Η φύση καλεί / Natural calls… Are the children used to hearing natural sounds?

From the children’s outdoor environment to "their inner self". A case study of kindergarten students, conducted near the centre of Athens.

Project author:

Project summary:

This is an attempt to explore the tendency of kindergarten students to hear natural or other sounds, during a walk outside the school class, especially for those who don’t live in or near the countryside.

 

Introduction

The research questions of this project explore the connection between children and the natural environment by assessing an aspect of this connection (sound):

  • The different sounds children (4-6 years old) hear during a walk outside the school class.
  • Do the children of these ages focus on natural sounds or other kinds of sounds in their daily life?

The project is inspired by the work of Froebel who referred to the “Unity” for both internal and external world (Froebel, 1887) emphasizing on a strong connection among ourselves, the others, nature and the wider world (Tovey, 2020).

Data from this research could illuminate children’s tendencies and needs to get close to nature of which they are a part. Specifically, “observation” will help our students to understand their significant active role as observers, how important is their involvement in the natural environment and feel free to express it. Data will be also useful to parents, who sometimes don’t realise their children’s real needs. They will be very useful to us, as educators and parallel observers who need flexibile tools as well as to researchers whose main concern is “children’s well-being”.

Context

This project was a challenge for me from the first time I conceived the idea of exploring sounds with my students, in the course of the Practitioner Inquiry Programme in Athens. Specialising in “Children’s Rights”, this followed the “Froebel in Childhood Practice” course that offered me the necessary lens to see deeper than the “obvious” in our school setting.

In terms of that “lens” – key messages from literature are the following: Unity and connectedness in the world (Tovey, 2020, p.6) can be found making “the internal external” and vice versa (Froebel, 1887 in Programme Introduction, p.40). Understanding of Unity relies on “observation being a valued tool in getting to know the child, the community and how these are connected with the wider world” (Bruce, 2021 in Programme Introduction, p.37).

Freedom (with guidance) for Froebel “can only operate within a framework of responsibility and respect for others, the resources and the natural environment…” (Tovey, 2020, p.4) with educators as sensitive guides (Tovey, 2020, p.4). Children as autonomous learners should be rather put “in the way of finding answers…” (Froebel, 1830s in 1 Froebel: his life and principles, p.32), highlighting that “The child should experience nature ‘in all its aspects – form, energy, substance, sound and colour’” (Lilley, 1967 in Tovey, 2020, p.8) for example “through their play outdoors in the garden and in the wider natural environment” (Tovey, 2020, p.8). Besides, “Outdoor spaces are not ‘neutral’” since “Different children have different relationships with the outdoors” (3 Froebel: engaging with nature, p.25).

As a kindergarten teacher, I have worked for many years both in Athens and in the province. Data of this project answered my personal questions and partly verified my beliefs that children from the city centre aren’t used to hearing natural sounds, bearing in mind that I was a child from the capital as well. In addition, the Covid-19 infection prevented many children from getting close to nature (e.g. travelling) with their parents/friends.

In the field of educational research and specifically in the case of “small scale” inquiries, qualitative methods give the benefit of a deep analysis of experiences we assume from outdoor environments (Froebelian Futures. Beginners’ Guide to Practitioner Inquiry in the Early Years, p.2). This research could be seen as a case study research (a kindergarten class with 19 students). Case study – “within the qualitative paradigm” – provides “a genre that focuses not on large populations but on smaller groupings or individuals and attempts to answer questions about context, relationships, processes and practices” (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013, p.23).

At the beginning, we used my personal computer and watched a video with sounds from nature and music. This activity was followed by discussion within the team. We used our white board as our “mind map” (creative method) in which we deposited our ideas related to the sounds (key word) we usually hear from the outdoor environment during a walk and what we can do in order to “collect different sounds”.

Going into the research field (there is a big garden inside the school yard and pedestrian streets around the school complex) we started our walk playing “detectives” and collecting “sounds” with a digital recorder.

