Creative Practitioner: Daniel Burton
Creative Practice: Nature Pedagogue
School: Chidlow Primary School
Teacher: Hazel Adams
Year: Year 1
Main Curriculum Focus
Humanities And Social Sciences - Past and Present Family Life - How the present, past and future are signified by terms indicating time/dates and changes that may have personal significance.
Cross Curriculum Priorities
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
English - Language, Literature, Literacy
Drama - MAKING: Ideas
Arts - Drama - MAKING: Performance/Production
Arts - Drama - RESPONDING
Chidlow Primary School is set in a picturesque natural setting surrounded by dense bushland. This term’s Creative Schools project has been focused on taking the learning OUTDOORS! Connecting to the incredible environment around the school, exploring the bush and connecting with natural materials, we were focused on developing the ability of the class to tell verbal stories and capture storytelling through forms beyond the written.
Each week, as a group, we would venture out onto the bush path adjacent to the school’s playground, exploring the natural environment and wandering as we wondered. The birds, trees, insects, rocks, plants and weather provided the inspiration for many questions. As we journeyed, we mapped our path in a large blank journal and made notes of the features of the landscape that we passed. Bare trees that had lost their bark, spider webs with dew drops, moss covered rocks and bark, a pile of rusty metal, hollow trees that seemed to be the homes for many different birds, pathways that split and required group consensus, small pebbles that could be sorted and organised, purple wildflowers bursting through the ground on the path’s edge.
Each week we would find a spot to gather and sit as a group and the children were told a short story connecting to the local history of the animals inspired by local Noongar dreamtime stories. These stories linked to animals in the landscape and local area. Each week, after the telling of the story, the children were challenged to find ways of retelling the story through different mediums. They used acting, dance, clay sculpture, visual patterns in the dirt, puppetry-based representations using sticks, rocks and other natural objects. Together they collaborated and used their imagination to share stories immersed in the natural environment.
In the final week the story shifted from one of ‘long ago’ history and focused on events more recent: in fact, as recent as we could get. The story we told was the journey of the class with their Creative Practitioner each week during the Creative Schools session. Together the group brainstormed the key features of each week’s adventure (there was a familiar pattern to each session to support the students to become comfortable with the outdoor classroom journey) and then groups divided to plan their dance-based retelling of the Creative Schools weekly journey. To wrap up the term, the groups performed their piece around a campfire and celebrated a shared journey through time.
How did we make the curriculum come alive?
The simple act of ‘taking a walk’ helped to invigorate the learning process and bring life to the experience of exploring stories, history and our local culture. So much of school is spent indoors, in fact so much of a child’s life is spent indoors. The natural world provides inspiration for wondering, questioning, inspiration for stories and imagination and a chance to collaborate in ways that indoor spaces simply don’t allow. We made the choice to take advantage of the incredible natural landscape that the school is nestled within to break down the walls for this learning experience.
There is also something magical about the spoken word, oral stories told without a script, book or visual prompt, it requires the listener (the audience) to engage in a different way, to invest more deeply in the narrative to truly engage with the story. By making each week’s story an oral retell of a dreamtime story, told sitting in the dirt, amongst gum trees, cockatoos, ants and moss it challenged the senses and opened up new neural pathways for active engagement.
How did we make the Creative Habits of Mind come alive?
An important element of each session was the way we reflected on our learning and the children’s connection to their 5 Habits of Learning. In our first official session together, we explored the bush to find and make a Journey Stick. This precious stick (processed using whittling techniques that required persistence, coordination, imagination and collaboration) became a platform for us to attach memories, ideas and reflections.
The stick served as a memory holder and a visual storytelling tool to help us recall key moments in time and fascinating discoveries. The Journey Stick was a tool that highlighted, for the students, the incredible experiences they were involved in each week, and their development as learners. Through hands-on, authentic experiences, each session was an opportunity for us to explore the 5 Habits of Learning (Collaboration, Persistence, Discipline, Inquisitiveness and Imagination) both explicitly and indirectly.
