by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant
We would probably all agree that our own deepest learning experiences are those in which our curiosity leads us to the subject. When the drive to learn comes from within, learning can be exciting and focused. Curiosity-based learning is vital for children, too. If the young child’s innate love of learning is to be strengthened over time, her curiosity must be respected, and nourished. Fortunately, nature provides endless materials and phenomena to attract the young child’s curiosity. When young children play in a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom they learn close observation skills that engage their curiosity daily.
Last year, children at the Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, noticed seeds fallen from a lion’s tail plant. They asked teachers if they could plant them. Could this have happened in a more traditional preschool with the typical playground? Possibly. But Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms engage children with nature in ways that typical playgrounds don’t. At the Fredrickson Early Childhood Center, nature is integral to the curriculum, and curiosity-based learning is a part of the culture. Preschool-aged children are likely to notice the seeds, know what they are, and ask teachers if they can plant them.
The children’s curiosity evolved into a project. Seeds were planted both inside and out. Observations were made at all stages of the plants’ growth, with documentation in journals. Excitement grew along with the plants as each stage of growth unfolded.
Added to the fun of close observation was the position in which much of it took place- lying down. Many of the indoor seeds had been planted in a sand and water table that has a transparent bottom. What better way to learn about plant root systems than by lying down underneath the table and sharing observations and theories with friends?
Because the children’s own curiosity initiated the project, because teachers made time in the schedule to follow this interest, and because of the school’s commitment to a nature-based curriculum, this simple request grew into a memorable learning experience. The next year, children involved in the project proudly pointed to the lion’s tails they had planted outside, reminding everyone that they had planted the seeds.
More seeds than those of the lion’s tails were planted last year. Child-initiated, curiosity-based learning in nature ensured that seeds of self-confident learning, and love of nature, are also taking root.