Outdoor experiences in early childhood education

Issue: Volume 98, Number 19

Posted: 8 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA27A

A Mt Wellington Early Learning Service with a regional park in its backyard has developed a weekly nature-based programme that has helped build the physical confidence of tamariki.

Situated right behind Lightbulb Learning in Mt Wellington, Hamlin Hill Regional Park is known as Cow Mountain to the children, as it’s a working farm and they can see cows grazing. Until recently the centre hadn’t used the great outdoors on their doorstep, but a new programme now sees groups of children spend two to three hours playing and exploring there every Friday.

“Initially I reached out to the council to look into planting native trees up there, because we were doing an investigation around sustainability and exploring the natural world. We did an excursion up there in June with the children and families. The park rangers gave us our own plot of land for planting native trees,” says kaiako Hayley Cruden.

“We decided as part of our ‘Be school ready’ programme that we really wanted the children to develop confidence in exploring the unknown, so we established an outdoor programme for the older children and we take them up every Friday for two to three hours,” Hayley says. 

Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early Childhood Curriculum and Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo encourage children to experience a wide range of activities. Through the Strands of Mana whenua (Belonging) and Mana aotūroa (Exploration), children’s curiosity is fostered as they develop a sense of kaitiakitanga and connect with the wider natural world and materials drawn from nature.

Giving back to community

“When the first children went up, you could see they were city children. Prior to this I had worked in Queenstown and children are out in nature a lot more. Up here I noticed that when they first went out, they were a bit hesitant, a bit shy, unwilling to move away from the teachers. Then within two or three trips, they were taking risks, working together to problem solve. They are comfortable in nature now and they really love going up there,” she says.

Tree planting will become an annual event as it’s a good way to give back to the community and for the children to learn how to give back to nature as well, says Hayley. She found that one of the barriers in Auckland was trying to educate parents about the benefits of playing out in nature and getting messy. 

“We invited the parents on the native tree planting so they could see how excited the children were. Initially I had to really work with parents to get them on board and to see the valuable learning that happens in nature, such as developing resilience and responsibility,” she says.  

The early childhood centre has bought overalls for the children so they are dressed appropriately and can get muddy and wet. 

Physical confidence builder

While the nature programme is still fairly new, there are already benefits for tamariki from a greater appreciation of nature to building their physical development and confidence.

“They work together to encourage each other. We made a mudslide and one child would do it, but another might be a bit hesitant so they would say ‘come on, you can do it’ and they will help walk them up and guide them down. 

The learning continues through the week with observations from the Friday adventures being woven into other activities such as learning about nature and storytelling. 

“We go into the native forest and that’s where we check on our plants and just explore. They like looking at the bugs and making mudslides, finding puddles, so it’s just them using their imaginations as opposed to being entertained. 

“It’s fostering their creativity and sense of appreciation for nature. They really take in the flowers, the changing scenery from winter to summer and they’ve noticed a lot of rubbish and stuff as well, so we plan to do a sustainability project to foster that in them,” says Hayley.

The benefits

Parent’s view

Dolly: Tia has been with Lightbulb Learning for almost two years now and the efforts that the teachers have been taking to design and enrich their lives in every aspect is remarkable. The centre has a great outdoor space and they are making the best use of their location by taking kids up to Hamlin Hill. 

I feel it’s not only great for being outdoors in fresh air and being physically active, risk-taking, developing confidence but also for the awareness of wellbeing in nature. Little things like picking up rubbish on their way up and down is introducing them to great long-term values. I really appreciate the values and philosophy the daycare has been working on. 

Children’s views

Ashton: My favourite part is sliding down the mudslide! I get a little bit wet though. 

Aria: I love the swing, I love to look at cows, I love to jump into the puddles, I love to look in the forest, look at flowers and trees. We found rubbish and picked it up, ‘cause maybe the cows will eat it and get sick. Rubbish goes in the bin.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:50 am, 8 November 2019

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