They Wrecked It!
This was originally posted in 2016 on our blog... but has had an update!
This morning I stopped myself just in time. I was outside with my three little ones and I happened to look over and see the state of the fairy garden that I had lovingly and carefully created for my daughter over summer. The once pristine fairy village, complete with river and bridge, toadstool homes and sweet little fairies and gnomes was now a wasteland, appearing to have been trampled by an ogre! I was just about to comment on the destruction that had taken place, thinking to myself "why did I bother?" when she returned to the fairy garden and I got a glimpse into her play. She was playing a very dramatic game with the fairies and indeed there had been some destruction - a storm.
As I listened to her playing and observed the way she made changes to the garden, to suit the progress of her play, I felt relieved that I hadn't commented, that I had taken just a moment to observe, to really see what was important. It didn't matter that it was a "mess". To her, it wasn't a mess. Why did it need to look pretty? Why did I feel so personally affronted that she had "rearranged" the play space? After all... it is a PLAYspace! What else should I have expected her to do there?
This is not just a problem isolated to my own backyard. It is something playing out in early education services around the country (and possibly the world) each and every day. Educators are spending copious amounts of time creating beautiful, inspiring play spaces inspired by books and social media. There is nothing at all wrong with that - showing a commitment to aesthetics and a respect for the physical environment and resources provided for children is something we deeply value and discuss when we deliver professional development on environments. Where the problem arises is when we, the educator, take too much ownership over the play space. We have this idea in our head of how it should be played with and what it should look like and when we return from our lunch break to find the space in a state of "disarray" we have a tendency to feel frustrated. Frustrated with our colleagues for not "looking after it". Frustrated with the children for "wrecking it."
Why? Because we spent so much time on it!
If you are sitting there nodding, thinking "oh I have done that!" you are not alone! When working in a centre, particularly in the first few years, I often found myself feeling frustrated with the children "wrecking my play spaces"
I needed to stop and ask myself: Who is this play space for? - The children
What is it's purpose? - Play
Two very simple questions (and answers) that changed the way I thought about creating play spaces. I didn't stop investing time into creating aesthetically pleasing play spaces, but I did stop stressing about what they looked like as the day went on. I started really watching the way children were playing in these spaces and valuing the process of the play and the way in which it altered the physical space. I started looking at the "wrecked" play space as evidence of play rather than mess. And at the end of the day, when the time came to pack away and prepare for the next day, we reset the spaces - returning little animals and logs to their original place.
When we change our thinking, when we look at things from a different perspective, it helps us to not feel so offended when children use a play space or leave a play space in a way that is different to what we have expected.