To adults a forest may seem as just a part of the environment, whereas to children it becomes a place of adventure where everything is possible. Children can develop freely in nature and are able to discover their personalities on their own. They can expand their creativity and use their imaginations to create their own play and learning styles along with the guidance of adults.
INA-Pedagogy project includes five components: Mud brick house, reed tent, wooden module, straw bale garden, and toys made of natural materials.
Mud Brick House
The atmosphere of the mud brick house encourages children to organize role play inside it. Children find themselves in a miniature world that they cannot see anywhere else with the soft light coming through the roof, the child size entrance, and its two square meter size in total. Even its smell gives positive effects and energy to the children as the earth, clay, and straw, absorb and eliminate negative energy.
The interior house is enough to be protected from wind and rain and children can spend time inside when they cannot find an opportunity to play outside. They can invent any kind of role play with natural materials like wooden chairs, packing cases, pine cones, wooden pieces, and leaves. This restricted small area also supports children to move carefully which improves spatial perception.
Common Reed (Phragmites) Tent
Common reed tent is an “invisible” place! Reed which is a natural material allows children look through to the outside from inside the tent. Yet it is almost impossible to see inside when standing on the outside. This natural material makes you feel the nature because it is rain and wind permeable.
Children can perceive the small entrance and its round shape as a “circle” with their all senses (sensory integration). Also, its construction that goes up in a cone shape makes you feel like you are in a real tent or a rocket. Even with not additional materials, children’s creativity improves with this tent. In order to support a role play, the tent could be equipped with natural materials like small wooden chair, wooden pieces in small packing cases, pine cones, and leaves. Every child would be interested in little boxes filled with sand and water. Since the tent is transportable children can decide where it would be placed with adults’ guidance.
...are made by strong wooden scaffolding and two independent wooden shelves. With these, children can build a house, a store, a farm, etc. by using their imagination and integrating role play to this area.
This module, which has a square shape and and rectangular shelves, exposes children to shapes that have four corners. Its 1x3m volume can be taught by playing within the wooden module. The wooden shelves that are 1.20 meters can be placed at any height into the wooden module and used by children easily. This wooden module gives children an opportunity for various role play ideas and turns out to be a place like a store for instance, with the appropriate materials like leaves, cups, and pine cones. This can also be turned out to a farm when it is equipped with straw and buckets for horses and cows.
Straw bale Garden
It is a long term and intensive educational group project to plan a straw bale garden, its planting process and care. All the age groups can join this project. Children can start seeds, care, and grow successfully in a straw bale garden with a short guidance of adults.
The sizes of straw bale inform children about corners of the shapes. Straw bale garden can be in any size such as a rectangle, a square or a triangle. One or more groups of children can start seeds and grow plants in this straw bale garden throughout the year.
For example, the growing process of plants can be observed easily by growing tomatoes and zucchini. Young plants can be supported and measured by sticks. Their growing speed and heights can be recorded in a book and they can even have a statistical table when they are only in kindergarten.
Plants need to be cared carefully. They need to be watered depending on weather conditions and their growing speed and also heavy vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini need to be tied so that they can grow. It is important that the educators should guide children depending on their age. Also possible failures should be let happen (snails) during growing plants and these should be kept in mind for the next planning process. Looking for solutions is an important component of the straw bale garden project.
Harvesting the vegetables, weighing them, and treating them are another step for a successful teamwork. It also offers opportunities for learning by living math (size, weight). What could be more delicious than a soup that is cooked with our own vegetables that we started the seeds, grew, and harvested throughout a plant project that all the senses integrated?
Toys Made of Natural Materials
When a child creates their own toy by using natural materials, through a project which allows them to use raw materials to create a finished project, they are filled with a sense accomplishment and the toy has a deeper value to them. All types listed below are completely or in part made by children.
These five components of the INA-Pedagogy Project give children the opportunity for various types of role play and creative play, such as playing family, store, hospital, and farm depending on the age of the children.
