Archives for posts with tag: affordance

shell-sand close upIf we take the time to watch children, and I mean really watch them rather than pre-judging or paying lip service to this as we busy adults are prone to do, then they can do as Rudyard Kipling suggest, ‘teach us delight in simple things’. It doesn’t happen though unless we give them the time and freedom to become truly absorbed in whatever captures their interest, be it an unusual stone, an insect or inviting puddle.

If you’ve ever tried to walk anywhere fast you’ll know how much there is for young children to marvel at in everyday life and how open they are to its possibilities. Us adults in contrast miss so much by virtue of being in a rush and plagued by preconceptions. With this in mind storytelling guru #MiltonErickson implores adults to look afresh at our environment saying “Did you know that every blade of grass is a different shade of green?” 1 In so doing we can open our minds to new possibilities and be rewarded with wondrous awe and wonder, discovering a wealth of patterns, symmetry, joy and inspiration in everyday nature.

If you need a reminder of nature’s awe and wonder then google ‘sand grains microscope’ on the internet and be amazed by the gloriously detailed, highly patterned images that you will see.  I guarantee you will never look at a sandy beach in quite the same way again! Inspired by the sticky globule left by some gorgeous Longiflora lilies, my 11 year old dusted off her magnifier to take a closer look. What followed said it all, as she gasped with awe as a multitude of dash-like lines came into view. How fitting then that her science homework was to create a cell? Choosing a plant cell to make, she set to work with jelly, a bouncy ball and loom bands to create the different #cell parts! If you want to have a go at making your own cell or even a cellular cake, check out For more microscopic inspiration treat yourself to The Natural World Close Up (Giles Sparrow, 2011). Much more than just a coffee table book, children and adults alike will be wowed by the close up views of nature revealed. So go ahead and enjoy nature close up this weekend.

1 (My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson, Sidney Rosen, 1991).

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After some intensive days at the recent international ECEERA conference I made some time for some R and R. On a beach near Porto I sat absorbed watching the children (of what appeared to be two families) enjoying their time at the seaside. Whilst walking along the beach, the children (two girls aged about 5 years and two boys aged about 18 months) had stopped surprised by a sudden surge of water landing nearby. Each time a wave hit the beach, jets of water were sprayed in the air by a natural rock formation. Their parents loitered, presumably unsure of whether the children were ready to move on. After some time stood watching, one mother and father sat down on the beach clearly detached from play. The other father in contrast remained standing, closely watching, offering a supportive and encouraging hand to his toddler and periodically joining in with the children’s play.  Chasing them in and out of the narrow channel of sand between the rocks further enhanced the children’s excited squeals. As if attached by an invisible thread the father kept tabs on his tottering son and the two excited girls. His subtle presence and ever ready hand to steady his teetering son supported his exploration and venturing ever closer to the sea.

A game then developed between him and the other children. It was not clear who had instigated this timeless game of chase by a ‘monster’ but judging by their outstretched hands, excited cowering behind their parents and shrieks of joy when tickled, the children were clearly enjoying it. The father masterfully maintained a conversation with the adults whilst occasionally lurching towards the children, making tickling gestures. Every now and again he interrupted his discussion to chase them, generating peals of laughter and delight. The playful and attentive disposition of this father were evident as from time to time he threw a cupped handful of sea water over the seated adults and took delight in grabbing them with his icy cold hands – this was the Atlantic after all.  Throughout he skilfully and effortlessly attended to the children’s needs, supported without stifling and joined them in their game.

One particularly playful episode culminated in the father picking up his daughter by her legs and pulling her along the sand towards the water edge where he dropped her in the sea. What happens next gives a real measure of his playfulness as seeing his daughter crying it appears that his boisterousness behaviour may have backfired as she has scratched her tummy on the course sand. He looks at her with concern and then seemingly reassured that she is ok, drops immediately to the ground gesturing for the two girls to drag him to the water. Unable to pull him, he uses his body to help them manoeuvre him to the sea where they triumphantly ‘drop’ him. His actions instantly transform the atmosphere, uniting the children and him and infusing the moment with fun.

With his involvement reaching a natural conclusion, the two girls run up the steep sandy bank that you have to negotiate before reaching the sea, running back down with arms outstretched, screaming as they do so. It’s not long before the young boys join them and all four are happily engaged in walking up the bank and running down it towards the sea, experimenting with their noise-making as they do so.

Sitting there taking it all in, I couldn’t help think that this beach offered huge play potential and affordance in two key ways. The natural rock formation with its intermittent jets of spray and the inviting sandy bank provided excitement, surprise, interest and challenge for these four children. But this alone would not have been sufficient to engage them without the positive emotional environment provided by that playful father. This play episode encapsulates perfectly the dance-like qualities of play and the importance of environmental and emotional affordance in helping children reach their potential.