Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Empty spaces (Iceland post)

One of the things I noticed about all the preschools I visited in Iceland was that their rooms tended to be rather empty looking.
This took me by surprise at first. It was not what I was expecting - although I am not sure what I was expecting.
Empty space is not something I am unused to... at Filosofiska we have been careful not to just fill the space/rooms up... but to observe and listen to the children to see how we can best meet their needs... which has meant that rooms have slwoly been added to, and dividing walls constructed - one room has been expanded.
There are two rooms that are "empty" in a similar way to what I saw in Iceland - and both these rooms are used for nap/rest time, which is also something I observed in Iceland with the shelves of matresses high up.

Another thing I noticed was the calmness of the children... and I was not alone in this observation... I overheard many others saying the exact same thing.

Is there a connection here?

Could it be that the emptiness of the rooms leave space for the children, their play and their ideas? Does a room filled with things albeit for inspiration, to offer choice etc etc... does all of this fill some of the space - the children's creative space?

Have we got it wrong? Does offering children a myriad of possibilities mean that we are allowing the children to be competent to be creative... or are we spoon feeding them... and therefore not giving them the creative freedom that they are capable of?

When I observe the children at my setting there is never any lack of play in those empty rooms... quite the opposite - those rooms are always filled with play. And also empty rooms also means that children can get to do one of their favourite past times... transporting toys and things from one place to another...

Empty rooms also mean that you can fill them with other things... like light and sound... and movement... which can be hard to do when the room is already full.

I would like to point out that all of these preschools had well stocked storage rooms, where they kept toys and equipment so that it could be rotated... to meet the needs and interests of the children, as well as challenge them.

If everything is always out then maybe they become invisible? Like the information signs put up for parents... every preschool I have every worked at has had that "problem" where parents simply do not see the information notices... and you start using techniques like hanging them from the ceiling so they crash into them, or changing the colour of them all the time... but parents are busy and many don't seem to always take notice of them... maybe in much the same way the children are always busy at play that they don't always notice everything that is out... and therefore it just becomes a kind of "background noise" or "visual filler" - and taking up space that could be used more creatively...

There are some images below...

this was all the furniture in this room (Aðalþing Playschool)

empty rooms can be filled with construction materials and with light and sound (Aðalþing Playschool)

empty spaces... you can see in the top right that a table is being reconstructed for the room, after the Christmas party (Stekkjarás Playschool)

this was the only shelving in the room...the rest of it was empty. (I need to find the paper, so that I can write the name of the preschool here in the small seaside village we visited... will be back to edit here)

So what do YOU think?
Would you dare to go bare? To allow the children's play to fill your setting rather than things?
What do we really need to support children's learning through play? And what is superfluous?


  1. I have found this post last weekend. I have thought a bit during the weekend and at the beginning of this weeke I have tried to adjust the enviorment in my class, I have taken away some toys, some forniture, and left a "base", some constructions, some other things like cars, animals, etc and more I have decided to change toys every two days. I have to say that the children has played better than usual, more focused on their action/doing. I don't know if it is right or not (I think 50-50), but my personal experience says that if I have too many things around me, I get just stressed and confused, I don't know what to do, I try everything or nothing, I get frustrated. Instead if I have few things around me I get more creative and calm, enjoying more my time. But sometimes, just sometime, it is also good to have a lot of things around...just sometimes. I think that I will try this way for some weeks again and see the results.

    1. it will be interesting to see how this will affect the children... will it influence their play in anyway... or will it allow THEIR play to be more visible... giving time and space for their own imaginations?

      Once, a long time ago, when I was working with 7-8 year olds we had a day where I said the children were only to play with each other and the furntiture... none of the toys.... the children sat on the sofa, where we had the meeting at the start of the session and just sat there in silence for 10-20 minutes until one child decided that the table could be like a den and wnet over to try it... two children followed... and within five minutes all 24 children were engaged in play... by the end of the 3 hour session they were all happy and telling their parents how they had had the best day ever...

      I have also seen that when we played on the square outside the preschool, when there was nothing there but the children, that the play was always socially rich, and they never had a problem filling their time...

    2. I am not surprised. I can tell two experiences. When I was child for different reasons, mostly educative reasons, I didn't have many toys to play with. I had Lego, some small cars, one ball, and few other things that almost I didn't look at. But ( I was around 7-8 years old) I had a two things that my friends had not, one swiss multi knives (you know, the red one of Victorinox, a must in my family), and a garden, where I could find all what I needed. I stayed hours and hours to built and create my own world, with things that I found around me. The shelves in my bedroom were more to keep my creation more to keep boxes of toys.
      Second experience, when I was in Bergamo to work as psychomotor educator, I had a big room, kind of 15m x 10m, in this room for therapy there were a big mirror, some hooks on walls and ceiling where I could hand things like covers, threads, etc, gym mattresses, and other objects like sticks, balls, textiles, etc...Everything was inside boxes at one side of the room. The child/ren that come inside had a big/empty room, like a white paper. It was so amazing to see how the child/ren after a moment where thought what to do, started to play. Which wonderfull worlds come out from their minds...

      Now in my class is 8 days of this new system...and is going very good.