The Environment and Senses

October 13, 2020
By
Jodie Davidson
&
Alison Benwood

THE ENVIRONMENT AND SENSES 

Case Study: Term 3 

School: Glencoe Primary School

Teacher: Alison Benwood & Debbie Hume

Year Group: Kindergarten 

Creative Practitioner: Jodie Davidson

Creative Practice: Visual Art

Main Curriculum Focus: Science and Sustainability  – Outcome 2 - Children are connected with and contribute to their world. Outcome 4 - Children are confident and involved learners. Outcome 5 - Children are effective communicators.

Cross-curricular Links: Senses and the Environment 


WHAT WE DID 

‘Do you know what your senses are?’ 

The accompanying blank stares became the starting point for two separate classes of 3/4-year olds to explore both themselves and the natural environment. Although sessions were run with each class on a fortnightly rotation, which sometimes made continuity difficult, it also provided space and tested memory recall for what activities the previous session had contained. The fortnightly warm up game of ‘Simon Says’ with both classes, developed into Sensory Creative Habits increasing in complexity with each session. Students pointed to ears, eyes, noses, mouths and fingers using verbs of looking, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling, becoming more aware of their personal sensory abilities, later expanding to include the senses of other living creatures through environmental observation. 

Using an outdoor classroom approach, weekly activities took place in smaller groups in an attempt to slow down. They hugged the trees to see if when they closed their eyes, they could feel them breathe. Gradually they became aware of the smells of cut grass and trees while they laid on the ground breathing in the differing scent of soils and sand. Detecting sounds of lawnmowers, birds and the wind, later led to searching and collecting gum leaves with bumps and small handfuls of the tiniest seed pods. This observation of the natural world allowed the children to watch magpies fly overhead, follow ants imagining where they might be going and waiting while a spider climbed a tree until it found a home under the bark. Spotting a nest at the top of the gum tree, they considered whether it belonged to the magpies or the honeyeaters and whether there were eggs. 

A suitcase placed in different spaces each week created an opportunity to invite curiosity and imagination what might be found within it but also to reconsider their suggestions and what the probability of them being correct was.


“A rabbit … a parrot … a cat?”
“No, because they wouldn’t be able to breathe.” 
“A pirate ship?”
“It wouldn’t fit.”
“But it could be broken down into pieces.” - Speculating students 


The intention was to bring the outdoors in and the indoors out. Some weeks, stations were set up outside with collections of found natural materials inspired by the sense of sight and touch. This led to conversations and experimentation through creativity. Children discovered patterns on seed pods, leaves and nuts, sometimes using magnifying glasses and then demonstrating persistence. They replicated them on paper in the form of mark making, printmaking methods of monoprint and observational and imaginative drawing. They counted, threaded and constructed mobiles that they held in the air, waiting for the sound of the wind to signify that they would move. Using a tub of water, they piled seeds of all shapes and sizes on top of each other watching to see whether they would float or sink. By varying activities each week with repetition of the same materials, their environmental awareness increased alongside the possibilities for creativity that could be replicated in their own home environment, by stepping outside of their back door.  

“They are really enjoying it and we want to continue to grow this style of learning in our school.” - Karl Palinkas (Principal)


The use of spaces outside of the classroom encouraged open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature, providing opportunities for knowledge-building within the natural environment. Moving beyond the instinctual use of the play area as a space with climbing frames, monkey bars and sandpits, activities were constructed to draw attention towards elements of nature that can be found beyond technology and specialised equipment. This allowed for alternate uses of play spaces that included plants, trees, sand, rocks, water and nature’s elements, both inside and outside the classroom.

“The children have benefited from an abundance of real life experiences and a connection to nature. This is something that some of them don't experience at home. In Kindy, every person they meet and every experience helps the children to develop and become more rounded humans. Although you won’t always see the progress you can be sure that the experience is adding another dimension to their lives” - Teacher


The initial independent collection and gathering of materials along with their visual, written and/or oral weekly reflection of what they had done, indicated that students were able to verbalise and use visual imagery for storytelling. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, reflection with the students usually took place with the teachers and EA’s after the session. This enabled extended time for activities, rather than rushing students to incorporate reflection within a bell driven time frame. As the term progressed, however, setting up easels and materials outside enabled children to begin their reflections at any stage during a session. The learning of content and skills were made visible to learners and visitors through the classroom displays of drawings, paintings and creations.

