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A Fairy Garden Surprise

A Project in an Early Years Setting working with 4 and 5 year olds in Zurich, Switzerland 

A Where We Are in Place and Time Unit of Inquiry 

Central Idea: Spaces can be used in creative ways.

Lines of Inquiry:

  • Physical spaces have characteristics and arrangements that can be used in different ways.
  • Spaces can be transformed.
  • People respond to spaces in different ways.

Concepts: Function, Change, Perspective

Related Concepts: Purpose, Transformation, Subjectivity

We spent much time identifying the interests of the children and choosing a place to start off this Unit. Reflecting on our Waldkinder sessions (Learning in the forest setting), we discussed how the children were constantly transforming this space to suit their needs and desires, in particular, in designing and building ‘role play spaces,’ and the role that doorways played. We proposed to find out more about the children’s interest in doors and doorways connected to our key lines of inquiry.

Identifying Prior Knowledge and Our Wonderings

To tune into the Unit we focussed our discussions and learning invitations around doors and doorways. We shared photographs of our own front doors. In small groups we took a tour around the ICS school campus to look at and document the variety of doors and related features we could find in our community. The children began to make connections to similar doors they have seen or which have a personal connection for them. In meetings we shared ideas about the different and exciting unexplored spaces that a door might lead to. We looked at interesting and intriguing images of doors from different places.

After our initial research we identified that our questions were connected to;

How doors open and close?

Why people decorate doors?

What are the details of doors, such as keys and handles?

Attributes: Communicators, Inquirers

Attitudes: Creativity, Confidence, Enthusiasm

Skills: Research, Self-management, Thinking, Social, Communication


Field Trip to Zurich City

When exploring in the Altstadt we were interested in the various doorways and intriguing spaces we discovered in the city. We were particularly inspired by the different shapes of the doors we saw, door decorations, functions, mechanisms and features such as handles, knockers, keyholes, bells and spy holes.

Using Symbolic Languages to Reflect

In the time after our first field trip to Zurich City, we spent time reflecting – through shared conversations and by experimenting with a range of materials to create visual responses and 3D representations of our thinking, to identify the key ideas that we were interested in to clarify our theories and develop further questions.

A Second Field Trip to Zurich City

From our reflections, we realised that, while the doors and their features were very interesting, it was actually the small underground spaces of the city that the children wondered about most. Our research revealed that Zurich happens to have a rich history of underground spaces and a colleague informed us we could collect a key from the Baugeschichtliches Archiv, which would give us special access to these areas.  The children were excited and intrigued by these possibilities. As we entered the spaces we made sure to notice and be aware of our reactions to being in these new and different spaces. On returning to school, we again dedicated time to reflection, by focusing on our reactions; the physical and emotional, to this different perspective from which we experienced the city. We identified and explored ideas about ‘How people respond to different spaces’.


After the second field trip we reflected again, expressing our ideas through various symbolic languages; wire, clay, charcoal, paint, thin line markers, wooden blocks, ribbon, string and sticks.

A Provocation

The EY2 children were delightfully surprised to discover a very small door that appeared at the entranceway to their classroom. There was much wondering and excitement as each day a new little offering was found. Again we reflected on our feelings to make connections to the line of inquiry, People respond to spaces in different ways.

Sounds of Small Spaces: “Fairy Radio” – Exploration and connections through the arts

After the discovery of the fairy door, there was much dialogue and excitement about the nature of fairy houses and ways that they embody smallness. The children were invited to consider how such spaces might sound. Arthur shared, “They don’t like big things or big sounds”. Neela added, “I think when fairies are having a dance party it would make little sounds.” It was proposed that the children explore sounds that supported their ideas about fairies and smallness. Xylophones, bells, triangles and other soft, chime-like instruments as well as iPads were on offer. The children experimented with sound making, and recording. Celine suggested the children were making a “Fairy Radio”.


Design and Construction

In the forest we used our imaginations, knot tying and tool work skills to design and build furniture and features for our fairy garden.

“A fairy climber. The fairy can climb up, up, up.” Neela

“A swing for a fairy.” Ayame

“These are the chairs that they use when there is a party.” Sophia

“The fairies can fly up and the sit on the swing to go up and down.” Nathanael

“Fairies can play in here. They do singing games. Fairies like the decorations that I do.” Yurika

We continued this work of creating fairy furniture back in the classroom.

Creating a Garden for Fairies

Building on the children’s ideas together we spent time planning and creating a Garden for Fairies. We gathered data, to make a graph with tally marks to show how many plants and bulbs of each colour we would need. We visited the market with our German teacher to purchase the plants. The children worked to plan, set out and fill the planter boxes. They then decorated the planters with many miniature items that we had collected.

