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You And I Belong Together

Greg Bottrill, author of “Can I Go Play Now?”, explores the importance of connection between areas for activity and their spacial proximity within your setting, so that children can experience ‘cross-pollination’ in their play and learning.

Photographer: Sigmund | Source: Unsplash

This will sound a little unhinged, but I often think that the different areas of continuous provision are talking to one another. It’s as though they are chatting amongst themselves, discussing which one of them belongs to the other, who should be next to who and, possibly even more importantly, who needs to keep a wide berth of each other.

Now of course, the provision isn’t really speaking but it’s quite fun to think it is. It can certainly help us when we come to explore the map of the space that we’ll shape with childhood.

Those last two words are important. When we begin to think about what our rooms and outdoor areas might look like, do we take in the view of children? Are they involved at all in the evolution of the spaces, or do we do it for them? I think there’s a blend to be had since we know the skills, we would like children to discover the joy of, but there’s also a need to consider the input of children – it’s what I call the Shared Space, a world that reflects the Joy of Being Me (the adult) and the Joy of Being You (the children). It’s a bit like having a Venn diagram of influence in which the child’s world and our world overlap.

Our influence on the Shared Space can take the form of ‘You and I Belong Together’. We listen to the different areas of the provision and decide who has the strongest argument of being next door to one another. This process helps us ‘join the dots of play’, seeing which provision areas enable children to cross-pollinate their skills, inventions, and creations smoothly. So, for example, it could be argued that the Home Corner (or as I prefer to call it ‘The Land Of Far Away’) belongs next to or at least very near to the Malleable Area (or Playdough Factory) since the types of play in the Home Corner lend themselves to children’s creativity with playdough e.g. they have set up a Bakery and the playdough is on hand to act as the bread, sausage rolls, cakes – the proximity of the two areas enables a smooth transition of ideas. It amplifies it.

Similarly, the Creative Area could be near the Home Corner too since it offers huge potential for children to cross-pollinate between the two areas. If we take the example of the Bakery, children can make hats, aprons, tools, even ingredients in the Creative Area without breaking the flow of play if the two areas are near one another.

In fact, it could be argued that the Creative Area ‘speaks’ to pretty much every area of provision, so it raises the question why it’s often found pushed into a corner or to the side out of the way. A more central position might well add energy to it. It’s a little bit like imagining leylines (old ancient energy lines that pass-through landmarks) extending outwards from the Creative Area across the room.

In the same way, I’m also a strong advocate of the Writing Table (or my Message Centre approach) being placed in the middle of the room, again so that its energy can be felt in all areas of the provision. That’s not to say that we don’t have a multitude of writing opportunities everywhere in our Shared Space, but the central position of the Writing Table at least acts as a focus of energy. And yet, where do we often find it pushed? To the side of the room, denying it of its potential and its ability to show children the true importance of mark making.

Photographer: Aaron Burden | Source: Unsplash

There are of course several provision areas that don’t belong together, and we should do all we can to stop them from arguing that they must be next to each other. Before you read on, can you guess which two I might be thinking about? That’s right: Water and Playdough. Now unless you love making playdough a lot and unless you want to spend your time making endless batches of it, then I’d suggest that these two stays as far apart as possible from one another. Children’s curiosity always seems to get the best of them when Playdough and Water are next door to one another and unless I’m very much mistaken, there’s little joy to be had in soggy playdough floating in a water tray.

It’s time to get mapping and then start thinking about the choices we offer childhood within the map, because it’s there that we’ll discover the magic of children, and it’s also there that we’ll realise the real ‘You and I Belong Together’ is Childhood and Us…