There are three important topics related to play and the theme of play:
Children engage in solitary and cooperative play at the same time with adult guidance. Adults’ intervention is necessary only when security is an issue (for instance if they throw wooden pieces to each other instead of carrying them all together, if they do not follow rules, or bullying others). They plan their own play and share the roles by changing them spontaneously. Sharing the roles like being a mother, father, sister, salesman, caretaker, doctor depends on children’s planning and changing dynamics.
An educator may guide children by taking initiation in the play. In this case, the educator may join the game with children and suggest a change in a child’s behaviour if it is needed. There will be an increase of awareness in the following developmental areas, in line with the INA-Pedagogy Project.
Social and Emotional Development
Children’s play gives opportunities for expressing all emotions and senses (managing/being managed, helping/asking for help, anger/anxiety/happiness and so on). Choosing and sharing the roles in a play encourage children to find and improve themselves. Children from different age groups find the opportunity to interact and learn from each other. Additionally, they develop an understanding of the effect their attitudes and behaviour has on others by observing themselves. Role play allows children to better understand their own identity and feelings, and is an opportunity to improve their self-confidence.
Verbal and Self-expression
All children are curious and willing to do something, which also serves as an opportunity for language development. Words and sounds are imitated in roleplay, which is significant in each child’s vocabulary and phonics development. Roleplay is mostly based on choosing words. Children’s vocabulary is enhanced by including properties and materials like bucket, stone, wood, ceramic or mosaics, and by new children joining the play. At the same time, the effect of child’s daily activities shows up in the words they choose to use. Thus, a careful educator may gain knowledge about a child’s personality and attitudes. Also, a child’s ability to learn native or foreign languages and vocabulary improves when they are learning with new materials and building something with those materials. They also develop their written expression by writing notes on the packages they make, producing plates and cups for house, folding, sticking, painting, and tying a knot. All of this knowledge becomes deeper depending on the material choice (wooden pieces, stones, sticks, leaves, pine cones, wheelbarrow, buckets, etc.) during play. At the same time, their mathematical vocabulary expands such as size, ratio, weight, volume, and length. They also have the opportunity to learn abilities like sequencing, comparison, grouping, and re-ordering. They may learn the concepts of gram and kilogram by using a simple scale or they may compare the length of materials by measuring with a ruler or meter.
We should keep in mind that children may communicate nonverbally. Young children may start a game and carry it on together for a long time without using any words. Looks, mimics, gestures are the most important communication tools in that sense. They develop sensory integration and empathy, which is necessary for having friends.
I would like to emphasize the importance of the development of the seven senses in preschool, kindergarten, and primary school children, and that I believe that these should be supported. If we do so, then we can improve our children’s ability to learn and perceive at every chance. Each child develops by using different senses depending on their ability to perceive and interpret.
• Sight – (eyes)
• Smell – (nose)
• Hear (ears)
• Touch – (physical contact)
• Taste (tongue)
• Ability to move
The INA-Pedagogy Project stimulates these seven senses and also encourages them to develop. It is an opportunity to challenge each child’s ability to move and balance because of uneven surfaces (muddy or dry fields, small hills, soft tree barks). The five components of the INA pedagogy: mud brick house, common reed (phragmites) tent, wooden module, straw bale garden, and toys made from natural materials give children the chance to be in contact with nature. Natural materials like pine cones, leaves, blocks, and sticks stimulate the sense of touch. Natural materials that are used like clay, straw, wood, reed, tree bark, and earth stimulate the sense of smell.
Lastly I would like to share Montaigne’s lines that he wrote in 1580:
“...The real problem is to teach same subjects with same teaching methods to a child who has a variety of abilities... When we do not choose the right way for children, teach them in a way that does not fit to them, and ask them to implement it, is just a waste of time.”
(Montaigne, French philosopher, 1580, 2012, s 8)
I would like to thank especially with all of my heart the families that accompanied me and my kindergarten for 34 years, my partner and co-workers that support this project, and my husband and children that support me in this way of my own pedagogic journey.
I would not have been able to realize this Project without you.
Nature-Education Pedagogue | January 2016