Food for thought - Musings on our environments, children and spaces

January 22, 2018


I grew up in the countryside and have always been drawn to open spaces and nature. I am often happiest when outside, whatever the weather. I love the freedom that the countryside can offer. Options are often limited, with less people, less social activity, but a richer physical environment. It forces a slowness that a city can struggle to offer. I do, however, live in a city and one that I love. Sheffield is the perfect mix, in my eyes, of open green spaces, historical buildings and hustle and bustle, surrounded by a beautiful and rugged national park. It also holds a strong community spirit and is home to some incredible open-minded human beings.


Whilst travelling I have spent a disproportionate amount of time in cities. It means that I have seen much of a country's countryside through a window, a train, a car or a bus. I have missed spending time in nature and will always crave it, wherever I am. However, it is important to remember that the natural world is always present, despite the concrete jungle. Flowers wind their way through cracks and wild animals roam, often in secret. Cities also play host to formal gardens and pockets of the natural world.

 

 Watching a pumpkin field fly past a window on the train - Travelling from Portland to Corvallis, Oregon. 

 

 An autumn tree on a busy road in Portland, Oregon. 

 Noticing dew drops on a leaf in a busy city - Portland, Oregon. 

 The Chinese Gardens - Portland, Oregon. These were hidden away in the midst of a very built up and urban area. A secret quiet space in the hustle and bustle. 


I will always be torn between loving the vibrancy and cultural opportunity that a city can offer and the solitude, peacefulness and beauty of the countryside. In my teaching I am learning even more that nature is an essential part of a child's education. Learning through the outdoors offers children essential open-ended imaginative opportunity. A rock can represent endless objects: a cookie, a flower, a person, whereas a toy carrot can only ever be a toy carrot. Being outdoors and experiencing fresh air is good for our bodies and I am a big supporter of children accessing all weather and learning how to look after themselves. We can support children to foster their independence when learning how to dress appropriately and to be able to choose when to access the outdoors. Giving children freedom and choice over their activities and how they access the world is empowering. As adults we have the privileged role of supporting and encouraging children to make appropriate choices and to extend their learning and awareness of the world around them. 

 

All weather types offer endless learning opportunities. Rainy days offer children opportunity to learn about gravity, precipitation, reflections, wet and dry. To learn about melting, liquids and solids, what better than a snowy day?! Windy days teach forces and movement. Sunshine provides shadow play and warmth. At home in the UK, weather is discussed a lot. People often wish for the opposite of what it occurring. This is, however, not true of three-year-olds. They will unrelentingly love the weather that the world presents them each day. When teaching these enthusiastic little humans, it gives me appreciation of all weather types. I can find joy in splashing in puddles on a drizzly day and breathing steam on a cold day. Being outside is essential to my happiness and to the children's. They become empowered when able to interact with the environment in the way they choose.

 

 Dancing outdoors!  Heaven Hill Acadamy - Nepal

 

 Never too old to splash in puddles! 

 

 A fairy house in the woods made by children at Trackers - Portland, Oregon. 

 Open space offers lots of opportunity for imaginative and open ended play. Wildwood School - Portland, Oregon. 


Along my journey so far I have been thinking a lot about the movement between urban and natural environments and the indoors and outdoors and spaces in the world. I have been thinking specifically in terms of the children that encounter this shift. What must it mean for a child to transition between homes and place? All across the world, families live in all varieties of homes, both in the city and the countryside. Communities have settled for generations in one place and conversely families may seek change and strike out for a new life. For example, I have met many people on my travels who were born in the countryside but have moved to the city for work. The city often offers more job opportunities and prospects.

 

Job displacement is one type of movement of people but so is emergency displacement. This is something that is currently happening on a large scale across the globe. Refugees are being forced to flee the countries that they live in. For someone who finds purely the choice of where to live overwhelming at times, it is inconceivable the feeling to have such choice removed. It has struck me that so many people in the world are torn away from their homes for economic reasons and crisis situations On my travels I have witnessed a tiny trickle of people from all walks of life who flow from countryside to cities. It has struck me that I am currently one of those people, moving between natural and urban environments. However, I am one of the lucky ones, whose opportunity is choice and freedom. I only wish it was the same for others.  

 

From an educational perspective I believe it important to consider the impact that this movement will have on the affected children. We should consider what education and pedagogy can offer these children? How can educators offer children stability and learning that empowers them and provides stability? How can we manipulate a child's learning environment to provide the maximum benefit to them? We should remember that every child we teach, has a unique history. They may have travelled many miles or not at all, they may have never fully experienced wild weather, they may have a big or small family, they may have experienced loss. All children deserve the right to share their story with their educators and carers and when we learn our children's stories, I believe this may impact and challenge our pedagogical and inclusive approach to teaching. 

 

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