The wonder and joy of witnessing someone learning something new is an experience to behold and this is especially true when it is one of our youngest students. The value of capitalising on their excitement in the Early Years is unmatched. The development of these students through curriculum-driven learning and nature play is visible in all domains of learning including academic, social, physical and spiritual.
Guided play-based learning creates more confident children. Children who are more likely to take responsibility for their own learning, personal regulation and contribution to the social environment. However, this form of learning is more than simply allowing children to play for hours on end, it is about creating learning activities that allow them to discover, question and achieve.
The Early Years Framework Belonging, Being and Becoming has been designed to encourage young children to experiment and explore. This is where a love of learning is shaped by trying new ideas and navigating personal choices towards an understanding of the concepts being taught.
A focus on nature play has grown in recent years, with many schools returning to basics in the area of outdoor play. While the structures of outdoor play spaces and playgrounds may appear to be simpler and made from natural materials, they widen the scope of learning which promotes a holistic view when we look at each child’s development.
Early Years students at St Stephen’s School have learning spaces incorporating various nature play zones. These include timber pirate ships, rope bridges, stepping stones, cars and mud kitchens. Each zone is built to assist in sparking the imagination and creativity in children. Climbing zones focus on enhancing physical activity while the bush tucker gardens focus on providing opportunities for educating students about indigenous people and culture, nutrition and wellbeing.
Lessons in literacy and numeracy are often taught in the natural environment. Students are encouraged to use resources found in nature to help in these classes and the idea of learning happening in any setting is one of the real assets for students and teachers.
Research shows that less structured play in natural outdoor spaces provides children with opportunities to encounter diverse experiences helping decision-making that stimulates their ability to problem-solve and increase creativity. These types of activities often promote better concentration, higher cognitive functioning and for some students a possible increase in future academic performance.
In an article published last year on the First Five Years website, Associate Professor Janet Dyment from the School of Education at the University of Tasmania explained that children playing on a traditional playground, instead of in nature or in nature-based playgrounds, miss out on creative, imaginative play that is open-ended and unstructured.
She noted fears from parents that children may get hurt more in nature play environments due to falls or trips, yet she argues the risks of not allowing nature play are greater than the risks from potential minor injuries.
Beyond academic progress, Prof. Dyment spoke about how nature play also diminishes the hierarchical social structure associated with manufactured play equipment, boosting social intelligence and that nature play enhances spirituality, teaching children about life cycles, the environment and sustainability.
Whether inside or outside the classroom, Early Years learning is about focusing on the whole child. It provides an environment to personalise learning and, if need be, highlight any areas that may require early intervention.
St Stephen’s School’s Early Years provides students with opportunities to learn in a nature-based environment that helps to facilitate their growth, while providing intervention for those students who require it therefore setting them up with a strong platform as they journey through school confident in their own abilities.
This article was featured in Business News' Thought Leadership series here: www.businessnews.com.au/article/The-value-of-Early-Years-education