The immediate locality around the nursery is a remarkable resource that is unfortunately rarely tapped by most early years settings – even though many Childminders routinely take the children they care for out and about.
This wonderful project in Stoke should inspire and motivate practitioners to notice just how much there is of value for young children of all ages – this is the world that children are primed to be interested in and driven to find out about. This week’s blog by Caroline Eaton’s shares some extracts from the extensive project resources that can be found on Early Education’s website at https://www.early-education.org.uk/exploring-the-wider-world – very much worth a look!
Stokes’ Exploring the Wider World Project by Caroline Eaton
The Exploring the Wider World Project, funded as part of the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area, has been planned and delivered by Early Education. It has offered fully funded training and support to all private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings in Stoke-on-Trent, empowering settings to give children wider experiences of the world around them.
The aim of the project is to enable participants to make the most of what is on their doorstep in terms of heritage, culture and community. The direction of the project has been dictated by three key factors:
- a deep understanding of how young children learn best,
- developing sustainability for practice, and
- drawing on the rich cultural capital that is on offer in the locality.
Young children learn best through first-hand experiences in contexts that are meaningful and familiar to them. It is sometimes useful to think about concentric circles radiating out from the centre, with the child and their family being in the centre. For the context of this project, the closer the circle the more meaningful it will be to the child with experiences being based in environments that are familiar and local, building up as they grow, develop, and mature to destinations that are further afield. Time passes differently for young children and long journeys can be challenging for them as well as for the adults who are taking them out. This does not need to limit the child’s life experiences in any way: instead, ensuring that both the journeys and destinations are developmentally appropriate, and offer a rich variety of learning opportunities, help to maximise the educative potential of such activities.
There is a truly rich heritage in Stoke to explore: the varied architecture both modern and old, the regeneration work, the communal works of art, the number of museums, the canal, the factories, the public open spaces, and the differences across the 6 towns all lend themselves to providing exciting and stimulating places for young children, their families, and carers to explore without having the challenge of long journeys. If children feel rooted in their present environment, they will branch out and take opportunities later on when a greater distance is more appropriate. To ensure sustainability, making use of what is available locally with little or no cost has been a priority, so that the children will enjoy greater learning opportunities beyond the lifespan of the project to leave a true legacy.
By offering experiences that children and families may not have had the chance to do before, they may be more likely to visit that place again or go somewhere else which offers a similar experience. An example of this is where a setting arranged to meet their families at the Potteries Museum and Art gallery. They arranged to meet there so that the children could be accompanied by the families, and the visit then became the focus. None of the families had been to this museum before as they felt it wasn’t appropriate for them. The children and families focused this visit on looking at the works of art as they were going to hold their own exhibition as part of the end of year festivities. After the visit, all of the families reported that they now felt more confident to take their children there and that they would explore the other exhibits as well. They also felt that the exhibition that was put on later on in the term for the families at the setting was very like the experience that they had already had, and the families confidently talked about the similarities. Had this experience been offered further away families may have thought differently about attending and following up with further visits. The Experiences menu has been designed to support this – for example, whilst many children will have heard recorded music both at home and in the setting, they may never have heard a live performance by a tuned instrument, and this provides opportunities to enhance their lived experience in their locality.
Benefits of using the local environment – Building and supporting a local community
Using the local environment enables children to develop a sense of belonging to the local community. It helps them to develop a sense of place which in turn will develop their feelings of security, and “strong bonds to a particular place endure” (Hay, 1998 in Jack, 2010). Through developing this sense of place, it leads to having a pride in their local community. As MacIntyre (2007) says, “place marks us all and leaves its traces”.
By developing a sense of place, children can begin to take some responsibility for looking after certain aspects of it. They can be included in problem solving and to learn about environmental issues in meaningful situations. By having repeated visits to the same place they can begin to identify features that change over time as well as those that remain the same. For example, a deciduous tree will alter as the seasons progress over time, however an evergreen tree will more or less remain the same. The built environment provides many opportunities to think about the different professions people are involved with.
Children learn best through first-hand experiences and going out into the local environment, or even further afield, enables children to explore and experience the different features found locally to them. Using these first-hand experiences enables children to develop a deeper comprehension of the Understanding the World Area of Learning, particularly People and Communities and The World.
Stoke, like many places, has a richness of geographical features from the canals, factories both old and new, to open spaces. It is this richness that provides so many different opportunities for learning outside the setting. Using these spaces with interested and motivated adults will enable children to ‘catch’ the interest and gain a sense of ownership of being part of the local environment, and a pride in their locality.
Benefits of walking – Walking offers countless learning opportunities as well as physical benefits.
Walking is a great way to stay active for people for all ages. Particularly for children, walking is:
- Fun and interesting. You get to notice things along the way and meet people in your neighbourhood.
- Sociable. Children love walking with their friends, especially on the journey to school.
- Makes them feel good. The exercise makes them feel calmer and happier and it improves their concentration, making it easier to focus on what is interesting them or the experiences that are being offered to them.
- Promotes independence and freedom. Children can make more decisions about their journey than they can in the car. They can choose to stop and look at something along the way and they can start to make decisions about road safety. For older children, walking independently offers some time to themselves.
- Health benefits. It helps keep you and your children stay healthy in mind as well as body, helping to boost your mood and self-esteem. What’s more, it has been suggested that children who walk and cycle are more alert and ready to learn than those who arrive by car.
Walking enables children to look and explore as they move through the environment. It is often the smallest of things that attract the child’s attention: the curb provides huge possibilities as do the drains, leaves, and stones, which are often labelled as treasure. Opportunities for spontaneous learning and awe can crop up whilst walking. My son used to regularly get to push the buttons on the bin lorry if we were walking along the road at the right time as he had developed a rapport with the bin men, which would then translate into role-playing when we got back home. This consisted of filling the sofa with a range of rubbish and then driving it to the tip. Walking the same routes on several occasions aids the child to map their area and work out how one place connects with another, and gain a greater affinity with the world around them.
Hay, R. (1998) Sense of place in developmental context. Journal of Environmental Psychology 18 pp5-29
Jack, G. (2010) Place Matters: The significance of place attachments for children’s wellbeing. British Journal of Social work 40 (3) pp755-771
Macintyre, B. (2007) “Are you hefted? If not, that’s a pity”: The importance of a sense of place’, available online at www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/jan2007/sheep.html