Monday, November 21, 2016

Finding our place

How do young children research place?

Is place a language? Do children use the affordances of particular spaces to express their deep thinking? To connect to others?

I'm not sure about "place" being a language- for me the jury is still out. The environment is considered the third teacher in our approach to teaching, so inherently place provides the foundation for individuals to express their thinking...

The dark cedar closet
in the attic- was the attraction
to this space the darkness?
But then I consider the unique setting in which we find ourselves with our students on a daily or weekly basis, and I the affordances of our special spaces at Sabot invite more investigation of place? The 1920s Larus mansion is full of surprising twists and turns- from secret doors, to an attic's attic; a large
One of the favorite spots when
visiting the attic was the dark
cedar closet- or the "attic's attic" as
it was phrased by our students.
black human-like bunny painting in the basement to vacant fireplaces, mysterious doorbells, and a hidden pocket door- and has inspired an interest and excitement in its unexpected features. The environment entices children to create magical explanations for these uncommon characteristics. The darkness at the top of the stairs next to our classroom has invited inquiry- what's behind that door, behind that darkness? -leading to thrilling visits to the third floor, or attic, for a couple of weeks. The most popular stop during a visit to the attic, is the attic's attic, or dark cedar closet, where flashlights are required to navigate the various objects stored there. This closet is naturally dark, with little natural and no artificial lighting. The children are unsure about the darkness, but any uncertainty is trumped by the draw of this room's mystery and possibility.

As the children safely confront the fear of the dark at the top of the stairs, and the mystery of unknown worlds, story-telling becomes a satisfying way to explore these experiences and to share it with others. Tales from the attic has become a multiple chapter story, written by several Rainbow Room students, that the authors want to make into a movie. Whimsy and magic thread these stories, connecting the real world attic to an imaginary fairy world. Interestingly, the Rainbow Room is the ultimate destination in each story; the protagonists consistently return to their classroom to share their adventures. Is this one way that place is a language for our students?
After exploring the attic over many trips, a group composed, then performed Tales from the Attic for the rest of the class, then took feedback from their peers.

The consideration of place, too, challenges the schema that young children have about time. An abstract concept, preschool children are beginning to understand the relativity of time, including past and future, and our "place" is certainly full of history and apparent change. Recently, a group undertook an inquiry into: where did the Meadow Room go? One student's older brother attended the Meadow Room only a few years ago, and now that space is our movement studio. A small group of children surmise that it must have moved somewhere. The tricky part seems to be the identity- the location is still in existence, but the identity has changed. Can a known identity just disappear?  Even though the students clearly understand that there's no more "Meadow Room", the pursuit of its location continues (it must be behind the little door in the attic!)
While working with Anna on the inquiry into where is the Meadow Room? the small group kept encountering unusual features in the mansion, leading to its own investigation. Here's a double locked door in the basement- must be hiding treasure! A secret compartment under the basement stairs reminds us of the former family's need to hide things.

To further explore the mansion and its affordances, small groups started to visit the basement. For those children new to Sabot, a visit to the basement can feel daunting with its dark, wet spaces, the noisy furnace (a behemoth!), the echo-filled light studio, and the mysterious and possibly sinister black bunny wall painting. For the seasoned visitor, the basement inspires its own form of magical whimsy- shadow play, echo exploration, and black bunny narratives.
The anthropomorphic black bunny; shadows in the light studio in the basement; more dark spaces to explore

The forest next to our campus is another provocative space, with its unpredictable wildness and otherworldly peacefulness when one steps into its midst. We've observed children using this space to challenge themselves, both physically and socially, through "safe" risk-taking of terrain exploration and relationship-building. Do the mysteries of the remote forest create more uncertainties, taking us out of our comfort zones?

 We find unexplored terrain in the forest (where does the tunnel go?); challenge our bodies and minds; and rely on each other for reaching our goals.
The classroom itself was a novel space at the beginning of the school year, with some new routines,
new relationship opportunities, new materials. A certain reservation to this new place is expected, but we have lately noticed an emerging mastery of the classroom's use. To this end, the Rainbow Room students have undertaken the manipulation of our large classroom environment. The desire to create a
Even the bathroom is a space for learning-
here children draw a toilet for their house
in the block area.
Our morning meeting was an experience new to many of
our students. We collaborated on a social story to describe
the expectations of this gathering.
dark space (or perhaps to recreate the dark spaces from other parts of the mansion?) has led to the covering of our windows. This newly darkened classroom is now the perfect environment for students to pursue their latest inquiry- how light transmits color through water color, and how to paint with light (using a camera).
Presenting their observations about water color and light, the catalyst discovery
that prompted the creation of our dark classroom
More opportunity for shadow exploration in our dark classroom; the well-lit classroom was not ideal for exploring the
relationship between light and water color as seen here.

Darkness is necessary to observe the affordances of light, water color, and glass
The dark space sets the stage for light exploration, including the intensity, color, and ephemeral-quality of light

Taking photos using long exposure, interesting flowing forms are captured in a single snapshot

Can a large space change completely to something else? Is it the same place if the affordances change? Watch this space as the dark classroom journey unfolds!

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