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Remove Any Institutionalized Feelings from Your Environment

Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are.
Gretel Ehrlich, poet

"The idea of institutionalized childhoods does not create a pretty picture," wrote Jim Greenman in his book, Caring Spaces, Learning Places (revised by Mike Lindstrom). To help programs assess how institutionalized (or, hopefully not) children's experience may feel, Greenman developed what he calls an Unscientific Quiz:

“____ Room: Do children have ample room and different places to be during the day?

  ____ Time: Do children have some control over time – starting and ending activities and routines?

  ____ Privacy: Do children have any space to feel alone – places to pause?

  ____ Personal Property: Do children have a protected place for personal property?

  ____ Meaning and Responsibility: Do children have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the community?

  ____ Exuberance and Spontaneity: Are children allowed to jump for joy or dive into something? Pursue an interest? Change directions?

  ____ Security, Safety, and Order: Are children allowed to risk the normal bumps and bruises of childhood?

  ____ Significant Others in the Outside World: Are siblings, parents, and extended family a symbolic or real presence in the center and an occasional part of the child’s center life?

  ____ Staff: Are staff treated and respected as valuable, intelligent human beings?

  ____ Individuality: Are children recognized and appreciated as individuals with personalities, interests, and cultures in practice?

  ____ Dignity and Respect: Are children and adults considered people who are entitled to dignity and respect?"

In the Exchange Essentials article collection, “Designing Intentional Play Spaces and Learning Environments,” landscape architect Jill Primak offers some more food-for-thought:

“Since we know that spending time in nature-filled spaces promotes the health and well-being of adults and children alike, here are some questions to ponder:

And in their beautiful book, Bringing the Outside InSandra Duncan and Jody Martin offer a wealth of affordable, practical ways to bring more nature into indoor spaces. Here’s one example: They encourage all programs, “even if located in a metropolitan area with little green space,” to “grow gardens within a room’s four walls. Container gardens do not need a large piece of land or even a lot of space – all you need is light, dirt, water, and a collection of containers for the plants. It is also not necessary to invest a lot of money in purchasing the containers. Take a look around – garage, basement, kitchen – for vases, bowls, vessels, mason jars, or even thick glass bottles. You might be surprised at the many cast-off objects that can be magically transformed into whimsical containers.”

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