New Year, New Space, New Children
In a similar way to last year’s residency I am going to be spending half a day a week at the school working with Reception children.
What’s slightly different is that this year children have been chosen from across the three Reception classes who it is felt would most benefit from this focused, small group opportunity, to see what effect such a creative approach to outdoor, site responsive learning will have on them.
Last year we were exploring the general benefits and practicalities of creative outdoor learning (online exhibition here) – how such child-led work could work within each of the school’s outdoor spaces and its timetable, and what resources were needed. This year we have chosen one space and group and will be tracking their progress across 12 to 15 weeks.
I’m not going to be able to go into detail on individual children here, but thought it might be interesting to share the approach and the thinking behind the work, as it evolves and develops, and we respond to their needs and interests.
The space we’re working in is a courtyard area, surrounded on all sides by walls/windows and with a tree in the centre. Around the courtyard on two sides are covered walkways supported by wooden posts.
For this first session, with children I’d not met before and in a new working space, I decided to bring materials which could give them opportunities to explore the space and structures, connecting them, hanging from and tying to them – exploring width, height, weight, and generally mapping out our new working environment.
I wanted to offer those children that find it challenging to settle and focus in a more traditional classroom setting, the opportunity to use their whole body in their exploration and learning. At the start of a project like this I also find that such connective materials (rope, ribbon, string) offer opportunities for children to connect and work together, as well as connecting physical features.
In addition the teaching staff were keen that we include small objects for ‘small world play’, encouraging fine motor skills and offering an alternative scale.
To begin the session I briefly introduced myself and the resources, and encouraged the children to explore the space and to change it if they wanted to, telling them that I and Anna, the teaching assistant that I was working with, were interested in their ideas and would write and take photos to help us remember.
So that’s the beginning. I’ve included a selection of images to show the different things that the children did together, manipulating materials to try out ideas and to make sense of their environment; from making a rope swing in the tree, to creating a ‘party’ from coloured ribbon stretched between posts, with added invitations to their friends. There was a lot of running, of laying trails and of making obstacle courses, but also more delicate and methodical arranging, making and thinking.
I’ll be in school again next Monday, building on what we’ve observed of the children’s emerging interests and behaviours, and the staff group will be continuing to offer access to the space and resources for all Reception children in between during their free-flow ‘Discovery Time’.
That’s another key part to this year’s project, although the time I’m there will be focused on a smaller group of 10 to 12 children, the themes, resources and documentation from each session will be shared with all Reception year children, staff and parents each week, enabling everyone to benefit and the ripples to spread more widely.