are.

Um, they take away our creativity. I greatly believe that children are born mathematical. And, uh, the system, because it is a system, um, takes that away from us. And I’ve, I’ve said, you know, and I think, you know, if you’ve got your own children, most parents would see that our experiences, our own experiences of school.

I think if we held a straw poll and we asked the adults who’s good at maths, most adults would say that they’re not, but that was what they were taught by school. And so I’m really just interested in how play and more specifically how childhood can come alive within our education systems, because I believe it absolutely can, especially with in early years or in early childhood as I prefer to call it.

Um, so yeah, that, that’s kind of that’s my, my greatest passion is trying to show that play. It’s not just about, it’s not trivial. It’s not fun, even though it is, it’s something far deeper and richer than that. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And so am I understanding correctly then that you kind of feel that this is something that we’re born kind of able to do, but we kind of unlearn it over time?

Greg Bottrill: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m 

Pooky Knightsmith: an adult. Who’s not very good at play. I’d like to be better. So what do I do I need to copy children or, I mean, how does that, 

Greg Bottrill: um, in, in a way, in a way it tastes kind of like that, um, we are, you know, we are as adults. Um, we, we kind of sort of center around the idea that we are the ego w we’re the controllers of learning and where the control is of, of, of children, but children are actually they’re full of ideas and wonder, and maybe in our own childhoods, maybe we didn’t have the opportunity to have that wonder.

Maybe we had to learn it for ourselves over time. You know, not everybody has a great childhood. I accept that. But children. Are trying to remind us of what life can actually be. And I often talk about that looking for life in the small corners of the world, children, they, they, they, they, they see, they just see things differently to us and, and it all comes down to this idea of the cardboard box, how children see a cardboard box, me as an adult.

Um, I see it as something really frustrating that I’ve got to break up and recycle. It becomes something impractical. Whereas a child will see the infinite opportunity and potential within that box. So it’s something I call the seventh sense. All children have it to a degree they see through the objective reality that we think the world is, and they see the potential, the infinite potential in everything.

So that’s why things like a wooden block are really, really important for children because the wooden block can be. Anything, they can interpret it with the seventh sense to become anything. So in terms of the toys that we choose for children is really good to try as best as we can to try and choose toys that are open-ended so that children can interpret them.

And then as parents and as teachers, because the teacher and the parent are they’re both teachers going back to the Reggio Emilia, um, where I went to Italy, they believe that the first teacher is the parent. The second teacher is the child is the, is the teacher. And the third teacher is the environment and the teacher and the parent are kind of like the electrons going around the child.

And it’s about listening. Okay. Often in our education systems, we’re very quick to tell children to deliver, because what we have is we have a system whereby. Um, we want to test children to prove the value value of the education system. So all of this is adult world stuff. It’s just the adult world trying to prove to the adult world, but it can do it.

Yeah, job. But what happens is children and childhood gets put to one side. And the classic example of that is today, the government have announced that the phonics screening test is going to be come back in for year one children in the autumn terms that we’ve been through. All of this Corona virus, upheaval shown, yes, children are resilient, but many will be coming back.

Frightened. Many will be coming back with great mental need, ultimately what play holds for them. But the government department of education have decided that the children need a phonics screening test. And to me, it tells me where we value children in this country that we don’t, we don’t value childhood.

And it’s that thing of with parents is trying to show parents that we need to, we need to value children. It’s not just choke parents go to work and children go to school and it doesn’t matter what children do. It matters hugely. Hugely even more so now I would argue and, you know, knowing, knowing your work, I would hope you, you know, I reckon you’d agree with me.

Pooky Knightsmith: Absolutely. I think that kind of, yeah. Play and nurture and creativity feel like the most important things for me right now. What do you think the children should be doing instead of a phonics screening test and all the preps that that would, uh, mean? 

Greg Bottrill: Well, it certainly doesn’t need to be done in the autumn term when children come, but that’s not the thing that they come from that need to be confronted with.

It needs time. And unfortunately that that’s something that the adult world can’t seem to give children. Children need time. That’s what parents need to give children is time, time to be, time to be around time, to be, to listen, to chat, to explore together. Um, the, the, the console pedagogy that I talk about in my, in my two books is about this idea of co play.

The adult and the child play together. So the adult kind of steps down and allows the child space and time to wonder and to question and the adult questions and one does together. So it was rather than the, that the child has to get up to the adult world. That it’s almost, it’s more of a collaborative cooperative approach because ultimately what play does because it’s in your DNA and it’s in my DNA and everyone’s in our bloodstream play.

So how we make sense of the world, you can’t no matter what the adult world does, they will never take play. That’s its strength. You’ll never take plate out of children’s DNA ever. They can’t, no matter what tests they put in, they’ll never take it away. So the idea is that play is a gift to us. So if we go into play, if we open up that magic door and go into the world of play as a co player, as an adventurer, Then we can sprinkle skills over the top of children.

We can do reading and writing and mathematics, but we do it through that play. And so it’s just, it flips the way that we see education, where the child has to know where the adults up here, the controller of learning. Whereas ultimately it’s about letting go of that control and allowing children freedom and choice because it’s the freedom and choice that makes that make who we are.

Pooky Knightsmith: So how do you become an effective coach player? If you’re perhaps used to a slightly more rigid routine, maybe you’re a teacher who gets how to prepare a child for a phonics test and, you know, you’re, you’re in that system. How would you step out of that and become 

Greg Bottrill: a co-planner? Well, it’s hard. It’s not easy.

Um, it’s not easy because the system. As it stands. Isn’t about code play. It’s about the delivery of knowledge and it’s about children being compliant to the teacher. Um, it always frustrates me when the BBC put photographs online of classrooms and they always put a photo up of children behind a desk.

Cause it just reconfirmed this idea that learning only happens at a desk, but it doesn’t children. Aren’t programmed to be sat behind a desk. Um, this, you know, the, the, the children need to be active. They need to be outside. They need to be able to explore, but it needs, I mean, I talk about teaching from the soul and that’s what we need.

