All posts by lisaprocter

Childhood Studies in the Anthropocene

Lisa Procter and Abi Hackett presented at the conference, Childhood Studies in the Anthropocene. Their paper was entitled: Playing with Place, Childhood and the Anthropocene: An analysis of dark emotion and materiality in children’s play

Here is an overview of what we talked about. The article that this presentation is based on is currently in press and will be published shortly.

In this paper we bring together the cultural studies of emotion with post-humanist and new materialist theories that foreground the agency of place and objects in order to analyse the entanglement of place, children and emotion (particularly fear) in children’s play encounters. When children, objects and places come into play with each other, intensities and emotions emerge. Through an analysis of examples from two ethnographic studies in which play encounters between children and place seem to evoke fear, we explore the potentialities of what is evoked. Fear is bounded in place (Ahmed, 2014) and experienced materially and bodily. As fear becomes entangled in the materiality of place and bodies, emotions work to characterise and categorise bodies (human and non human), in ways that connect to anthropocentric and colonial meta-narratives of animal / human and victim / aggressor. We make the case that the cultural studies of emotion can offer a means through which it is possible to connect the micro and the macro, working at these different scales in order to consider the political implications of re-conceptualising play encounters in the anthropocene through new materialism.

You can access our PowerPoint presentation here.

Questions and discussions following our talk were really productive in extending our thinking about play, fear, children, objects and things.

One of the questions has left us thinking about the uncategorisability of emotion. While we identified moments of ‘fearful’ play in our paper, whether this be because children articulated their fear (i.e. ‘it’s scary’), or because the children were enacting fearful encounters through impromptu play (i.e. getting beaten up), it is also possible to say that these play encounters were textured by a whole range of feelings, which could be name as excitement, anticipation, a sense of power, for example. We realised how slippery emotions are, how they unfold into one another in the moment and over time. We have also reflected on the role of the human sciences in exploring the physiological dimensions of heightened emotional experiences in children, allowing us to ask what comes to life in children’s brains/bodies as they engage in these encounters of entanglement.

We have also been reflecting on the role that performance plays in childhood emotion. Again, we were posed a question that made us stammer for a while, and we have been pondering upon it since. While we talked about how children do learn ways in which to communicate emotion in ways that keep them out of trouble (whether in school, home or other contexts), through gesture, facial responses, talk, for example, we also recognise that a performance narrative is not sufficient for understanding the complex emotional knowledges that children acquire. Some of these knowledges are socially constructed and in learning these constructions children also learn to manage and talk about their feelings in particular ways. Other knowledges are learnt through affect and embodiment, where children will develop physical repertoires for responding to inner felt sensations that often cannot be self-regulated. In additions, knowledges of emotion are also emplaced, emotions are lived in and with the world, places, children, objects and things come together as emotions are lived out.

We also discussed the ways in which fear is lived by children in different kinds of places. Not all children will find the same places fearful or indeed joyful, we therefore cannot prescribe the ways in which children will encounter different kinds of sites and settings. As one audience member said, some children she has worked with a fearful of wild natural spaces, such as woodlands, despite an adult-imposed notion that all children are nourished by nature. This has led us to reflect upon the importance of spatial diversity in children’s lives, offering opportunities to explore a multiplicity of emotional entanglements as they come to make sense of themselves and others in relation to worlds that they inhabit.


Launching the Toolkit Pack for Early Years Practitioners – download here

Storying Doncaster Sounds

This Toolkit Pack is the result of a research project that looked at how young children experience sound in the environment. We wanted to explore:

  • How do young children experience sound in the environment?
  • What is the relationship between environmental sounds, sounds young children make with their bodies, and words?
  • How can thinking more widely about all sorts of sounds support young children/s learning?

As part of this project, we asked children from Doncaster schools to take sounds walks, describe and imitate sounds, draw and map sounds and tell stories. These research activities demonstrated the potential of sound as a resource for imaginative storytelling. As the children began to visualise the sounds, they also began to create characters and scenarios. Their stories blurred the boundaries between the real and the imagined, and demonstrated the strong potential of using sounds to support creative storytelling and at the same time develop children’s…

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Healthy Spaces: Exploring the Place of the Toilet and Design for Well-being

On Wednesday 17th May, Lisa Procter presented her work on children and young people’s experiences of toilet spaces as part of the ‘Healthy Spaces’ conference organised by the BSA Yorkshire Medical Society.

