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A big part of going on regular nature explorations, is giving children the opportunity to become familiar with a location and learn about all of the ways it can be explored over time. Dr Anne Meade shares some valuable ideas to consider when embarking on developing your own nature-based learning program.
The teaching team at Daisies in Wellington, New Zealand take children on weekly excursions to an area nearby that they reach by train. They call this part of their curriculum “Nature Explore” and as the name suggests, it is a time for children to explore natures offerings at Mount Kau Kau. This is the closest “mountain” to Daisies.
The educators made the decision that rather than taking children to different locations each week to see and experience a variety of nature spaces, that they would keep returning to one particular location. This helps children to revisit their prior learning, to really get to know and build a relationship with the land, and to gain confidence as they explore all that Mount Kau Kau has to offer.
Luckily enough to join the teaching team on a “Nature Explore”, we noticed that the children were saying that on this particular day, they wanted to climb to the top of the mountain. So instead of visiting the same lookout or exploring in the stream they were familiar with, the children took us on a mission. We made it all the way to the top of the Mount and the children were very proud of themselves. This was the first time the group of four year olds had ever done this and it was exciting to see them looking out, seeing the windmills and the local landscape from a completely different perspective.
The passionate teaching team are not instructional when out in the bush with the children. They are however intentional, so may come with ideas of ways to introduce some new concepts while in the bush. Then if a child expresses curiosity, or stops, pauses, looks and wants to explore something, the teachers will pause and ask thoughtful questions.The questions designed to encourage the children to think on a deeper level, make new discoveries, come to conclusions and further their curiosity.
If you are lucky enough to have access to a wild space that offers children ways to explore and view different vantage points of the local area, this helps them develop an understanding of the local area. They will create maps in their heads. Over time, and through regularly visiting different lookouts in the area, the children at Daisies have developed a “map” of Wellington. An understanding of their local area and how it spreads further out and connects with the wider community.
Sensory exploration when out in nature is a powerful way to support children to observe their surroundings. This can look like:
Being aware of some of the opportunities to encourage children to explore with their senses, will help you to prepare with some language to offer children around this. Reflecting on this, and being more conscious of the senses that we have as human beings, and passing this knowledge onto children to explore is a powerful tool to nurture curiosity and an awareness of all that nature offers us.
Anne Meade shares that going out into the bush every week with small groups of 8 children is an absolute privilege. To be able to solely focus on the children, listen to them, go with the flow of their imaginations and spend time learning alongside them that goes far beyond simply keeping them safe is really special. “This happens every week. We get to have this wonderful magical time with a group of children and get to know them in quite different ways. It’s very special.”
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