Guest Post – Cameron Sprague – Sobel Principles (3)

Sobel Post 3, Special Places: I started writing my Sobel posts with the best will in the world and of course life, running a busy nursery, and a hectic training schedule put them to the back of my mind.  I was reminded in March about these posts with full intention of starting back up again and then a worldwide pandemic started lockdown and I’m sure you all are aware of the impacts that has had on all of us.  

Life at Stramash Fort William has continued as a hub for frontline workers.  My staff have given me lots of moments to be proud since we opened in 2014.  However, maybe stepping up to put themselves on the frontline of this pandemic to give children an opportunity to be outdoors and to give of themselves so openingly and willingly to these children might have made me the proudest.  We stepped up to take children under 2 for the first time (scary, but has turned out to be amazing), and with the onset of summer holidays are supporting upper primary aged children to be cared for as well.  

As always the site and it’s layout, design, function, and most importantly it’s impact on children’s play is constantly churning at the back of my mind.  Always alongside that process Sobel’s Children and Nature Design Principles percolate through my thoughts and ultimately the actions that I take with the children.  When restarting the process of these blog posts Sobel’s Principle of Special Places has jumped to mind.  

To Sobel special places are secret places, ones that are controlled by children free from adult influence, but also they are places that children are connected to and feel a part of.  Many people can relate to having a place that they visited continually during their formative years that they can reflect on and hold dear to their heart.  Our commitment to place-based learning makes me hope that our setting in general is a special place to children, but through their experiences and play we can create even more special places for them.

Some of the work on those special places is spearheaded by us such as the work we have put into our shelter in terms of a homely, nurturing feel, and with learning from our friends at Highway Farm in Cornwall to also add transitional space to our shelter to support children accessing this space.  We have also taken the steps to build a gatehouse at our entrance that we have used lockdown to start finishing by adding things like peep holes, mirrors at child height, and wind chimes have started to transform a space that could be essentially a cover to one that creates wonder, awe, and curiosity in our children.   

The children who have attended through lockdown have been fascinated by our building processes and wanting to build new structures and adapt the ones that we have in place already.  My favourite project that we have undertaken together was adapting a wooden pallet structure that was called a “castle” by the children.  Nearing its functioning end we put it to the children what could we do to make the structure better?  Using the children’s ideas we added a balcony, steps, a shelf, and ultimately not one, but two slides!  This has made a space that children now gather, hang out in both in, on top of, underneath, and every which way you can think of.  At times they want to eat their lunch there, at others they just want to take a break and talk to each other.  Sometimes they may include adults in those breaks, but often it’s an adult free zone for the children to talk to each other without outside influence.  

Although, it may not necessarily seem like it, but the moments when children are speaking and talking without adults potentially will have the greatest impact on their literacy development.  If children are unable to tell stories how will they go on into their learning and write stories?  By keeping our spaces open-ended we enable their play and imagination to take spaces in any direction and of course that means their chat will go in any direction as well.  Never to be underestimated is the impact that using tools, helping to hold and move materials, climbing and scampering up spaces, will have on a child’s overall physical development.  This physical literacy and to explain that simply; it is really just building your body from the foundation up so that your body is ready to write when it’s reached a developmentally appropriate age to write.  

Reading and writing really isn’t one of those things that is benefited by sooner, faster, and quicker.  If we push letters before children’s bodies are physically ready then really what we are risking is that for the sake of writing their name earlier, they grow up to someone who reads the newspaper, but doesn’t necessarily grow up to be someone who reads books.  To me that is an important distinction and something I strive for with the children who attend my setting.  For us we will continue to champion story, song, rhyme, and an environment that is well thought out and diverse that gives children’s play the most opportunities to create their own stories and to develop their bodies so physically they are ready to learn.  Hanging our hat on Sobel’s principles allows us to do that and constantly be self-auditing what we are doing.

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