Designing a Fairy Garden to Surprise the ICS Community

Using our knowledge about how spaces can be transformed we created small homes and gardens for fairies, both in the forest, our classroom and courtyard area. As a next step, we thought it would be amazing to plan a surprise ‘fairy installation’ for the whole of the ICS community. We knew from our research during this inquiry that people react and respond to spaces and surprises, so we were excited to anticipate others’ reactions to our project. In class meetings we shared our ideas and created plans as to how to design and approach building the installation. We also needed to agree upon which space in the school we could transform to include this project. Stella shared, “I know this upstairs place. I go there sometimes, for Finnish School. A lot of boys and girls are there. They were all sitting around, and lots of bags.” We then wrote invitations, which were both given to our families and placed around the school inviting everyone to come and view the completed fairy installation.

Text reads: “Come to our Fairy Garden”

Creating features for the installation    

We set to work sewing “jungle vine” elements for the installation. We collected green fabrics, ripped these into strips and matched the pieces together before taking turns to use the Heavy Duty Sewing Machine to make long lengths. We also used the wood bench and tools to create structures and vehicles for the fairies. We became quite adept at using hammers, saws, drills and wood burners. We added these to the existing furniture and features we had previously made.

Fairy Garden Installation for the ICS Community

After spending most of the day transforming a space, normally used by the secondary school for meeting, working and socialising, into a fairy garden, our installation was finally ready to share! Billy shared, “I feel so proud of this. I can’t believe we just built all this!”

The characteristics and arrangements of this particular space were perfect to use for our project, as we believed it to be cosy and inviting. The sloping staircase above it also provided us with the opportunity to hang sewn together fabrics to create the feeling and atmosphere of being in a forest. We were thrilled with the different, but all very positive, responses from everyone who came to visit it.

“EY2 (children) are really creative!” Jack, an EY3 student 

“Your garden is so pretty. I feel like I can hear the fairies whispering into my ear. This is so nice and peaceful. Thank you!” An ICS Secondary Student

“I love it. It’s so creative and beautiful. It makes me feel like I am there, a part of it.” An ICS Secondary Student


Installation Reflection

Working on the installation, Arthur made a “Seesaw for fairy” from wood materials. He thought about how the ICS community might respond, “They will be excited. Maybe they will be happy!”

After the installation, Arthur reflected, ”My daddy thinks it was very cool, and it was beautiful. I think he was surprised to go to the (Secondary) School. He loved the Fairy Garden.”   

Neela explained that the ICS community might respond excitedly to the installation as “They might be freaked out!” After the installation, Neela reflected,” My dad thought it was good. I think we made the school a more surprising space.”

After the Fairy Garden installation, Victoria shared about how members of the ICS Community reacted, “My brother asked how long it taked (to build). My mum, she wanted to shrink so she could be playing there by herself.”

Working on the installation, Ayame thought that the ICS Community might “Like the fairy house.” After the installation, Ayame reflected, “Everyone thinks it is beautiful. It was joyful.” (Translated from Japanese.)

Working on the installation, Celine thought that the ICS Community might be surprised and “They go like this ‘Ahaaa!’ ” She suggested that “We need a little camera, so we can see (and record) how they react.” After the installation, Celine reflected, “The big kids could be shy on fairies, they think who made this? They asked us, how did you make this and how long it took us. My daddy, he was amazed. He said that he likes it, and how everyone did their work.”

May 2017

Produced in collaboration with the children of EY2, Heidi Harman (EY2 Teacher), Andrea Mills (EYC Atelierista), Victoria Newman (EYC Coordinator), Claire Febrey (PYP Coordinator), Janet Cooper, Eva May Ernst and Chiga Schochet (EY2 Teaching Assistants). 


  1. Elif Raskin

    Such a creative project! I love the details and the process. Great documentation as well. Keep the wonderful work go! I also will share it with our Early years teachers. You guys are soo inspiring! Much love to ICS team and students. Congratulations!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Dear Elif,
      Thank you for your very kind feedback! We are happy to be sharing our thinking, it offers opportunities for our team to seek out the perspectives of others. Thank you again.

    • Rebecca Smith

      Dear Amy,
      We are excited to know that people are reading about our work with interest. Thanks for sending through a comment. We passed on your ‘hello’ to Claire!

  2. Jeanette

    This was a joyous read. The wonder and delight you captured, the voices of the children and the thoughtfulness and excitement in response to the children’s interests all shine through and make me want to get on a plane so I can come experience and react to the wonderful space created. Thank you!

    • Rebecca Smith

      Dear Jeanette,
      We loved your reflections. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We are looking forward to building more connections with likeminded educators, so please do keep in touch with us, and share any projects you are working on or ideas that your teams are exploring.

  3. Theresa Ulett

    Rebecca, once again your documentation is so thoughtful and deep, you continue to inspire me and I’m sure lots of others reading your blog. Keep up the good work and keep on sharing, I love it! Hope you are well 🙂

  4. Tasha Cowdy

    Inspirational as always! I love the thoughtful documentation of the flow of the inquiry. One of the things that stands out for me is the delicate dance between following the children’s lead and, through careful observations and very intentional provocations and invitations, helping the children to reach beyond what they already know, understand and can do, to a new place in their thinking.

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