Sense of Place

What do we mean by “a sense of place”? What can kids gain from exploring and coming to know the places they call home, and the places they share with others, including school? How far can a vivid sense of place reach? How can we respect and honor–and take responsibility for–the places that nourish us?

playground reaching with netThese posts are full of the luck of learning with and from wonderful colleagues: Marian Hazzard and Kate Keller as particularly insightful and visionary colleagues on this topic, from the beginning; Katy Aborn Inman and Veda Reilly, who signed onto an immense place-based project and made it their own with energy and pizzazz; David Sobel as visiting expert, encouraging from afar; Donna Williams and other generous watershed wizards, who have transformed the way I experience my own landscapes; and Nadia Wheatley, an Australian author whom I’ve never met, whose work on behalf of children’s sense of place has influenced me deeply, nonetheless. (That’s what a good book can do.)

Meanwhile, Alex Brown, fellow map geek and most faithful supporter, always, has contributed fascinating perspectives from his work with Geographic Information Systems and climate science. (Also, his reach comes in really handy for giant map displays.)

Most of all, though, I’ve been incredibly lucky to learn from years of kids who’ve shared with me the ways they experienced their places, and our place, the school itself–and what it all meant to them.

map array with pinsMapping the Community   Beginning the year by finding our places on a huge tiling of topographic maps



Chasing the River   Following our watershed pathways, from stream to river to the sea, with ponds and lakes and reservoirs along the way.

 Andrew working with Topo croppedChasing the River, part 2  Using Topo software as a part of watershed studies, and comparing the shared parts of our watershed pathways

 My Place Sam in the tree detailMy Place   Reading aloud (every year!) an extraordinary Australian picture book for older readers, focused on history and sense of place, with sub-plots involving watersheds, industrial pollution, and mapping.

 Our Places Max 2bMy Place and Our Places   In a follow-up project, one year we made our own book about each of our home-and-neighborhood places, emulating the My Place child narrators.

New England Change-Makers  Within a thematic study of New England from many points of view–geology, geography, ecology, political history–mum bettindividual students presented what they had learned about people who redefined social and political inclusion. (This is Mum Bett, who successfully sued for her own freedom.)

garden marian and cecily plantingMarian and the Gardens   Proving how much difference one person can make in the life (and landscape) of a school, Marian helped students experience food as one of their links to place.

Farm School rooster and toolA Farm, the Farm School, a Farming Revolution   “I remain hopeful about what can happen when people ask questions together, learn together, and plant seeds–of many kinds, literal and figurative–together.”

time Maui david-sunSkywatchers and Magicmakers   “Sometimes place-based education is about the town or state or watershed where a group of students live. Sometimes it’s about a thing all humans share: our place in the universe, and how it works, and what it’s like to live here.”


beaver edits lodgeObligations, Opportunities, and Beavers    Things I had learned with my students, about beavers and watersheds, came back to haunt and help me, when caring for a place I love became unexpectedly complicated.

mapping bike trail map editMapping the Balance between Imagination and Precision  Seeking a sense of place “both intimate and informed: to have the tugging anchor of subjective personal experience; to have also the power and legs for traveling, the reliability, the sense of responsibility, of objective information and understanding.”

Get Out!–and Find Four Things to absorb my father’s death, I spent a lot of time walking outdoors in the early spring, remembered the excitement and nourishment of outdoor education, and found comfort in a game I taught my students.

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