Let's Talk About Play
Gail Johnson, OBE
Director/Founder of Play and Learn Café BA (Hons), MSc, PGCE, DipSW, NPQICL
Subject: children, babies, play, early years, messy play, development, learning, education, school, Multicultural Education
Let me start by telling you a little about me….
I am a country girl at heart, hailing from the beautiful County of Gloucestershire, which although having lived in London for almost 8 years now, I still call ‘home’. I moved here to be closer to my daughters, who had left home, and because I was suffering from that very real condition ‘empty nest syndrome’. Moving to London was a great culture shock for me, but I was able to continue doing the work that I love; working with parents and carers, and children under the age of 5.
After University, and following a short stint in the Civil Service, I embarked on a career in teaching and social care which lasted for over 30 years. I took early retirement in 2017. Despite never wanting to be a teacher. I fell into a love for teaching while doing a night class in TEFL (Teaching English As a Foreign Language) with a view to travel abroad. Once I got over my nerves, I had such fun teaching English to the likes of Spanish waiters in Cheltenham. I went on to qualify as a teacher of History and English in the Secondary sector.
So how did I come to work in the Early Years sector for the last 20 plus years?
Back in the late ‘80’s, just around the time that I got married and had my first child, I had the amazing opportunity to become an Advisory Teacher for Multicultural Education. This enabled me to work across the whole of Gloucestershire, cross-phase, with practitioners in the Early Years sector to those embarking on Teacher-training, and with practicing teachers and Headteachers. The task was to bring about a recognition of the multicultural nature of our society, and the need to reflect that in our teaching. Heady stuff back then! And quite traumatic at times. The beginnings of the anti-racist work in education that is again much needed today. We have been here before. I was so committed to the need for this work, that it spilled over into my private life, into teaching adult education, selling multicultural resources, becoming an author and teaching at a Supplementary Saturday School for over 20 years. The latter earned me an OBE for Services to Education in Gloucester in 2002.
But it was at this point too that I began my fascination with Early Years, and the importance of getting things right from an early age. I suppose becoming a mother had something to do with it. I had spent some time as a Home-School Liaison teacher in Bristol and witnessed the problems many families faced in their lives, which in turn affected their children’s learning. By the time I had my second child I was training to be a Social Worker, and began a new career in Childrens’ Centres, working with both children and their parents to improve outcomes for children. What a privilege that was.
Moving to London, I continued in this work, and following retirement knew I had to continue in some way, shape or form.
That’s where Play and Learn Café came to life! An opportunity to continue to do what I love, without all the trappings of red tape and bureaucracy (well, there is still some!). London is such a wonderfully cosmopolitan place, and although that can be exciting it also means that many new parents live in isolation, and without the support of a loving extended family network nearby.
Connection is an essential need. Covid-19 has taught many of us this truth.