10 February 2017
It was all very Joyce Grenfell in my local early years setting last week. I pop in occasionally to remind myself what small children look like and how the sunshine feels.
We don’t get much of either as an educational charity specialising in children and the outdoors – go figure!
“Martin will you let Janine be a bunny please, she wants to be a bunny and a bunny is what she will be”
“Edward that is NOT your nest – OUT!”
“Kalim will you please put down that worm – you do not eat worms – you eat fruit and nuts and occasionally small mammals.”
“No Charlie – crisps are not suitable for invertebrates.”
“Chanelle I said webbed not wet – go and dry your feet immediately.”
Yes we were learning about animals and their habitats and what they eat.
There is so much that you can do outside that would be, not so much harder to do but certainly harder to clear up after, indoors.
Making a small person sized nest is a wonderful way of helping children understand how clever birds are – especially when you say they can only use one arm instead of a beak. What sort of natural materials can they find to make their nest with? What happens if nests are made with artificial materials such as plastic or netting – what might the risks be – why does this mean we should be careful about the litter that we drop?
What about spiders, how do they make their homes and how complex are they – so much you can do in a playground with a few children and a large ball of string.
Large cardboard boxes can make badger setts and rabbit warrens if you don’t happen to have a large digger and tunnel reinforcements to hand. (anyone who receives Amazon deliveries is likely to have a selection of these…)
Why are webbed feet good for ducks? You can create a small duck pond with a paddling pool and do some experiments on dragging hands through water with fingers together and then fingers apart – maybe stretching a plastic bag across splayed fingers. And food always of course is a draw for young children, who eats what and why. Cooked spaghetti makes for great worms, fruit is easy – small mammals may require a little creativity but chicken legs could work well!
One of the benefits of allowing children to play their learning out in the outdoors is that it often gives staff a chance to observe what is going on.
I was in a meeting a while back where there was much rumbling and complaining because teachers accompanying children to a hosted site visit on a farm sat back and watched what was happening rather than getting alongside the children and taking part.
But is this wrong?
Is it not hugely valuable to take time to watch and learn?
Certainly in some schools there are new technologies which enable teachers to video-capture not only their teaching but what happens with each child as they are taught – what is going on in the book compared to what the teacher is doing.
These technologies are helping teachers improve their practice and, in some cases, are reducing school CPD budgets. In the outdoors we can watch where children choose to play, who they play with, what their play schemas are and how they interact and learn from their experiences.
All of this watching gives us absolute gold in terms of information as we can transfer that knowledge to a classroom and it will help us to differentiate effectively, not just according to skill base and literacy/numeracy but according to how each child learns best.
And, pretending to be a small animal is fun, children can talk about the different characteristics of each animal and choose one for themselves…..you may be surprised at who they choose to be….
Me? I wanted to be Meerkat but they wouldn’t let me so I was a water beetle instead.