Monday, 26 October 2015

The Nature of Learning Through Creative Play

The sort of creative play and learning that unfolds in a Forest School setting is truly magical.  It is pure, child-led imagination and ingenuity that manifests itself in outdoor environments that are visited and re-visited on a regular basis by the same group of children.  Children literally build their own worlds and play and learn from their experiences in nature as it changes from season to season and year to year.  But Forest School ethos includes the fundamental element of time that is so central to its nature and so vital to what makes it effective.  Overtime, as the child becomes familial with their surroundings, group, and environment they receive, from them, direct feedback to their engagement.  The child's hand, heart and mind engage with tools, technology, environment (natural environment and friends) and within that engagement they make, test, tinker, try, play, negotiate, and create things form their imagination over and over and over again with the key ingredient of time. In that space they learn about quest, how to become independent and creative thinkers, how to work in groups, what works and what needs more work, how to self-correct, what talents the kids in their group posses and much more.  The learning that happens is exponential, multilayered, deep and meaningful.  So, how do we lean into learning outdoors if we are working as an educator or parent that is bound by time?

Leaning into Learning Outdoors and the Maker Space

The opposite of play is not work.

In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown states, Though we have been taught that play and work are each the other's enemy, what I have found is that neither one can thrive without the other... The quality that work and play have in common is creativity.  In both we are building our worlds, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects.  Even demolition or sand castle smashing is a kind of creativity, since they clear the landscape, opening the way for new building.  At their best, play and work, when integrated, make sense of our world and ourselves... Play is called recreation because it makes us new again, it re-creates us and our world. (p 126)  

Part of Forest School ethos includes the maker space.  Our Global Cardboard Challenge 2015, originally inspired by Caine's Arcade, took place in our stunning community forest and we invited children of all ages to participate.  Building Worlds: From Bark to Box and Back came together through the collective contributions of local businesses, Tinder Tinder Forest Nature School, ThinkinEd, Imagination Foundation, and Makedo and was looked at  through an environmental lens.  How do we foster an ethic of care for the environment?  We started off with the nature of place and the idea of returning the product back to its original state.  Creating in nature around the trees with cardboard and paper products.  We always provide inspiration books but one in particular to note was Once Upon a Memory.  Through our provocation we asked the question does the box remember that it once was a tree?

 Follow that Box:  We made a specific point of using boxes that have already served their purpose and after using them in our forest encounter we then loaded them on our truck and drove them to the recycling centre to be re-used again.

Thinking Outside the Box

Learning in the outdoors does not mean taking the contents and learning materials from your classroom into the outdoor environment.  It means learning in, with, and through the natural space that you play, discover, explore and learn in everyday.  It is for this reason that the only materials that we provided for our cardboard challenge were cardboard, paper, and clay and the tools to create and make.  The rest was from the natural surroundings that we played and explored in.  On our adventure walk children gathered, explored, played, and wondered about their surroundings.  As they experienced the phenology of place they selected their favourite found nature treasures....

Our Adventure Walk Treasures: Of their own choice, the children connected to the parts of trees.  Take a close look at the contents of their treasure boxes.

Tools, Tools, and More Tools:

 Learning to trust the Child as they Become Inspired by the Phenology of Place

The role of the teacher is no longer as the predominant dispenser of knowledge but as the partner in learning through play.  Remembering Tagore's Vision:  Children have their active sub-conscious mind which, like a tree, has the power to gather its food  from the surroundings atmosphere.

Jay Griffiths refers to Tagore's writings in her book Kith,  Nature was part of the below-ground curriculum: what children absorb from their surroundings without overt instruction.  Nature was part of the above-ground curriculum, as, down to the finest insect, nothing in nature was undeserving of a child's attention.

I have often said that story is the catalyst for learning through creative play.  Story is often how children connect to their world.  In the case of Caine's Arcade, Caine was inspired to create his arcade from a small, plastic, dollar store basket ball net that he had been given.  The entire arcade was formed around this tiny net.  His was a story of arcade games.  For us, even though we offered books and the videos of Caine's Arcade and the Adventure of a Cardboard Box as inspiration, we believed that the children in our forest encounter should find their own inspiration in order to fully experience how connected learning happens in outdoor environments for themselves.  Simply reproducing Caine's games may not have been relevant to us or to the children and setting up activity stations did not sit well with us because we did not want to give instructions for predetermined outcomes.  The only step-by-step instructions that were given were for skill building as in with tool use.  All the materials were open-ended, children gathered their own nature treasures on their jaunt through the woods, and the convivial maker spaces was setup as creative zones in order to respect the child's freedom of choice and creative journey but still keeping all the creative zones in close proximity in order for conviviality to be welcomed into what they were doing.  Children were introduced to tools one by one or in small groups as the exploration went along or as needed.  In planning for this we were not planning for outcomes but we were planning for how best to support the child's creative journey so that they did not build a pre-determined product but their imaginations were being welcomed, supported and the convivial maker spaces allowed for shared discourse and shared experiences.  In his writings Tagore wrote:  The object of education is 'freedom of mind, freedom of heart, and freedom of will.'

So, why is there a clay ladybug as the photo header for our Global Cardboard Challenge 2015, Building Worlds: From Bark to Box and Back?  

How Phenology and the Nature of Learning Happens Though Play

In order for story to happen there needs to be a main character.  Meet Lily, Leeschia, and Spot as nature leads the way to learning through creative play.  The weather on the day of our cardboard challenge was relatively warm with the sun shining bright and a slight breeze in the air.  This weather combination made it perfect for ladybugs to peak out of their hiding spots and come flying out for whatever rationing of food was still left in nature.  On our adventure walk we were visited by many ladybugs, they were everywhere but only three made it into our story.   

Here is what the children created with the cardboard, paper, clay and found nature treasures... and how they chose to incorporate and include their ladybugs in their story. 




Here is what the children created in our 2015 Global Cardboard Challenge
Building Worlds: From Bark to Box and Back

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