I had a lovely couple of days exploring the Northumbrian coast recently. I’ve been taking part in the pilot of Archimedes Beach School OCN qualification. There has for a long time been a debate over whether there are other environments in which Forest Schools can take place. One of the particular strengths of the woodland environment for play and learning is what the environment affords spontaneously. There is only really one other environment that is as rich in flexible resources that occur naturally and spontaneously, and that is the beach.
Simon Nicholson1, an architect looking at how to design effective places for people developed his well referenced Theory of Loose Parts based on his observations of children at play on a beach.
“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”
The beach with its shifting sands, its flotsam and jetsam, the shells, the sand, the pebbles, the water and all the fabulous and varied forms of life are all ready and available invitations for children to play and learn. As there is in woodland there is an element of ‘disorder’. In the woods and on the beaches the higher human authority isn’t so much in evidence and this makes it easier for children to make the rules themselves, in agreement with those adults who are present. It is the environment that gives permission for experiments and spontaneity to take place.
The beach also holds that wonderful point where land and water meet. I used to provide day-care for a three year old girl. The place where we were staying was a short walk through the woods to the shores of Lake Superior. We spent much of our time down on the beach and the place she was drawn too was the narrow strip where the water washed the rocks, the combination of sounds and shifting stones mesmerising her. Like a sandy beach where the ‘slush’ offers so much opportunity for play and learning, we would dig channels and canals and moats, observing and experimenting in complete mastery over our environment, until the water would remind us of the ultimate mastery of nature over that which humans create and the whole thing would wash away.
1 Nichloson, S: How not to cheat children – The Theory of Loose Parts. Landscape Architecture v62 p30-35, 1971