EDITOR’S NOTE: Josh Fullan, who teaches English and Civics at the University of Toronto Schools (a private high school affiliated with the University of Toronto), organized the Jane’s Walk School Edition featured in the ‘Walking’ column in the Summer-Fall 2009 issue of Spacing. He provided this dispatch on this, the youngest Jane’s Walk yet.
On Tuesday morning, as their school day began, a group of about 50 kids gathered in the basement of the Grove Community School on Gladstone Avenue. Teachers and a few parents tried to control the frenetic energy as they led smaller groups outside and distributed clipboards and black-framed plastic glasses. The kids, a mix of JK through grade 3 students at the school, were gearing up for the youngest Jane’s Walk ever. The clipboards were for the kids to record their observations as they walked around the neighbourhood, and the lense-less glasses were to help them look and see more like the eponymous urban thinker herself.
Once outside, the kids were happy to be out in the morning sunshine looking at their neighbourhood in this slightly more structured way than their usual community walks, which focus more on the environment. Now they were talking tough about the public space around their school, how it was used, and how it could be improved. And while the cute factor at times threatened to turn the exercise into a treacly puddle of preciousness, the Jane’s Walk volunteers, teachers, and parents all worked together to keep the kids engaged and on task, asking them a series of guiding questions: Where do you like to walk in the neighbourhood? Is there enough room for us on the sidewalk? Who uses this park? Where do bikes get parked?
So what, in the end, did the kids observe and record? The proof was on the clipboards at the end of the walks, which lasted nearly a full hour even though they didn’t cover much ground. Here is one 7-year-old boy’s collection of observations, which read like a gorgeous Dadaist poem of stuff in his school neighbourhood: Curb cut. Bike. Trees. Sun. Cars. Pine Cones. Kids. Litter. Hill. Sand box. Bus stop. Naked statue.
The Grove Community School walks are a good reminder that it’s never too soon to establish good engagement habits and start a conversation about public space with kids, and that you’re never too old or too young to dress up like Jane and get your eyes on the street.
photos by Josh Fullan