• Clair - Elements

Koru bush School - 18th May 2013

Updated: May 27, 2019

Over the weeks I have referred to different theories, documents and research in this blog. This week I have been reflecting on some of the learning theories that underpin the bush school philosophy and how I have used them to understand and support children's development within the sessions. I would like to share some examples of these theories in action throughout today's session, particularly the theories of constructivism and experiential education. These focus largely on real life, hands on experiences where learners build on past knowledge in social environments. They are supported in different ways by theorists including John Dewey, Jerome Bruner and and Ferre Laevers all of whom advocate learning environments which motivate and engage, which of course the bush does. Here is our morning through their eyes...

As usual our morning began with a welcome song and group discussion about where to go and what to do. The children recalled the places we had visited previously and decided on the 'Taniwha Tree' as our first destination. Henry boldly volunteered to lead and after a further discussion about bush school safety we set off. I really enjoy this part of the session and am so pleased with the way the children are able to take charge of the decision making.

"Giving autonomy means: respecting the children’s initiative, acknowledging their interests, giving them room for experimentation, letting them decide upon the way an activity is performed and letting them participate in the setting of rules" Ferre Laevers

The the path to the Taniwha Tree was noticeably wetter than it has been in previous weeks due to the huge volumes of rain we have experienced recently. This was commented on with delight by the children as we splashed along. 

Jade couldn't resist the power of the puddle and jumped straight in, quickly followed by Renee and I!

On our arrival at the Taniwha Tree it was decided by an almost unanimous decision that we should continue on further into the bush. As the children are becoming more aware of their decision making powers they are also becoming more familiar with the democratic process we go through when not everyone agrees. I encourage children to voice their opinions as well as listening to and concidering those of their friends. This open communication is key to our learning environment.

"Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful" John Dewey

As we left the Taniwha Tree we headed towards the first of the day's physical challenges - the handrail slope. This steep section of land has become delightfully muddy since our last visit and therefore also very slippery! We have traversed the slope many times before but usually in the uphill direction so the combination of the slippery mud and a fairly steep decline made for a tricky but rewarding task. It is my belief that children will get the most reward from completing tasks like this if they do so as independently as possible whilst still still feeling safe and supported. With this policy in mind tried to keep my input to a minimum and allow the children to coach each other as they made their way down the slope.

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey

As we reached the bottom of the hill, faces beaming with achievement, we met the next focus of our session: the stream. The once dry riverbed now has a gentle stream flowing through it and although still no more than calf deep it stirred many thought and questions in the minds of the children. Before we could explore it further we had to cross it via the 'Skinny Bridge' and task that is well practiced to most of the children by now.

As we continued along the path the lure of the stream was inescapable for most of us with the roar of tiny waterfalls stopping us in our tracks on more than once. Just as our stomachs began to rumble we found one more little cascade and decided to take the chance to enjoy a well-earned snack by the water.

Thoughts and questions were bubbling more than the water in the stream!

"Can I touch the bubbles?" Jade

"Will this stick float?" Isabelle

"What happens if I put this (twig) in the waterfall?" Henry

After testing the outcomes of putting sticks into the water at different points of flow some of us decided to have a leaf race. We quickly discovered that all things do not float equally as Henry's leaf slowly lingered at the water's edge and Renee's whizzed off towards the waterfall. This created a wonderful dialouge between the children and they shared their thoughts about what was happening and why. 

"Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes." John Dewey

As we were discussing the speed and direction of the water flow Jade came over to show us the outcome of her own investigation.

"Look I've caught these bubbles on the end of my stick!" Jade

"Learners are encouraged to discover facts and relationships for themselves."

Jerome Bruner

“Interest in the material is the best stimulus to learning, rather than such external goals as grades or later competitive advantage.” Jerome Bruner

Most bush school sessions wouldn't be complete without a visit to our favourite spot, the Jumping River, and that is where we headed next. Of course the first reaction on arrival was to throw down bags and head for the 'Mountain Slope' for a couple of rounds of climbing and sliding, even more fun now that the slope has become so muddy. This task completed, and muddy from head to toe, the focus once more settled around the water. Once again brains were ticking.

"How deep is it?" Troy

"Interesting question. How could we find out?" Clair

"We could use a stick" Jade

So a suitable stick was found and we all began to congregate around the water's edge.

"The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think -- rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men" John Dewey

As the investigation evolved Jade decided to test the water's depth by putting her feet in the water. She was delighted to be able to touch the bottom without getting her feet wet.

"It's really shallow here!" Jade

"I want to touch the bottom" Renee

After a comparison in boot lengths it was noted that Renee's gumboots were much shorter than Jade's. Renee gingerly lowered her feet into the water and to her relief her feet also remained dry, but not for long! After experiencing the joys of the water flowing outside their gumboots the girls wanted to feel the sensation on their bare skin. Quickly socks and boots were off and bare feet were plunged into the shallow water. The smiles on their faces said it all!

“Scientific principles and laws do not lie on the surface of nature. They are hidden, and must be wrested from nature by an active and elaborate technique of inquiry. ”

John Dewey

As the children returned their soggy feet to their gumboots and picked up their backpacks we set off back to the meeting field. This part of the session is a wonderful time to reflect on the experiences of the morning and share them with the group. Sometimes we say thank you to Tane, sometimes we thank the bush and sometimes we just say today I loved... As the weeks go on this is something I hope to explore more deeply.

"Thank you bush for letting us walk on your ground." Jade

"Thank you for the puddles." Renee

"Thank you Tane for the slope." Henry

These periods of reflection, combined with a dialouge of questioning throughout the session, are so valuable to the learning process.

"We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience."

John Dewey

"For experiential education to become efficient pedagogy, physical experience must be combined with reflection" E. Howden

As you can hopefully see today was another busy, enlightening and rewarding day in the bush full of adventure and discovery. Thank you to Dan and Simon for coming along to join the fun today. I look forward to seeing you all again on 1st June.

Nga mihi nui.


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