And that’s really hard because he challenges everything. The way I was brought up to be a teacher, I was taught to be in control of children, but it wasn’t until life, the door swung open. And I stepped through that. I saw that my control was actually holding them back. What I was doing is I was diminishing who they could be.

I was shaping them just to pass a test, but the test isn’t who they are. And we won’t. And by the way, saying that we don’t, I don’t, I, you know, about testing children. It’s not to say that we don’t want to give them skills. We absolutely do want to give them skills, but we want to give skills as a gift, not as something that they have to do.

So writing is something you have to do. You know, writing is a really incredible gift, isn’t it? It’s the most amazing thing that you can make marks and someone else can interpret it. And neither one understand or not understand. You know, if you write on Twitter, whether you understand them, understand, but it’s about showing children that play extends into language.

You can play with words, but you can’t do that. If it’s just, you teach phonics. So it passes a test. That’s just. It’s dead. You’re just teaching dead language to children because all they’re doing is doing it. So to be compliant, to pass the test, and that’s not a criticism of teachers at all, it’s a criticism of the adult world that demands this from children.

Um, you know, to me, in a reading again, like reading, I mean, what a gift that is to give to children to be, you know, if we looked at your bookcase now and we’d say, Oh, you know, we went to the orange shelf and we opened up the book and we could take something that someone has taken out of their brain and put on a piece of paper, what a gift to give children.

And yet what we do is we create these systems like book and books, which if you’ve got your own children of the most dullest thing in the world, you know, I can’t, you know, cause cause teachers don’t read book bound books, the children at the end of the day, Why don’t they, because they know they’re boring.

So we say to children, well, you can have that boat bound book and this really beautiful book, like the giant jumps sandwich or whatever book it might be. This is the real stuff you have this fake stuff. So we’re just giving you, you know, when we do that, we’ve got a system that’s telling children that reading is quite boring, but it isn’t, it’s the most amazing thing I would hope.

But judging by the number of books on your book case here, 

Pooky Knightsmith: as long as the picture in color order, I love them all. Well, teaching from the soul sounds like quite a bold and brave thing to do. Tell me more about what would that look like? Like take me into one of your costumes. See, 

Greg Bottrill: but typical teachings from the soul is about the connection that you have with the children in front of you.

So it’s about going into the children’s play to understand who they are. So children not only have got magic. My belief is that they’ve also got a mystery. That telling you about childhood and the telling you about themselves. They’re telling you how they interpret the world and how they’re interpreting themselves within the world.

Okay. So it’s our job to make time and space to go into that, to go and learn from children. So again, if this is going to flip, if you like, and ultimately what I’m not then doing is just taking a teaching scheme or a topic and saying, I think this will do, or I taught this last year. So we’ll do it again.

That’s not teaching from the soul teaching from the soul comes right from here, because it’s almost like if you didn’t do it, then the world of, I talk about the world of good things. We want the world of good things for children. Don’t wait up. I think we do. I think children deserve it. They deserve adventure.

They deserve magic. They don’t deserve just tired, kind of just regurgitation of stuff. And to me, the only way to teach them the so is through play. And those, I talk about play and not play. So this play, which is where children are choosing for themselves, and they are playing with whoever they wish to play with and they are interpreting the world and then there’s not play.

They’re the moments where I call them to me to teach them a particular skill that I know that play can’t quite do. As in, if I’m going to teach phonics, for example, I wouldn’t necessarily just stand in the middle of the room showing, you know, 30 children flashcards, cause they, they’re not going to look.

And also, you know, the richness of their plays far better. But then I do a bit of not play a bit like coming to a base camp. And saying on the adventure, right? This, this next bit, we’re going to need these skills. And I talk about tight teat. So that’s like a tight teach of not play and then into open play.

So the two work together. So like Coldplay is, is like you go into play and then at moments, children come to you as well, but you only come to you because at that moment, you’ve got something magic to show them whether it be a story, whether it be something to do with phonics, whether it’s, you know, something amazing about number, um, and all the time in the play.

What we do is if we’re co-planning, we’re just popping up skills all the time, because play doesn’t recognize a curriculum. There is no curriculum in plate. You can take learning anywhere, literally anywhere. So how do you plan though? I mean done, you can’t, you can’t plan play, you can’t plan for the children, you, but you can plan for you.

So, for example, if I know children are struggling with a certain thing, I plan what they need in terms of the scale. So when I’m looking at what they’re doing within their plate as to how I can sprinkle it over the top, but they’re not defined by that next scale, I will just see where the play we’ll we’ll we’ll we’ll take them.

So the traditional model of teaching is you plan for the children. Yeah. But this model is you plan for yourself because if we accept that plate is choice, I don’t know what children are going to do. And that’s the biggest thing that stops play. It’s the biggest inhibitor for teachers who won’t play, because they’ve got to let go of control and we’re raised in control.

So it, so it’s like you, you, you have to, but you do get the control back in a way, because you’re planning for yourself. You know what you’re going to do, but you don’t know what the children are going to do, who I 

Pooky Knightsmith: feel a bit as you just thinking about it. 

Greg Bottrill: Yeah. But that’s, but that’s it, it’s huge. It’s, it’s, it’s a really big way of it takes, it takes faith in children massively.

Um, and we mustn’t forget, it’s not just the children. Don’t just come in and play all day. Some them, some places do that in my version of Coldplay, that run are those moments when children do come to you, because I want to open up some kind of magical gift to them, whether it be a new math skill or what have you, but children will then be operating within the room in the play that I have created for them.

Like I called it like a learning landscape that they’re going to go in. They’re going to have an adventure. Do you know what I’m coming with you? And we’re going to go and explore this together and it can be, it can be really, um, it can be really difficult for teachers to do. The main thing is, is it’s about childhood.

