|dc.description.abstract||Children transform different spaces into their own special places by interacting with the physical and social environment (Hart, 1979; Rasmussen, 2004; Sobel, 1993/2002). Special place research has focused largely on children’s place–making in neighbourhoods, including the process of finding and constructing forts, playhouses and dens in outdoor environments (Benson, 2009; Hart, 1979; Kylin, 2003; Sobel, 1993/2002). The significant presence of schools in children’s everyday lives (Rasmussen, 2004), however, has encouraged some researchers to investigate what environmental conditions foster learning (Derr, 2006; Maxwell, 2006; O’Dell, 2011; Upitis, 2007), as well as how children use and experience social and physical aspects of these places (Einarsdottir, 2005; Peterson, 2009; Rathunde, 2003).
Although researchers recognize that learning environments have the potential to enhance learning by the presence of specific design elements, little is known about what constitutes places that elementary students characterize as special, and to which they become attached. Some schools, including Montessori, claim to offer a uniquely prepared learning environment that enhances students’ development, though empirical studies that involve Montessori elementary programs predominantly use academic standardized test scores to compare them to other programs (Baines & Snortum, 1973; Lopata, Wallace, & Finn, 2005).
The purpose of this study was to explore places at school that students characterized as special and to describe what aspects made them special. This study used photo elicitation interviews, walking tours, and focus groups to explore 11 Grade 2 students’ special places in two Ontario learning environments: a privately funded, not-for-profit Montessori school and a publicly funded school.
Results demonstrated that Grade 2 students in both schools identified special places, both indoors and outdoors, for developing a sense of placeness; engaging in types of play; fostering and engaging in friendships; and having solititude and tranquility. Further analysis revealed two underlying themes: places were special because they afforded students opportunities to be interdependent or independent. Future research is necessary to determine the long-term significance of students’ special places in different learning environments.||en_US