Living life ‘lagom’

KOREN NAYLOR, Director of Ballarat Grammar’s Centre for Early Education (CEEd), details an encounter with internationally renowned education Professor Gunilla Dahlberg that was ‘just right. Book your spot at the 2022 ECA National ConferenceAfter the 2019 Early Childhood Australia (ECA) National Conference in Hobart, an attendee reached out with an inspiring reflection and we hope it inspires you to join us in Canberra for 2022.

After Stockholm University’s Professor Emerita Gunilla Dahlberg presented her keynote address and workshop at the 2019 ECA National Conference, I waited in a queue. I was in the Exhibition Hall holding a copy of her book, and I was keen for her to sign it. When it was my turn, I handed Gunilla the book and I thanked her for her presentation. She said, ‘Thank you, did you think it was alright?’ I then said, ‘It was more than alright, it was just right’.

Gunilla’s presentation was just right (or in Gunilla’s native language it was lagom—meaning just the right amount) because while her ideas and research applied to our work with young children, it equally, and just as importantly, could be applied to all areas of adults’ lives.

Gunilla encouraged her audience to always walk on two legs. This expression sounds obvious, but in Gunilla’s approach, it meant the first leg allows us to do what we have to do, and the second leg allows us to try new ways of thinking and being. She said to take notice of ‘little situations’, have ‘courage to stay with these’ and to ‘take care’ of them to expand children’s ideas and thinking. She also said to ‘install in, stay attuned and affirm what is going on, rather than directly starting to judge’ and to ‘open up for the more subtle processes of life’, as well as for the ‘unexpected and towards non-knowledge’.

After hearing this from Gunilla, I began believing if we don’t do this, we miss the possibilities to participate, or be in process, with something bigger than ourselves. We must experiment with what Gunilla said are ‘small, small situations’ and ‘take anti-steps, take time and learn to listen’.

Children are more horizontal in their thinking than adults, and they engage in ‘broader ecological thinking’. Gunilla suggested that as adults we should listen and learn from this. Children bring forth something totally new, something unpredictable, something that we have never seen before. A new reality. A new potentiality. We are all trying to control our lives so much, we are missing the opportunity to ‘be alive’. We need to be here and now, to engage in ‘life-living’. Gunilla said she believes we have lost this ability because of regulations and being too linear.

This idea of missing out on the opportunity to ‘be alive’ and the importance of engaging in ‘life-living’ struck a chord deep within me. We have one go at this life, and we are so fortunate to interact with the world’s best teachers, as well as immerse ourselves in the affection and joyfulness of young children each day.

Experimenting with new questions and new ideas, or sitting in a space where we don’t have all the ideas, opens up a momentary change of activation in the interaction. A minor disturbance in relations can open unexpected processes and new potentialities. Gunilla said that Loris Malaguzzi described this as ‘an aesthetic vibration’ and that Burach Spinoza stated ‘we become affected and we affect’. She said Stern spoke about a ‘dynamic vitality’ and Brian Massumi described it as ‘like staying alive’.

If we don’t stay with the small situations, we lose opportunities to unfold this power, to ‘stay alive’. We must listen to what is not really being heard, to look for ‘situations to build on’ and to ‘put strength into making change happen through experimentation’—in other words, to walk on two legs.


Dahlberg, G. (2019) ECA National Conference – From Vision to Action

*‘Lagom’ is a Swedish word meaning ‘just the right amount’. The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines lagom as ‘enough, sufficient, adequate, just right’. Lagom is also widely translated as ‘in moderation’, ‘in balance’, ‘perfect-simple’, and ‘suitable’ (in matter of amounts).

ECA Recommends

Beyond quality in early childhood education and care
By Gunilla Dahlberg, Alan R. Pence, Peter Moss

Taking a broad approach, this resource relates issues of early childhood to the sociology of childhood, philosophy, ethics, political science and other fields and to an analysis of the world we live in today. It places these issues in a global context and draws on work from Canada, Sweden and Italy, including the world famous nurseries in Reggio Emilia. Purchase your copy here on the ECA Shop.

Koren Naylor

Koren Naylor is the Director of the Centre for Early Education (CEEd) at Ballarat Grammar. 
Koren is an experienced Early Childhood Educator with more than 20 years’ experience. She is a passionate advocate for early childhood education, pedagogical leadership, staff development and building community connections. 
She considers herself a lifelong learner inspired by and curious about the principles of Reggio Emilia, Nature Pedagogy and Positive Psychology.

One thought on “Living life ‘lagom’”

    Alvi Nichols says:

    Beautifully written and helps make an older man re think things and to realise life. My friend Punchee said, “forget the past, control now.” I have to admit a biasness here, as I am proudly Koren Naylor’s father. My heart swells, and water comes from my eyes as I read and write about this piece.

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