On September 10, 2012, Find & Seek hosted a session at ArtsCetera on Smith St. in Brooklyn, where children and their caregivers explored an indoor environment inspired by the wondrous woods. Children were invited to bring a nature object or treasure of their own, such as a leaf, flower, pod, stick, stone or feather, and our team provided a vast and eclectic array of organic materials for the children to explore. These materials included:
• string, yarn, cotton and wool
• baskets, wooden bowls and blocks
• moss and nests
• multicolored scarves
• rocks, sea glass beads, shells, dried seeds, flowers and pods.
We also set out little furry, forest dwelling stuffed-animals to encourage young explorers to build a home or plan an adventure for the lovable little creatures. During the hour, the shared world of hidden treasures began to be transformed as children collected their favorites, fitting objects into vessels, draping fabric over structures to create interior spaces, transporting little animals with their “foods” in a child-sized wooden cart, wrapping strings and hanging items from branches, hiding animal creatures inside baskets, planning and building wooden landscapes, building tiny nest beds for imaginary birds and their eggs, convening in small groups to pretend a picnic, collecting items in baskets for personal safekeeping and even climbing into baskets (of course!). While these activities were taking place, our team observed and documented. One of our aims is to provide children opportunities to freely investigate texture, form, color and scale through imaginative construction and story play, using the most open-ended of materials. On this day, the room became transformed by the children into a woodland dreamworld.
A Day to Explore and Rearrange: What We Noticed
We keep coming back to ask: what can children make with repurposed objects? We keep wondering: why is this so important to their healthy development? We are interested in the quality of every material and concern ourselves with listening to which materials speak to children and in what ways. Some of the things we noticed in this workshop are indicative of truths we hold about childhood:
• Children appreciate touching, feeling, handling natural objects. They like to feel smooth wood, scratchy surfaces, the bumpy parts, the wiggly areas.
• Children, especially urban children, approach these objects with a Sense of Wonder. They are often engaged by novel objects, ie: never-before-seen. For many children growing up in the city, elements such as moss or a real bird’s nest are indeed rare to see.
• Children like to hide things, and to be hidden themselves. They are completely engaged when hiding within, or when in the process of hiding an object, within the Secret Spaces of Childhood. This may look like a secret box, a hidden fort in the woods, a cardboard box (see our post on Cardboard!), a space under the stairs, a tree house, a space under the table, or in the corner of a room. These spaces multiply exponentially when they can be explored in the natural world.
• Children give human and animal characteristics to inanimate objects. As playworkers like Marc Armitage define it, play is “what children do,” simply because they know no other way of being. Part of the play that comes so naturally to most children is this element of personification. Given the simplest materials, children will build a world, complete with a host of personalities. Something, someone, from nothing.
• Young children are inspired by older children. Older children take younger children under their wing. This is why we love mixed-age learning environments.
Through this series of workshops, we hoped to encourage a new generation of thoughtful players to take some risks, explore, share and transform spaces with materials we curate. Just as these friends did in September, we can’t wait to see how future groups of children rise to the challenge of creating a new world out of the most unassuming materials.