And when does it end? When does childhood end to me, it doesn’t end up five. It doesn’t end at six or seven or eight, nine to then, you know, our person who says it’s 18 and part of childhood to my mind is that children need choice and they need to be able to collaborate, not be sat at red table green table, blue table, yellow table, and be defined by their ability because play doesn’t see ability.


Pooky Knightsmith: Do all children come with the kind of the skills and the understanding and the confidence to play well? Or are there things that you need to teach and establish? 

Greg Bottrill: Um, yeah, there’s certainly you have to have what I call play parameters. You have to have rules. Um, you, you know, it’s not a free for all.

And again, part of the difficulty you play because it’s freedom, the difficult the adult, the adult world has with play is that they haven’t set it up and they haven’t controlled it. So they worry about what’s going to happen. Um, and that’s perfectly natural. Um, and sometimes it can feel, it can seem like you don’t know what’s going on, but the children do because it’s their play.

Yeah. And that’s why when you go into it, the kg player, you begin to understand the mystery of what’s what’s going on around you. Um, certainly there will be, uh, you, you need to have those play parameters in place, but you agree them with the children, not don’t do this. That’s just control. Or if you do this, I’ll give you a sticker.

So again, this whole idea of just rewards for children creates the culture where children are doing it so that you are pleased with them, but that’s a false morality to my mind. It has to be, I don’t do this because I believe I shouldn’t do it. Not so not because the teacher is going to reward me with star of the week or whatever it might be.

So it trying to, because children are really capable of negotiating their own parameters. 

Pooky Knightsmith: What kind of parameters are we 

Greg Bottrill: talking about? So we might talk about, say, um, how we might use a water, how we might use water, because obviously some children may think he’s a great lock, the forwards at each other.

Yeah. But the idea being is if you’re doing that, you’re stopping other children from learning. And it’s about trying to show children that the recognizing their value of their play. Because the adult world often talks about you work and then you play, when they go through school, you have a lesson and then you get your playtime.

The playtime is the reward, but play is the reward in itself. So things like I used to do things like I used to pinky promise with my children. So we’d get them all together and we’d make a pinky promise about how we were going to use principles of it became like a negotiation as to we all agree. This is what we’re all agreeing on.

If we’re going to be inside, we’re going to walk. Why should we walk? Well, if we’re running, we’re going to knock someone over and then we’re going to hurt someone. So there’s, there’s a sort of a moral framework that we’re working in rather than the adults going. Don’t run. Yeah, we’re doing it more in a positive way.

Walk because if we walk, children have got the opportunity to learn in the same way as tidy up time. Yeah. It’s about saying to the children, if we don’t tidy up after we finished playing. The next children that come, they can’t learn because we’ve just left it as a mess. And what we do is we do it together.

So I am I, as the adult I also joined into, I don’t just stand in the room, commanding children to tidy up. Yeah, we do it together. It’s the idea of like, uh, let’s let us do it together so that the children see that I’m no different to them. I’m not above them, I’m taller, but I’m not, you know, and I’ve got a bit more knowledge.

Of course, I’ve got a big gray beard and a bone pet they don’t have. Um, but the idea is that we’re working as a team. We’re a community and it can be really, really powerful. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And do you have kind of particular sort of activities or kind of go to modes of play that tends to kind of work better? Or is it very fruitful?

Greg Bottrill: It can be very free flowing. Um, I often, again, a lot depends on the key to it all is, is the landscape that you set up the resources that you enable children to interact with. So there’s a big, long list of things, um, that, that children, you know, really love. And the idea is, is that we’re always interrogating and asking what we put out, what skills it’s got within it, how children use it, because the moment we start doing that, so we, we see how children interpret certain objects.

What it does is it gives us an idea of how other children will do it as well. So children are kind of passing their gifts to you, which you then pass on to other children that weren’t there in that particular moment. And children will latch onto it more because it’s come from the world of children, not from the world of adults, because actually children do listen to children from more than they listen to adults, but they really do.

They really do. They learn more from children probably than they do from the other ones. 

Pooky Knightsmith: So if children are learning through playing and your classroom is a place of play, then what happens at playtime? 

Greg Bottrill: You don’t have them. You don’t need them. We just used to just go on through. You just have to hope.

Cause cause playtime is there as the break for children to run around. But if you have a play culture, as I call it your play culture, Enables children to choose to go outside because outside has equal value to inside the learning will follow them, maths and writing, reading, all those things will follow them because he’s in them in here.

So rather than it being we’ve done our work and we go outside, the children are, and again, so it’s a different way of working. You have to forgo your cup of tea at playtime, quick chat in the staff room. Um, but more, it gives also about a place, some which place, which is where you do like a bit of not play carpet time.

First thing, it might be some story telling or something, and then you have a big chunk of play. And then the other bit of bread is a session of phonics at the end or some maths or whatever it might be. So you’ve given that really big chunk of time in the middle. Um, cause it’s that bit in the middle.

That’s going to be the most exciting part, no matter how brilliant your carpet time is. Excitement is in the middle because children are playing and they’re showing you the world and they’re showing you who they are. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And do you, um, find that other people that you work with get on board with this and come along, or is it a bit trickier to get some adults to do 

Greg Bottrill: it?

Um, it’s a process it’s it’s, as I say, if you’re going to go on an adventure, which I believe play is, then we have to accept that some people are not as far on in the adventure as you are, that doesn’t make them less of a person. It doesn’t make them that doesn’t make them a weak practitioner. It doesn’t, it just means that those who are further on in the journey, feel it and are, uh, have, have learned more if you like, and it’s their job to enable the people.

Who are less so to follow, but what it takes is, is great. Honesty. Great. You have to be in this way of working. You absolutely have to be honest with your shortcomings to share them as a team. Well, because if you don’t like playing outside, for example, you will put in as an adult, you will put in a million different reasons why you don’t like, like why you don’t like outdoor play, but ultimately the reason might be you just, you feel it.

Mm Hmm. And what grades that aren’t we put all the masks up, all the personas that’s but that’s what we do really brilliantly. We’re really good at that. And we make, we build all the barriers up, but with Copa, you have to be absolutely wheely, honest with yourself about your practice and even those who are further down on the adventure, they still have to be honest with themselves.

