In Sioux City, Iowa to speak at the Centering on Centers Conference and found myself remembering observations made in another school setting, long ago.
Close observations are useful, particularly in how they complicate our understanding of play – its cues and frames, and most of all the extent to which it may ever be entirely “freely chosen, personally-directed and intrinsically motivated”.
I’ve been going through the notes from the Sarah Lawrence Conference and found a little stack of papers from our morning of observations at their Early Childhood Centre. Apart from the rather old-fashioned nature of these observations, in which adults sat silently on the fringes with notepads and pens as if on some sort of safari, it was strangely liberating to watch children who were not my responsibility. The four and five year olds moved through the two rooms, crossing in and out of play situations and selecting materials from their surroundings as necessary.
Child 1: “Pretend this is a wire. Pretend this is a huge wire.”
Child 2: “But it isn’t. It’s for this. It keeps it strong.”
Child 1: “Well, let’s drive. This is a car.”
Child 2: “Okay, but we need a steering wheel.”
Setha Low, the New York urban anthropologist who studies public spaces, said that we…
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