“Taking part in the painting is a big shift for him. He is a child who is highly sensory and hates getting his hands dirty. Today he was covered in thick multi-coloured paint and had happily and willingly used the seedpod to make patterns before going to wash his hands.” - Teacher


CREATIVE HABITS 

It was important for the children to develop their own language of the Creative Habits. By incorporating these into the warm up game, the language became repetitive. It also allowed them to choose an action to associate with each word or colour on the Creative Habits chart.  Each week introduced a new word. The red of inquisitive ‘thinking’ became pointing to the head while the blue of imaginative ‘wonder’ was accompanied by looking upwards with a finger on the chin. The class decided that they required discipline to learn how to tackle the monkey bars and putting their hands on their hips signified an ‘I can’ approach to the green of persistence. Surprisingly, this was the main Creative Habit that they didn’t need to replace with a smaller word. The final habit which they had been working towards all term was collaboration. In their world, this was simplified with open arms to mean ‘together’. Combined with the movements for the five senses and the challenge of remembering ten different actions, students responded enthusiastically to the game that they had been active participants in developing.

Opportunity for collaboration through drawing and the building of pictures on the ground using their leaves, nuts, sticks and seeds and a large length of fabric and markers during different sessions, provided mixed results. For some, it was difficult to share the same space while for others, building a pattern together became a successful endeavour. For two boys, both using their materials to create an image of their classroom, the same idea demonstrated that a group approach of tasks not only results in improved collaborative skills, but also acceptance of others and tolerance.


“Hey, I made our kindy class” a student stated proudly sitting in his group amongst a collection of sticks and seeds.
“Look at my kindy class. Mine’s bigger than yours” replied a student showing off his creation. His friend knelt down replying with genuine acknowledgment.
“It’s alright, it doesn’t matter if yours is bigger.”


It became important to determine when to provide provocation and answer inquiries and when to take a step back. As the children became more familiar with the program, the question of “what are we doing next” also decreased indicating the development of inquisitive behaviours. They were challenged with replies of “what do you think?” or “what could you do?” This was particularly evident by increased curiosity of what might be in the suitcase each week where they were never provided with a verbal answer. 

Children were encouraged to consider trying to answer their own questions, imagine potential possibilities and think critically, without being adult led. Active and creative thinking was more evident in one class who were prompted to use their natural materials to create an animal. The intention was for them to draw it on the ground. Instead they used them to accessorise into tails and trunks for a physical and imaginative game of wild animals. It was vital in this instance to use creativity, intuition and imagination to improvise and adjust the activity to suit the remaining time, place and context of learning in accordance with student agency.

“My working in a kindy environment has meant a slower pace. The subject is simplified and the content often changed in a split second to allow children the opportunity to ‘really’ engage and wonder.  It provides space to observe, gather information about what children know, can do and understand alongside continuous reflective planning to encourage student agency in their own learning.” - Creative Practitioner

The continued prompt for using imagination through collecting materials enabled discovery, shared thinking and problem-solving, to learn about the environment. Why are there more of some things than others at different times of the year? What happens when the wind blows or after the birds have eaten seeds? What are the possibilities for the materials? Repeated use of materials and warm ups provided opportunity for students to demonstrate discipline and persistence by continuing processes beyond one session, providing a sense of continuity and familiarity.  

 

"What do you do when something is hard?" - Creative to student
"You keep trying." - Student


WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

As a creative practitioner working alongside creative teachers in a kindy environment, I questioned whether they felt that there were any long-term impacts. The teacher’s explanation was that it is the small changes in the child. 


“It is the younger ones who aren't saying continuously that they miss their mum. That is the difference. It's the consistency of coming each week, the familiarity and the knowledge that they are going to be doing something different that create the noticeable changes. Even using the 'big' words on the Creative Habits poster have become more familiar and they are beginning to understand the meanings.” - Teacher