Procter’s paper, How can a Queer/Crip New Materialism Energise Thinking about Spaces, Places and Design for Wellbeing?, acted as a provocation, asking what imaginings of ‘healthy spaces’ are possible when queer/crip studies and new materialism converge. The new materialisms offer new ways of reconceptualising the relationship between places, people and objects. Recently there have been calls to connect intersectional approaches with an analyses of socio-material processes (Kraftl 2015). We suggest that queer/crip perspectives offer a way into starting to think about what these connections may offer. Such perspectives encourage an analyses of ‘intra action’ (Barad 2007) between place, people and objects that examines the political positioning of the material in relation to people, communities and built environments. We draw on an AHRC Connected Communities collaborative research project (Around the Toilet) between academic researchers and queer, trans and disabled people’s organisations, which asked what it means to have access to a safe and comfortable toilet space, to explore these questions. Using the public toilet as case study, we ask in this session:

  • how do multiple materialities, spatialities and sociabilities come together in public toilets?
  • what do these configurations reveal about the political dimensions of emplaced/embodied experiences of spaces and places?
  • how can these socio-material habits be disrupted through the design of spaces and places to support wellbeing?

The slides from the talk can be accessed here.

The text below captures some of the ideas presented on the day…

This presentation is based on the AHRC funded project Around the Toilet, which worked with disabled, queer and trans people to ask what it means to have access to a safe and comfortable toilet space. The project started 3 years ago, and we have used a range of arts-based storytelling methodologies with different people, you will engage with some of our data in this presentation. Participants recorded how everyday journeys are often planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. They spoke of not leaving the house, not drinking and losing jobs due to a lack of toilet access for a number of distinct reasons. There is, in its most literal sense, ‘no place’ for them to go (and hence, sometimes, they go ‘nowhere’). For many, ‘a good place’ to use the toilet does not yet exist, or at least not in sufficient numbers.

This presentation acts as a provocation, exploring how new materialist perspectives can inform the ways in which we think about toilets and wellbeing. Our aim is to open up debate about the value of new materialism, and particularly ways of rethinking representation – how representation happens beyond the realms of language, for understanding how difference is marked through the co-constitutive assemblages between place, people, objects and things…

When people name the world does the world speak back…?

This question troubles the conflation of language and representation. If we argue that, yes, the world does speak back to people, then perhaps we can also consider whether the world names people. This in turn disrupts ideas about what it is to name, where naming is a practice seemingly assigned to humans within the limits of words and language. If to name is to represent, and representation can be conceived as, in Eduardo Kohn’s (2013) terms, ‘something both more general and more widely distributed than human language’ and indeed humans themselves, then what is representation…

People name the world…

We name spaces… such as ‘The Gents and The Ladies’

But spaces also name us…

The ways in which we are named by place stays with us, living in our bodies. Toilets are particularly significant as they are spaces that are texture our everyday lives.

So what should change what… should people name differently or should the world name differently?

The toilet project does an interesting thing, in that it blurs the boundaries between people and world, the discursive and the material. As Rebecca Coleman states: ‘bodies and images are entangled together as material assemblages’

Eduardo Kohn also shows us that representation is not always language like…

And that sometimes what is not represented is as significant as that which is…

Instead, he argues that representation happens between people and the world, that representation is relation

People have an iconic, indexical and symbolic relationship to signs as they present themselves in the material world…

Kohn identifies three kinds of signs: the icon, index, and symbolic. An icon represents the thing itself, for example the “words” ‘piss’ or ‘shit’ represent the act of going to the loo. Indices are produced through special relations between icons and point to something not immediately present, for example the figures of ladies and gents that we are familiar with seeing on toilet doors indicate that certain toilet facilities are beyond the door, but they are not representative of those facilities (they are not an image of the facilities themselves, i.e. a urinal or a toilet). Finally, the symbolic is the only sign situated squarely within the human domain. Symbols involve convention, and only become meaningful in relation to an ‘established system of relationships … with other words’ (pg. 32) – ladies and gents as a way of categorising toilet spaces only makes sense given the constructions of gender that lie behind them. Kohn argues that qualitative researchers have learnt to focus their attention on the realm of the symbolic – which is predominantly positioned as ‘language-like’. What happens when we connect the symbolic with the realms of the iconic and indexical, does this helps us notice the ways in which the material and discursive are entangled?

