Video courtesy of Laurel Fynes
The professional learning experience was combined with a Forest School (camp) for children that was taking place simultaneously. It was wonderful to be able to observe the children's behaviours and interactions with nature, while being in the forest. Many of them did not know each other, but in just a short time, relationships and learning were starting to develop. Observing, building, orienteering, climbing, and dramatizing all fostered these relationships. According to Carlina Rinaldi (1994), "The construction of knowledge is a group process. Each individual is nourished by the hypothesis and theories of others, and by conflicts with others and advances by co-constructing pieces of knowledge and the identities of those who are part of the process. (Julianne Wurm, Working in the Reggio Way).
Courtesy of Diane Kashin
After exploring the forest, we gathered together for group discussions. Many times, we reflected on things seen, and the sharing of new knowledge or materials. I was very inspired during these gatherings as they always sparked new interests. New things were learned, and relationships were fostered through the sharing of certain skills that others possessed. I found this to be similar to the Knowledge Building Circles practiced with children. The sharing of knowledge and experiences creates connections that further motivates and sparks learning. According to George Forman and Brenda Fyfe (1998, 239), the theory of Negotiated Curriculum "holds that knowledge is gradually constructed by people becoming each other's constructs, and by honouring the power of each other's initial perspective for negotiating a better understanding of the subject matter" (Susan Fraser, Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom, 184).
Pressed flowers and leaves on the light table
Sample work from Acorn School
My first attempt at wet felting!
Small world creation on a log
Sticks ready to be painted for using as math sticks
Math sticks (great for sorting, patterning, shapes, counting, etc.)
Loom made of sticks and yarn
Xylophone made of sticks and yarn
Painting feathers and rocks
We became a community, participants started to bring in resources (books, leaf presses, and art materials) to share and teach those who expressed an interest. These are things we as educators strive to create in our own classrooms. The building of a community of learners, all diverse, but supporting each other, bonded through relationships. Another a ha moment, what is the best way for children to form relationships? How do children form relationships? For myself, having participated in this professional learning opportunity, the importance of giving choice, letting the children take initiative of their learning, allowing them to explore what interests them, then coming together, sharing experiences, involving others, and teaching peers creates a learning environment that fosters relationships! According to Susan Fraser, "The fundamental principal of relationship ensures that all participants in the program have to collaborate to make the program function successfully. This collaboration, in turn, increases each member's commitment to work toward strengthening the group as a whole. Decisions are no longer made by one person, but in collaboration with others. Team members share their observations, and reflections and plan the program as a team." (Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom, 106).
Why learning in nature?
According to Condie Ward, "Recent studies document the importance of introducing children to the natural world, beginning in the early years. Their social, emotional, and physical health depends on this exposure to develop. Nature instills in everyone a sense of beauty and calmness. It exposes us to things that are alive and growing and promotes curiosity and exploration. With an adult as a guide, children can learn about being gentle and respecting living things. Self-esteem can thrive outdoors because nature doesn't judge people (Teaching Young Children).
Forming relationships not only with each other, but also with the natural world fosters a long lasting respect and sensitivity for nature that cannot be taught until one is immersed in its beauty. "As teachers, we have a responsibility to help create a future generation who will care enough about the natural world to become it's guardian. How fortunate are children who have a teacher who loves to grow plants, care for animals, or loves to stop and examine little things like a buttercup or dandelion. Teachers who share an attitude of caring and enthusiasm for the natural world are giving children a gift that will last a lifetime." (Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom, 104).
The importance of providing a sense of place...
According to Epstein (2009), A developing sense of place is linked to a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging contributes to children's overall social and emotional development and is an essential aspect of school readiness (Pamela Brillante and Sue Mankiw, Young Children, July 2015). I highly recommend reading the full article: A Sense of Place: Human Geography in the Early Childhood Classroom. Richard Louv points out how important it is to give children a sense of place, a grounding in where they live, because this gives them a secure footing to enter the larger world. Teachers can achieve this by connecting children to the natural world around them through the materials, activities, and environment they prepare for them. (Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom, 105).
I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the learning journey of The Rhythm of Learning in Nature. I am so inspired and cannot wait to share this experience with my students!
"When a curious child
and a knowledgeable teacher
explore the phenomena
of the world,
genius science begins."
-Frances Hawkins (The Pond Study)