How we learn.
It’s been another amazing two weeks. We’ve really enjoyed welcoming back the two year olds last week and starting our Forest Club this week. We’ve launched a rocket that nearly landed on the moon, we’ve made boats and sailed them, made mud pies at the allotment, played in two humongous tents, created art with our feet, hands and natural materials, played on a variety of trees (which we saw as building sites, trains, shops and holiday homes), gone on many walks and had lots of yoga and story time.
With all this fun, some people may wonder where we manage to squeeze in the learning. The child-led approach we use is often criticised. From the outside looking in, it could be argued this just allows the children to do whatever they want without moving them forward. However, it is easy to underestimate the powerful impact that play has on children’s development. Psychologists, educators and even the government recognise the importance of play and engaging with the outside world. Yet, in reality, many educational settings do not have the resources, time or in some sad cases, the patience to enable this.
The Early Years Foundation Stage has seven areas of learning, which all early years settings need to adhere to. The way that it is implemented can look very different between these settings, here’s how we have met the different areas of learning over the last few weeks.
Physical Development This one is easy! We go for walks every day which builds the children’s resilience for exercise. We have climbed over tree trunks, under branches, used our balance to run down hills and walk across log-bridges, swung on the slack line and used trees to pulls ourselves up the mud slide. We have developed our fine motor skills by doing some bark rubbing, digging with sticks, painting, doing up our jackets and stirring ‘soup’ in the mud kitchen. Healthy diets are also encouraged. The children really benefit from sitting down together to eat. This sparks curiosity in a variety of foods as well as conversation, exploring what they like and don’t like as well as others’ likes and dislikes. Sometimes, seeing other children respond positively to new foods can encourage them to try more too!
Communication and Language Broadening the children’s experiences naturally broadens a child’s vocabulary. The children are always talking to the adults and with the other children about they are doing and this allows them to learn new words every day, such as the sizzling sausages, the tumbling mud, ginormous puddles and the rippling water. The older children can really benefit the younger children’s development by modelling the language, allowing the little ones to see how words are strung together and different ways to express the same thing. Likewise, the older ones develop their communication skills by adapting how they speak so that the younger children can understand them. We also reflect on facial expressions and body language, the children look at characters in a book or at each other and explain how they are feeling based on what they see.
Personal, Social and Emotional Development Playing outside allows children to experience a certain level of risk which does wonders for their personal growth. It’s amazing to see a child go from being scared to walk over the log to then run over it and do a jump at the end. The other day, a child said they needed help to walk down the hill yet, with some encouragement, he managed it and the smile on his face was amazing. There are many opportunities for the children to engage in team work, such as when we’re all holding the rope on our walks and then using this to pull ourselves up hills or when we need to gather sticks for a fire. They’ll encourage, praise and thank each other and they love to offer sticks for others to grab when climbing the banks. Our regular yoga practice also helps the children to stay centred while encouraging calmness, happiness and confidence.
Expressive Arts and Design I am always amazed by the children’s imagination. As an adult, seeing a fallen tree sparks some curiosity and wonder but I can’t say I use it for anything more than a bench. The children, however, can spend hours using the same tree to guide them from start to end of a narrative. This week, a fallen tree was used as a train, the children boarded and all sang songs as they went on their journey. The train stopped to allow a few passengers to go to work and then carried on so the rest could go to the beach. The tree then became a holiday destination, the children could then relax for a while before having to fix the train so they could return home. The children can use a range of materials to create; a leaf becomes a hat, some grass becomes a paint brush, sticks become a home and stones become cakes. The possibilities really are endless when a child has ample time to engage in genuine free play.
Literacy Story time is very popular with the children at Faraway Tree. They absolutely love gathering around a book and getting involved with the story. The children are able to recite familiar stories (like the “Gruffalo” and “We’re going on a bear hunt”), they are beginning to predict what might happen next and they really enjoy sharing how the stories relate to their own lives. While out on our walks, the children demonstrate their understanding that written text has a meaning as they will ask what notices and signs say. Some children can recognise a few letters or even some words and they love telling us other words which begin with the same letter or ones that rhyme!
Mathematics The children have many opportunities to experience number in the real world, therefore developing their number sense. When children are mainly exposed to the abstract, written numbers, this can negatively affect their problem-solving skills as numbers become merely symbolic and they do not quite grasp what these symbols actually look like in the real world. The children are constantly counting objects and many can do calculations, for example, a child told me she had three sticks for the fire. I told her I have one stick, so how many sticks do we now have? The children can also compare different quantities and can use mathematical language. I really love listening to them cooking away in the mud kitchen, I often hear phrases like “we need a bit more”, “you’ve got less stones in yours”, “be careful, it’s heavy”, “mine is empty”.
Understanding the World Having ample opportunities to engage with the world around us is the best way to learn about it. We understand that the colour of clouds can predict the weather, we have thought why there are bigger puddles at the bottom of hills, we know that rainbows only appear when it has been sunny and raining (soon we’ll be talking about refraction!) and that the Sun and rain are important to help plants grow. The children are always out in the community which sparks conversation about other people, how they live and what they do. They like to discuss what they do at home and compare how this may differ, or be the same, for other people.
This is just a glimpse at the kind of learning you can see here at Faraway Tree. It has been really difficult to summarise! The amazing thing about using the outside environment is that it is ever changing. We could go to the same field every day and the children will play in it differently each time, especially as we seem to have experienced the four seasons over the past few weeks! What we absolutely love is just how curious all of the children are. They are so eagle-eyed and always want to find out more about all of the treasures and trinkets they find. Their learning is taken down new avenues all of the time because of the questions and wonder they show. Our goal is for every child to be curious because, when they are, they will be life-long learners. Who knows where this will lead them?