The toilet project also demands the politicisation of these blurrings…

Doreen Massey speaks to the politics of space, ‘where space is envisioned as always-already territorialised’ (as in the case of toilets as spaces characterised as for ‘men’ or for ‘women’). Massey argues that space is forever incomplete and in production… for her these ‘flows [of space] and territories are conditions of each other’.

So how can flows and territories be disrupted…

Spatial locations work to stand certain people apart from others – we see this in school toilets where disabled toilets can be located beyond other toilets, despite toilets serving as a social space, particularly for girls – disabled girls therefore cannot access such informal social spaces

The making of toilet spaces (I use the term making purposefully, to unsettle the idea of space as completed at the end of the construction process) has an affective, embodied significance – If disabled facilities are often locked, hidden, used for storage, they signify that disabled people sit outside of societal concerns… Toilet spaces also show that the material is political, and entangled with social practice and embodied identity.

Our data reveals breaks in what for some can be taken for granted…

It reveals the ways in which the gender, sexuality and dis/ability are complexity situated in what is, for many, seemingly part of the mundanity of everyday life – going to the loo.


Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Duke University Press

Kraftl, P. and Horton, J., 2015. Rats, assorted shit and ‘racist groundwater’: towards extra-sectional understandings of childhoods and social-material processes. Paper presentation at the 6th Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth International Conference, Sheffield

Kohn, E. 2013. How Forests Think: Towards and Anthropology Beyond the Human. UCPress

Massey, D. 2005. For Space. Sage

Servicing Utopia, the Toilet Toolkit, goes Live!

Access the toolkit at:

Servicing Utopia is a digital Toilet Toolkit designed to support planners, architects and designers to critically and creatively rethink notions of access in relation to the toilet design process.

The digital toolkit has been developed in response to the stories of people, including those of children and families, involved in the AHRC Connected Communities funded project Around the Toilet, for whom accessing a safe and comfortable toilet space is a continual challenge.

For many people everyday journeys are often planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. People speak of not leaving the house, not drinking and losing jobs due to a lack of toilet access for a number of distinct reasons. There is, in its most literal sense, ‘no place’ for them to go (and hence, sometimes, they go ‘nowhere’). For many, ‘a good place’ to use the toilet does not yet exist, or at least not in sufficient numbers.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 09.30.06

Since March 2015 Dr Lisa Procter at Machester Metropolitan has led the project and coordinated workshops with architects to engage with their responses to the stories of different toilet users and explore the opportunities and challenges related to the design of safe and accessible toilet spaces. Their insights have supported the Servicing Utopia team in developing a digital toolkit that is intended to be both useful and applicable to practice. In the final stages of producing the toolkit we also consulted with Sheffield City Council’s Access Liaison Group who gave us invaluable feedback.

The toolkit aims to communicate design possibilities in relation to the issues faced by different toilet users. It is hoped that the toolkit will allow planners, architects and designers to creatively respond to the design challenges raised by the stories and experiences of those involved in the Around the Toilet project.

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The toolkit was developed in conjunction with Live Works, The University of Sheffield School of Architecture’s ‘Urban Room’ in Sheffield city centre, and Content On Demand, a boutique content marketing agency based in Sheffield and London.servicing utopia logo-02


Re-Imagining Sheffield: Family Walks in the City

In November 2015 Lisa Procter, Abigail Hackett, both from the University of Sheffield, and local artist Simon Wigglesworth-Baker organised a series of walks around the Winter Gardens for young children and their parents/grandparents.

This walks were designed to encourage young children (ages 3-5), with their parents/grandparents or adult helpers from their nurseries, to explore familiar spaces in Sheffield. We were interested in the ways that different generations of people experience the spaces and places of cities. While people of different generations attended the walks, we found that adult engagement with the space was focused primarily on what the children were doing.

