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Modelling Care and Respect for the Natural world with Young Learners

Understanding what children are asking is key to consider what information will be passed on and is equally important to why they want to know. This data can guide educators about children’s interests and how this might be included in future play.

Written by: Joanne Harris  

Young children are renowned for asking some curly questions of the adults in their world. Oblivious to the discomfort this may cause, their intentions are genuinely innocent. Finding the right way to address questions to give children accurate and truthful answers is a delicate balancing act.

Understanding what children are asking is key to consider what information will be passed on and is equally important to why they want to know. This data can guide educators about children’s interests and needs and how this might be included in future planned activities and experiences.

Questions that focus on challenging topics such as evolution, reproduction ageing, body functions, and death are often best addressed by breaking them down into smaller topics which, when possible can be explored through children’s own investigations. 

Nature provides nuggets of information (when we are open to receiving them)

Learning outdoors and in nature is possibly one of the most joyful parts of being a child. Being present to the elements, the focus is often on getting dirty, wet, or sweaty to the point that they only stop when they are overheated, hungry, or thirsty!

Running or rushing around to discover where the excitement is, children are driven by what is new or novel to them. Even when we as adults try to encourage them to take their time, the best teacher can only be through lived experience.

Allowing children to have the space and time to explore freely is vital to developing their own regulation skills. The example of animals and creatures in the natural world can teach them how to recognise their physiological needs to keep them comfortable and safe. 

Children may resonate more with these messages when they are invited to relate to characters that actively teach them at the same time without any pressure to do so.

Creating Living Play Spaces Invite Children to Learn Through Care

Reading a large book such as Bree Becomes A Butterfly before heading outside to explore nature can give children a focus on looking for butterflies and the places they might find them in various stages of their life cycles.

Setting children up with resources that support their investigation provides ideas for how they could learn to become interested in protecting themselves by co-existing in harmony with their environment.

Learning about their structure could be assisted by playing the Build A Butterfly Game which helps to consider other questions as to how they live in nature. Comparisons can be made by observing how humans are similar or different by completing a Skeleton Puzzle or examining an X-ray on a light panel.

Further exploration is possible by adding Tactile Bug Stones to a playdoh activity to make prints of their patterns or creating a crayon rubbing with them by placing them over the top. Closer inspection may lead to children’s further investigation in the outdoor environment.

Support the shared connections between all living beings

Arranging the role play area to become a hospital is an open invitation for discussion about all living beings. Setting up a doll bed for dolls and teddies to become patients can generate interest and conversations about health and well-being. Adding vests and medical kits as well as clipboards, paper, and pencils may help to extend the dramatic play opportunities for children to explore or even reenact their experiences with hospitals, vets,  and more.

Changing the function of the kitchen sink to become a basin for the Doctor’s surgery or Vet Clinic encourages conversation and role modelling of healthy hygiene practices. Using a cupboard or a dresser could be repurposed to contain items from the doctor’s kit such as bandages, a stethoscope, or pretend medicine.

A Vet/Animal Hospital could be set up by adding animal puppets that are treated by the children utilising the same pieces for similar functions.

Learning from the Inside Out

Hospital role play can encourage children to work through any fears or questions they may have about doctors and health care. There are opportunities to learn how tools are used to check body temperature and heart rates, leading to more interest and understanding about how our bodies work, and how we can care for our health in meaningful ways. Children may have experiences from their own lives or those of family members that they could share with their peers.

There are potential opportunities to further explore food nutrition and health by extending or changing the role play area to set up a shop or supermarket with a range of healthy food to cook and eat, leading to how this supports overall health and well-being.


Examining Our own Beliefs is Crucial

For adults, it can be important to examine their beliefs and theories to remain as impartial as possible so that children can be free to determine their own without any unintended bias.

Learning how to be a child has its own set of challenges as they are surrounded by others who are already experienced in forming their own belief systems.

Modelling care and respect for the natural world is vital to allow children to learn and form personal opinions, and perhaps more importantly how to be flexible in their learning to include compassion and care for others.

Giving children a voice to express themselves is important in affording others the same opportunities in respectful ways.

Purposefully highlighting links that encourage humanity to coexist in peace and harmony can be created through everyday conversation. Although defining life's ‘meaning’ and mysteries is near impossible as it is intangible, helping children see the relationships between humans and animals is an important first step.

For more ideas and information about creating play spaces that promote identity in children’s learning, please visit Educator Resources Page


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