“The story of a fallen leaf”

Nature at school

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study of whether natural materials such as soil, water and leaves easily accessible in our schoolyard may (or may not) contribute to the learning process of 4 year olds.


We focus on creating an outdoor classroom in our schoolyard and on investigating the connection of its operation with the detailed curriculum.

What we saw:

  • Children used materials which are already known.
  • Children talk more when they are in a real situation (the story of a fallen leaf, see below)
  • Children with Greek as a second language are reluctant to express themselves or ideas but it seems there is no need to press them to speak.
  • Real conversations about real things are the keys to encourage language development (it concerns all children regardless which their first tongue is).
  • Language is an example of using symbols, music is another one, the schoolyard is also another one and everything supports the child’s education.
  • This enquiry matters because it shows how play and creativity are important for the rest of their lives (drawing on a newspaper with mud or making up a story with a fallen leaf).

This project focuses on if we might use our schoolyard to:

  • Bring knowledge outdoors and link it to hands-on learning.
  • Encourage the children to make their own decisions and reduce the number of rules needed.
  • Stimulate the senses by doing and learn in the process.
  • Do mathematics any time: “water each plant 3 times”.


The outdoors is considered less important than the indoor classroom environment in Greece. As a result, school gardens or playing in the schoolyard do not play an important role in Greek educational policies. On the other hand, school gardens have played a pivotal role in Greek Kindergartens, but this is more to the teacher’s initiative.

It is absurd to discuss whether we let children play outdoors in a country like Greece where there is sunshine almost every day. Children have lost touch with nature because of our overprotectiveness. But if a child does not run, play and climb how will s/he write? “Are you interested in the child or in the clothes?” is a question I often pose to parents.

Hands on knowledge and having direct access to natural materials such as soil and water, is important because senses are stimulated and learning is in the process.

Connecting education with nature means linking education to real life. Strong bonds to nature are important for an individual holistic health.

Education is already turning or returning to nature. How could we stand up for something if it is not ours?

Our first attempt might be called “nature at school” and took place on a sunny autumn day (21st October 2023) when our class visited the schoolyard. It was a challenge to observe the children playing in small groups or making their own decisions such as the two 4 year old boys who made up their stories about a fallen leaf. We consider that outdoors and indoors environment should be equally valued. Our aim is to connect the operation of the outdoor environment with the current curriculum. Thus, to inspire and support other colleagues to find out how beneficial is the learning outdoors.

Our second attempt might be “the school in the neighbourhood” and is scheduled to start in January 2024 to focus on finding ways to include the outdoor natural spaces in the educational process utilizing nature both as a context and as an educational tool.


Our class consists of 21 students (17 boys and 4 girls) between the ages of 4 and 5. They mainly come from low income families and diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Many of the families are not native Greek speakers and sometimes their parents have different mother tongues, so they are already bilingual. These children are growing up in Neos Kosmos, a neighbourhood near the centre of Athens. It is a densely populated urban area with some parks and playgrounds, but they are barely adequate to meet the needs of the neighbourhood’s numerous inhabitants.

The school should try to provide more and diverse stimuli to help the student’s development (linguistic and emotionally).


Study case 1:

A. is a boy 4 years old and plays with another boy K. in a flower bed. They both show no interest in playing with mud. They do not want to draw with mud or take part in other activities. It is autumn and they are going round the trees in the flower bed. K. notices a fallen leaf on the ground and he is thrilled with his discovery. He talks about it with A. and they try to find which tree has lost its leaf (there are fig trees, mulberry trees, sycamore trees). A. would like to have the same leaf but first they have to find its mum. The two children made an assumption why the leaf fell down from the tree: “it fell because it thought it was a bird and it could fly”. “It fell because the wind was blowing”. “This is happening because that’s how always happens”. They don’t speak much as for K. Greek is a second language and A. doesn’t speak clearly. Nevertheless, nothing seems to stop their desire to communicate! They get in the classroom and they observe the leaf with a magnifying glass. They place it on the top of a box to keep it safe. Basically, the children are playing. Αt the same time they explore, they observe, they make assumptions, they make up stories: “Who is its mum? Where did it come from? How long it had been down?” The teacher asks how the leaf may feel and children say: “Nobody loves him, it feels lonely”.

  • The children play together (looking for a similar leaf).
  • They play on their own.
  • They are involved as they play.
  • They demonstrate knowledge and understanding of autumn season.
  • They are pretending they are leaves.
  • Their play shows what they know about the trees, the colours, autumn season, the leaves and integrating this experience into their lives as knowledge they may carry with them as a fascinating learning experience which took place in the kindergarten.
  • Children learn all the time through play as well as rehearsing and testing what they already know.
  • Problems arose when children were asked to speak about their play.

What we learned:

  • Lack of pressure to speak is important to language development.
  • A narrow focus on goals and outcomes is difficult to be accepted.
  • People yearn for simple ways of working with children, but teaching is beyond: an intangible process and a set of skills which never stops.
  • Active learning and contact with nature (first step: our schoolyard).
  • Children may be autonomous in choosing and using the recourses, either alone or with others.
  • The simpler the materials the more complex the ideas children may have. Children have to negotiate their ideas together.


Being creative and innovative is quite difficult to define, as it can mean different things to different people depending on their context and their perspectives. Froebel’s philosophy is here to remind us “the law of opposites” where totally new worlds may come up. In essence, it is a mindset that it involves being open to new ideas and take into account new practises from the past. In addition, it involves being willing to bring about positive change.

Practitioner intentions:

  • I might give practical steps for the pedagogical utilization of the outdoors natural places based on their limitations and capabilities.
  • I might be less didactic as indirect learning lasts for ever.
  • I might not to forget Froebel’s attention to observation.
  • I might take into account what Froebel suggested: “to lead children early to think”, this I consider the first and foremost thing of child training.
  • I might also agree with Froebel who had argued for well-trained kindergarten teachers who would be able to reflect on and develop their practice for such a demanding job as “Education of the Man” is.

Dissemination/Impact Report

I would like to thank all the children and their families for their trust and their contribution on this project. On the 20th of December 2023 we presented the results of the project to the parents of the children and the other colleagues of the school.

I would also like to thank all my colleagues in the 56th Kindergarten of Athens for the ideas we shared, the discussions we had and with the wish for collaboration on new projects in the future.

Special thanks to the English teacher of our school, who gladly supported the project and helped with the translation and editing (teaching English as a foreign language is included in the new Kindergarten Curriculum since 2021).


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?

Add a comment