Monday, 10 August 2015

The Child and the Nature of the Changing Seasons


"When we understand learning we will then be able to understand teaching." (Drummond 2003)

I recently have been thinking quite a bit about how the role of the teacher has been changing and what it means to 'teach'.  There are many different theories to draw from but what comes to mind was the not so distant 2015 Annual CUE Conference talk given by Sugata Mitra where he spoke about The Future Of Learning and child-driven education and described his Self Organized Learning Environments that he created in The School in the Cloud.  Although his School in the Cloud has very little to do with learning in and through nature, it does consider whether the child learns best within an environment that is supported by a framework of minimal teaching.  What has resonated with me about his concepts around learning and teaching is how young children are able to teach themselves while, at the same time, transcending the boundaries of a foreign language (the language of computing as well as the english language) to achieve understanding?


Nature has its own language that flows within the rhythm of the changing seasons. Tuning your frequency to the phenology of place on a daily basis awakens your senses towards a deeper understanding of that language.  I like to refer to this daily practice of noticing as the process of LEANING into nature.  It is a process that is filled with play and discovery and has to do with vast and diverse encounters in the natural world over the span of the seasons.  It's a magical approach to learning that takes place as one immerses themselves in play on a regular basis in an outdoor learning environment that embraces a pedagogical framework of experiential, place-based, play-based, emergent, and inquiry-based learning that is child-led. But, how does this approach to learning unfold?


Honing your skill in the daily practice of playfully noticing and making discoveries in nature can transform the way you meet the child as they encounter nature through play.  Honouring their process in learning can mean the difference between whether or not they stay engaged in and learn to value that process rather than just the outcomes of learning.  They also begin to view themselves as valued contributors to a community of learners.


Change is in the air and is evident as the learning landscapes found in meadows, woodlands, creeks, prairie grasses, mountains, shorelines, tundra, natural playgrounds, and outdoor classrooms begin to transform themselves.  In our neck-of-the-woods, we are approaching the autumnal season and, with it, comes some very distinctly marked changes that, when noted, can act as the impetus to excite imagination, provoke interest, inspire wonders, and ushers our creative thoughts to concoct the most fabulous hunches. Noticing the rhythm of the changing seasons serves to strengthen our innate connection (biophilia) to the phenology of place.  Biophilia: According to the theory of the biologist E. O. Wilson, is an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.  It is this theory that inspires me on a daily basis and the reason why I so deeply resonate with the ethos of Forest and Nature School.


My biggest surprise and ah ha moment working with children in both traditional and nontraditional learning environments is the realization that we, as educators, cannot predetermine how a child will consider the vast host of elements that they encounter through play in nature. What may seem evident to an educator will most likely be viewed and considered in a completely different manner by a child.  I try and understand the language of nature but keep myself open to how children will interact with it, what their ideas, thoughts, questions, wonders and hunches will be.  For me, this is how child-led learning becomes emergent.  We can predict and plan for what they may encounter in nature ahead of time and then scaffold learning according to how the child leads us.

Among the many things that we can predict and plan for in the coming autumnal season some include encounters with leaves of different colours, fallen leaves that cover the earth, the movement of wind and rain, a change of temperature, the visible structures of trees and other shrubs, fungi, animals preparing for hibernation, cultural celebrations, halloween, birds migrating, clouds in the sky.... and the list goes on.


I have come across this game many times and I'm sure you will have as well.  It is a perfect game to play with children as the summer months change into autumn.  Many people will have played it in their own special way but it goes something like this...  Chose a bunch of paint samples and then go and try to match those colours in nature.  Most people just talk about what they have found and the game ends there but I challenge you make it a little more interesting.  Choose one colour, let's say orange, and have the children find anything and everything that is orange and exists in nature.  Observe where it's growing, share hunches about how it got there, what is it doing, what will happen next.  Have a basket of stones that are completely different to any others found in your natural setting (black river rocks or hang a conifer cone from a branch above it or make a small stick structure to mark the spot) and place them wherever you find something orange.  Do not remove the found orange element from its found spot.  Then, visit that spot over and over again to see what changes occur.  Make observations by asking yourself the questions WHAT, SO WHAT, and NOW WHAT.

What:  What did the child observe?
So what:  What did the child say, wonder, have a hunch about, consider, imagine, express?
Now what:  How can that their ideas and wonders be supported?

Hues of Orange Paint Chips


The tiny felted wool cups as seen below reflect tiny fungi found growing on the bark of a tree.  In making them and using them as cups to collect tiny wonders in the child begins a relationship with place by wanting to know what the fungus is called, where it was found, what time of year that the fruiting body is visible, what is its relationship to other creatures, and what it needs in order to live.

Felted wool cup fungus 

Scutellinia Scutellata (the scarlet elf cap or eyelash pixie cup) fungus found growing on wood

Hope you begin honing your skill of noticing and start using it in the coming autumnal months! 


  1. Going to get paint chips tomorrow! Thanks

  2. So happy to hear the this post inspired you! Enjoy!