This month we hear from Gabby Millgate, the nature pedagogy leader at Woden Valley Child Care Centre (WVCCC) an early childhood service based in Canberra, established in 1992.
Gabby shares her insights into establishing an in-nature pedagogy in the early childhood setting.
Tell us about the role of Nature Pedagogy Leader at your service.
The Nature Pedagogy Leader develops the art of teaching through nature by creating natural environments with the children. The children learn holistically across the curriculum while experiencing care for the land, plants, animals and people.
The parent committee’s support for our former director’s vision has seen nature pedagogy smoothly embedded into the service. Our most recent director and subsequent committees have also continued to champion this program and practice.
As Nature Pedagogy Leader I am one of four leaders on the centre’s leadership team. It’s a full time role as we provide inclusive opportunities for all children to engage in nature, play based learning. Ongoing consultations and collaborations with each team at the service aims to embed nature pedagogy and sustainable practice within their programs. This approach underlies our success. I value my time supporting other educators with their developmental objectives for the children and can see how many more opportunities can be discovered when we have a shared vision.
How does nature pedagogy support children’s mathematical and scientific learning?
As the children discover patterns within flowers and plants they develop spatial understandings. When planting seasonal crops or collecting groups of objects and counting, they develop mathematical concepts. Scientific understanding builds as they actively engage in learning about life cycles, become water wise, or develop an understanding of sustainability and its impact on individuals.
At our service, professional development for educators has helped to build their knowledge about how the Ngoonawal people care for their Country and the sustainability pathway. This informs our learning and teaching. We’ve found that an early childhood curriculum and program can all be experienced and taught within the natural environment. Learning and playing in nature supports children to value the natural environment.
Case study: Transforming a bare backyard into The Narragunnawali Garden
When I assumed the role of nature pedagogy leader in 2017, WVCCC was transitioning to a nature play focused centre. A new space – The Narragunnawali Garden – had just been created by reclaiming some land outside the fence line where there had been a chook house, chickens, garden beds and compost bays.
I was given the freedom to create gardens for and with the children. Together, the children and I transformed a bare backyard into a lush edible garden with a riverbed and chickens.
One of my first job was to organise the composting systems. I revived an abandoned worm farm and a compost turner that had stopped turning. Although I was not a composting expert, just like the children engaging in research and trial and error, I soon became one. I also began a ‘Garden of the Future’ project and by January 2018 there were sunflowers, beans and cosmos (a flower) growing in the space outside the front of the service.
Recognising the value and importance of connecting with the community and finding free resources for our projects allowed us to demonstrate our promise to ‘look after the land’, by embedding sustainable practices. For example:
- Farmers donated manure bursting with earth worms
- A connection was made with a local hardware store who donated resources
- Jerusalem artichokes were sourced from the local Facebook Canberra Homesteaders group
- I collected wheelie bins full of coffee grounds from a local café.
These connections and relationships brought fresh tried and tested knowledge into our centre. It also allowed the children to learn more about the role different people and organisations have in sustainability.
Key learning: Better ways to engage to support a nature pedagogy
All journeys come with ebbs and flows and an initial challenge was encouraging enthusiasm for our Garden of the Future and the Narragunnawali Garden.
Our Pedagogical Leader recognised my vision and helped me create communication pathways with educators and team leaders to improve engagement with the nature pedagogy.
This enabled me to give this program a voice, clearly directing information and provocations and linking children’s progress with the learning outcomes of Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.
I used reflective tools and consultation methods, and enhanced my documentation to include evidence about how nature pedagogy could be integrated into early learning settings.
What seemed like a bumpy start became a truly inclusive program boosting the quality of the children’s access to nature.
Nature pedagogy continues to inspire and educate us all
Over the past five years we have learnt a lot about children’s capacity to connect and contribute to their world.
We encourage them to understand their role in caring for the plants we are growing, while still being able to touch, pick and eat what they grow.
When we see children explaining to their peers that we need to leave ‘some’ [flowers] for the bees or ‘some’ [seed pods] for the birds, they are enacting their learning and knowledge in a truly inspiring way.
Resources to support your learning
ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework
ACECQA – National Quality Standard – Quality Area 3 – National Quality Standard Element 3.2.3
United Nations Human Rights – Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative
TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson – Changing education paradigms.
This talk discusses children’s access to nature and the impact of the industrial revolution on our attitudes towards education.
After reading this blog post, you can follow more of Woden Valley Child Care’s practice through their Facebook page .