Review: The Original Learning Approach by Suzanne Axelsson

by | May 24, 2024 | Book Reviews

The Original Learning Approach

The Original Learning Approach by Suzanne Axelsson

I have learned and grown from my connection with Suzanne Axelsson – first through her blog posts Interaction Imagination, and later through conversations I had with her in person in Stockholm when I would go there to visit my daughter and family. Suzanne’s thinking always seemed refreshingly original to me yet solidly grounded in ideals and pedagogy that clearly hold up the rights of children and educators.  When Suzanne facilitated an Online Conversation at Early Learning Café (that also inspired our Democratic Spaces for Early Learning as an online course), she opened my eyes to innovative ways of moving ideals into practice with young children.

Suzanne Axelsson’s book The Original Learning Approach: Weaving together Playing, Learning, and Teaching in Early Childhood published in 2023 by Redleaf Press is no less impressive. In this book Suzanne talks about the idea of ‘mwe’ (pronounced “m’wee”) in which we value each individual child and colleague, while at the same time understand that we are interconnected and interdependent.

“It is the daily balance of giving and receiving that helps us all thrive… Community is the heart of the Original Learning Approach, and acceptance and inclusion are the blood, pumping throughout the community, flowing through every vein, reaching every part.” (p. 11)

Suzanne uses the simile of a loom to describe The Original Learning Approach. The vertical warp threads represent play. The horizontal weft threads of teaching and learning offer the rich tapestry of colour through ten essential threads – wonder, curiosity, joy, knowledge, imagination, interaction, risk, time, reflection, and listening.

Each chapter focuses on one of these weft threads. Chapters can be read in whatever order the reader prefers. Each chapter ends with five summary statements that succinctly crystalize the ideas she presents, along with a reflection question that prompts us to think about what these ideas mean in our context of working with children.

Suzanne also weaves each chapter with stories of working and being with young children that will resonate with educators around the world. She takes us on a journey of seeing how her beliefs and values about the role of the educator and about children’s learning have taken shape through experience, reflection, and study of other scholars and educators.

“I have written for many years that I refuse to say that, as a teacher, I ‘follow the children.’ Instead, I listen to them, and I respond to them. I do not want the children to follow me either. I strive for interaction and reciprocity. I strive to empower the children. This does not mean that I give them my power, but I enable their power by making it visible to them and guiding them to discover how they can use if for their own well-being and as part of a community.” (p. 112)

My copy of The Original Learning Approach is filled with circled words and underlined sentences with notes in the margins. It’s a book that I will never be ‘done’, but rather one that I will revisit often as I strive to grow in my work and living with young children.