Setting up our early childhood spaces should be a thoughtful and considered notion. Every child deserves the respect of teachers who work hard to create environments that allow for many different types of play to take place. I am very honoured to work amongst a team of focused, thoughtful and dedicated professionals who are always striving to provide spaces that are inviting and safe for the children that attend Mairtown.
Late last year we were lucky enough to attend a workshop run by Robin Christie from Childspace (thanks to the NKA) which focused on designing environments. One aspect of this that stood out to us as a team was the importance of creating protected and enclosed spaces for children, sanctuaries where children could get away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the kindergarten.
“Protected retreat spaces need not be huge, in fact smaller spaces are a vital part of the recipe. Soft, inviting areas like this also act as 'sanctuary' spaces for children to be able to have somewhere to withdraw to when they feel overwhelmed, aiding in developing self-regulation.” (Childspace)
On reflection we realised that this was something that we were already successfully doing within our kindergarten environment in some respects but enjoyed the inspiring ideas that we could add to our bag of tricks. With that in mind we returned to work and began planning how we could enhance the learning environment for our children.
Children love to be in spaces where they can ‘shut’ others out. This may sound harsh but it is valid and empowering for them. Being able to take control of a space and make it their own through their imagination and play is a very important. Children are often more open and free in the way that they verbally express themselves through imaginary play when they feel that there is no adult ‘watching’ or ‘listening in’. So as teachers we like to create spaces where adults can still safely keep an eye children, but in an unobtrusive way.
Here are a few examples of ways that we took information and ideas from Robin Christie's workshop and how we implemented them into our practice. We started with the whare tākaro (play house) upgrade.
This was always a nice space for children’s play however as a team we felt that it could be enhanced by adding a new beautiful fence and gate around the outside of the deck to give it more of an enclosed feeling. This has been done and the way that the children are interacting with the space is just lovely to observe; they seem to really enjoy the act of closing the gate behind them. There is a lot of in-depth imaginary play that has been taking place as well as some solitary and small quiet play. All in all it has added a wonderful new space for our children to explore.
"Being able to relax and feel protected from intrusion or competition, as children play alone or with a friend, helps them regain their inner peacefulness."
(Cryer, Harms, & Riley, 2003)
Another idea which we took from our workshop was using electrical conduit and electrical tape to make light weight, easily moveable huts. Thanks to Scott Electrical Whangarei who donated the conduit we have been able to make two huts. These have proven to be popular with the children. One is smaller and is in our sandpit at the moment. We find children playing within the hut and although it doesn’t have any ‘walls’ it seems to outline a special place for children to take ownership of.
Our other conduit hut is bigger and has been used in a number of ways, often having a cover over it which makes it a space were children meet and play. The huts can easily be moved by the children, making their play with it more interesting and fun. Both constructions have added lots of value to the environment that we provide for our children.
Kable (2010) beautifully reflects on creating special spaces for children by saying “Spaces to pause, spaces to hide, spaces to meet, small spaces; secret places: children love to have nooks, crannies, cubbies and places to kick back and relax in their play spaces.”
Here are a few of the other small, protected and enclosed spaces that we have at Mairtown Kindergarten.
We look forward to watching the children from Mairtown Kindergarten interact with all the small enclosed and protected spaces. As a team we are committed to providing our Mairtown Kindergarten community with a learning environment that fosters children's development in a holistic and meaningful way. This is just one small snippet of the thoughtfulness that goes into our work.
"Children’s well-being, safety, learning and social development, as well as their essential enjoyment of childhood, are affected by the extent and the quality of their opportunities to play. By the same token, the cooperation of many different professionals and roles is needed to ensure a cohesive and effective approach."
(Shackell, Butler, Doyle and Ball)