YARN - From the (shorter) Oxford English Dictionary:

Spun fibre of cotton, silk, wool, or flax.... fibre prepared for use in weaving, knitting...a fisherman's net...any of the strands of which a rope is composed...a (usually long or rambling) story or tale, especially an implausible, fanciful, or incredible one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

greening the grounds

Recently we have been discussing greening the space around our downtown school. It is an exciting conversation and meetings have produced practical ideas, philosophical discussions and connections between people who may not know each other well or at all.

This is an opportunity for us to discuss what we want our school to be, how we envision our community and to imagine the future we are moving towards.

Strengths we can build on:
  • trees established and newly planted
  • climbing tree
  • sandboxes
  • dedicated yard for youngest children
  • space to grow
  • some nice wooden fence
  • composters
  • gardens
  • evolving play space
  • beginnings of space for organized sports
  • a place for gathering and celebration
  • lots of ideas
  • great potential

We also have some identified issues/challenges:

  • too much asphalt
  • use of our space by others (dogs, partiers, graffiti artists)
  • wanting to do much with a finite amount of space (wanting it to be 100 acres in the country)
  • our south facing yard is the narrowest of our spaces
  • the remnants of a more industrial approach to education (chain link fence and a building that looks a bit like a factory) 
  • the building is inaccessible to people who cannot climb stairs -  everything we do from here on should be accessible

We run the risk of satisfying our enthusiasm by embarking on changes without an overall plan, or one that is not grounded in our beliefs and pedagogy, and by responding to what we feel to be our greatest need at this moment. Without getting mired in ideas and plans and details I hope we can take some time to think about what we want to build on, what we need now and for the future, and how we can express our values through our outdoor space.  Can we also develop our educational programme by developing our outdoor space? Can we be better neighbours through the development of our outdoor space? Can we develop our own community through this project and this space?

Years ago someone recommended Christopher Alexander's book A Pattern Language to me.  This book is about the patterns in architecture that support connection, healthy society and make people feel alive and human. Alexander and his colleagues identify 253 patterns that form a language for building and planning. "Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem".

Alexander believes that "what matters in a building are the events that happen there".   These ideas have changed the way I think about space and have given me a way to think about what I find appealing (what my soul seeks and responds to in space) and has provided me with a practical framework to guide me in making decisions about my home. Christopher Alexander helped me to understand human scale and our need for connection - with each other, with the natural world and materials that speak to our basic humanity.

When I began to think about the school and grounds I started to wonder what A Pattern Language would have to say about this project we are embarking on.  I wonder, also, whether it might provide an approach for us to follow as we assess, dream and plan.  Could it be a common language for us as we begin to shape the outdoor, and indoor, spaces in which our children learn and play?

Alexander believes that people who live in spaces know more about what they need than external 'experts'. We are encouraged to "...let the site tell you its secrets"  Perhaps by using the pattern language to guide our thinking about the very nature of the activities that occur in our outdoor space, and the activities we would like to have happen in this space,  we can have a more fruitful and productive discussion. If we can have a language to articulate our broad principles it will ground us and direct the practical decision that await us. Perhaps Christopher Alexander can help us to clarify how we feel about the space we have and what we need or would like it to become.

Over the next few posts I will summarize some of the ideas that I have found helpful, and provide some links.  I have been struck by how well Christopher Alexander's approach fits with what I understand of Waldorf. Like us, he believes that "creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching" (pattern 18 - network of learning).

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