There were specific spaces in the nursery in which children used the activities experienced there to describe them. One important space was the music room. This was a multi-purpose space, which was the largest gathering point in the nursery. It had low windows allowing an open view of the courtyard and garden.
This room was described as the ‘dancing room’ and ‘the listening room’ as well as the music room. Most children included this room in their tours and took photographs of the room in use and when empty. This room was also associated with past uses. At one point it had been filled with small plastic balls, making it a giant ball pool. This was remembered with affection. It served as an example of the complex layering of experiences, which children could recall when revisiting a space.
Children also added meanings to spaces by the personal routines which took place there. The ‘fruit place’ was the phrase used by most of the group for the space in the conservatory where they had their mid-morning snack. The conservatory was a corridor space between the classrooms and the courtyard. It had several functions, including storage for children’s coats and hats, as well as housing display areas and bookshelves. My observation has reinforced this space as an important one for the children. ‘Fruit time’ was a relaxed time when an adult would sit with the children, chatting and listening to them whilst they prepared the fruit. In the following excerpt from a child-led tour the children are sitting in the Orange room during the tour.
Meryl: We eat our dinners and then (ssh, I want to talk) I play in here. I eat my dinner. I get a knife and fork and when we’ve finished we having pudding and cake and custard and then we wash our hands and then we have a partner and then we play outside.
There was a wealth of detail given by children about place use in this way. Children’s ability to talk about the meanings they gave to a place seemed to be enhanced by talking in the place itself. Hart found working with older children that ‘place expeditions’ elicited far more details about children’s experiences than traditional methods alone. This is particularly valuable when there is an existing spatial experience to make reference to, prior to the design of a new building, no matter how poor the quality of the existing provision may be.
Spaces also acquired significance according to whether the children had access to the space or not. Children remarked that the staff room was a place they could not go into and were keen to photograph it on their tours. The kitchen was another space known to be out of bounds but signalled as important. Access was also controlled by adults according to age of the child. The Orange room (described by Meryl earlier) was a place where 4-year-olds had their lunch. Each key group in the kindergarten section of the nursery had 3-4-year-olds together so these children would eat lunch separately according to age. Meryl had lunch in the Orange room, but Gaby being 3 had lunch in the conservatory. Gaby described on the tour how much she wanted to be old enough to go to the Orange room saying ‘I can’t wait to get big.’
This example supports Sibley’s view that children’s experience of place is closely associated with issues of power.15 Adults’ demarcation of place use by age led to a differentiation of experience for the children in the group.
Gaby’s comment leads me on to the question of children’s place feelings and values, which are at times difficult to separate from knowledge about place use.