Using the edges and valuing the margins

by Rowan Salim

This week three of the children discovered The Wall: The enticingly climbable wall between the woods and the courtyard. And of course, they climbed it. They sat on it, and they perched. They wriggled to make room for each other, they worked out their comfy positions, they wobbled. They found their way down, then up again. One of them called out that he was going to fall and die, so Mariana stood nearby and held his foot. Soon, I expect, he’ll be doing it alone.

It is mesmerizing and inspiring to see people explore their edges. People seem to seek their edges in different ways, but it’s a constant yearning for growth, to see what it feels like to go beyond what is known. Babies do it as soon as they can crawl or walk. We see Lila, Sara’s one and a half year old who hangs out with us on Thursdays, doing it every week! Sometimes comfort and routine is what is called for, and the children often ask for, or demand this as well. Because it’s not until one feels safe that they can explore the edges with ease. But once safe, they’ll explore, each in their own ways.

Many of these explorations are physical. As bodies grow in strength and agility, they can do more and more things. The series of trips to Mayow Park this term saw some of the children venture into the heights of the trees, and others, after days and days of skirting the perimeter of a particular tree, climb up onto one of the lower branches, hold on tight, and soon, spend the afternoon bouncing and finding variations of footholds and handholds.

Some of the children spent a series of days at the dipping platform. First trying out walking barefoot in the water, and soon balancing on the railings with the dream of building a home. Soon they found a new playspace, with just enough challenge as to be enchanting, and just enough promise as to be captivating.

The edges don’t have to be dangerous, they can just be different. Walking barefoot. Immersing yourself in the middle of exploding puffs of holi colour. Climbing onto a facilitator’s shoulders and reaching up to touch the ceiling. Holding tight while a big dog gallops past. Breathing in the burning sensation in your fingers as you roll one more snowball. Choosing to fast until lunchtime.

And sometimes the edges aren’t physical. They’re emotional. Emotional edges are perhaps harder to navigate as they’re more relational. Just like it’s important to be able to tell how high up a tree to climb, so it is important to be able to say when you need something to stop, or to change, or to start; to say when you need time, or attention or quiet.  The children at Free We Grow have been practicing this a lot these days.  Needing to have private time with friends, needing to feel included, wanting to play, wanting to win, working out how to express all of this.  Some activities combine the physical and the social/emotional beautifully, like stick fighting, or rough and tumble; and some of the children have really enjoyed immersing themselves in both these activities.

As adults in the space we have a role to make sure children are safe. However, it’s important that our fears do not cloud their judgment. We read body language, listen to their words, and step in to hold a knee in place if need be. We stand nearby and observe, not too closely, but close enough to reach into the water if we hear a splash. And when it feels right, we don’t observe too closely, we’re simply nearby, and they know it.

This role is likewise a little bit more nuanced in the social sphere. We have an understanding at FWG that if you want to climb up a tree you have to be able to do it alone, that way you know you’re within your capacity. As adults we might give pointers as to where a foothold is located, or if a branch looks brittle, but we won’t lift you up into the tree. It’s similar in the social sphere, we may notice, we may ask questions, we may even say stop, if something feels unsafe, but in general, we will not direct individuals for what they must do, otherwise they may end up out of their depth.  This does mean that sometimes groups teeter on the edge of their comfort zone, and that’s where den building and the sensory tent come in useful. They create zones of calm from the masses.

In ecological terms, the edges are where diversity and growth happens. One of the permaculture principles is to ‘use the edges and value the margins’. What are your edges?