Supported by an artist, our participants used a range of artistic medium (including sculpture, drawing, storytelling, figure making) to explore the Winter Gardens. The participants were asked to model with Plastercine, draw onto paper or create a cutout figure from card something that they might find or wanted to add to the gardens. The description that follows focuses on the young children’s creations during the walks and explores what they were drawn to and why. As the descriptions reveal, the children were influenced by the space itself and the objects within it, as well as materials they were working with as they create characters and objects and began to tell stories about them.

Snakes: The idea of snakes came from the children’s interest in the big model of a snake in the winter gardens. The snake really captured many people’s imagination, and the children began to use Plastercine to make snakes.

“I want to draw a snake, a long one”

“It’s like that one (the big snake)”

“This is a snake, it wiggles like a worm.”

“I am a snake.”

Worms: Later some of the children discovered small pink post it notes in their bags, and delighted at pulling these off and arranging them all around the winter gardens. These became worms. The idea that lots of worms could be made very quickly this way was appealing, and mentioned in many of the young children’s stories.

“This is wiggly worm, the pink worms are taking over”

“We have this many wiggly worms!”

“And this one and this one and this one.”

“Wiggly worms everywhere.”

“A wiggly worm.”

Teeth: The idea of making teeth seemed to emerge from some children’s experimentations with what the materials could do (MacRae, 2011). Playing about with the scissors and the Plastercine, the children snipped off little bits of Plastercine, which they then decided looked like teeth.

“This is a real crocodiles tooth.”

“This is a dinosaur tooth, it has holes because it’s for a dinosaur.”

Crocodiles: Ideas about crocodiles, dragons and dinosaurs partly emerged from the play with teeth. Because many of the Plastercine teeth were big and knarly, the children began to play that they belonged to animals with large teeth.

“This is a colourful [animal] with lots of eyes, he needs so many. I’ve made a crocodile too. I want to make paper with a crocodile, I want to do it on black.”

“This is a crocodile, he snaps. I didn’t colour all of him in.”

Dragons, Dinosaurs and Monsters: As well as being connected to the play with teeth, ideas of dinosaurs and monsters also emerged from the ways in which the Plastercine could be moved around. For example, big heavy lumps of Plastercine could stomp across a page, and begin to gobble up a snake.

“This is a dinosaur.”

“The monster (a model in the child’s hand) ate the snake (the child’s drawing), he gobbled him all up. The monster stood on the wall and then ate it. It’s in his mouth. He is like the wall.”

“My monster was on a rock.”

Sky and Rainbows: Some of the children’s creations seemed to be influenced by the space itself. The Winter Gardens is a tall arched structure; arched timber beams create the main frame and this is clad in glass. If one looks up they can see the sky. One child created a drawing of the sky and another used Plastercine to sculpt a rainbow.

“It’s clouds and the sun and moons and stars. I’ve done x marks the spot you follow the path to x marks the treasure.”

Aeroplane: The idea of making aeroplanes evolved from the children holding and playing with their Plastercine models. Because children could hold the models over their heads, and perhaps also because the winter gardens is clad with glass and therefore the sky is visible, the children began to play that the models were both aeroplanes and rockets. The children also experimented with arranging their models into the flower beds.

“This is an aeroplane, it was in the cactus.”

Memories: Adults and children talked about personal memories of things happening in and near the Winter Gardens, both recently and in the past.

“One way, no u turns.”

“This is the wedding cake which is symbolic of the registry office, the egg box, town hall, the hole in road where people used the meet. A little master at his desk, one at his grindstone, one knifed in his bike, and industry being cut. This is the symbol for iron-Thatcher, who then sold off the industry.”

“This place always reminds me if the British Heart Foundation Christmas dash, you do two laps of the town hall dressed as Santas, there’s all these brass bands playing, you see all the Santas doing warm ups.”

“I like the peace gardens I had lunch there and everyone was in fancy dress in their gowns.”

Nature: Both adults and children talked about the experience of being in and observing nature in the winter gardens.

“This is about family being together, having a break from family. Exploring around the paths, learning to walk here. Exploring nature even when it’s raining.”

“Look at the leaves, they all go in different directions the leaves.”