Returning back to school, I kept brief field notes (Lofland, 1971 in Froebelian Futures. Getting ready to research, p.31) such as children’s reactions while hearing different sounds, my/colleagues’ reactions etc. In addition, I took some photos from our walk. It was a “participatant observation” together with my students and colleagues who accompanied us. Participant observation has its “roots in traditional ethnographic research” and “as qualitative researchers, we presume that there will be multiple perspectives within any given community” (Duke University, n.d., p.13).      

Data collection from interviewing the children after our “walk” offered fruitful evidence in our research. “What kind of sounds did they hear during our walk outside?”, “What sounds did they like and why?”, “How did they feel?” “. I used individual, face–to–face and structured interviews (open-ended and closed questions to help children with the meanings). My tool was my digital recorder. 

In conclusion, I would emphasise that one of my goals was to use a multi-method approach which includes “participation”, “reflexivity”, “adaptability” and it is “focused on children’s lived experiences” (Clark & Moss, 2011, p.7).

Ethics

One of my main goals was to include all children in the project except for those who didn’t want to participate or children whose parents didn’t agree regarding their participation. Consequently, I asked for an oral consent from the students during a conversation. A written consent was asked by the children’s parents since I had minors as a sample. (I used an “informed consent form” for parents (from the University of Edinburgh) that directly addressed the research aims and methods. Moreover, we are obligated as educators to ask and get parental written consent for any kind of activities inside the school which include: children’s photos, voice recording, videos, etc. It was a priority for me to keep anonymity and make sure that all data is confidential and safe. Parents were informed about anything we would do in the context of research, during a parental gathering which took place at school. More specifically, new students from other schools who were subscribed later on, were informed both verbally and in written form about our project as well as their parents. As far as my colleagues and School Head Teacher are concerned, they had been informed orally and in written form (many thanks to the School Head Teacher who is an open-minded person).

In addition, I had to consider other issues such as the reactions of children with special needs, especially while walking outside the school class and their possible encounters with others in the team. In order to handle the above, I asked and received help from the special needs teacher, one of my colleagues inside the class and the English teacher. Despite my initial fears, all children felt very excited about going out with no unforeseen difficulties. Regarding the risk of revealing information, I interviewed children privately, protecting them from disclosure of personal information.

Confidentiality is a related issue and refers to the relation we built with the children as well as their parents, since I had to explain to them in detail the research parameters making them feel less anxious and more at ease about the process.   


Concerning research data, nobody was/is allowed to have access to the raw data apart from me. Last but not least, we followed all the necessary measures due to Covid-19 (masks, distances, cleaning) before and after our walk outside (we didn’t finally choose the nearest park because it wasn’t a “safe” place). Furthermore, we didn’t get involved with other persons during the whole research process apart from our children and teachers.

 

"Let us learn from our children. Let us attend to the knowledge which their lives gently urge upon us and listen to the quiet demands of their hearts"

Froebel, 1885 in Tovey, 2020, p.20

Findings

At the beginning… 

Our “travel” to the sounds began with a video… We saw Autumn images from different places around the world while listening to music. At the end of the video I asked the children what kind of sounds they had heard in it and they mentioned different sounds coming from video.

Afterwards, I organised a discussion within the group using our whiteboard as a “mind map”: The key word was “sounds” and the main question was: “What kind of sounds do we hear when we go out with our family/friends?”. Our students gave many answers (similar or different), but most of the students talked about cars. They made reference to people (especially mom and dad) while walking outside, to their voices and footsteps, motorbikes, games (playing with ball), animals in a zoo, a boat (on TV), the mild wind, the sea, rain and birds (parrots, pigeons, swallows). These were written on the right hand side of the board. On the left hand side, we did some reflections about possible ways of collecting the above “sounds”: We could put them in a bag, record them with a video/sound recorder or… just go for a walk outside the school class! This idea excited all our students…

There seemed to be a relative balance between the sounds of daily life and natural sounds – mainly when they go out for a walk – as well as a first approach to our first research question about what sounds children (4-6 years old) hear outside the school class. However, more evidence will be given in the next “step” going to the research field.

