The Hole in the Tree

The hole is high enough to see easily, but too high to look into directly.  Some of the children have moved logs over to climb on so they can get closer.  The way up is adventurous – sometimes slippery, still a stretch.

Things can disappear into the hole.  Things can come out of it.  There could easily be something inside…

Alice: “I can hear the tree singing.”  Ellis: “Did you know, there is a fox living in that hole?”  Katie: “Birds live in there with sticks and leaves.”  Evie: “I’ve found a treasure chest.”  The tree is special, suggestive, iconic.  “All of these haven’t but only this tree have” says Claudia.  It is the only tree with such a hole in it.  Claudia thinks an owl lives in the hole, and asks if owls like sticks.   She thinks they would like leaves to eat.

Avni sees the fine detail and the richness: “There’s a spider’s web – there’s a fly – it looks fantastic! The birds are tweeting.  Can you hear a parrot?”

There are other holes in the woods, many of them in the ground.  Some children are fascinated by these mysterious places, the places we can’t see fully (underground, inside trees, in the middle of thickets) and in which, as a consequence, the imagination can take hold…Here is an example, involving two boys, Ellis and Jamie, who have had a narrative of adventure, trepidation, and bravery running for some time in their explorations of the park.  Today they are intent on finding treasure:

“It will be hidden under a tree”.

They see a cat. 

“Jamie, don’t run past the cat” says Ellis.  “I think the cat will know where the treasure is”.

They find a log with a hole in it.  “I think a mouse lives in there” says Jamie.  The boys search for the mouse, then make a connection… 

“Can we find the big hole in the tree?”  Ellis leads the way.   “A fox lives in there” says Jamie, “I can see his teeth.  He climbs up and jumps in.”  Jamie is intent on climbing in the hole to find the fox.  “I’m bigger” he says.  Ellis says “we need a net”.  Harry joins in:  “We need a grabber” The boys decide that a long stick will do and the three of them move a very long branch over to the hole.  “I can do it, I’ve got big muscles.” “Well I’m three” says Harry.  They work really hard to get the stick into position. 

Ellis runs to tell another group of children “there’s a fox in that tree”.  James comes quickly to investigate.  Fred joins in.  The boys all try to move the stick to grab the fox.  Ellis runs to tell Serga (his teacher) and Katie and Ellen.  Ellen and Katie join the fox boys, trying to move the ‘grabbing’ stick to catch the invisible fox in its hole.

The tree with the hole is near to the large fallen log (see “The World in a Log”).  They seem to share their suggestive and generous natures – there have been no arguments about who exactly lives in the hole; the fox, the owl, the spider, the fly, the birds, the singing voice, the sticks and leaves all seem to be able to be there for different imaginations, with no-one needing to dominate.

It is an example of something we are noticing a lot in the woods – that children and their stories can co-exist quite peaceably.  There is plenty of room for difference and for joining in.  Play is socially more fluid, and although there is strong individual authorship in the imaginary and dramatic worlds that the children are constructing, there is also room for exchange, and for surprising alliances to build between children who do not usually play together in the classroom.  These cross-connections between children are growing stronger still, as a culture of making and sharing stories in the woods is developing within each group and across the two classes.  Listening to each other’s stories, they are captivated.  And a woods mythology is beginning to grow…

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4 Responses to The Hole in the Tree

  1. Catherine Reding says:

    I like the way you describe the hole in the tree and the log as having suggestive and generous natures. Yes! And a great observation that each story doesn’t push out the others. I’ve noticed that but not thought of it consciously before. I was reading in one of your earlier posts about some children wanting to explore and keep moving, and others wanting to stop more at the places they are getting to know. We are having just the same in our Friday project at the moment. We found it hard when we felt we needed to slow them down to wait for others, and speed up other children who just wanted to potter and be in a place. We thought we’d have a special fast exploring group next time for some of the children who just seem to want to zoom around the woods! I wonder how the children are bringing their ideas back into their usual setting?
    The open-ended, generous, suggestive quality of the environment in the woods is what’s sparking them off – it could be a great time to look at how the school/nursery environment could also offer these qualities.

    • debwilenski says:

      We have great things going on with zooming children in the second phase of this project now (we only have a block of eight visits to the woods with each group, and are now taking the second lot – it’s really a pilot project). A small group of three boys centered around Tom’s search for his ‘quiet place’. Amazing how this weekly search for calm, quiet and stillness, begins each time with very fast looping round and through the woods, and running along the park’s periphery. There’s orientation going on and taking in where other people are, but I wonder what else….the three boys apparently live in the garden back at nursery and are very fast and active most of the time, perhaps they enjoy taking this to its limit before exploring its opposite – stopping.

      It’s still a challenge to know how to work with this quick and far-reaching exploring- it’s fast, difficult to film in its sweeps of movement often in and out of sight. We need to be alongside and yet half the children’s desire is for independence, solitariness (though including key friends), distance. I followed once from a way back and when after a deal of running and boundary visiting they came to a stop, I made the classic mistake of asking if they had found the quiet place, to get the friendly but obvious answer “well, if you went a bit further away, this could be the quiet place”!

      Other zooming has turned into ‘magic tricks’ – with children positioning an audience of friends/educator, then disappearing in one direction and re-appearing in another. Will start posting about this soon but it is fascinating, playing with the magic shape of circular paths, and taking advantage of the invisible places in the woods. It’s joining up too with another running game and narrative of the wicked witch, the fairies, and the pirates. Brilliant stuff. This is easier to work with in the woods because it has a performance aspect to it, although it began spontaneously and it happens in a particular place. In fact the children say ‘let’s go to the magic trick’. And great to develop, as the teachers are doing back in the classroom through drawing and film.

      Generosity and suggestiveness as qualities in the nursery – yes, absolutely a thing to be consciously working with and also separate these from ‘stuff’ – working with simple rich open-ended materials, and a core belief in the worth of children’s own ideas and experiments. It’s beginning, and is certainly growing stronger in this second phase.

      I think one of the strengths of the ELiN work is the ‘conversation’ you have been able to build through values, materials, attention, between the woods space and the classroom.

      • Catherine Reding says:

        What lovely developments in the zooming. Love the idea of the “magic trick” place. I am looking forward to reading more about it …….

  2. Rob Macfarlane says:

    I read the whole blog to date through. Thank you for it. It’s inspiring and wonderful. I will keep checking back in. I loved all of it; the project’s emergence, the mapping of the imaginative geography of the wood as apprehended (produced) by the children, the tentative suggestions (on your part) of what we might learn from the children, the ‘contagious’ nature of stories…and of course the generous log, metamorphosing like crazy, the horse-croc-bridge-rocket-car-log…

    Your word generous reminded me that Helen Thomas, Edward’s widow (and quondam wife), once described the ‘curve of a beech branch’ as resembling ‘a hand opened for giving’, and it seemed to me exemplary of her nature that she could perceive generosity in the form of a tree.

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