Last week I took part in the Childhood and Materiality conference at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. One of the themes running through the conference was belonging and identity. I continue to be interested in how young children express their attachment to place and how such attachment involves people, places and things. Emma Dyer reminded me of an earlier article I had written about this:
The room in question was an in-between-space in an Infant school design by David Medd. This ‘welfare room’ had been the base for many years of a teaching assistant, Judy. Here the material quality of the room was centre stage. The bed and soft furnishings rested alongside craft materials. It was a place of comfort and creativity. This links to one of the keynote talks at the conference by Ida Wentzel Winther (University of Aarhus) looking at children’s experiences of mobile lives, sharing family and households. Ida talked about her conceptual model of home in which she identifies differences between ideas of home and a physical location as well as the role of things in how people make somewhere feel like home. She describes this process as ‘homing’.
‘Living between the contrast of a home (a specific home) and the none-homely-element (nomadism) is a condition for the late modern person in a global society. As a way of coping with this condition people do acts in order to relate to the specific places. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan talks about making space into place as way of coping. In that way space becomes specific, familiar, secure and thus transforms into place. This constant becoming place is a way of root holding while on the move. Deleuze and Guattari argue that people are not root holders, but constantly moving in a network of relations to the world. Homing in our definition is not a none-place, but the acts of making specific places and feeling more homely. ‘ p.2
Conference presentations opened up for me further questions about how do young children make ‘none-places’ they find themselves in feel more familiar especially when children may be spending 10 hours a day there. Jennifer Sumsion and colleagues are exploring similar questions in their ongoing study of the spatial perspectives of babies ways of belonging asking ‘how do babies develop a sense of belonging? and how do they contribute to fostering a climate of belonging? These questions are a reminder of the active role that young children can play in the process.
The design of early childhood environments adds another dimension to thinking about ‘homing’. It felt appropriate to be considering such ideas on a university campus with many buildings designed by Alvar Aalto. The Alvar Aalto museum on the campus contained examples of institutional spaces including a sanatorium room and a nursery room. The nursery project was led by Aino Aalto (the architect and designer, co-founder of Artek and Alvar’s wife) who ‘approached her design project from a child’s perspective- bruises and knocks were prevented with a rubber edge around the table, the cupboards and shelves were multi-coloured and the most fragile objects could be stored safely in cupboards located higher up and out of children’s reach.’ [Alvar Aalto Museum text] These design principles appear to be driven by the desire to protect however the furniture also invited participation. It returns me to questions about what can design projects ‘from a child’s perspective’ look like and how might this contribute to more liveable learning environments for children and adults (Clark 2010).
Clark, A. (2010) Transforming Children’s Spaces: children’s and adults’ participation in designing learning environments. Abingdon, Routledge.
Graves Petersen, M; Lynggaard, A. ; Krogh, P. and Winther, I., Tactics for Homing in Mobile Life- A Fieldwalk Study of Extremely Mobile People , MobileHCI 2010 September 7 – 10, 2010, Lisbon, Portugal. pp.1-10