Learning in Wild Spaces

Learning in Wild Spaces

Thursday, 12 May 2016  | Wendy - Early Years Coordinator
Outdoor nature play for 5 year old children
Our motto for the MECS Kindergarten is ‘Full of Wonder’: to marvel at and wonder about the beautiful world that God has made. I am always amazed at how children see the details in life. Bugs, in particular, hold a fascination for young children like no other time in their lives! They dig relentlessly under logs, turn every stone until I’m quite convinced that there could not possibly be any slaters left in the garden, and then, low and behold a child has suddenly found another hiding spot with a plethora of tiny creeping things to marvel at. Children admire and proceed to care for their collected bugs; they study carefully all there is to know about them (see the learning: science, maths, oral language opportunities) and with the help of an educator they might even look them up on the internet with the iPad to find out more (more learning - gaining meaning from words). They might record what they see through an observational drawing. As the children assemble bits and pieces to ‘house’ the captured critters we adults make an argument for placing the bugs safely back into the garden at the end of the day, where the natural environment, built and sustained by God, will give the loved bugs the best chance for survival. Some do die in the process. The children become sad, and an opportunity for empathy for the small things in life can be had. We acknowledge that not all of what we see is perfect, and that not all is well with the world. In this process we hope to open up the idea that all of life belongs to God.

Recently the kinder staff have been looking into nature pedagogy - a nature practice that touches every aspect of children’s experience, as an opportunity to take a close up look at nature in its most natural setting. It is a continuation of our philosophy about how children learn: actively involved, creatively, capably and with their differing gifts and interests; from the indoor and outdoor kinder spaces and into a wild and natural space - space that is not tidied up, cleaned or prepared with static equipment and mulch underneath, rather, a place where children negotiate the environment, are actively involved and are ignited and engaged in God’s beauty all around them. Being and playing in such spaces has many benefits, including the building of confidence and resilience in children. MECS has many such spaces, especially natural bush areas, just waiting to be explored by little children.

Why promote outside learning for children? There are many current theories on bush kinder and children in wild spaces, emerging in the field of early childhood education. However, interest in outdoor preschools has been growing for decades. The concept took shape in the 1950s in Sweden and Denmark; in Germany in 1968, which is now home to hundreds of ‘forest kindergartens’; and more recently in the United Kingdom. In these schools, children spend almost all of their preschool day outdoors. At MECS kinder our multi-faceted approach aims to include some regular visits to the natural bushland on MECS property.

Here are 5 reasons why children should spend ample time out of doors, in natural settings, researched and articulated by Sally Haughey from ‘Fairy Dust Teaching’ (2016)

1. It improves academic achievement. The nurturing of the senses is the foundation of cognitive development. The outdoors provides a direct experience with ideas such as lifecycle, weather, weight and more.  Research has shown children who are given plenty of time outdoors score higher on standardized testing in math, reading and writing. It takes learning to a multi-sensory level – touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight.  It is the ultimate laboratory for testing theories and ideas.

2. The raw materials of nature ignite the creativity and imagination of children. Loose parts in the outdoor space provide endless opportunities for creativity, inventions, experiments, and resourcefulness. Studies have shown that children engage in more creative forms of play when outside. It is inquiry-based learning in a natural setting. But more than that – it offers up a blank canvas of natural materials – willing to become anything.

3. It increases appreciation & respect for nature.  Exposure to the natural world builds a sense of wonder for the beauty of life. Learning outside gives children the opportunity to witness the interdependence of animals, plants and humans.  

4. It improves health and well-being. Outdoor play helps to form a life long health disposition. Outdoor play encourages the development of active movement. For healthy reflex development children need spaces to move both up and down and to explore their own capacities to move. A rich outdoor space provides endless potential for developing the complex neutral pathways built only in the rigor of healthy play.

5. It improves behavior and social interactions. Ample time outside has proven to reduce challenging behaviors. Interestingly, the more children are given time outside the less challenging behaviors occur. Children are better able to cooperate and problem-solve social conflicts. Additionally, time outside simply helps to reduce stress. 

We want children to delight and wonder in life around them. We are laying a foundation for a love for God’s natural order in the world, an affinity for being in nature, and developing an observation sense that will serve them throughout their lives. Psalm 19 declares that the creation is speaking God’s story every day.  As the children explore and learn at kinder, we are able to share these truths and promises together and discover more of the greatness and goodness of our Father God who loves us so much.

God’s splendour is a tale that is told,
His testament in the stars; speaking His story every day from the zodiac of the heavens.
His truth is on tour in the starry-vault of the sky; showing His skill in creation’s craftsmanship.
Each day echoes its secret to the next; night with night sharing its revelation knowledge.
Without a sound, without a word; without a voice being heard, yet all the world can see its story,
Everywhere the revelation report
Is clearly read
So all can know.


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