Monday, 15 February 2016

Rituals (PART 1):

Place Making, Play, the Local Forest, and the Lure of Exploration

By: Diana Fedora Tucci; Forest School Practitioner, Founder TFNS.  It wasn't too long ago that I initiated the child, parent, and educator forest play encounters in our local nature spaces.  Leading into it, my intent was to leverage the community to gather in nature to meet, play, explore, and learn.  But, it has grown into something much deeper than that to a sort of ritual that bids a community to partake in the cadence of nature's ever-changing ebb and flow as it progresses through the hours, days, months, and seasons that shape each year.  We send out open invitations to parents, educators, and children to come and be inspired through child-led, experiential play in nature that follows the seasons and welcomes the serendipitous moments found in time and place.  We get a glimpse into the possibilities for change around access to nature for play and learning and for the enduring connections and networks being formed through the repeated pilgrimages that we make to these patches of nearby nature.  The relationships that we form with all of the participants are reciprocal as we support each other as educators or parents or through our playful interactions with the children.  This is not a workshop or a drop-off program or a play date or a parent play group.  It is a collective of all of these things.  What really gets me excited about our forest play encounters is that they are not a one-off experience but rather that they kindle a culture of inclusion, reciprocity, mindful presence, and first hand experience that slowly unfurls and then reshapes our current perspectives on learning, play, and nature and the merit of learning through play in nature.  

"A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual.  To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him (the sun) and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline."                                                                                                                                                                          Henry Beston, The Outermost House

Years back, I learned the value of place making and how it is intrinsically linked to the embodiment of all things learned.  As I think back and if my memory serves me correctly, we were reading the book, Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor.  On our initial forays into the forest we went on a rock hunt to find a special rock for our presence stones basket, an inaugural ritual that I use as a commencement to all of my sessions and that continues throughout each and every session.  Each child finds their special stone and then places it in the presence basket each day upon arrival and then removes it upon departure.  The presence stones acts as a tangible symbol that honours each child's presence in Forest School.  The children found so many special rock that they began using them as markers on the land to mark their favourite play places.  They called them Remembering Rocks and told me that they used them to remember where these special places are and for their fiends to find.  We began exploring and learning about Inuksuit and creating them into stacked rock structures that help point the way for friends to find was something that proved very exciting for the children and really gripped their attention.  Counting, balancing, pointing the way, working out the direction, the steps to the location, landmarks... the landscape itself became a three dimensional map as the children found their way to knowing it by creating fantastical pathways into the forest.  The children became willing explorers in a new and fascinating world of our local forest found just mere steps from their home.  

 It seems to me that one can think of mapmaking as a fundamental human activity, if not the fundamental human activity... Learning consists of looking at something new and beginning to see paths into it.  You construct a map or a series of maps, each one an approximation and probably wrong in many details, but each one helping you to go further into the territory... We all have hundreds, thousands of maps each of which represents a way we have learned to look at a part of the world... There are music maps, language maps, maps of social relations, maps of the physical environment... What they have in common is that all of them are models in our minds of what we think the world looks like and we can consult them to help predict what the world is going to be like, what the consequences of our actions are likely to be.  
 Tony Kallett (1995), Homo Cartographicus

Mapping using Remembering Rocks, the loose parts of the natural world that were randomly found in the forest, became a sort of game that the children engaged in with joy.  Remembering Rocks evolved from the children as a way to map their play and share with each other their findings.  The provocation that I presented as the educator was the stories of the Inukshuk as I invited the children to look at their remembering rocks in a different way.  How high could they stack the rocks, how many could they use, what was the 'just right' point of balance, what direction would they point the way towards, how much farther did they have to go?  With the introduction of meaning, directional points, numeracy, balance, shape, and structure the children's Remembering Rocks along with their ideas began to take shape as visible, standing structures on the landscape.  There was no shortage of creativity or creative thinking here.  This provocation acted as a magical lure to the insatiable wonders that led the children to these new found places in the forest.  Over time, the forest became their place but it was not off limits to others as these mapped places welcomed newcomers to find them.

We do a disservice to children when we jump in too quickly at a prematurely abstract level in map reading and mapmaking.  It's important to have children begin mapmaking the way they begin drawing; maps and drawings are representations of things that are emotionally important to children.  In the beginning, children's maps represent their references of beauty, secrecy, adventure, and comfort.
 David Sobel, Mapmaking with Children

Child-led play leads the way to deep and meaningful learning.

* Please follow along for part 2 to find out how the Remembering Rocks inspired us to play, look, and think more deeply about mapping special places and how technology can be creatively used to make meaningful connections to learning.

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