“Growing through nature.”

An observation of child led teaching through planting.

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study of the impact that child led learning can have on engagement and wellbeing.

Introduction

This project looks at the impact child led learning can have on the engagement and wellbeing of children who are teaching others. The project explores research around the benefits of being connected with nature and the impact this can have on overall wellbeing (Keenan et al 2021) and also takes into account the Froebelian principle of “engagement with nature in all its aspects.” This project will highlight the benefits of children taking control of their own learning and will hopefully help other practitioners to implement opportunities for children to teach one another.

Context

This project looks at the Froebelian concept of “connections” especially to nature and one another which I feel very passionate about. From my project last year I witnessed the benefits that a connection to nature can have on emotional wellbeing. Our settings playground is tarmac and has only one raised planter. Classrooms have lots of natural light but provide minimal opportunities for daily connections with nature. As we don’t have daily opportunities for connection with nature I feel this project would allow multiple classes to feel the benefit of this planting project. Furthermore children within the school have opportunities to take part in shared learning (such as paired reading and iPad skills) but this often happens with children in primary six and above. There is a distinct lack of children passing on skills to one another further down the school without some form of intervention from practitioners. With this project I aim for the four primary 2 children acting as “teachers” to have full autonomy and independence in their teaching. They will plan, implement and demonstrate how to plant cress. By doing so I hope to track the impact on their engagement and emotional wellbeing.

 

The first methodology used for the project was a questionnaire sent to both primary two teachers to gather information on their opinions of the participants engagement and wellbeing in the classroom prior to the project starting.

The second methodology used was observational studies on a core group of children taking part in the project as “teachers.” Early sessions were based around planning for the planting aspects then moved onto the actual practical sessions with primary 1, 3 and nursery children.

Blob Tree Assessments (for emotional wellbeing) and Leven Scale Assessments (for engagement) were used at the start and end of the project to compare.

I chose an observational study to track the level of engagement and emotional wellbeing from the core 4 participants in each session. Observations allowed me to reflect and plan steps for the next session.

I will feedback findings through media, newsletters and posters.

 

Ethics

I asked for consent from the head teacher to conduct my research within the setting. I explained the aims of the project and what I planned to do to ensure confidentiality of the children in the setting.

I first spoke to the primary two teachers who kindly identified four children with varying levels of engagement within the class and also varying ranges of emotional wellbeing. Once identified I asked each child if they would want to participate and gained verbal consent from each child at each session. I also gained permission from the parents of the children so that I could observe them and take photos. All parents were happy for their child to take part. I also had to make sure that teachers from classes participating would give permission. I made all participants aware that they could withdraw from the project at any time

A child participating in the project can struggle with communication. This child can often be quiet around adults and can struggle to communicate their needs and wants. Although this project was to be completely child led I ensured that I helped the child communicate their needs and wants while allowing the teaching group to understand what the child was saying. The use of word boards helped with understanding.

Furthermore, some children have poor memory recall. It was discussed with the teaching group what we could do to help others who may not be able to hear well or remember instructions. It was proposed that the teaching group make up visual instructions to help with this. I was also on hand at all points to help when necessary.

“To learn a thing in life through doing is much more developing, cultivating and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas”

(Froebel 1885:2)

Findings

From the very first planning session all of the children in the teaching group were completely engaged in the process. They were all able to contribute their ideas on how to help the children they were teaching. They were able to give step by step directions to small groups in a way that was engaging and understandable for the children they were teaching. It was so informative for my own practice to watch the simple ways that they made connections with the children they were teaching. The child friendly language and encouraging techniques used were very impressive and gave me ideas on how I could use these in my own practice in the future.

For the duration of the project, it was evident that all children were deeply engaged within the planting and growing process. One child acting as teacher said “I really liked teaching other people, it was a lot of fun planting.” Children were involved in the planning and implementation of the project and guided it in a way that they saw fit. The practical nature of the project aided this as the teaching group were able to give hands on advice and demonstrate their own learning to others. The more sessions that went on the more autonomous the teaching group were. They were able to lay out resources to be used, teach meaningful lessons and put away the resources used for the next session. This indicated that the more autonomy the children felt in the teaching group the more their engagement with the project grew. Teachers also reported increased engagement within the classroom setting.

Blob Tree Assessments (Wilson and Long 2020) were used at the beginning and end of the project to compare how the four children in the teaching group were feeling. These assessments allowed the children to colour in a Blob that represents how they felt at that moment. Comparing the Blobs from the start of the project to the completion indicated an overall trend towards more positive attitudes and feelings. It has been argued that having a connection with nature can have improve childrens overall wellbeing (Keenan et al 2021). As the planting session went on I witnessed the elation and joy in the teaching groups faces when they were able to teach someone something new. It was evident the pride they felt in themselves and their actions which allowed their confidence to grow.

The teaching group were able to make connections with others around the school that they may not necessarily have done so otherwise. This was evident with children passing one another in the school corridor saying hello and playing with one another in the playground. The teaching group were able to demonstrate kindness to children with different backgrounds and abilities also positively impacting on not only their wellbeing but the wellbeing of others. By regularly connecting to nature and others the children in the teaching group felt the benefits.

Conclusion

From observations and comparisons of data the project was successful in improving the teaching groups engagement and wellbeing while also positively impacting on confidence levels. The children were able to experience a child led project where their views and opinions were crucial and valued. All children who took part in the project (whether that be the teaching group or those learning a new skill) were enthusiastic and engaged.

Next steps for this project could be running the group throughout the academic year using a bigger sample of teaching groups where each group could focus on teaching a specific skill relating to a certain type of plant. For example one group could teach about planting potatoes, another group carrots. The children in the groups could become “green guardians” and promote the benefits of planting throughout the school.

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. Lauren Campbell
    Lauren Campbell
    22 Mar 2024 at 3:23 pm

    Very interesting read! Feel lucky to have witnessed this project first hand. I love your thoughts about what the next steps could be and think that would emphasise Froebel’s message of community and togetherness as well as enjoyment of nature. Well done!


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  2. Debi Ashworth
    Debi Ashworth
    23 Mar 2024 at 3:43 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your project – an insightful inquiry. I love the idea of ‘green guardians’ with children leading the teaching and learning. Also, it was great to read how gardening has connected the school community. We are going to develop a child/family allotment in the near future so you’ve given me some ideas to ponder. Thanks for sharing.


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  3. Caroline Smith
    Caroline Smith
    24 Mar 2024 at 1:58 am

    Really good read, loved the involvement of the children and how you considered them holistically. The blob test is certainly something I aim to take forward into my own practice, great way to demonstrate value of children’s thoughts.


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  4. Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    24 Mar 2024 at 12:31 pm

    This project shows how connecting with and through nature is important in lives of our children. Working and learning together foster relationships, respect and connectedness and your project demonstrates that. I loved your ‘green guardians’ idea!


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  5. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    27 Mar 2024 at 1:09 pm

    Well done, Erin and Jacqueline, this was an absolute delight to read. The idea around enabling the Froebelian principles such as autonomous learners, valuing childhood in its own right within school life is music to my ears.
    I would love to be kept updated on how this practitioner inquiry further emerges through this inquiry. 😊


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