For many adults, a forest is just another part of the environment, taken for granted. But for children, the woods are a place of adventure, of possibility.
In nature, children can develop freely and discover their personalities. With the guidance of adults, they can create their own games and develop their own learning style; they can use their imagination and expand their creativity.
The INA Pedagogy Project includes five components:
• The Mud Brick House
• The Reed Tent
• The Wooden Module
• The Straw Bale Garden
• Toys Made of Natural Materials
Mud Brick House
The atmosphere inside the mud brick house naturally lends itself to roleplay and indeed, this is often exactly what children choose to do.
Inside, they find themselves in a unique miniature world, with filtered soft light coming through the burlap roof. The structure’s unique earthy smell, mingled with clay and straw, likewise contributes to the atmosphere. Furthermore, these materials absorb and neutralize negative energy and children inevitably emerge refreshed.
The house is sturdy enough to protect children from wind and rain, and provides an alternative to outdoor play in bad weather. Wooden chairs, pinecones, pieces of scrap wood and leaves are ample material to stimulate roleplay. The smaller space requires children move around the hut carefully, improving their spatial awareness.
Reed (Phragmites) Teepee
Built out of the common reed (phragmites), this tent is affectionately known by the children as an “invisible” place because it allows them to see out without being seen themselves. Unlike the mud hut, the reed teepee is permeable to wind and rain, thus enabling children to feel part of nature.
The small round entrance is an opportunity for children to explore a circle shape with all their senses, thus stimulating sensory integration. The teepee’s cone shape sometimes leads to imaginary rocket ship adventures, just one way in which this unit fosters creativity. Equip the teepee with natural materials like small wooden chairs, boxes of wood, pinecones or leaves, sand and water, to support roleplay. Since the teepee is transportable, allow children to be involved in deciding where to place it.
...are made of strong timber scaffolding and two independent wooden shelves. Children use these basic components to build a house, a store, a farm, etc. The shelves are 120 centimetres long and can be placed at any height, depending on what the children want to use them for. They can arrange pinecones, cups and saucers on the shelves, for example. Straw and buckets allow children to turn the module into a farm.
The module itself is square, the shelves rectangular, thus exposing the children to right-angled shapes. The concept of volume, and how to calculate it, can likewise be explored.
Straw Bale Garden
This group project takes the longest and provides an all-encompassing educational experience. Suitable for all age groups, children can plant and maintain their garden with very little adult guidance. From the planting of seeds to the tending of the plants, each stage of this project has its own learning outcomes. The size and shape of the straw bales teach children about geometry, as they count corners and sides. The straw bales can be arranged to form any shape, such as a rectangle, square or triangle.
By designating different areas of the garden to different groups, multiple groups of children can plant seeds in the same garden at once. The project can then be continued throughout the year as, for example, children observe the plants grow. Tomatoes and zucchini are especially suitable for this. Saplings can be supported and measured by sticks. Children can then record the speed of growth and the plants’ height in a book. Even kindergarten students can create a graph!
Children also learn how to care for plants, how often and how much to water them, for example. They learn how to pay attention to weather conditions and adjust their watering accordingly.
Be sure to prepare children for potential problems, such as snails. Rather than a cause for disappointment, however, this is an opportunity for problem solving.
Finally, children can harvest the vegetables, weigh them and prepare them for consumption. These activities offer opportunities for teamwork, as well as further practical mathematical applications. What could be more delicious than a vegetable soup made with vegetables that children planted, grew and harvested themselves?
Toys Made of Natural Materials
When a child creates his or her own toy using natural materials, or indeed creates anything using raw materials, the child experiences a sense of accomplishment. Moreover, that toy gains a special importance for the child. Each of the projects described below is made at least partially if not completely by children.
The Importance of Play in Child Development
The five components of the INA Pedagogy Project described above each provide children age appropriate opportunities for various types of creative play.
Children need to engage in both solitary and cooperative play, and require only a minimal amount of adult guidance. Adult intervention is only necessary when safety is an issue, for instance if children are throwing wooden blocks at each other, not following rules, or if there is bullying taking place. Normally, children should plan and manage their own play; with roleplay, for example, children will usually share roles (mother, father, doctor, patient, etc.), often switching roles or even games spontaneously. This will vary depending on the children’s dynamics.
Sometimes an educator will need to guide children, and taking on a role themselves can be a great way to do this. Suggesting a change in a particular child’s behaviour if necessary can be more effectively done if the teacher has themselves joined the game.
Within the framework of the INA Pedagogy Project, children will improve in the following developmental areas:
Social and Emotional Development
Play provides an opportunity to express various positive and negative emotions, including anger, anxiety and happiness. As children of different age groups interact, they learn from each other; they will experience being both helper and helped. Choosing and sharing roles encourages children to discover themselves, to improve themselves. They develop an understanding of the effects of their attitudes and behaviour on others. Finally, play is an opportunity to improve self-confidence.
Verbal Development and Self-expression
A child’s natural curiosity and willingness are conducive to language development. Words and sounds are imitated during roleplay, a key factor in the development of vocabulary and grammar. Integrating new materials such as a bucket or ceramic objects into a child’s play will enhance vocabulary, as will a new child joining in the game. As children fold, glue, paint and tie knots, different materials (wood, stones, sticks, leaves, pinecones, a wheelbarrow, buckets, etc.) will deepen their knowledge and understanding.
A child’s ability to learn a foreign language likewise increases through the use of new items.
Play also contributes to important pre-writing skills when children for example write notes or label items. Mathematical vocabulary likewise increases as they discuss size, ratio, weight, volume and length. A simple scale or a ruler will get them talking about grams, kilograms and centimetres. Other cognitive functions learned through play include sequencing, comparing, grouping and reordering.
At the same time, a child’s choice of words is telling and an attentive educator can gain important insight into a child’s personality and attitude by watching children play. We should also keep in mind that children can communicate nonverbally. Young children may start a game and carry on playing together for a long time without ever using any words. Looks and gestures are their most important communication tools in these situations, and help children develop empathy, necessary for friendships, and sensory integration, which will be discussed below.
I would like to emphasize the importance of the development of the seven senses in preschool, kindergarten, and primary school children because I believe that this process should be supported. Well-developed senses and the ability to integrate them improves a child’s perception and thus ability to learn. Each child’s abilities to perceive and interpret vary, but all children develop by using their different senses.
The seven senses are:
• Sight – (eyes)
• Smell – (nose)
• Hearing (ears)
• Touch – (physical contact)
• Taste (tongue)
• Perception of and ability to move the body (proprioception)
• Balance (the vestibular system)
The INA Pedagogy Project stimulates these seven senses, thereby encouraging their development. Being outdoors challenges each child’s ability to move and balance on uneven surfaces (for example in a muddy or dry field, on small hills). The natural materials used in the five components of the INA Pedagogy Project stimulate the senses of touch and smell.
As Montaigne wrote in 1580, “...The real problem arises when we try to teach the same subjects with the same teaching methods to a child who has a variety of abilities... When we do not choose the right method for a particular child, teach him in a way that does not fit him, and ask him to learn, it is just a waste of time.”
(Montaigne, French philosopher, 1580, 2012, p 8)
I would like to thank, with all my heart, the families that have been a part of my kindergarten for 34 years, who have accompanied me on this journey; my partner and co-workers, who have supported this project; and my husband and children, who have supported me on my own learning journey.
I would not have been able to complete this project without you.