Today our guest blog post is from Dr Anne Meade, who is one of Storypark’s advisors and an inspiration to educators across New Zealand and beyond.
I grew up in the Wairarapa. My parents and extended family on both sides were farmers and, therefore agricultural researchers. I still have my grandfather’s daily diaries that are filled with weather and soil data. I still remember extended-family dinner-table discussions planning their next farming experiment.
We moved to a country town after my father died. When I go back to Masterton strong memories come rushing back of weekends spent biking with a primary school friend investigating paths, bush and river beds within a 10-km radius of home. One thing that everyone my age remembers is spending long hours outdoors without supervision. Vicky and I gave all sorts of thing a go—including lighting fires on riverbeds and cooking a sausage sizzle on exploding rocks! Our experimental research taught us risk mitigation!
When I grew up, I became an early years teacher with a research ‘bent’. For two decades, I became an educational researcher at NZCER, at Victoria University of Wellington and with ECE centres of innovation. I loved to combine teaching and research—I still do. Hence, my enduring interest in Reggio Emilia pedagogy. One of the mandated principles for teachers in Reggio Emilia states:
Educational research represents one of the essential dimensions of life of children and adults alike, a knowledge-building tension that must be recognised and valued. Shared research between adults and children must be a priority practice of everyday life, an existential and ethical approach necessary for interpreting the complexity of the world.
The research made visible by means of documentation builds learning, … underlies professional quality.
(Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, 2010)
Aha; ‘existential’ relates to human existence and personal experience. The knowledge-building research I did via personal experiences as a child is the sort of approach to research for education that Reggio leaders value. Why? “Positive prospects for children’s futures”, in Reggio Emilia, Italy and the world is the ambitious aim of the Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres in the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Adults in Reggio Emilia champion the rights to positive well-being and learning of both children and adults. And they communicate their research-imbued practices in powerful ways through thoughtfully-designed documentation.
Because they take “an existential and ethical approach”, important dimensions in the life of children and adults in Reggio Emilia ECE settings are outdoor experiences and conversations with adults and other children about nature, about the planet earth. Check out Reggio Emilia documentation from their 2015 progettazione exploring children’s thoughts, questions, dialogues on the natural world, on the planet: www.messaggiplanetari.com
In Aotearoa New Zealand, increasing numbers of kaiako are ‘walking this talk’ too, taking early learning outside of classrooms and making it possible for tamariki to personally experience bush and farmland environments to widen and deepen their relationships with places and things. Some early learning services in cities are making an extraordinary commitment to do this. At Daisies, our family-owned centre in Wellington, six infants or eight toddlers and young children get a turn every week to go into outdoor spaces in the community, typically into bush and streams. Lately, they’ve been climbing Tarikaka Maunga (mountain). We count ourselves extremely fortunate to have Storypark document this impressive display of children’s physical and mental effort—look for Daisies on Storypark on YouTube.
Daisies kaiako find Reggio Emilia approaches are very relevant when in the bush and streams or up Tarikaka Maunga with children—education in outdoor environments opens “intelligences that … develop ideas and creativity, dialogue and cooperation, research and experimentation” (Reggio Children, 2013, p. 5).
As is the case in Reggio Emilia, Daisies kaiako and whānau value the processes of learning highly.
When researching in wilderness environments, the typical routines and constraints of being in a centre seldom apply. (We all remember to stay safe and be adequately fed and hydrated.) There are infinite possibilities presented by nature. Our tools are our human senses and some bird and botanic information sheets, clipboards paper and pens, and magnifying glasses. There is joint adult-child exploration and discussion of topics, involving individual and group speculation and wondering—features of Reggio pedagogy.
Yes, plans are made. They can be small or large. Here’s some examples of larger plans from Daisies Nature Explore excursions since 2012. Currently, we have a life-worthy plan to become kaitiaki (guardians) of Papatūānuku (the earth) on ‘our’ mountain and in the community. Some plans are to do with ambitious physical goals (to clamber up the mountain stream to find its source, or to climb to the top of ‘our’ mountain, the tallest in our city). Some involve science explorations, such as, ‘What makes the wind, what moves the air?’
Plans for a day are often small, such as after rain, the tamariki spotted a worm and wanted to research how it would get across the wet path and back home. There is a back-story to this, as we have a worm farm at Daisies and tamariki are very caring of worms. Another day in the bush, tamariki enjoyed listening to a tui singing in the bush and asked how to attract tui to the garden in the centre. That expanded into some action research about what different birds eat and then building a bird feeder in our garden to put sweet treats on for tui. On a misty day, two girls used their creative minds and imagined fairies playing inside the low clouds—they became quite poetic.
The principles for education projects in Reggio Emilia settings includes a principle focused on the environments and spaces. The value of environments is that they “foster interaction, autonomy, explorations, curiosity and communication, and are offered as places for the children and the adults to research and live together”. This value is realised in natural environments. Daisies parents who participate with kaiako and tamariki in the bush, and then again as a family at the weekends, demonstrate their belief that this is so.
In this blog, I have only touched on the value of Reggio inspired pedagogy and research as it applies to Nature Explore programmes in Daisies and other early learning services in New Zealand. Connecting what we do with ideas from Reggio Emilia has added inspiration to the Daisies community. Those encounters have enriched everyone’s learning and creativity, and strengthened our shared commitment to the rights of children and their whānau to develop holistically through enjoying a rich and harmonious life outdoors as well as within the centre.
About the author
Dr Anne Meade
Anne has focused on early childhood education for most of her career spanning over 40 years, as a teacher of young children, a researcher, lecturer, author, and policy developer. Many teachers say Anne is the reason they got into teaching. See more from Anne here: ‘Imagine a classroom without walls’.