“Blue leaves, and I want to do blue flowers.”

“I’ve done some leaves for you.”

“This is one blue flower, they look like little veins, they’re sticks, little blue sticks.”

As these short anecdotes reveal the space of the Winter Gardens and the use of arts materials facilitated children’s imagination. They took inspiration from the place as they created characters, objects and stories. This is an example of the important role that space can play in children’s learning, and in multi-sensory environments which offer children rich opportunities to experience through movement, touch, smell, sound and sight.

‘Making Home’: Re-making the self after childhood domestic violence

In December Dr Lisa Procter was invited to write a blog post for the Journal of Advanced Nursing blogspot to mark one of the United Nation’s ’16 days of Activism’ leading up to Human Rights Day. Dr Parveen Ali coordinated 16 blog posts each written by a different academic/activist in relation to interpersonal partner violence. To view all of the posts please click here. Procter’s blog focused on childhood experiences of domestic violence and marks the beginning of her work in this area. Her blog post is below.

Childhood and adulthood have become understood as distinct stages of the lifecourse, which continue to shape idealised notions of relationships between children and adults (James 2013). Societally we hope that children are cared for and protected by adults to live happy childhoods. However, adult and children’s lives cannot be separated so easily. Children’s lives, as much as those of adults, are located within societal structures, including those of violence. One of the sites in which such structures can have significant effects can be within the domestic sphere. While research has shown that domestic violence can have detrimental effects upon children’s health and development (Cleaver, Unell, and Aldgate 2011; Edleson 1999; Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, and Kenny 2003; Osofsky 2003), more research is needed that explicitly focuses on engaging with children’s perspectives on their experiences. While there are some exceptions (see for example Stanley, Miller, and Richardson-Foster 2012), overall there is a lack of understanding of the ways in which children make sense of early exposure to domestic violence. This is important because the ways that children come to understand such experiences, and their role within them, will also impact on the ways that they navigate their adult lives. Stories of how children live within and beyond violent homes need to be told.

While the home is often a site that is romanticised, homes can also be uncomfortable spaces where children can be unable to feel at home (Valentine 1993). They can be fearful spaces where children can learn to be on high alert (Nissen 2013), perhaps anticipating interpersonal violence between adults or towards them to occur at any moment. In the cases where violent acts might not be directly targeted at the child, children are still implicated in this violence (Nissen 2013). Children can learn to carefully manage their actions as they navigate an unstable emotional terrain in an effort to maintain some sense of equilibrium for themselves and their family members (Nissen 2013). The external violence they witness can become internalised, with the possibility of leading to acts of violence toward the self or others (Osofsky 1997). Their bodies absorb memories of trauma, not necessarily available to conscious thought (Walkerdine, Olsvold and Rudberg 2013), but which can pattern children’s embodied knowledges of ways in which actions can seem to act as catalysts for violence. These emotional experiences live in the body and can continue to have resonance in adulthood in ways that cannot be spoken (Walkerdine, Olsvold and Rudberg 2013). This recognition of childhood trauma as a bodily experience gives rise to questions about how early experiences are transmitted into adulthood.

Attending to home and homemaking might offer some insights here. Massey defines place ‘as a particular constellation within the wider topographies of space and as in process, as unfinished business’ (Massey 2005, p. 131). The homes of adults who were exposed to domestic violence in childhood are unfinished and layered within aspirations of what home could be and become (Blunt and Dowling 2006). New materialism studies account for the ‘nonhuman’ as well as ‘human’ forms of agency (Barad 2007), reflecting the ways in which the material world is implicated within children’s trajectories. For example, studies of home have shown how the use of family photographs enabled women to create a sense of ‘homeliness’ (Rose 2003). Blunt and Dowling (2006) also argue that ‘the choice and placement of objects such as furniture can be part of making houses family homes’ (pg. 112). Their research shows that the dwelling place is ‘intimately connected to sites and relations beyond it’ (pg. 114). The home I have made for myself as an adult represents a space of safety. It is a place full of constants, upon the walls hang paintings and photographs that I love, my favourite illustrated texts sit on my bookshelves waiting to fill my mind with wonder, my dog always sits dutifully beside me, the wood burning stove is ever eager to warm my living room, my collection of hats stir me into character in the morning, my piano (while underplayed) waits patiently to fill my house with sound. These objects house me as much as I house them. They are symbolic of the home I am making and aspire to make. My home is always moving, I make my home and at the same time it makes me. Thinking about how people’s lives are made and re-made within the home could offer insights into how people create new lives for themselves and their families after early exposure to domestic violence.

