Last week I was delighted to visit a service that is preparing to open – the beautiful Our Place Play School in Nelson Bay, NSW. Although Inspired EC worked in collaboration with the owners to develop the outdoor space, this was my first visit. Wow. That was the first word that entered my mind when I stepped through the front gate and then into the amazing environment. This is an eclectic and aesthetically pleasing environment that has been designed for children under 2 years of age. But beyond the beautiful, there is clearly a philosophy of independence, of play, of respect, of nurture… this is a PLACE OF YES!
As I sat and watched some little ones “road testing” the space, it was clear in an instant that this was a place of yes. This is a concept that is widely regarded in respectful parenting and caregiving circles and essentially means creating spaces where children hear yes rather than no. In this article, the author speaks of how until they begin to crawl, infants very rarely hear the word no. Suddenly, once they are mobile – everything is no!
Play spaces should be yes spaces. The environments we provide for children need to be engaging and playful and beautiful, but they should also be places where children, particularly infants and toddlers, are free to explore schema, to test theories, to create. Places where the educators are not spending their days saying “no” or “stop” but instead are watching, listening and really seeing play unfolding naturally. This is what happens when we stop saying no. Sure, there are times when we do need to say no, but when we create a play space that offers yeses (taking resources from one part of the room to another, using materials in ways that might differ to their intended purpose or accessing resources independently for example) we save our “no” for the time when it is really important. I guess you could liken it to the boy who cried wolf. If we find ourselves saying no too often, eventually the “no” loses it’s impact!
A place of yes is not just a physical environment, although that is an essential element. Our pedagogical practice is equally important.
So, how do we create a PLACE OF YES?
> Only have things in the environment that children can explore! If you don’t want it touched – don’t put it there!
>Think about where you place extra resources, adult supplies or belongings.
>Support transporting – it is totally normal and reasonable to expect children to move resources from one part of the room to another. It all goes back eventually
>Stop and watch before you respond. So often we react “we don’t put play dough in the cups!” If we stood and watched for a moment, we may get an insight into the child’s play and thinking… and that can be pretty damn amazing!
>Ask yourself: who is this environment for? Why are we here? Those questions alone should help put things into perspective!
>Talk with colleagues about respectful care giving and the idea of a “yes space”
>Choose resources and materials that support discovery, exploration and play. Open ended materials are the best!
>Finally, put yourself inside the mind and body of a child. How would you want to play in the space? What would you want to explore?
When we create yes places where babies and toddlers can explore freely, can help themselves to resources, can use those resources in a variety of ways, we minimise many of the frustrations that we often see in this age group and as a result, minimise the “behavioural challenges” we may often face.