And they have to reflect on who they are, because this is, this is about, I believe it’s about becoming a really authentic educator because you teaching right out of here. And where are you? Where are my shortcomings? I’ve got, probably ask my friends. Um, well, um, what am I shortcomings? Probably in that often I have been in certain areas and I’ve not valued them.

So I was talking, I have, um, I have a, like a mentor in group and we were talking yesterday about how sound I used to find sounds really difficult to play in as a resource. Um, I, I really don’t like the texture of it. Um, uh, there’s something about it. So I used to find it really hard to go in and play in there.

Um, and I didn’t value it as much. But honestly, what it took was, was the honesty to talk with my team and say, look, do you know what guys, I’m struggling with this, what do you do? How can we, how can I overcome this? And so we put in things and I was the leader and, you know, so I allowed my team to kind of reflect with me and go, okay, let’s put these things in place.

And lo and behold, what did I discover the magic of sand? And that was one of my favorite places to go, but I could have carried on putting up the barriers couldn’t I all the time. But unless you’re honest, then you know, you as an educator, you know, it goes back to, you were saying, you know, about this idea of letting go and playing sums of people will be really opposed to that.

But ultimately it’s about fear of letting go. That’s what we’re afraid of. Why 

Pooky Knightsmith: do you think we’re 

Greg Bottrill: afraid of that? Because we’re raised to be in control. Which hold it, you know, I was, when I, and by the way, I’m not criticizing, teachers have really, really, really not. It’s just, it just, it’s just a different way of educating, which is hopefully I would like to think is beginning to emerge more and more, more and more people are finding the joy of it because ultimately that’s the missing word in education is, is, um, and again, it goes back to what the children deserve and if we don’t believe they deserve joy, then personally, I don’t know why we’re in education.

And that goes all the way up to the top of the DFE. If, you know, if we can’t see that joy has got something to it, that I question why we’re in that. But anyway, um, but ultimately, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, we, we are, we are trained in our teacher colleges and universities, how to do guided reading as a lesson plan, all these things.

But what we’re being told is, is how to control. You’re told how to do behavior management. Most behavior management comes back to the adult world. We set up with sets of rules because what we tried to control controls us more. You put in control, the more you, you, you stress about what you can’t control.

And then what do we do? We blame the children. And then it’s the children that, that, you know, they missed the playtime because they didn’t do this or whatever. Yeah. So what does behavior 

Pooky Knightsmith: management look like in your 

Greg Bottrill: classroom? It looks like joy. It looks like enabling children to be engaged because the moment children are engaged behavior tends to just go quick.

Because the children want to be there. You know, I have children and I’m, you know, I’m, I’m not, um, you know, I’m not the perfect teacher. I’m really not. I’d like, I want to become the perfect teacher. That’s what I want to be. But, you know, I have children that did not want to go home at the weekend because they love school so much.

They wanted because they knew they were going to get, like, when I CA when I was in there, when I was around them, something good was going to happen. Yeah. They knew it. They knew because I was the co player. I was going to show them something really cool, or I was going to listen to them and value them.

And if you’re five, you need to be valued. You know, again, it goes back to this idea of the government’s baseline testers that, that they’re trying to do, you know, for, you know, they’re talking about, uh, they’ve kind of postponed it for the year, but ultimately children coming into a school. And then the very first few weeks the adult world goes, here we go, have a test.

And that’s what it is. They call it a baseline assessment, but it’s no, it’s a test. And what it’s doing is it’s telling children that they’re going to get pushed to the side of their own lives. You’re not important in it. That’s what it is. We don’t value. Your play is not valued. You do what I tell you to do when you’re in here.

So the idea is, is that you have these, you have, uh, uh, in terms of behavior management, my way of doing it was to have an agreed set of rules with the children that they recognized. And that if children went outside of those parameters, that children would say, that’s not fair because we agreed this. So they’re, self-managing they self manage it because ultimately they want to play and learn.

Because what you’re trying to do is create the culture where play is valued, because if you value play, you value children. If you don’t value, play. I don’t, I don’t know. I there’s an open question as to whether you value childhood, get the two are together inextricable. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And when does play kind of fizzle out and stop?

I mean, I’m thinking at the moment about the wider reopening of schools in the autumn, and I’ve talked a lot to, um, colleagues in EIFS and primary about play and colleagues in secondary saying, well, what about us? Does it matter for us to, to children need to play as they return? What 


Greg Bottrill: you think in secondary school?

Or just generally, yeah. Uh, 

Pooky Knightsmith: in secondary school in particular to do it, should we be encouraging play? 

Greg Bottrill: I, I certainly think we need to encourage the echoes of play in terms of, you know, I often come back to the idea of show, not tell we show children, but we don’t directly tell them they have to, you know, children are born curious, you know, it w when, when babies drop.

The food out of the high chair, they wouldn’t know where it goes and they look down, they don’t look up, they look down, they’re learning through their cure. They’re learning about gravity in a very, very simple baby brain. Yeah. That’s what they’re doing. And so, you know, ultimately the question is, is when does it end, you know, my, my son’s now and my daughter’s 18, so she’s finished her, she’s done with the secretary education, but now my son’s 14 and he’s at an amazing school that actually really do encourage them to be curious.

There’s lots of project work that goes on and it’s not just do dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And then one of the most, you know, the second top performing school in Devin, out of all of the schools, private and independent, they’re a state school. And they’re led by a head teacher that gets children. It’s cool to be who you are.

That’s kind of their ethos. And it’s not about just  machine gun teaching. They just. They give you time and space to follow your interests and use those as best as they can. So I greatly believe it is about this idea of the echoes of play, which is why play is so important in nursery. Yeah. That should be like, like we humming with plague and then it kind of goes up and as you go through, cause the curriculum gets, you know, this idea that the adult world says, you’ve got to have all this knowledge.

