Megan Fraser shares her story and photo essay about the arrival of her new Natural Pod Loft and how the children in her centre are enjoying the new addition to their space.
We have been listening to and noticing birds a lot on our walks lately, woodpeckers, crows, seagulls, a variety of ducks, cormorants, chickadees and many other small birds whose names I’m not yet familiar with, the occasional eagle or hawk and more recently, robins. We began reading several books; ‘Birds’ by Kevin Henkes and ‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell and Patrick Bensen have become our favorites.
It all started with our youngest child, M. (20 months), who has been in love with birds for as long as we have known her. Every day when she comes she brings a special stuffed animal (usually her owl) from home to sleep with. She loves birds so much that when I attended a conference last month and saw some lovely finger puppets for sale I felt compelled to bring home the spotted owl, stellar jay and woodpecker (I am sure many can relate to those kind of impulse buys).
All of the children fell in love with these birds and wanted to play with them each morning as soon as they arrived. Three birds are not quite enough for 5 or 6 children so we added a few hand made birds, some crocheted and others made of wool felt. Now there are more than enough to go around. All these birds needed a place to stay so we gathered a few little baskets and lined them with soft wool so that they had nests to rest and lay their eggs in.
It was only natural then that the loft, still new and exciting, wove its way into this play. This month the loft has most often been a bird house. On the very first day that A. and B. saw the loft, they quickly gathered up the bird puppets and brought them up into the loft with them. I nodded to the loft and asked them, “what is it?” to which they replied, as though it were perfectly obvious, “a birdhouse!”
I left them to their play but thought that I would like to ask them later in the day if they needed anything else for their birdhouse. I wondered if they might want some nesting material? I wanted to see what they said first. When I later asked them they didn’t feel that they needed anything else, just the birds, themselves and the loft. As I watched them it occurred to me that my idea of a bird house and theirs could be quite different. I had thought of it as a house where birds lived and nested (therefore needing some nesting materials, which I envisioned here as pillows and blankets). They seemed to think of it as a place, somewhat larger, populated by birds (almost like a city). They played there with the birds, occasionally gathering other toys and materials themselves and many dramatic adventures ensued. It was a good reminder to me to take a step back and let their play evolve without my interference. I know I can trust in them that if they need something, they will let me know.
From there I began to think of ways that I may be able to support the children to further develop this interest. We began looking at field guides, which the children were delighted by as they began to recognize many of the birds we have seen and heard on our walks. We started taking a guide with us on walks to help us identify birds that we saw but didn’t know the names of. We painted bird houses with watercolours, polished them with beeswax and later gathered cones, feathers, sticks and moss from the forest to decorate and line them with. If this interest continues, perhaps next month we can visit a local farm where we were would be able to get much closer to observe the birds, how they look, the noises they make and the way that they move. We could revisit this experience and represent our observations by sculpting birds using clay, wooden beads and forms and feathers. These are my ideas but we will wait and see what the children think.
It is fascinating to me how the interest of one child can inspire an entire study that all of the children are swept into with great curiosity and earnest passion for learning. It is interesting to me also that in all of my thinking about where the children may go in their play with the loft, that in the very first week they came up with a completely novel idea that I had never considered. Again this was a good reminder to me that children, no matter how young (most of the children here are 1-3 years old) have the capacity to have brilliant ideas and the confidence to act on them, if only we give them the chance. I’m left feeling very blessed and inspired.