I have been thinking a lot about springboards this week. Not the swimming pool ones, but a playwork theory that was first described to me by Martin Maudesley; sometimes even if we want to stimulate free play for children, or encourage self directed learning we need to provide a solid starting point – the springboard. This then can be used by the child to take off in any direction.
I did three sessions this week taking new groups to the woods, all with three and four year olds from two different nurseries. I provided the same springboard, putting up a shelter and making smaller shelters for soft toys. I watched as each group and each child took off in different directions.
On Wednesday afternoon the children found a dead bird and three boys made it the most beautiful mausoleum discussing what they thought, the emotions the bird’s family and friends would be feeling and treating it very respectfully (only a little bit of poking it with a stick).
Two other boys didn’t want to take part in building the little shelters until they watched an adult role modelling and then became very absorbed in making a hedgehog a home that was properly weather proof.
Their sessions then developed beyond the springboard to lots of other self-directed activity: digging, climbing, tying string, jumping off logs and carrying the biggest log as they were able.
Another group were a lot less confident and needed more direction and structure, my role became less about observing and more about providing more and more springboards, playing hide and seek, singing songs and more about setting the boundaries, as they needed these to compensate for the fact they were not as absorbed in what they were doing.
These observations have all been tied together by a discussion I had with Jen from Bradford Community Environment Project. I am writing a publication for their Wild and Safe Play Spaces Project. This is to share ideas and encourage the use of the outdoors. We have made a pact not to use the word ‘activity’ in the activity ideas section of the publication and encourage people to only offer a new springboard to the children when the previous one is finished with.
The finished publication can be found here: http://kindlingplayandtraining.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Bradford-West-Forest-Schools-Reflections-and-Evaluation.pdf