You’ve got to know, you know, what’s a fronted adverbial is at the age of seven, you know? Exactly. I, you know, if anyone, anyone can explain to me where the joy of a front-end adverbial is, I would love to go have a drink with them because there is no, 

Pooky Knightsmith: I, my daughter’s actually, I remember her literally crying over fronted adverbials when she was about that age.

Um, and she was crying and crying and crying, and I said, what’s the problem, liar. What’s the matter. And all I could get from her was fronted adverbials and I just, I didn’t, it just, it was a foreign language to me. I had no idea I couldn’t help her understand what the problem was or even what those words meant.

Greg Bottrill: Yeah, absolutely. No, absolutely. And it’s kind of like what we genuinely value within our education system. These are the big, you know, these are eternal questions that will ever, you know, That’s gone on for years. And the fact that have gone on for years is ultimately to the shame of our, our education system.

I suppose, in a, my, my, my son can do the most absolutely amazing kind of fractions and algebra. That just leaves me just like, wow, what is that? The age of 42? Um, and, um, you know, um, I’m really proud of him because actually he’s got an amazing sense of justice. Um, you know, he, he’s an amazing boy, but does he really need to know about all these fractions and, you know, et cetera at the age of 14, if he didn’t have a really good sense of self, which comes first, is it the sense of self, or was it a fronted verbiage at the age of seven?

I would argue it’s a sense of self because we’re going to need children to be the adults who are creative and the problem solvers and not just be the robots. We don’t need robots, but we really don’t. No. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And how do we support children who might have, um, sort of special or additional needs, for example, is there any additional work that needs to be done there to enable them to play or, yeah.

Greg Bottrill: Um, yeah, they can be. I mean, I’m just thinking about children and actually my own son. Um, so we’re testing children, generally speaking. Now I recognized, you know, there’s, there was a, I don’t want to be too kind of like judge, but, um, they can find it quite hard to play in terms of imagination. Um, it can be quite limited.

Um, in inverted commerce, what I did was I created something called play projects, um, um, which is in my second book school and the magic of children and play projects is a way of putting a framework over play to enable children and the adult world to see the value of play and its opportunities. Um, there are amazing way to work with children and.

Um, where we’ve done it in schools. And I did it in my own school where I had to, um, uh, uh, quite quite high functioning, autistic children, but they found imaginative play quite difficult. Yeah. Um, The the, it was transformative because it was like, the adults had just shown them what play is to start with.


Pooky Knightsmith: I was going to say it’s appealing to me, but then I’m an autistic adult who didn’t really ever learn to play. So, uh, yeah, give me a script and, uh, okay. 

Greg Bottrill: It’s kind of, it’s like that. It’s, it’s a bit like, um, it’s, it’s, it’s like what it does is it dissects play? So we talk about play and this is the problem with the adult world.

We talk about play, but what is play? And so I’ve done lots of work in my second book, the school and the mask of children on breaking it down as to what it actually is. And what’s the outcome. Well, the 10 things along the way, but I’ll try to remember them, but one of them, one of them is about, is creativity and it’s can be, can be something.

I said, I’m talking about, I’ll talk about my own son. My own son found very difficult because he, he just couldn’t get past that. He would line cars up and count them, but he couldn’t roll play with the cars, particularly it wasn’t his fascination. I knew at the age of three, he could count, you know, beyond 200.

He was, you know, it was, yeah, it was, it was amazing. Some alarm bells should have been going off in my brain. And then at that time we didn’t know it a bit more. Um, but ultimately my son taught me how to parent. That’s what he did. He showed me that I needed to change in what way? Well, because I kept having all these demands of him as a parent.

I thought that’s what was parenting, but ultimately I needed to listen to him. And it’s that idea of listening to children, which then created the play pro this idea of played projects, finding out what they didn’t understand or didn’t understand, and then create the framework to put over the top of play so that children can see the breakdown of it.

So does that building blocks of play? Yeah. And then you can then model to the child, to those particular children, how to, how to play and often what it did. Was it just, I don’t know, it just pushed open the door and then they were away. It’s a really beautiful way to, it’s a beautiful way to work. I mean, I would say that because I created it, but it’s the impact is, is, is huge.

Uh, what have 

Pooky Knightsmith: you kind of tried it out or who’s used it, 

Greg Bottrill: just do it in my own practice. Um, and the whoever’s right to my, I mean, my second say my second book. Um, and it’s something that could in theory, be huge coming out of lockdown. I’ve pressed pause on it. Cause I don’t want it just to be associated with lockdown because play is not just for lockdown it’s for life.

So I’ve had this kind of like, Oh, but it is. And so, and I didn’t, and so I’ve got something else called drawing club, which is equally as impactful with children. But I’ve not really done anything with them yet, because I want to, for September to come around, right. Let’s go because they CA they’re both really, um, yeah.

That, that really exciting ways to work with children, but the schools that have explored them already have been in as one school that I’ve been exploring them, going up into ESX all the way up into ESX. So what they do is they take plate up. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Okay. Okay. So you kind of held back a little bit from these projects, which would be really helpful as we leave locked down, because you don’t want them to be associated only with locked down if I understood that, right?

Greg Bottrill: Yeah. So, so I mean, so if you, if people have read the book, the second book, lovely, they know about it, but lots of people hear about my work because I do workshops with them. Yeah around them. Yeah. But I, it can’t just be a lockdown thing. It’s not a lock down things of, and again, there’s been so much emotion order around lockdown with, you know, government advice, 30 different documents coming out every week, you know, washing hands and does it, you know, it would just get swallowed up.

But now schools have got a chance hopefully to just breathe a little bit because, you know, crikey schools of words, you know, unbelievably hard and, uh, really challenging circumstances. Um, and I think they’ve been forgotten a little bit along the way. Um, what I’m hoping is comes September. Uh, we, it, then it will start.

Picking up because I’ve also got something called adventure Island. I was going to ask about that. I saw that 

Pooky Knightsmith: on your website. 