 

In the Research Field…

I work in a multicultural class and this was very interesting for our findings among others. I tried to help children feel free to express their ideas during our walk, being a sensitive guide for them as much as I could (Tovey, 2020, p.4). On the other hand, children as “autonomous learners” (Froebel, 1830s in 1Froebel: his life and principles, p. 32) and “good detectives” were attempting to find answers by themselves exploring this time one aspect of nature – among others: “sound” (Lilley, 1967 in Tovey 2020, p. 8). Children liked very much being “detectives” and this supported “understanding” their significant role as “observers”. 5 – year – old children had more things to say than 4 – year – old. They remembered more sounds than the youngest using richer vocabulary. At all ages children experiences were also related to the places they frequently visit with their families/friends. Regarding the interviews, 2 students who were absent and didn’t participate in the “walk”, asked me to take part in the interviews. 16 of the 17 children referred initially and mainly to the car and motorbikes sounds (The school is situated in a central area, just opposite a big hospital. There are a lot of shops, pharmacies and a big square with coffee shops, restaurants etc. – therefore a lot of traffic on the roads). Children don’t focus mainly on natural sounds at first glance – this evidence partly confirms my bias about capital city children’s hearings – answering the second research question too.

8 of the 17 students said that they liked the sounds of car and motorbikes due to different reasons. Each category has connected the above sounds with functional reasons (A, N1, I, M) or their familiar strolls (S, C, P, K, A, T, M, E).  Both of the children who were absent the day we went out, referred to the car sounds. Sometimes they help them to feel “they are not alone” (I) and other times “they feel awful when they hear them” (N2). Other sounds our students heard: a vacuum cleaner, water, an airplane, “fishes”, birds, a bicycle, taxicabs, children playing ball, “cicadas”, the falling leaves, pigeons, music, candies (I offered to the children at the end of our walk), a “lizard”, their self, a “butterfly”, flies, music from the Primary School, PCs, people talking loudly and eating (first research question). It is also interesting that we have only two answers about “self-listening” (their voice – footsteps) both in the “mind map” and outdoors. In general, there are similarities between the sounds written on our whiteboard (“mind map”) and answers from Interviews (mainly cars, motorbikes, their voices, playing with a ball, rain and the birds).

Children strongly connect sounds with personal experience they have either had or not in their life! (S, A, C, N, P, K, A, T, M, E). I understood from evidence that some of their “hearings” – mentioned with ” ” – are imagination sounds (fishes, cicadas, butterfly, lizard etc.). Children probably want so much to get close to nature which they are part of, as Froebel argues, that they use plenty of imagination… [“I liked (water) because when it rains… it smells good!” / “fishes were in the sea but one day they went to the street…” / “I heard cicadas” / “(I heard) a lizard… I didn’t hear the turtle!” / “Butterfly” / “I felt like being in a forest with fishes in a lake!”]. Some new questions arise at this point: “What should we do in order to fill the gap between children’s everyday life and nature? How is this gap related to some children’s behaviours?” The above questions open a new discussion which is not one of our main goals in this project. In addition, making the “external internal” (Froebel, 1887 in Programme Introduction, p.40) and vice versa is reflected on children’s thoughts about the sounds they usually hear or to be more precise, they wished to hear during our walk, illustrating “Unity and connectedness” in the world (Tovey, 2020, p.6). It is also obvious that “outdoor spaces are not neutral” since “different children have different relationships with the outdoors” (3 Froebel: engaging with nature, p. 25) (A, C, P, K, N1, N2, T, M, E).

