Greg Bottrill, author of “Can I Go Play Now?”, considers the importance of ‘little corners’ where children can explore, play and build their own worlds without adults imposing their own ideas of play and learning.
As Early Years educators, ‘continuous provision planning’ is central to our thinking, a mainstay of our student training as well as being a consistent expectation within our day-to-day roles when we finally enter employment with nurseries or schools. And if we Google the phrase, ‘continuous provision planning’, we find a myriad of helpful suggestions and photos, as well as online forums that are full of support, a community helping one another to plot and plan, ideas for this, ideas for that.
Inadvertently however, the training we receive, the expectations, and the community of help, can perhaps amplify a narrative that the entire space we are working in has to be somehow planned and ‘thought through’. We plot sand and water, construction and woodwork, inside and outside, small world and malleable areas and we may plan adult-led activity too, all the while focusing on opportunities for teaching and learning, within the map we have created for children.
Yet, there is a hidden map in the ‘little corners’ of our settings and classrooms - the steps, the ramps, the boxed in radiator pipes and the scuffed earth under the bushes outside, the space behind doors, under tables, the gaps between sheds and fences, and the backs of bookcases. For these are the spaces that children are ‘planning’ for themselves. It is these spaces that are hidden but are just as powerful than anything we have in front of us on our weekly planning sheet. It’s not that your continuous provision is deficient. It’s just that the ‘little corners’ offer infinitely more possibility to the magic of children, because they can re-imagine them beyond the limitations of the Adult World plan, because they are entirely blank spaces.
If you know the stories and illustrations of Shirley Hughes, then you will be familiar with the little corners. Much of her work is an exploration of those spaces that are discovered by children, that they ‘re-dream’ and spin anew. Her books are full of examples, nests of comfort and enclosure with all their hidden wonders waiting to be found. I like to think of these little corners as the places where children ‘take themselves off to’, the spaces they can immerse in with no pre-determined purpose other than their own.
Shirley Hughes is showing us that children are drawn to this type of space – they often see the little corners before the adults do. She is pulling our attention to childhood itself, to its curiosity and its will to explore. Children need these spaces as much as they need the ones that we create for them, a blend of the self-curated and the curated.
Dens, books, small world, construction, chit chat, laughter, drawing, role play, the list goes on – the little corners can sustain all kinds of play and arguably all of it is richer because the children have created it from scratch – they have dreamt it into life. And when children dream something, they are more closely connected to it and one to another. It is as though they are adding to the quality of what we have provided by providing something back to us.
Of course, one key ingredient to these little corners is play, with all its choice and autonomy. If we insist on children doing only what we set out for them to do, if we cannot see them as being capable and needing to explore, then the little corners will remain barren. They may be small, but those little corners have every possibility of boiling with imagination and springing to life with the joy of being 3, 4 and 5.
Perhaps it’s time to shift some of our attention away from what we are looking for in the sand tray and towards the hidden landscape. I would hope that your own continuous provision planning has the magic of children running right through it like a rich, golden thread – if it doesn’t, if it’s formulaic or borrowed, then maybe look for in the little corners.
I promise you will find magic there…
A Mini Moment Action Plan: look at the layout of your environment. Does if offer up the opportunity for little corners? If not, how might you create them? If you do have them, what have you noticed in the past about them and how might you begin to look more closely at the potential magic that they hold?