A sense of place.
I've been catching up on some of the reading for my MA Outdoor Education over the Christmas and New Year break. The current topic on 'sense of place' led me to some contemplation over the Kindergarten's approach and how this has evolved since opening, alongside the effect this has had on participants - both adults and children alike.
What was initially a 'pack-away preschool' located in a church hall, utilising the outdoors to meet the requirements for the physical area of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) without access to a specified garden space for the children, developed to become something completely unique to the group of children attending and the spaces they enjoyed together.
We started to explore the natural spaces in close proximity to us; we care for an allotment on a nearby community site, we frequent the village recreation ground, historic parkland in the grounds of a Manor House, woodlands, bridleways, a ford, pond, bridges, agricultural land, hedgerows and green spaces. We're very fortunate to have the abundance of inspiring places surrounding us that we do and we were able to enjoy such a diverse range of spaces with them.
We learned while out with the children, that this was where they wanted to be. Not just in the woodland, despite my enthusiasm for the forest school approach, but across a wide range of outdoor spaces. The children renamed the places they visited, creating landmarks of their own to stop at and and visit on their walks. Places they liked to play, continuous provision, ever-changing with the weather and the seasons, alongside the children's ages and stages of development, their interests, fascinations and their games.
We followed one public footpath often as the children grew increasingly able to walk greater distances. They renamed it 'the sheep field', containing the bridge they crossed at the back of it, which became the 'trip, trap bridge' recalling the story of the three billy goats gruff, and in particular, the villain and his often booming words “who's that trip-trapping over my bridge?”. 'Plopping' stones into the water from the bridge became a favourite game. There is a veteran tree further along the same footpath, again in a field, protected from the road by a fence and gate. It's a field maple and is still alive, despite having been hit by lightening at one point in time, and being split in the middle. The children love it, and renamed it 'the climbing tree'. The highest point in the village, at the top of a tall hill, became known as 'the top of the world'. The children know three woodlands well: the forest school wood, the bluebell wood, and the magical wood. They know the village museum, the palace, the old police house, the school and the village hall.
These words and phrases the children gave became part of our daily conversations with them, they made up their directions for us, of where to go, and their discussions and reflections about what they had done, seen, found, heard.
When the first cohort of children went to school in the Autumn this year, we had a socially distanced gathering for them and their families. One of the parents had created us a map, collating the children's special places and showcasing them. This connection through place had expanded from us, to the children, to their families. Some of them spoke of the children showing them their places when out on walks with them, recalling learning and play when without us to prompt them. They had built their own sense of place, a shared connection.
With the new cohort, in the current academic year, there are unfamiliar footpaths to explore, new landmarks that have been and continue to be discovered and fresh connections to make. The journey continues, I wonder what we'll discover next.