https://video.link/w/2Y0Ed

Conclusion

Evidence from both inside and outside the class has been proven valuable for our project. Children mentioned city sounds (cars, motorbikes, people and taxicabs) together with natural sounds they hear/heard (water, rain, birds) or not (fishes, cicadas, flies, butterflies!). Going to the “field” enhanced relevant evidence in sounds we mentioned inside the class. “Fantastic sounds” seem to support a balance among natural and other sounds students are used to hearing – as we firstly supposed. Children in Athens miss nature very much and I am sharing this “feeling” with them as an Athenian child… This is a strong “message” for all of us (teachers, parents, researchers) with respect to our pedagogical “tools” we already have. I wish for another research to be done in this field hoping mine enlightened a little bit the”deep rooted” concerns we have or should have as teachers.

 

References

  1. Bruce, T. (2021). Friedrich Froebel. A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates. In Programme Introduction [PowerPoint Slides]. Available at: https://www.froebel.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Day-1.pdf?utm_campaign=3165513_Athens%2022%20follow-up%201&utm_medium=email&utm_source=College%20of%20Arts%2C%20Humanities%20%26%20Social%20Sciences%2C%20The%20University%20of%20Edinburgh&dm_i=2MQP,1VUIX,AFN7VK,6KN9V,1 [Accessed 3 July 2022]
  2. Clark, A. & Moss, P. (2011). Listening to Young Children. The Mosaic approach (second edition). London: NCB. Available at: https://books.google.gr/books?hl=el&lr=&id=K1eHBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=Peter+Moss+Research+Methods&ots=BCNEwS2ClC&sig=h0YeHLjs1HqWHM04Wr8Wr30BixQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Peter%20Moss%20Research%20Methods&f=false [Accessed 4 July 2022]
  3. Duke University (n.d). Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide (module 2: Participant Observation). Available at: https://guides.library.duke.edu/ld.php?content_id=11691400 [Accessed 6 July 2022]
  4. Froebel, F. 1830s. In 1 Froebel: his life and principles. Course: An introduction to Froebel’s kindergarten [PowerPoint Slides] (2021). Available at: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1CD_nEX7886pIyst9ytCPlLAvdSn10l5V/edit#slide=id.p32 [Accessed 4 July 2022]
  5. Froebel, F. (1885). The Education of Man. (transl. by Jarvis, J.). In Tovey H. (2020). Froebel’s principles and practice today. A Froebelian Approach. London: Froebel Trust. Available at: https://www.froebel.org.uk/uploads/documents/FT-Froebels-principles-and-practice-today.pdf [Accessed 3 July 2022]
  6. Froebel, F. (1887). The Education of Man. (Translated by Hailmann, W.N.). In Programme Introduction [PowerPoint Slides]. Available at: : https://www.froebel.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Day-1.pdf?utm_campaign=3165513_Athens%2022%20follow-up%201&utm_medium=email&utm_source=College%20of%20Arts%2C%20Humanities%20%26%20Social%20Sciences%2C%20The%20University%20of%20Edinburgh&dm_i=2MQP,1VUIX,AFN7VK,6KN9V,1 [Accessed 3 July 2022]
  7. 3 Froebel: engaging with nature. Course: An introduction to Froebel’s kindergarten [PowerPoint Slides] (2021). Available at: https://drive.google.com/u/0/uc?id=1c52DpUXwbUELdAjmhGmpAXe8GMlv-vgM&export=download [Accessed 4 July 2022]
  8. Froebelian Futures. A Beginners’ Guide to Practitioner Inquiry in the Early Years (n.d.). Scotland: The University of Edinburgh. Available at: https://i.emlfiles4.com/cmpdoc/5/8/7/2/2/1/files/80748_practitioner-inquiry—beginners-guide—low-res.pdf?utm_campaign=3151470_June%2022%20Newsletter%20-%20PI%20celebration&utm_medium=email&utm_source=College%20of%20Arts%2C%20Humanities%20%26%20Social%20Sciences%2C%20The%20University%20of%20Edinburgh&dm_i=2MQP,1VJOU,AFN7VK,6JO68,1 [Accessed 4 July 2022]
  9. Hamilton, L. & Corbett-Whittier, C. (2013). Using Case Study in Education Research. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
  10. Lilley, I.M. (1967). A Selection from His Writings. In Tovey H. (2020). Froebel’s principles and practice today. A Froebelian Approach. London: Froebel Trust. Available at: https://www.froebel.org.uk/uploads/documents/FT-Froebels-principles-and-practice-today.pdf [Accessed 3 July 2022]
  11. Lofland, J. (1971). A Guide to Qualitative Observation & Analysis. Wadsworth Pub. In Froebelian Futures. Getting ready to research. Practitioner inquiry training. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.froebel.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Day2.pdf?utm_campaign=3165513_Athens%2022%20followup%201&utm_medium=email&utm_source=College%20of%20Arts%2C%20Humanities%20%26%20Social%20Sciences%2C%20The%20University%20of%20Edinburgh&dm_i=2MQP,1VUIX,AFN7VK,6KN9V,1 [Accessed 3 July 2022]
  12. Tovey H. (2020). Froebel’s principles and practice today. A Froebelian Approach. London: Froebel Trust. Available at: https://www.froebel.org.uk/uploads/documents/FT-Froebels-principles-and-practice-today.pdf [ Accessed 3 July 2022]