Greg Bottrill: Tell me about adventure. Well, adventure, adventure is, um, a way of creating, um, a whole new realm. It’s a new dimension to explore, so it’s make believe. Okay. Um, and I created it last year and it was just taking off.

So what does that, I mean, 

Pooky Knightsmith: I still, I have no idea. W 

Greg Bottrill: w tell me more. So the idea was you create a landscape of the imagination with the children. So three thinking, talking, making, building it’s, it’s all my beliefs to begin with. You just tell the children that adventure Island has popped up outside. Not kind of, if you will, for, can you imagine how exciting it is to know that adventure islands popped up?

You know, nothing about it, but it links in with something that I developed called the message center, which is a way of writing with children, which is extraordinary when it goes in, it’s all about using secret symbols and hiding and finding. Cause the idea of giving the joy of phonics as a gift, and then there are certain characters that live.

And if you’ve watched play school TV, you’ll have met some of them along the way. Um, there are certain characters that live on adventure Island. And so it goes from NASA, the children then go on an adventure when they go outside. And there’s a whole host of imaginary characters. It’s a little bit like the bridge to Terabithia if you’ve ever read that or, or watch the film.

Okay. If you haven’t, it’s an amazing book and an amazing film, but it’s basically a make-believe world that you visit with the children and characters come and characters go challenges, come. Yeah, and it’s beautiful. And because it’s a collective thing, what happens is when I’m in the group, that that people can join, there’s a way of then of sharing.

So for example, there’s one, one school was created count school, bet, bots, and bet. Bots are like drones that fly around and those bit bots to take messages, but those bit bots then can then be sent to other schools. So, so adventure, so adventure Island is being done around the world. So even if you’re in Thailand, adventure Island goes all the way out there and back again, it’s an extraordinary way to work with children.

It really, it really is lovely. And what was lovely today, someone messaged me and just said, this is the recovery curriculum that children need. It’s just with joy and creativity. It is beautiful. Cause you know, um, did you know the story bulk baby? Yes, it does. Yeah. So, um, you use, and there’s a min pins as well that have rolled dial.

So you use characters that the children are familiar with as well as creating new ones. So that new ones are like cars, like grandpa and the Pago and the boat babies. So children that go make detectors for them. And because they live under the ground and the bulk babies follow them home. And it’s just lovely.

And the greatest thing about it is the parents buy into it massively. I was going to ask 

Pooky Knightsmith: about whether parents are up for this 

Greg Bottrill: or no, they absolutely love it. I’ve been inundated in lockdown with people sending me photographs of parents who have kept it home because everyone lives on adventure Island because you believe in front of the Christmas, if you’re from that tradition and you believe in the FA and the tooth fairy and both of those live on adventure Island, you already live on it, but you use it as an educational tool.

Because there’s problems along the way to solve a numbers and the characters leave various things for the children. And it’s just super exciting. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Isn’t that just kind of hiding, learning in play if there’s numbers along the way. And it’s 

Greg Bottrill: kind of like that it does is it’s the emotional connection to learning.

If you’re, if you’re sat at a table doing a worksheet, who are you doing it for? You’re doing it for the teacher children. Aren’t stupid. They know they’re doing it for the teacher. Yeah. Whereas if you’re on adventure Island or in play, who are you doing it for yourself? And instantly you’re connected to what you’re doing.

And the moment you’re connected to what you’re doing, my belief is, is your truly learning because you’re learning for yourself and not for the adult. And that’s the beauty of Coldplay. 

Pooky Knightsmith: So does learning all have to be fun to be impactful? Yeah, no, 

Greg Bottrill: no. It’s no, it doesn’t have to be. Um, it would be good to try to make it be it’s.

It goes back to this idea of it. Not necessarily just being about fun. It’s to me play itself as a moral imperative. There’s no choice to give children play cause it’s inside of them and it’s who they are. So the idea really is to try to say to ourselves, okay, so how can we, especially in early childhood, make sure children get this adventure.

So back off with all the formal sitting at tables, just let leave that if we want children to be joyful in their learning, let’s give them, you know, if we really want children to be writers and readers, let’s give them joy when they’re five, not an hour of phonics, just so that we can say that they can pass a phonics screening test because that ain’t joy.

So, I guess it’s 

Pooky Knightsmith: about kind of tapping into a motivation really? Isn’t it making them want to 

Greg Bottrill: engage? Absolutely. Because that is that they’ve got it. It’s like an energy children are dying. They’re desperate to play. Yeah. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Tell me about play school TV. So I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had, I’ve had a bit of a look at it and it looks imagery.

Yeah. Like lots of a view in the woods and your lovely dogs, Bobby and epi having, having a lot of fun. 

Greg Bottrill: Well, the only thing we played school TV is, um, so lockdown came of course. Um, and that was quite a lot of schools who were, who were really interested in adventure Island. So basically plays school. TV is me on an adventure with my dogs.

We meet all the characters along the way on adventure Island. And what I’m doing is I’m modeling. It’s like one, hopefully, and then lots of children watch it. But the idea is it brings joy. It brings learning. It shows that learning can go anywhere. So for example, there’s apps to my mind, there’s nothing wrong with showing three year olds, how to count in one hundreds, you do it.

Cause it’s not the curriculum. It’s just, it’s joy. It’s about playing with numbers and playing with words. So often in the program, I would just make up silly rhymes or because what I’m doing is I’m playing with ideas. No, I’m playing with this idea that cause really adventure Island is a living story book.

It’s not fixed, which is one of the beauties of it because you have children that will come to school who will have a real, like rich Canon of stories that they’ve been read next to them will be children that done. They haven’t been, I mean, I call it books and the gold they haven’t been in build with.

So the children have been booked snuggled. Cross-pollinate with the children that haven’t, they lend them. As soon as you go into adventure and you can guarantee the gingerbread men will pop up. Yeah. These characters will come from traditional tales of three little pigs. But if I haven’t been booked snuggled, I won’t know them.

