Knowing it in our Bones: Outdoor and Nature Play for Children and Adults

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. The Rhythm of Learning in Nature is a professional knowledge retreat held every summer at beautiful Swan Lake in York Region, Ontario. It is an intensive six days of connectiveness to nature and is designed for adults and children. As the children play in the meadow and the forest, the adults gather outside to learn and explore within this magnificent place. This year we had the honour of featuring Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning, author of Dirty Teaching and Messy Maths as our special guest facilitator. Juliet refers to “People, Place and Pedagogy” in relationship to time. With six days together, Rhythm attendees had the time to explore place and pedagogy. Spending so much time outdoors, supported knowing in our bones that as educators, it is our responsibility to increase the access that children have to outdoor and nature play.

Juliet at Swan

To know something in your bones is an idiom that refers to feeling something intuitively. For early childhood educators to support outdoor play they need to feel the power of nature for themselves. With childhood increasingly becoming an indoor culture, children have less access to outdoor play and freedom to explore. Despite research that clearly articulates how outdoor play has the potential to influence children’s development, including contributing to fostering values, attitudes, skills, and behaviours towards themselves, others, and their environment, many early learning programs are finding it difficult to provide intriguing and stimulating outdoor opportunities for children. As Juliet says, there is one childhood and one chance. When we know it in our bones we value outdoor and nature play, we see the benefits and will provide children with the necessary experiences. During the course of the week we had time to build relationships that became even more meaningful because of our shared outdoor adventures and deep experiences of connectiveness. We all felt gratitude and profound emotion to have Hopi Martin share the indigenous perspective that connected to the land, our hearts and our beings.

In the forest with Hopi

Pedagogy came into play as the method and practice of teaching because learning maths took place outside with simple, accessible and natural materials. Juliet’s approach to encouraging our mathematical thinking and understanding was playful and meaningful. By the end of our time together we knew to approach early childhood maths with children in the same ways.

Rhythm of Learning - Knowing in our Bones

In our closing circle with Hopi at the end of week he asked each of the participants to describe what land knows us and I spoke of Swan Lake as it is in this place that a dream was born and it has become part of me and now part of my neighbourhood having moved to within walking distance to this place a few years ago.

Swan Lake

One of the new attendees, Donna also had her two young daughters in the concurrent forest school camp. Her documentation featured here helps to frame the experience that is our rhythm of learning in nature, a time when we know in our bones that our hearts, practice and future belong in nature.

In the Forest Page OneClay storytelling page twoWhat are the lessons Page threeRepresenting the Learning Page four

When children and adults came together for the week that was Rhythm2018 it was magical. I am grateful to Juliet, to Hopi, and to all the participants who shared in the week. Many are returnees having attended in past years. It is our hope that the new attendees will come back next year as we are already thinking ahead about people, pedagogy and place.

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