Constructing meanings: place feelings and values

Hart describes children’s experience of place feelings and values in terms of preferences and fears. I will use these categories to examine children’s feelings about places in the nursery. The following excerpt is from a child conference about favourite places.

Researcher: Where is your favourite place in the nursery?

Clare: Outside and inside and having fruit time. Laura: On the bikes.

Gary: Going in my cave, near the big dark trees [July]. In my cave listening to music. It’s magic music from my magic radio [November].

John: The garden. I roll in the green rollers.

Gaby: Inside – the fruit place. We always do singing

there.

Mark: I live in here [classroom] so my mummy

knows where I am. I like playing with the sharks.

Children’s preferences ranged from personal spaces of imagination or safety to social places linked to activities as discussed above. Gary was unusual, at the age of 3, in being able to speak about his imaginary space. A traditional interview might however have left me baffled about this secret place. I took the decision to conduct the child conferencing with these boys on the move. I became a ‘walking interview’ (4) or as Hart described it, a ‘place expedition’. The boys took me outside and showed me the ‘cave’. It was not a hidden corner as I had imagined but a curved bench on the grass in the play area. My observations had indicated that this was a public social place where children gathered with each other or with an adult. Gary’s description shows the imaginative meanings children can give to fam­iliar objects and illustrates Hart’s descriptions of children’s personal or phenomenal landscapes.14

Social spaces

Children identified several key sites in the nursery which were focal points for being with their peers and sometimes also with adults. The ‘fruit place’ was a shared space for children and adults to interact together, as discussed earlier. The curved bench in the garden was another meeting place. This indicates how the same object or space held different meanings for individuals within the group. Gary’s ‘cave’ represented a significant social space for another child, Cary. She took a photograph of the bench and included it in her set of important photos. It represented for her the place where she used to sit with Molly, her key worker, who had recently left on maternity leave. The memories associated with the space still gave this part of the nursery meaning for Cary.

The large sandpit was a central feature of the outside play area and acted as a focus for social interaction. Children in the study took photo­graphs of the sand and the toys and the features linked to the sandpit, a wooden bridge over the sand and a large canopy.

Another preferred social space was the climbing frame, tunnel and slide. This piece of play equipment featured in many of the children’s photographs. Some children made carefully framed shots of the slide or the tunnel. Others chose this play equipment as a background against which to photograph friends. The photographs were then used as significant places on their maps.

Private spaces

Children in the study also valued places with a degree of privacy where they had the ability to regulate social interaction.16 There were few spaces indoors or outdoors where the children could exercise this control. One such space was behind the shed at the far corner of the garden. I had observed that some children would go to this corner to play before being asked to move away by an adult. It was one of the few places in the nursery where children were out of sight. It did not appear from my observations to be a space used exclusively by boys. However, in the group I was working with, it was Gary and John who identified this space as important. Gary selected the photographs he took of the shed to include on his map of the nursery.

The tunnel was another child-only space. It was small enough for children to regulate who used this equipment. Several children in the group chose to take close-up photographs of the tunnel. Laura and Clare both included these photographs in their books of the nursery. The tunnel serves as another example of the multiple meanings given to places: the tunnel as private space as well as social space. The tunnel was also a raised space, which was above the heads of the children. Corsaro discusses the importance of raised spaces for control. The height of the climbing frame and tunnel resulted in a useful vantage point for the children.