Using the outdoors to foster academic goals

Ruth Wilson writes:

“The term ‘academic’ is often associated with traditional subject areas taught in a formal school setting, such as reading, mathematics, science and social studies. Related goals can include desired learning outcomes in the areas of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. The main focus of academic learning, however, tends to be on knowledge and skills – with a great deal of emphasis on the cognitive domain. Academic goals are sometimes differentiated from developmental goals, which are more holistic in nature – emphasizing all the developmental domains (physical, emotional, social, cognitive, etc.).
Some early childhood educators may question the appropriateness of academic goals for children under the age of five. They may ask, ‘Are academic goals and standards compatible with best practices in early childhood education?’ Just asking this question is likely to arouse a strong emotional response from many teachers of young children. It has certainly generated confusion and apprehension in the early childhood community.
Talking about academic goals for young children raises the fear of imposing curriculum on young children that is not appropriate for their level of development and can lead to lasting harm.” (p.71)

“Early learning standards should never be strictly academic – that is, limited to traditional content areas associated with schooling. Standards for young children should include social and emotional development, physical development, and approaches to learning. The expectations for children articulated in the standards or early learning goals should be age-appropriate, reflective of cultural differences, and flexible in the rate of acquisition of skills and knowledge (Gronlund 2006).” (p.73)

“‘Good’ early childhood practices… do support academic goals. In fact, teachers can look to carefully selected early learning standards and academic goals to make children’s play even ‘more ripe for learning’ (Gronlund 2006: 11). According to Gronlund, more purposeful and productive play results when teachers carefully plan the following:

  • the setup of the environment;
  • the kinds of materials that are available;
  • long periods of time for exploration;
  • how adults interact with children – i.e. more as facilitators than instructors.

“Gronlund (2006) suggests using two different approaches when planning and implementing standards-based curriculum: naturalistic and intentional. With the naturalistic approach, ‘standards are infused in all that goes on’ (Gronlund 2006: 11). This approach requires conscientious attention to what children are doing and familiarity with early learning standards. Using this approach, teachers identify what standards or goals are embedded in what children are doing as they play, explore, and experiment. They then observe and document what children are doing and learning as they play.
The intentional approach is more proactive. With this approach, teachers plan activities and materials that are directly related to specific early learning standards and goals.” (pp.73-74)

“A natural outdoor environment with opportunities for active engagement is ideal for fostering a wide variety of academic goals.” (p.74)  Wilson goes on to elaborate on some of these:

Wilson identifies the following goals (under the following headings) as achievable in a natural outdoor environment;
Literacy (able to follow instructions; show an interest in books; engage in early writing (scribbles, lines and shapes))
Mathematics (matching and categorizing; coutning; spatial awareness; measurement)
Science (scientific inquiry – i.e., “Children show curiosity by asking questions and seeking information. Young children are naturally curious. They tend to ask a lot of ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions and boldly set forth exploring and experimenting. If not thwarted by adults and limited opportunities, young children tend to spontaneously act as scientists without coaching from adults.” (p.77)) …also: children explore physical properties of materials, and become familiar with living things.
Social studies (social connections (“Children work together as a group to accomplish a common goal” (p.79)), basic economic concepts (by understanding some of the ways people earn a living), geographic awareness)
Art and Music (artistic expression,…)

She also gives guidelines as to how these goals might be met… but my current interest is more in the way this space is understood pedagogically.

Ref: Ruth Wilson (2012) Nature and Young Children: Encouraging creative play and learning in natural environments. Second edition. Routledge: London and New York.

Reference is to: Gronlund, G 2006 Make Early Learning Standards Come Alive. St paul, MN: Redleaf Press

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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