Establishing the learning culture at Alam Atelier

In January 2024, Trudi was invited to Jakarta, Indonesia, to train a new group of educators for a brand-new early learning school, Alam Atelier, part of the iSmile network. Being involved at such an early part of the school, before the building was finished, before children were enrolled or the school year started, meant that she had a large involvement in supporting the establishment of culture and identity for this school. This was such a huge honour and responsibility.

Before leaving for Jakarta, Trudi and Fay led a two-day online training session for all the iSmile educators. They covered much of the philosophy and content in many of our professional learning workshops. The first day looked at an introduction to nature connection and learning for early childhood. This was followed by a more specific session for babies and toddlers. We also looked at some of the fears and barriers to learning outdoors for both educators and parents. Learning from these Indonesian educators about their barriers was interesting. These barriers became the focus of Trudi’s two-week mentoring trip to Jakarta. Major barriers for these educators included high expectations from parents and the community for academic success, air pollution and lack of access to nature, mosquitoes (with the risk of disease), and the Asian perspective that dirt is bad.

On the second day of training, we focused on risky play, sensory risk-taking and developing plans to be outside. When Trudi arrived in Jakarta a week later, the school was still being built. Her role was to help the educators set up their rooms, with a focus on learning around Reggio Emilia principles, including ‘the environment as a third teacher’, collecting, displaying and using natural materials (and recycled materials), providing and introducing special resources and setting up a light and shadow nook and art space.

Over the middle weekend of Trudi’s mentoring trip in Jakarta, the other iSmile educators joined the team at Alam Atelier. The goal was to explore learning about nature connection, social constructivism, fostering curiosity, play-based learning and being a community of support. This was an intensive weekend that the educators found supportive and energising as many met each other for the first time and shared stories of learning and play. They looked at how intense the worksheets are in early childhood, particularly in year 1 in Indonesia, and how guided play can provide deeper and longer-lasting learning than instructional teaching. Educators experienced how hands-on learning, linking to children’s play motifs and discussion can build curiosity and deep thought processes.

In the second week, trial students and their parents (and/or nannies) came to look at the school and decide if it was the right fit for them. Trudi’s role here included speaking with potential parents, working with educators to explain the ‘why’ of what they do in their documentation and to link it with research, practice debriefing and communication strategies, looking at the role of the outdoor space and outdoor teacher and how to integrate the pet rabbits and guinea pigs into learning empathy and caring or the environment.

After such an intense two weeks, Trudi created strong relationships with the educators and set them up with a way forward to build their identity and school culture. The iSmile owners were delighted to see how confidently the new educators spoke to the parents using language and information from our training sessions together. We wish all the educators the best as they grow this new school.