This guest post is written by Pat Andrews. Pat is an educator who has worked in the Public School, Montessori School, and Waldorf school systems, homeschooled and run private preschools. She currently teaches music and French at Bright Child Montessori School in Amherstburg Ontario and runs a private Education Therapy program which assists children in resolving the blockages they have, and to reclaim the ease and joy of learning.
Through three decades of working with children, my own and those whose lives I’ve had the priviledge of being part of, it is in the seemingly unimportant moments of unstructured, unplanned and messy enjoyment of mucking around outside that has created the most enjoyable and memorable learning opportunities.
At Bright Child Montessori School in Amherstburg Ontario, we have a few trees in our playground and no formal, planned access to a forest program….yet! In spite of these potential limitations, there are logs, stumps, sandboxes, twigs, grass, a few trees, naturally made toys, environmental conditions and the creativity of our children and encouragement of staff. We have children ages 3 months through to age 6, and have the opportunity to observe and engage through the stages of learning that Jean Piaget first described as sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational. In providing children access to the rich outdoor learning opportunities we can see growth through these new experiences, challenging new brain connections, and seeking to make sense of their world.
Child development research has contributed significantly to our understanding of the impact of learning in nature and allows us the opportunity to ‘connect the dots’ that bridge theory and practice in the Forest and Nature School movement in Canada. Observing our children engaging with nature and each other, building social relationships and relationships with nature, we see Lee Vygotsky’s theories of child development at work on our playground. Scaffolding occurs as children, on the edge of learning new concepts, can be gently pushed a little further by a teacher or a classmate who has mastered the task at hand. A simple piece of twine, some rocks, leaves, tree cookies and imagination creates a social network of relationship building around the creation of a pretend bonfire, a fishing expedition, cooking fish, and flying kites.
In embracing and embodying the abstract concept that ‘everything is connected’, we as teachers at Bright Child afford the children the opportunities to develop empathy and cultivate the sense of connectedness as an emotional foundation for life. We provide these opportunities through time in nature, creating the conditions necessary for encouraging the development of what Daniel Goleman calls ’emotional intelligence’ and for fostering Rachel Carson’s ‘sense of wonder’.