Individual landmarks

In addition to the shared spaces which held meaning for children in the group, this study also revealed a complex web of individual traces or landmarks.17 These landmarks ranged from objects and photographs to people, which summed up what was important about the nursery for different children. Younger siblings acted as landmarks for

two of the children in the group. The child-led tours indicated that their morning routine of taking their brother and sister to their place in the nursery was a significant part of the day. Gary and Meryl took photographs of their siblings, including personal objects such as their siblings’ mattresses, towels and pegs.

Photographs displayed around the building also acted as individual markers. The staff photographs near the entrance hall proved to be an interesting example. The photographs were on a large display board which showed all the members of staff. Cary asked to have her own photograph taken on the tour and placed beside her previous key worker’s photograph. This was the same child who asso­ciated the curved bench with previous conver­sations with this significant adult.

Photographs also provided links to past activities and events enjoyed by the children. Clare remarked on a display of photographs taken on a recent outing to a train station and she took a photograph of the display.

Children’s own work also acted as personal landmarks around the nursery. Children leading me on the tour were quick to point out any of their work on the walls. They also stopped to show me their portfolios. These carefully presented folders held examples of their own work that the children had chosen with their key workers since joining the nursery. Children took photographs of memorable paintings and drawings in portfolios. These personal details or ‘traces’ of the children’s own work appeared to have great significance in developing place identity as well as self-identity:‘the history of who I am in this place’.

Place fears

The young children in my study were given direct as well as indirect opportunities to express negative feelings about places in the nursery. This can be seen in the following excerpts from a child conference.

Researcher: Which part of the nursery don’t you

like?

Clare: The staff room ’cos they have their lunch

break.

Laura: I don’t like the boys.

Gary: That building there and the bridge.

John: Where ‘x’ did a poo.

Gaby: Nowhere.

The direct question in the child conferencing led to a range of responses. Children interpreted this question in a broader way than I had anticipated. Children’s negative feelings towards places included frustration. The tours and children’s photographs had clarified the views expressed by some of the children in the child conferencing that the staff room was out of bounds. This underlined their interpretations of the nursery as a place where different hierarchies operated between adults and children.

One of the children in the group expressed what appeared to be fear rather than discomfort or frustration. These negative feelings were associated with a past incident involving another child whom we did not like. John mentioned this incident several times during the child conferencing. His key worker confirmed that he was aware that John had found this disturbing. It was like a negative marker, which affected John’s feelings about the space in the past and the present.