Secret Spaces

"Planting a dense and varied collection of shrubs, ideally of differing heights, can help satisfy the child's need for privacy.  Selected shrubs contribute to the increased functionality of the play space, and the intensity of the imaginative activities.  They also provide opportunities for children to hide and not be seen, experience the joy of roaming or navigating through natural vegetation and offer numerous means of exits and entrances.  Shrubs also give immediate access to simple props such as sticks and leaves, and provide natural scenery."

Frode Svane and Rhonda Clements

"Creating Natural Spaces for Make-Believe Play and Increased Physical Activity"

in Where do the Children Play, 2010

Over spring break, a fence was built around the side yard of the school, where the raised garden beds are located.  For the past few weeks we have talked about gardening, tilled the beds, discovered bugs and insects, and planted seeds, but what the children are truly drawn to are the large Rhododendron bush and the Japanese maple tree.  They provide shade and cover and privacy.  The stories and imaginative play that happen in these secluded spaces is secret to me, and I prefer it that way.  The intentions of this area were based on gardening, but we've observed a different kind of child-led play than we see on our more traditional playground.  I'm reminded of the wonderful days in the Sonian Forest in Brussels, seeking out wild, free spaces.

The children's work in these spaces is truly their own - whatever it is they say and do is for them.  Children get very little privacy - we are probably too worried about what they are doing without supervision.  I think of friends and family who delight at the self-talk of their toddler over the baby monitor.  That child is telling stories and singing songs and creating a world all their own in the early morning privacy of her crib, unaware that we are listening in.  We have some opportunities to hear children's self-talk from the next room, or the conversation of two children who are so engrossed in their topic that they don't involve the nearby adult.

I don't need to actively find time for children to be alone or unsupervised - I just need to make sure they have their own spaces available that are feel - and are - truly private for them.  They were already there, and all I had to do was observe.