So the children share there that, uh, that sort of literacy, if you like. Yeah. But the idea of play school TV is really to model this idea of showing tail and the adventure. So the schools that have already got involved with that, they often watch it. And then the children are desperate. Weirdly they’re desperate to go to venture and weirdly they don’t believe I’m real.

They believe pony net are real, but they don’t believe in real. I did. I went into a school the other day in Bristow on walk for the dinner hall. And there was this because I watched playschool TV in there. I was I’m one of them just went, why is pony happy? That’s what we’re interested in. But that’s kind of why that, why they’re there because ultimately, you know, they don’t, they don’t know who I am or there’s no, there’s no, there’s no emotional connection to me, to the dogs and the dogs in a way that cure dogs and animals play.

Yeah, that the players, they go once and it’s all done normally in one tape. So I’m just, I was going 

Pooky Knightsmith: to ask about that. Do you kind of carefully plan it and 

Greg Bottrill: script it? And I know, I know the learning that’s going to be in them and I know the storyline, if you like, but the actual content, I just have to go with the dogs.

I have to go with our reactions or I have, you know, if it looks like they’re coming towards me, then they brought an idea to me, I’m giving all the secrets of playschool TV, but you know, I’m just recording on my iPhone. It’s just, the idea is to create over a hundred episodes that over time can be like a teaching resource so that when people go into adventure riding, they’ve got it as a way of, Oh, okay.

That’s what the POGIL does. Or, you know, this is where grandpa lives. So there’s an episode, a couple of episodes where we go into grew up in Paul’s house. He’s like a really grumpy character. And, um, I couldn’t take the dogs in with me because it’s, uh, uh, it’s a, an abandoned building and the guy that owns it didn’t want the dogs in.

So had to pretend that the dogs had been kidnapped. And I came out as an agent. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Oh, I’m loving, I’m loving going on these adventures of the year. Okay. So the dogs have been kidnapped in an abandoned building, which is where the, 

Greg Bottrill: yeah. As I to get through it, it’s a bit like the crystal maze to get across different rooms.

I have to read or recognize certain numbers or use different words. So again, trying to sprinkle language over the top of, of what happens. And then across the five days, I ended up finding Bonnie and epi, that’d been shrunk and put up the chimney in grandpa’s house so I could rescue them. And then of course there’s like a secret word that we’ve got to read.

And then that brought, brought them back to real, real size. So they’re okay again now. Yeah. They’re okay. But this week we’re Meech. And, um, Smita is, uh, is the queen goblin and she litters adventure Island. So it’s a week just trying to kind of explore litter and tidying up. I could have used the Wombles I suppose, but Smith’s was just, I 

Pooky Knightsmith: liked meat.

It’s great. So you’re aiming to get over a hundred 

Greg Bottrill: episodes. Yeah. Um, uh, yeah, so I’m on episode 17, 878. Um, but I’ll just keep going. I mean, when, when, when I begin to go back to traveling again, um, to go and do training in schools, I’m hoping to, um, to still do it. And I’m also looking along the way. And if there’s anyone watching, who’s got one spare to give to me is to take your van out and go and do adventure Island with the van and go into different places.

So, yeah. It’s um, yeah, I don’t know. W it just, I’ll just keep doing it as a, I love doing it. And, you know, the feedback has been amazing. Do you do it every day? Is it a daily thing? It’s a daily thing that episodes come out every day, but I record a record all five episodes in one morning. Um, Bonnie who’s little Jack Russell.

She, she, you probably, if you, if people watch it, that will say she’s very reluctant. Whereas epi just is all over me. It takes one look and she, she finds it. I dunno, she just walks off. So I have to talk to Bonnie off-camera quite a bit. Um, but he just loves it. She just 

Pooky Knightsmith: loves it. Have you had any, um, sort of moments where someone’s kind of come across, you talking to your dogs on your phone in the woods?


Greg Bottrill: only happened once as a character called Hardy Dodd. He was a giant and there’s a particular part of the, um, of the woods, uh, where, uh, there was like some big dips in the ground. And I was pretended that they risk footprints in the ground. Um, and, um, I fell into it and I just looked up and there was this guy, but now it’s, it’s, uh, you know, it’s a, it’s a really big wood.

Um, so I can normally find somewhere where it’s okay. But even if they did it, doesn’t matter, just have to shoot it again. 

Pooky Knightsmith: I wonder what they would think about it as I was watching it earlier, I was just thinking, I wonder if anyone kind of comes across you and, and then actually, what do you think? You know, if, if they do, do you, would you explain it to someone or, 

Greg Bottrill: yeah.

So some people, you know, as I’ve been walking through I’ve, I’ve got my phone on my, on my tripod. Some people ask, some people have recognized it and some of the local children watch it. I’ve got like a little brick outside where I live, which has got holes in it. I often leave messages for the children in the brick.

They will leave messages for me and stuff from the, from, from, from adventure, which is quite sweet. Yeah, they, they love it. So, yeah. It’s good. 

Pooky Knightsmith: Fun. Normally then if we weren’t in locked down, you’d be traveling around talking to different kids in different schools. What does your normal role? 

Greg Bottrill: Yeah, so I tend to, um, I, I tend to be invited into schools, go and work directly with, with teams excitingly increasingly beyond early years as well, which is really good.

Um, that, that really makes me happy when I get to work with key stage one, because it means that schools are really trying to explore the joy of learning. Um, but yeah, so I do conferences as well. Um, but I also work with some local authorities along the way, um, just to kind of support them in their work.

Um, certainly, um, leads for example, are really, really excited about the potential adventure Island. Um, and I’m hoping to go there next year to go and do some work with them. But of course we kind of need to come out of all the. Yeah, no, it’s not an easy landscape the minute for, for, particularly for nurseries, you know, they’ve been decimated by this and, you know, they need to focus on the future, the minute sensitive.

