Bringing Psychogeography to Year 4

So over the next week I am going a little bit ‘Avant-Garde’ in terms of Geography and I am going to attempt to introduce some of the ideas of Psychogeography to my Year 4 kids.

We are not digging deep, and I am not going to attempt to simplify the writings of Guy Debord – instead we are going to pilfer some of the core ideas, especially the ‘Theory of the Dérive’, in order to get the children to approach their local urban environment with a renewed awareness and playfulness.

Theory of the Dérive

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there… But the dérive includes both this letting go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities. – Guy Debord

What I am aiming for is for the children to see their local area with ‘new eyes’ and to consider the act of walking as something more than a necessary step between being in one place and another. Never has my surname been more a statement of intent!

Now, with 8 year olds I cannot just instruct them to leave their mindshackles at home on the day of our visit. If they are going to engage in a bit of creative destruction of their geographical constructs, they are going to need a bit of support so I am allocating each child a different ‘role’ on the walk. This will structure their thinking and observations. So we have such roles as The Sketcher, The Poet, The Smell Noticer, The People Watcher, The Colour Watcher, The Storyteller and a few more.

Each kid is given a role and a description of how they are going to enact this role on the walk. This Word Document is here for you to use. Psychogeographical Walk Roles.

Where to go?

“Unfold a street map… place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out in the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour.” Robert MacFarlane, Psychogeography: A Beginner’s Guide.

We are going to do just that! In the lesson before our walk, I am going to talk to the class all about the way we walk around our local area, and the fact that we sometimes go onto Autopilot. We don’t look, we don’t sense, we don’t feel. We almost ‘switch off’ when walking, and think only of the place we are going to.

We are going to look at this map of our local area and talk about the lines and shapes we notice. What do we see? Straight lines, by and large. What might be the opposite of a straight line? A curved line. What is the ultimate curved line? The circle!

Psychogeographical Malk

Then I’m getting a big dirty coffee mug from my desk, blindfolding a (willingly volunteered) child, and then they can plonk the mug anywehere on the A3 printout of the map. We draw around the mug and then next week, no matter where it lands, we will attempt to emulate that circle by following it as our route.

Now, things being as they are, and safety being of obvious paramount importance, I will need to do a fairly odd risk assessment for this to make sure we are not walking through anywhere dangerous (needles, rivers, brick walls) but once the risk assessment is fully conducted, the walk will be a chance for the children to come to recognise the way in which urban design constrains as much as liberates.

For these idealistic 8 and 9 year old flaneurs and flaneuses, perhaps they will come to recognise the extent to which the omnipresence of the linear restricts their wandering impulses.

And also, to be absolutely not philosophical about it, it is a way for children to make, create and follow maps, to talk about place and space and to explore their local area, therefore hitting three National Curriculum objectives.

I cannot wait. As Proust said…the real voyage of discovery comes not from seeing new landscapes but from having new eyes.


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