Dissemination/Impact Report

The Christmas celebration at school was a good opportunity for me to announce – both to parents and colleagues – that we had finished our project with the children and the results were very revealing of our student’s needs and interests.

The parents were content with the research results. Moreover, they felt proud of their children hearing that we were the first Public kindergarten school in Greece (and the only until now) which took part and completed a research in the specific Froebelian context. The Head teacher congratulated our work. After all, it was an achievement for all of us at school…

Our next move – after the Christmas Holidays – was to organise an event concerning Froebel dissemination at school by preparing a presentation. This presentation would include some information about the Froebelian pedagogical approach in Greece and our research results. For this purpose, I created a video both in Greek and English, since we have families from other countries who speak English as well. We’ll watch this video during a guardian meeting after the individual meetings with our students’ parents. The dissemination actions will be posted on our school blog.

Looking forward to seeing our school community reactions and actions that we’ll take the following months…
We also hope our first steps in the above pedagogical context inspire other kindergarten schools – at least in our region…

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. Editor
    Site Editor
    28 Nov 2022 at 5:04 pm

    I am fascinated by this research – it feels like the beginning of a longer inquiry, but you have uncovered some really powerful findings. Well done! And you have presented it very thoroughly here. It was lovely to read all the different things that different children notice, in their own words, perhaps – as you say – informed by their own experiences at home and elsewhere. (I wonder how you could test out the truth of that more?). I also really enjoyed reading your ethics section – you have clearly thought lots about how to include all the children, of different ages and abilities, to feel equally valued. The question you are asking is so important – and something we don’t think about enough. I wonder if you were to start out with that question again, though, whether you could be more “child-led” in how you start the research? Could you begin with the children’s own activities, rather than organising it yourself? (Please don’t take this as a criticism – I know it is normal practice in many schools and an expectation that teachers will lead activities in this way – but Froebel challenges us: we should “neither direct, not determine” children’s play). Your question “What should we do in order to fill the gap between children’s everyday life and nature?” is a great one – and I wonder where you and the children would like to take this next? At the same time I wonder if it is important that we don’t make TOO great a distinction between the “natural” sounds and the “man-made” sounds. Perhaps they all have a part to play? Or… are there sounds you (and the children) consider “natural” which have a unique value? What would you say this is? What would Froebel say about this – in terms of children’s place in the world and their learning? I think you have started to touch on this – and I would really welcome you to take it further in your practice and life with the children. Congratulations!


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