Blunt, A. & Dowling, R. (2006) Home: Key Ideas in Geography. Abingdon: Routledge.

Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press

Cleaver, H., Unell, I. & Aldgate, J. (2011) The Impact of Parental Mental Illness, Learning Disability, Problem Alcohol and Drug Use and Domestic Violence on Children’s Safety and Development (2nd edition). London: TSO.

Edleson, J. L. (1999) Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 839–870.

James, A. (2013) Socialising Childhood. Oxon: Palgrave

Kitzmann, K. M., Gaylord, N.K., Holt, A.R. & Kenny, E.D. (2003) Child witnesses to domestic violence: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 339– 352.

Massey, D. (2005) For Space. London: Sage

Nissen, L. (2013) Curriculum and the Life Erratic: The Geographic Cure. Sense Publishers

Osofsky, J. D. (1997). Children in a violent society. New York: The Guildford Press.

Osofsky, J. D. (2003) Prevalence of children’s exposure to domestic violence and child maltreatment: implications for prevention and intervention. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6: 161–170

Stanley, N., Miller, P., & Richardson-Foster, H. (2012) Engaging with children’s and parents’ perspectives on domestic violence. Child and Family Social Work, 17: 192–201

Walkerdine, V., Olsvold, A., & Rudberg, M. (2013) Researching Embodiment and Intergenerational Trauma using the work of Davoine and Gaudilliere: History walked in the door. Subjectivity. 6: 272-297

APSE: An analytical framework for evaluating museum spaces for children and families

What are the best approaches for making sense of different kinds of museum and art gallery spaces for young children?
Introducing the APSE resource, developed as a collaboration between Humber Museums Partnership and Abigail Hackett and Lisa Procter, Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield.

At the start of the Humber Museums Partners’ (HMP) Under Fives in Museums project, learning officers visited a range of other museums, galleries and other site recognised as national examples of good practice with regards to catering for an under fives audience. Each of the Humber Museum partners would be redeveloping spaces in their own sites for an under fives audiences as part of the project, therefore the questions learning officers took with them as they made these visits were in two parts:

  • How do I assess or understand what a space is like from the point of view of young children?
  • How can I make decisions about what aspects of practice or spatial design are best for my own setting?

Humber Museum Partnership wanted their observations to be guided by best practice and theory, and be as useful as possible for informing future practice at their museum services. They approached Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, University of Sheffield, who have a well established reputation for research drawing on spatial theory and understanding how children experience spaces. Together we decided to develop a resource, informed by research, which staff could use to make notes, record observations, and reflect on what they observed when they visited different places.

Together we identified some insights from the research which were likely to help with the development of the resource:

  • What models already exist for thinking about how people experience places?
  • How can we best take account of the sensory, embodied and tacit ways in which people, particularly children, experience places?
  • How can we begin to imagine the experience of a place from the point of view of a young child?
  • How can we consult with young children and their families to better understand how they experience or what they want from places they visit?

The APSE resource is informed by contemporary spatial theory. It is designed to be flexible and developed over time, in response to new insights gained through ongoing visits of different sites and settings.

The resource draws on two different constructs of space / place common in the literature; space as either physical or social, and space as either abstract or embodied. This gives us four different ways of thinking about space:

  • Abstract physical
  • Embodied physical
  • Abstract social
  • Embodied social

These four categories are not necessarily comprehensive or exclusive. Rather they acted as a useful heuristic for us as a group to think about the different ways in which spaces might be assessed, understood, described or experienced.

The framework is designed to be used during museum and gallery visits to develop analytical insights through observations, collecting materials and asking questions. Included is a general checklist to gather overarching information at every visit and a focused checklist. The focused checklist is not intended to be completed on every visit, instead it is to be used to support focused visits relating to each quadrant.