‘Endlessly Fascinating’

Exploring the interconnectivity of nature through a Gardening Club

Project author:

Project summary:

A study to observe children’s interest and understanding in the interconnectiveness of nature through the introduction of activities informed by the interests of the children as part of a Gardening Club.

Introduction

The intention behind setting up a Gardening Club within my setting was to evaluate the benefit of offering learning opportunities, directed by the children and the seasons, focusing on different aspects of nature in order to develop children’s knowledge and interest in the interconnectivity of nature. This took the form of weekly sessions during group time where the children were shown videos (mainly from the CBeebies shows ‘Teeny Tiny Creatures’ and ‘Maddy’s Do You Know’) about different aspects of nature, encouraged to discuss their interests and resources were explored and created, within the Nursery and the outdoor allotment area. In addition, resources to extend learning opportunities were offered within the Playrooms as part of responsive planning and sustainability/eco friendly practices (recycling, food waste, composting) were imbedded into the Nursery day. These were all offered following Froebelian principles, using the adults deep interest in nature and meaningful observations to respond, explore, extend and nurture children’s questions and interests.

Context

My setting benefits from an allotment area however, following a change in staffing, the allotment area of the setting has suffered from the absence of someone driving the planting/weeding/general garden and nature design and it has become a rather dilapidated, underused area. There had also previously been attempts to imbed interconnectivity into the structure of the Nursery but it had been overtaken by other events (Covid 19, changes to staffing/shifts as a result of 1140 hours) and so at the beginning of the project there was minimal recycling happening and although the children were being encouraged to place their food waste into a food recycling caddy, this was not then followed on with the children, meaning that the children did not see the cycle connected.
In order to develop a sense of ownership regarding the project, I decided to hold informal conversations with my colleagues to gauge their initial feelings about any ideas or concerns they had. The concerns from staff were that it might take up too much time in the Nursery week or too much space in the Playrooms although the general feeling was that the idea for the project was a good one. In considering my own positionality – I’m aware that I can be too ‘teachery’ during adult led activities and so made sure that I allowed the children to lead the way.

Given the age of the children, careful meaningful observations of the children engaged in activity and engagement in meaningful conversations with practitioners seemed like the most obvious form of collecting the qualitative data needed for this project. Observations were written down as ‘in the moment’ as possible and collated in a Gardening Club floorbook, along with photographs, mind maps and drawings and comments by the children. This helped to gather the information together chronologically so that I could evaluate the progress of the project. I kept a notebook in which I wrote down comments by parents in order to consider and reflect on them later. I decided to arrange pre and post project conversations with staff to take on board any initial issues and concerns and so to amend plans accordingly and latterly to gauge staff members views of any perceived value of the project, gain feedback and decide whether it was worthwhile continuing on with a Gardening Club within the setting.

Ethics

Prior to the commencement of the project, all the parents received a consent form which explained the project and the nature of Froebelian Futures, informing them that the project would form a blog post on the website and that I would also produce a poster with the results. A noticeboard was set up in the foyer and updated fortnightly to explain the current focus of the Club in order to keep parents informed throughout the project. Children’s consent was determined from their choice to participate (from which they could withdraw at any time) and they had access to the Gardening Club floorbook throughout the Project.

A quote from of the participants encapsulated one of the ethical considerations – ‘I’ve just got this (slabs) all over my garden’. Their parent confirmed later that their garden had no grass or plants as the parent is ‘not green fingered’. I wanted to avoid upsetting parents who perhaps didn’t have the space, resources, time, skill or headspace to partake in gardening/recycling from feeling pressurised/judged to do so through conversations with their children so although we did some activities that could be sent home, the focus was on what we could do/change within the Nursery.

