Is anyone still out there?! We’ve been a bit absent from this blog haven’t we?!

We are back with a doozy of a post though from our very own Cameron Sprague, team leader extraordinarie at Fort William, all about Sobel’s design Principles – this week principles 1&2.

“The team for a while have been thinking about how we can share the ways children learn through play while with us. One of several ways that we plan and develop our nursery space is through David Sobel’s Children and Nature Design Principles. By taking a theoretical approach to the way we plan our environment this enables us to ensure that children’s play is as varied, poignant, and promotes their progression as much as possible. Over the next few months I plan on writing a post for each of the 7 principles to further explain them. As we are looking at literacy as part of our improvement plan I will take a literacy slant to my posts.

First principle: Adventure!

Sobel argues that children need to have a sense of adventure and namely risk within their lives. If you think of our site you will see numerous swings, areas of height to climb, and know that we regularly use fire and tools with our children. Risk is the key to emotional regulation. If you think about the feeling you get in your stomach when doing something out of your comfort zone also think about what you do in response to that. You may take a deep breath, or count down backwards from ten, or close your eyes and think of something else. These are all examples of how you have learned coping strategies to deal with this stress response.

Recognising this feeling in your body and then being able to use coping strategies to calm yourself down will not only allow you to be successful in school, but it will also allow you to be more successful in life.

Adventure and risk also allow you to fail and sometimes it maybe multiple times before you succeed. One of our best examples is the rope ladder on the sleeping pod which has turned into a real rite of passage on site. Learning to climb it can be emotional, it’s scary, it’s difficult to master, and usually takes time and practice. By allowing children to fail, but then emotionally supporting them after we are once again helping them to better understand and regulate their emotions. We are also teaching children failure is ok. Why are people afraid to ask questions in class? Usually it’s fear of looking bad or fear of failure, but by the way we work we are programming children to not be afraid of failing.

Now for the literacy slant! If you are wanting to write and develop stories you first need to have something to actually write about. Authors first writing usually is inspired by what they know. If you haven’t had the experiences and adventures to write about…how could you possibly be expected to write? We are building a backlog of memories, feelings, and experiences that will hopefully influence their writing for years to come.

David Sobel Children and Nature Design Principles Part 2: Fantasy!

Fantasy is in a lot of ways is the easiest principle to understand. Who doesn’t know a child that spends half their life pretending they are someone or somewhere else? I often use as an example my cousin who spent three years pretending she was a cat. She had a cat name, spent a lot of time on all fours, and constantly battled my aunt and uncle to eat her meals on the floor.

As feral as some people think we may make children… I’m not saying we want children to live like little Mowglis wild in the field. However, the opportunity to pretend, be imaginative, and be someone else is extremely important for children for a variety of reasons.

First of all is creativity, a lot of people compare our field to a junk yard, but really we are fine purveyors of loose parts. To make the magic of loose parts work to its fullest potential you need to bear in mind two words; affordance and abundance. Which plainly stated means as many varieties of loose part and as many of them as you can possibly collect. In the pictures I included you can see a very large boat the children constructed this week (my son helped and is proudly dabbing his appreciation of it).

While working on the yurkie porch over several days I watched the children basically never leave the boat and they even had their meals in it! I could hear lots of shouts of mum, dad, baby etc as the children all pretended to fill various roles in an ever deepening game and fantasy.

If we had purchased or put in a boat for the children the level of creativity and play would never had been as deep as it was. The children had stoves, beds, toilets, and everything else you could possibly think of constructed in loose parts. A purchased boat or fixed built boat never would have afforded the same possibilities.

This is the kind of creativity we are constantly fostering. There is a really interesting Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson which is worth a listen. His topic is about the education system and the way he feels it currently negatively impacts creativity. The quote that always sticks with me is “99% of children enter school as creative genius and only 3% leaving school can be labeled the same.’ If you want to listen you can find it here:

In fantasy play children are also developing empathy for the people around them. Pretending to be someone else, living and breathing as them, helps you to develop an understanding and appreciation for someone other than yourself. We all know Frozen 2 is coming and I’m expecting a lot of Elsa’s to be strutting our field shortly! When a child is pretending to be someone else this gives staff opportunities to ask them questions like would spiderman hurt his friends? Children may initially give a flippant response like I’m hitting them because they are bad guys. This gives staff opportunity to discuss this more with children about how others would be feeling so that maybe the next time staff ask they may pause and say no he wouldn’t. That’s understanding and that’s why we persevere with it!

Fantasy play is also one of the best times for our staff to challenge gender conventions. I take great joy in telling the children that I want to be rapunzel (not just because I enjoy a tea party) as it immediately allows us to have the conversation about why can’t boys be queens and why can’t girls be Iron Man? We need to have these conversations early and often as we have a lot of marketing and societal expectations to combat. At a talk I gave recently a gentleman told me a story of his daughter wanting paw patrol pants but not wanting to buy them because she knew the pants were in the boys section of the shop. 4 year olds shouldn’t have this worry or be put in the you should like unicorns and you should play with cars box ever, but especially at such a young age. Outdoor learning is an equaliser on so many levels, but smashing gender expectations is maybe the most important.

Finally from a literacy perspective how can children write creatively about characters if they haven’t explored characters through their play? The more varied experiences to pretend but also to relate to characters the bigger impact it will have on their stories. It’s a big reason why we are persevering with story scribing this year.

So with all that in mind we will continue to put out capes, collect loose parts, and make decisions that bring whimsy and provocation for all your wee ones!

2 Comments on “Guest post! Cameron Sprague

  1. This seems like some great ideas. Are they difficult to implement in cities with limited green spaces?

    • Hi Donnie, not at all! We’ve recently been doing some work in more urban areas of Glasgow – check out Baltic street adventure playground in Glasgow too 🙂

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