How did we activate student voice and learner agency?
Each journey into the bush was child-led, there was no need for ‘two straight lines’ or the teacher as a leader. The journey had specific boundaries set at the beginning of the term (with a gentle reminder each week). There were ‘calls’ that were used to gain attention and let the group know we were stopping or changing direction, there was an agreed-upon distance ‘ahead’ that the children could wander, and there was discussion around hazards to keep an eye out for (make sure you can see your feet and hands at all times - for snake safety). With these boundaries and shared expectations in place, the children had freedom to guide the journey and to explore freely through the space.
So often in schools, children are required to move around from building to building, classroom to classroom in lines, led by an adult, given the unspoken message that they are not capable, can’t be trusted and need to be directed every step of the way. By providing these year 1s with the freedom to choose their own direction and lead the journey, it sent a very different message to them: they are capable, they can be trusted and they have a voice!
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?
The children very quickly grasped the concept of the outdoor classroom. They were eager to listen, participate and contribute. They were able to understand the boundaries, rules and requirements of them in this new environment. The children loved the animal calls, which indicated for them to gather. They enjoyed the warm-up games each session, especially the Tawny Frogmouth game. Each Wednesday, the children would ask if Daniel was coming the next day. They were always super excited for his visits and these outdoor learning sessions. The children quickly understood and used the terminology of the 5 Habits of Learning. They were truly reflective at the end of each session and could honestly state whether they had been collaborative, persistent, inquisitive, imaginative or disciplined. This vocabulary and the Habits of Learning could then be adapted to other situations and lessons during the week.
I loved learning alongside the children. The freedom of the outdoor environment, tuning into elements of the landscape that I might otherwise overlook, noticing the local birdlife and their nesting hollows and connecting what we saw to our (limited) knowledge of the Noongar people and their language.
I realised that open ended questions and comments are very valuable. Not everything has to be a straight question and answer. I realised the value of WONDERING. I learnt to let go of those rigid expectations that I often have in the indoor space and understand that it was good for the children to fiddle with sticks, stones and dirt as they listened to a Dreamtime Story being told.
As the Creative Practitioner, I’m blown away by the speed at which relationships can form. I’ve spent a total of 10 or so hours with this group over 7 sessions. In that time I have formed some really strong connections and a synergy with the group. When we, as adults, come to a group of students with openness, care, empathy and a willingness to share in the journey, strong bonds form very quickly. When children feel truly seen they open up and share so creatively. The impact of this term’s engagement with the year 1s at Chidlow Primary School for me has been one of joy and deep connection.
“The best thing is when they naturally want to listen to the story, and it’s not because I’ve asked them to listen. Then they take it in, like when (one of my students) picked up the detail and noticed the little plants pushing up through the earth. I remembered back to the training and the fact that I don't need to stop them digging in the ground or playing with sticks as they are still listening. Listening out here (in the outdoors) looks different to sitting in the classroom and listening without fiddling with things.” - Teacher
“Creative Schools is great. The kids love it and they are so excited about it. It’s great to have the sessions outside. There is so much value for them to learn outside. Learning outside is different for me as a teacher. I have to let go. They are a little more crazy during outdoor learning but they are noticing things. It brings out their creativity. Like last week they were using the ground to tell their stories. I need to let go and not step in and just let the kids do the telling.” - Teacher
“It’s different. You can find lots of things in the bushes and we notice things in the bushes. We don’t usually go in the bushes during school.” - Student
“Sometimes I forget that the little things like learning to tie a knot are big for the children. That’s a success. They are persistent and disciplined, the meaning is in the process of learning. Sometimes I get bogged down in the bigger project and overlook these smaller meaningful milestones.” - Daniel Burton, Creative Practitioner
“Daniel is very interested in lots of stuff. He’s always collaborative, he shares the product. Daniel IS the five habits of learning. He’s cool, disciplined, inquisitive, imaginative and persistent. He’s always thinking of stuff for us to make and about things that would be good for us to do.” - Student