Ensuring that all children were included was a large consideration. Staff involved felt strongly that all children who wanted to be involved should be included and that there shouldn’t be specific children or groups of children targeted. Due to the numbers of children within the setting who have additional support needs, staff numbers had to be carefully managed to make sure that there were enough additional adults available to support all the children, ideally with more staff than was required in the ratios. Conversely, ensuring that children were able to self select their own participation was also a large consideration, including making sure that there were enough staff available to allow children to stay behind in the Nursery if they chose to do so.

‘we had a bee box at home but it broke’ ‘shall we find out more about bees in Gardening Club?’ ‘yeah!’

'Albert', age 4

Findings

The time of year in which we started was a factor as gardening was limited due to cold weather so there was focus on other aspects of nature. It became obvious very quickly that the name Gardening Club was something of a misnomer and it was suggested by children and staff several times that it instead be renamed ‘Nature Club’. This actually gave us rather more scope and meant that the Club could both run year around and also have a wider appeal to children who are less interested in purely gardening activities.

We introduced a culture of nature interconnectedness through embedding practices in the Nursery e.g. setting up a compost bin from the food scraps from snack/lunch, making a wormery and then adding it to the compost bin to develop the compost we will eventually use to grow our own food for snack. Wider conversations also developed our culture of interconnectivity. Some of the children found a dead hedgehog in the car park and that led to an interesting (age appropriate) conversation about how living things die. Planting led to conversations about seasonality such as why strawberries fruit at a particular time of the year in this country. A surprising outcome was an expectation of immediacy from some children. When we put up the Blue Tit box, one child said ‘where are the blue birds?’ – this suggested opportunities to embrace the slowness of nature.

The children began to extend their own learning by suggesting topics/animals they wanted to find out more about and also by developing their own resources and learning within the Nursery. Some children designed their own wormery in the craft area. One said ‘look Mrs Wilson! We’ve made our own wormery for the garden and we’re going to look next week and see if there’s any worms!”. The children spent a considerable amount of time designing outside habitats for beetles and digging for worms. Staff expressed surprise at the engagement from children they wouldn’t have necessarily expected to be particularly interested in the activities. Additionally, it provided an opportunity to extend and challenge children’s learning by offering differentiated learning opportunities for the children who showed particular interest.

An encouraging outcome was the interest from parents – quite a few asked to know more about the project and about Froebel. Several asked how to recreate activities we had done in the Nursery, such as the cardboard bird feeder. Many talked about how the children had discussed what they had been learning about at home. One parent said that their child had previously expressed a fear of bats and was now excited to see the bats in our bat box! Some explained nature activities they did at home, including wormeries and watching a yearly toad migration at a local country park.

In the post project conversations with staff, the general feeling was that the project had value and should continue. One staff member said ‘I’ve learned stuff about animals I didn’t know before!’. There was however a good point made by a member of staff regarding this particular cohort being particularly interested in nature, particularly mini beasts, and that this level of involvement and interest might not be replicated in future cohorts.

Conclusion

The title of this project is ‘Endlessly Fascinating’ as I found myself using this phrase again and again while explaining the project. There is no end to the different aspects of nature which can be explored and although children might not have a particular interest in one, they may be fascinated by another. As the weather gets warmer, the changing seasons will offer other aspects of how nature interconnects – the children will be able to plant wildflowers in late spring which will attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies in the summer which may lead to other aspects to explore and develop (feeders, water stations etc). The various animal houses which have been created and installed in the allotment area will be used by the animals in different ways throughout the year. We are currently organising an Open Day for the parents at the end of June in order to give the children an opportunity to share their experiences and have a sense of their ownership over the space. This will have a festival feel, with refreshments and plant cuttings available. Longer term plans include developing the planting schemes in the allotment area and using the produce grown (potting, jams, a recipe book etc).

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Heather McInnes
    Heather McInnes
    14 Jun 2023 at 2:59 pm

    Wow! Nice to see parents/carers, staff and children being so engaged in your project. I can see how the whole setting has been involved. I can see how your project has lead to other learning experiences in different curricular areas. A great read!


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