Imagine a table full of creative tools – carpentry files, sandpaper, whittling tools, string, wool, gumnuts, feathers, paint, flowers, cloth, stones and scissors. Now, imagine an educator who says, “I saw many of you over the last couple of weeks talking about wands and turning sticks into magic wands. Well, today I have brought some things that you can use to make special, silky-smooth wands. We can even put in some magical elements like in Harry Potter, such as a phoenix feather. First, you need to find the most special stick that you can….”
Over the last 6 months, we have been working with educators from Mulberry Tree Childcare and Kindy in the long-day care, after-school care and Indigo Montessori centres. Together, we have been creating 5-week projects to engage children in exploring nature and playing outdoors in new ways. The wand project is just one example.
Consultation and Conversations
During this project, children at the after-school care centre flocked to the table. There were sparks of creative energy and engaged enthusiasm in the air. High engagement was maintained for over an hour. Towards the end, educators gathered around. They noticed that children were constructively focused and had been working alongside each other without any issues for a long time. “The children are more engaged here than at the other craft activities we usually have out”, they remarked. “Why do you think this might be?” our consultant prompted. A conversation started around the difference in the materials. The natural materials were more open-ended and working with them was therapeutic. This paired with the feeling of being outside and the trust of using real tools engaged and held attention. The behavioural change of some children and the power and control children had over their work was impressive.
This is what consultation with Educated by Nature looks like – the demonstration of outdoor possibilities, followed by reflective conversations. These conversations highlight the impact connecting outdoors has on children. We are keen to discuss ways to make regularly engaging outdoors a reality for the particular space and educators.
How can you support children in nature engagement?
Even with babies and toddlers, when observing these special times of engagement with nature, we can focus on how children interact with nature and how we, as educators and parents, can help nurture that connection. Often this is simply connecting with nature alongside a young child. We can become excited by a new object, engage with our senses through immersing hands in earth or water, stop and listen to birds, try being still and gentle or moving our bodies in different ways. Ultimately, supporting nature connection is about observing children, trying to understand their needs and curiosities and then exploring alongside them, provoking with a little bit of challenge.
Trudi and Fay have been engaged in consultation with 33 Mulberry Tree centres, supporting them in working towards a Nature Leading Learning philosophy.