Koru Bush School - 1st June 2013
Today's session was a true testament to the power of free play and the potential of a stick. I have returned from our morning buzzing with the activities that unfolded in front of me which were all, as always, completely initiated by the children. Free play is integral to the bush school philosophy and the main focus of our sessions. It involves allowing the learner to engage in "freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated" activities for extended periods of time (Bob Hughes). Basically, good old fashioned play!
This morning's events have given me the perfect opportunity to demonstrate some of it's many benefits and how they are fostered by bush school sessions.
Play provides the ultimate curriculum for social, physical, and cognitive advancement. Secondly, by using materials, interactions with others, and mastery of tasks and skills to progress through levels of play, children develop a sense of control of their environment and a feeling of competence and enjoyment that they can learn.
Francis Wardle Ph.D.
Children learn through first-hand experiential activities with the serious business of ‘play’ providing the vehicle. Through their play children practise and consolidate their learning, play with ideas, experiment, take risks, solve problems, and make decisions… First-hand experiences allow children to develop an understanding of themselves and the world in which they live.
The session began as always with a welcome song and discussion about where to spend the morning. I added to the discussion with the option of visiting a new site and moments later the decision was unanimous - we were heading to the new site.
The short journey was regularly peppered with stops to marvel and ponder over the many wonders on show. Over the weeks the children have shown a strong interest in some the different fungi that have been popping up on the forest floor. With this in mind I downloaded an identification app on my phone and we had great fun trying to name some of the different varieties. The classification process is so appropriate for young children has it breaks such a tricky task into manageable steps. The children really enjoy finding out about each each species and whether they are safe or not. This information helps them to have safer experience in the bush too - knowledge is power!
As well as fungi there we many other treasures that caught our eyes. Isla noticed this big stick and immediately measured herself against it.
"This stick is taller than me!" Isla
Jade discovered this fascinating tree stump.
"This looks like a home. How did it get like that?" Jade
"Maybe somebody cutted it." Henry
On comparison with another tree stump nearby that had been cut the children reflected that it looked very different and maybe it had blown down.
On arrival at the new site the children quickly began to explore. To my delight the abundance of sticks and branches on offer quickly caught their imagination. As I have already mentioned I fully adopt the concept of free play in my bush school sessions, only providing tasks as provocation for further exploration. In this instance the only task I gave the children was to collect sticks for a 'fire square' we would make later in the session. With this in mind they were off.
Jade quickly found a beautiful piece of tree bark.
"Look! This can be a carrier for my collections" Jade
After further collecting, and inspired by the tree stump from earlier, an idea evolved.
"I want to make a palace." Jade
As she set to work the other children were busy with another creation.
"This is hard to carry!" Renee
"I'll help you" Henry
Soon all the children had joined the effort with an even bigger branch. This branch, which had already inspired unity among the group, would later prove to provoke their imaginations as well.
As tummies began to rumble we completed our square and each chose a seat around it to share our kai. I love this special time. Conversation flows, questions are shared and theories debated.
"The sky looks all white" Jade
"The sky isn't normally this colour" Troy
"Maybe it's the clouds" Henry
"It doesn't look like this very often here. The sky is this colour all the time in England!" Clair
"Maybe there is less air in England?" Jade
The formation of the square is a way to help the children develop the awareness they will need in future sessions where I hope to use fire. At the moment they are learning to walk carefully around the fire area and to sit a safe distance from the fire. I am already very confident that they will manage themselves brilliantly when the fire sessions begin.
After morning tea the magic continued. One tree became a fireman's pole, another became a seat for quiet reflection, then a 'balancing playground'. Jade
A while later Renee and Troy returned to the large branch from earlier and some beautiful imaginary play unfolded. A video clip of this is available on another post.
As the children continued to meander happily through different play scenarios Isla and her Dad discovered a wonderful natural den created from some fallen fern fronds. The other children quickly ran over and some ventured inside.
"Isla's hiding!" Renee
"Can you see me?" Isla
"It smells in there" Isabelle
Others were inspired to create their own hut on another part of the site.
"No, not those trees. Let's make our palace here. We can attach it to the playground." Jade
"Build, build, build. We need more silver ferns." Henry
Later the children enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
"I'm sitting here to get some shade" Isabelle
"Troy, come in the shelter with me" Renee
"We could have lunch in here" Troy
In today's session we have had cars, horses, palaces, playgrounds, musical instruments, huts, measuring sticks and fireman's poles. We have explored concepts of mathematics, physics, biology and geography. We have practiced teamwork, communication and developed reasoning skills. The children have continued their journey towards autonomy. Would all these things have been possible if I had planned and led the session myself in the traditional teacher role? I'm fairly sure the answer is no. Does that mean I have no responsibilities within the session? Of course not. Free play experiences require the the teacher to be a facilitator of learning, to help students construct meaning and understand and value the learning that is taking place.
"adults have a variety of critical roles in supporting children's play. These roles include providing materials that encourage high-quality play, structuring environments, modeling play, and introducing children to new play opportunities" Francis Wardle
"response to children and young people playing is based on sound up-to-date knowledge of the play process and reflective practice." Play Wales
By allowing the children to lead the learning not only can they take it at their own pace but they can also select the activities that engage them the most. Therefore providing the optimum conditions for learning.
"children self-diagnose what they know and what they can learn next"
Whilst at the same time developing the confidence to be independent.
"Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision." Dennis Waitley
Thank you to all the children who took part in today's session. You continue to amaze and inspire me! A huge thank you also to Isla's dad Euan for coming along to share the fun and to Minna's dad Mike for showing me this fabulous new site.
Happy bank holiday weekend!