Episode #109: Play and Joy through Embodied Learning with Tommaso Lana

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Tommaso (Tom) Lana is a performance and consulting artist, and creator of Embodied Learning. I’ve had several conversations with Tom and am excited about sharing his journey with you from growing up in Milan, about the German school, and learning several languages. In every conversation I have with Tom, I feel joy and have fun. Enjoy!
Your background

I grew up in the early 80s in the south outskirt of Milan, Italy. When I was a child, that gray, post-industrial city, was the center of one of the worst heroin epidemics in the country.
Suddenly, public spaces became unsafe for children who, since then, had been growing up playing freely and without parental overview on the street, in playgrounds, and anywhere under the open sky. I grew up indoors, as today’s children do in the pandemic. Luckily my parents’ apartment had a terrace, which was my outdoor escape.

While getting older, I learned how to cope with the city’s reality. At the age of 11, I used to take a bus and a trolley to go to school in the City. While riding on public transport independently, I felt like I was the owner of my hometown. I began learning German in middle school. That was my parents’ choice, which I didn’t like as a child, but now, I’m glad it shaped my life and my career for good.
Your Thesis about the German School
I have a Master’s degree in social history from the University of Milan, Italy. In the 1860s in Milan, Italy, a group of German-speaking young children who attended the school of the local German and Swiss community happened to learn Italian and the Milanese dialect.
“Find the resources behind the wall to design the future.”
They did this by hanging over their schoolyard’s wall during recess and interacting with passers-by. Parents had instructed teachers to prohibit this strictly. But no adult can stop a child from playing and learning. These children grew up and succeeded in Milan as revolutionary entrepreneurs and influential politicians.  
Many years ago, I wrote my Master thesis in social history about this story and children’s natural potential of enabling change and experiential learning pathways through play. I didn’t know yet that acknowledging children as social change-makers would have become the revolutionary message of my profession.

“The child is the social change maker.”

Moving to Germany: The interactive museum and learning about the senses
My career in the world of experiential learning started in 2005 when I left Italy. I was the manager of visitor services at “The Experience Field for the Development of the Senses” in Wiesbaden, Germany. The most memorable experience I had at that sensory interactive museum was working at the “blind cafe” along with visually impaired colleagues. If dark dining is today a fashionable concept, back in the day, it was a pioneering performance art project. As a person who is able to see, being in the condition of waiting and guiding customers in the darkness helped me to wonder about the natural ability of learning by involving physical and emotional experiences. In the darkness, I’ve rediscovered my childhood, the experiments I used to make on the terrace, and the joy of learning organically.

“Learning comes/gushes from children, naturally.”

Started Embodied Learning in Europe (2008)