By Bernadette Nicholas
“What is the difference between a space and a place?” This was the first question with which I was confronted on a Saturday morning as I sat in a workshop discussing classroom design. It was a question to which I hadn’t given much thought previously, but in hearing the juxtaposition of “space” and “place,” I could feel that there was a difference between the two. And I learned that in that feeling is the difference. More than just a physical location, place is characterized by an emotional connection; it is in place that we find significant meaning. We experience place deeply.
When I think of all the different ways that we endeavor to create the experience of place in the classroom, one of the most important for me is in the positive relationships that the children build with one another. Every relationship is critical for the children’s healthy development, but there is something about being with friends that can instantly turn any space in to a place, a place of belonging, a place of knowing and being known.
As an educator, I view creating a place for friends as part of my work. Sometimes this means I need to step back and allow the children the space and time necessary to make and be with friends. Sometimes it means I need to step up to support children still developing the skills necessary to build friendships. Sometimes it means that I momentarily step in to help children preserve their friendships through the conflict that is sure to come. The art of what we do as educators is always considering when to do what and how much to do it.
Friendships are important. We learn about ourselves and our world through our friendships. We feel peace when things are going well in our friendships. We experience growth through challenges in friendships. Whether enduring or momentary, friendships are vital to our wellbeing. I believe one of the greatest values schools have to offer young children is the opportunity to learn how to be friendly and how to build friendships.
I don’t believe in telling children “we are all friends here” because, frankly, it’s just not true. In the same way that working with a group of people does not equate to all coworkers being friends, belonging to the same class does not automatically make everyone friends. However, it is my genuine desire that every day, every child who spends their days in the Oak Room would leave school content that there was someone who was happy that they were there, someone who played with them, someone who happily spent meaningful time with them. I want them each to know, to truly feel, that Little Owl is a place for friends.