I watched her run from one end of the Blue House to the other. Actually, running isn't even a good description. She scurried across the site. That's how busy she was. First, with yarn, then a stick, or a spoon, and always, always with this raised eyebrow shout of, "Hurry up! I'm coming!"
Each year, we welcome new children to the school. This was our first trip, and her first trip, to the forest for the school year. There is always a question about how the class, all together, will use it. Mostly, there is a question about whether or not the space will hold all of the children's attention and interest for the entire time we are there.
Now, the space feels lived in, the play messages fully formed, so when we arrived with each class, nothing needed to be introduced. They had heard bits and pieces from older siblings and friends. The site is well-chosen and fits. The fallen tree, even after the Summer storms, still holds enough dirt on its roots to really rally the diggers onward (and downward). The first question was did you bring rope? And the answer is yes! The children spread out to climb, to dig, to decorate, and in the end, to leave their own play messages for the next forest day session.
The gift of spatial memory starts here. Running, or scurrying, across the hill, from and to a destination becomes ingrained. They have seen the virtual map of the Blue House site before heading out, its perimeter marked with our direction sticks, each landmark named as a block or an index card. When they arrive, they inhabit the map. They become part of the landscape.
The Blue House site along with its destinations gives these young children something they cannot have otherwise. It is freedom of movement. The freedom is a gift for them, a treasure created by the adults accompanying them on these forest trips. By standing back and trusting, the children both know and feel this freedom of movement. They are children in the world of their own. It is important to know that it is not easy movement, the site is on a hill, there are divots, branches, slippery gravel. The fallen tree, even though over the Summer it has settled on its haunches a bit, is still too high for even the 5-year olds to climb over. To get to the other side, the children have to figure out the up and over or the around.
As they run past landmarks, they catalogue them, they put them in their pockets for later. This is more than a place on a map.
It is a childhood.