Pooky Knightsmith: And what do you think is the kind of the, the role of play as people do return from lockdown? I mean, you’ve alluded quite a bit to the fact that people are recognizing that it’s going to be important. Um, and you don’t want this just to be a moment in time, but presumably there’s the potential here that as people recognize the importance of kind of play and nurture as we return that it might ignite something that could continue.

Greg Bottrill: That’s that’s that’s my greatest wish. Yeah. It’s not, it’s not that my message. Isn’t that you’ve got to play all day every day. You know, or that would be, that would be foolish to say that because there’s no way you could do that. Not if, you know, if you’re in year five and year six, you know, it, it just wouldn’t, it wouldn’t work.

It just wouldn’t work. But what it’s about is trying to say about how can you make the, how can you find the echoes of play? How can you at least give children some choice and creativity and real collaboration? How can we do that bit and do it genuinely and not be, you know, not everything’s got to be an intervention and you know, you can’t, you know, you, the greatest thing with Coldplay, you can really work on the mind, UCI of learning with children in those moments.

Um, you know, I’ve done it when year to where, um, with the, my approach, the message center, which is all about is secret messages, et cetera. But part of it is the magic of words and words make things happen like magic spells and the moment you sprinkle spellings over the top of children’s creations to make things happen, they’re spelling just because they want to do it rather than having a spelling test.

It’s just about recognizing, well, we’ve got a curriculum, but can we do it in a way that gives children space for choice and it’s that bit? I think I would really try and encourage schools to do. 

Pooky Knightsmith: And what’s, uh, you know, do you have any advice in terms of practical steps there that the teachers and support staff can take in terms of integrating play in that way in a meaningful, 

Greg Bottrill: well, that’s why my play projects com co comes in and certainly with, with schools that I’ve worked with, they’ve, they’ve tended to have, um, in years, one and two they’ve tended to have maybe more sort of let’s use the word formal or directed mornings.

And then they’ve tried in the afternoon to have been play projects either once or twice a week. What happens is children come in and demand of them, and then you got to do them and that’s, what’s loving you, right? The 

Pooky Knightsmith: play projects that if people wanted to find out about those, they’re all in your second book, 

Greg Bottrill: they’re all in, they’ve all in my second book, um, school and the magic of children.

And I’m also going to be over the summer holidays. I will be creating some Tutu video tutorials on, on kind of go and pay now.com that because some people access training better. Yeah, on the acute on a, on a, on a tutorial. So it’d be like, it’d be like a walkthrough, but certainly where I’ve done in my own.

Um, in my subscription, uh, mentor group, we’ve talked about event, about play projects with them. And the people in that group were just like, Oh my goodness, this is it. So I know they, I mean, they absolutely can work and they’re not, they’re not difficult to do. Just takes the step of faith to trust children that they can direct their own learning.

So a bit of 

Pooky Knightsmith: a leap of faith there, but then people will learn from seeing the results like assets. Yes. 

Greg Bottrill: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Because the thing is what happens when you allow children to play, something happens to you as well as an adult. You start to transform. You start to just, again, it’s not it’s it’s you just it’s like your soul starts to feel good.

Wow, but it’s true. It is. It’s like a it’s it’s like a, uh, it’s like a rebirth. It is like a rebirth. 

Pooky Knightsmith: It’s going to take a 

Greg Bottrill: certain 

Pooky Knightsmith: amount of trust, I guess. Isn’t it trusting in the children 

Greg Bottrill: trusting in ourselves. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s about, it’s about that. Openness to letting go, just letting go and letting go.

Isn’t about losing learning, and it’s not, it’s just about saying to children, right. Have some space and you’re still there as the code player. That’s the thing. So when you do play projects, you’re just going in and you’re sprinkling skills over the top of what children do. Um, and it’s a really, really beautiful, really beautiful way to work.

I mean, what I’ve done it in schools, I’ve done one in a school. They haven’t the children in play for two years and I did it. Yeah. They haven’t had any play two years. And I said, what? We’ll do play projects. We set it up. And the teachers were like, this isn’t going to work. And did it work. Yeah, it absolutely did because the children took ownership of it and the teachers were just like, and they could see, because what happened was the children had shown them and they did it brilliantly just allows children to show them what they were capable of.


Pooky Knightsmith: come they were up for play. If they haven’t done it for all that time. What, what changed it? 

Greg Bottrill: Because I was there 

Pooky Knightsmith: you that, as in you must’ve been invited 

Greg Bottrill: in or is invited in the head, the head teacher wanted to explore how to enable more play in the school, but that’s not, that’s not an easy thing to do in terms of the training that we have as teachers.

So that’s why play projects can come, can really work because it, and they could, they could just see it. Yeah. Um, and so we just did it as like a trial thing, 60 children, and the outcomes were just extraordinary. 

Pooky Knightsmith: So if people want a starting point, then it sounds like play projects is a good 

Greg Bottrill: kind of way in.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, and hopefully this, this coming year, as, you know, touch wood, the world begins to open up in whatever way it does. I can begin to kind of get out and you know, it’s not about trying to show people they’re doing something wrong. It’s not that I’m doing this.

This will sound a bit mad, but I do this really out of love because play is love when we give children space to play with valuing them, with seeing them. That’s my belief. So I do this to try and support teachers on their adventure, into play. All you all teachers have to do is wants to go on the adventure and then it’s that moment.

As soon as you want to go on it, that magic door does appear. And then it’s about stepping through. 

Pooky Knightsmith: What thought would you like to finish with? I think it’s important to leave in people’s mind something deep gone, Greg. 

Greg Bottrill: Um, I think, I think probably, I think it just go back to this idea of childhood being this Chrysalis for identity and that play is childhood, that they are, that you cannot separate them and play is learning and it’s the most valuable type of learning.

And ultimately it’s a gift to us as educators. We can step into the children’s world rather than bringing them out of their world into ours. If we go into theirs, then it’s it’s it’s uh, it’s uh, it’s the most incredible place to go adventuring. And it’s like going into Narnia and who doesn’t want. Yeah.