Affordances, or why we feel invited.

in Forest School, Theory and Ideas

When I walk into the woods it’s nice to try and see what invitations there are for the senses; a whiff of wild garlic, dappled light, a splash of yellow woodland flowers, birdsong,  an uncurling frond of bracken, you know, the things that really invite your senses to come alive.

invitations to the woods

I was checking a new site for Forest School recently. I tried to imagine the invitations that the children would experience as we walked on to the site. A gap in the nettles just next to a shallow beach in the stream, a pile of sticks and logs, a tree with branches at just the right height, places to hide, places to run. The psychologist James J. Gibson called these ‘affordances’. In his 1977 article “The Theory of Affordances”  He defined affordances as “action possibilities latent in the environment”. What are the action possibilities of that little beach? well, paddling, making boats, splashing. What about the affordance of those trees? Will we be able to climb them? What about the action possibilities of that pile of sticks and twigs? well that is one thing that is guaranteed to be endless!

the affordances of a stream?

I tried to imagine the children, people I hadn’t met yet, and how they might respond to these affordances.  How can I extend an invitation so the children can recognise the potential? How can I resource the first session? Gibson observes that affordances exist independent of the individual’s ability to recognize them, but that they are always in relation to the individual and therefore dependent on their capabilities. This I feel is one of the roles I carry. To help others see the potential of the natural environment and develop their own relationship with it.

a climbing tree?

I was talking to a group of Forest School trainees about this. One of them observed how important it was for her to really deeply feel this sense of invitation and how it helped her relax and open up.

When we are at our most open, is this when we are most capable of recognising the potential in everything?

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