This week we have been reflecting on our site and play spaces; what’s working, what isnt, what do the children return to again and again, why, does it provide enough challenge, is it suitable for our current and future children, is it fit for purpose, could it be better and how…etc
I am mindful whenever making decisions about the space, that we are making decisions based on our observations, our understanding, our experience as practitioners. To quote H.M. Tomlinson “We see things not as they are but as we are”
We see things through our own filters, like individual kaleidoscopes made from a trillion fragments of memories, observations, knowledge, education, beliefs and ‘ethos’, opinions and future ideas. Whether we are aware or not, these things shape us and have an impact in the decisions we make.
In many respects I think we are drawn to working in the early years due to a sense of playfulness that we never outgrew! In the ‘outdoor learning’ world you often hear that people want to give kids “experiences like we had growing up”. I think this playfulness and empathy with childhood is a great strength in early years working. But lest we forget, we are no longer children. To forget this removes a key element of the ‘calculation’.
Play in childhood is intrinsic, self motivated and can be born of spaces and things that we as adults with all our filters have ‘complicated’ and simplified at the same time. A house doesn’t need a door and windows and a picket fence to be a house, in fact you might argue these ‘features’ limit a space from also being a vets or a castle or a spaceship.
I am reminded of the articles from Tim Gill about play in ‘dangerous’ and ‘unsuitable’ places and the ‘playgrounds’ created in the wreckage of bombed out buildings during wars. Children claiming a space as their own and playing, because that is what they do. The photographs of children playing in the street or the spaces between back to backs, children in poverty but (more significantly) children at play.
Children’s play is like nature; It will find a way, because that is what it is ‘programmed’ to do. The great childhood social equaliser. Play is how children understand the world, how they learn, how they make sense of it all, socially and physically. Children will find a way to play wherever they are.
The benefits of loose parts play and open ended play spaces is well understood and providing stimulating and learning rich environments is a key element of what we do. Whilst the desire to play is innate, that is not to say it can’t be stimulated or adulterated by the environment and practitioners (the arguments for and against this still rage on in my brain and are not yet ready to be born haha).
Recent visits to The Highland Folk Museum and local Culbin Forest have inspired the team with many ideas for building structures from natural materials, sourced in our own woodland; place based creation and a revival of heritage skills, a reconnecting with paths trodden by these children’s own ancestors.
So yes I have a Pinterest board of all the new things we could build or develop to enhance the space, carefully selected via my very own prism. I am excited to get the tools out and build some open ended, heritage skill rich, gross motor developing structures which will act as a physical representation of our ethos and provide ‘just the right amount’ of accessibility and challenge.
I am also going to attempt to hold this with a ‘light touch’, we’ve all known the kid who would rather play with the box on Christmas day than the expensive toy within.
This Image is from Hertfordshire resident and playing out ‘area activator’ Rob Schafer who has led a project in Tring, his home town, gathering local residents’ play memories from their childhoods from the 1930’s to today. Playing Outside: Past, Present & Future is a book of photographs and memories from the project.
Highland Folk Museum