Just Let Me Play
Redesigning learning spaces and re-thinking materials are some of the things I have continued to research and reflect upon during my search for a preschool/early years centre and on-going professional development as a proud educator in the public school system, with in my opinion an amazing early years program.
As a kindergarten teacher, I looked for a play-based learning model, which is driven by emergent learning (capturing the interests of the students). I am inspired by the Waldorf philosophy because of its beauty and work with a child's imagination. I am inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia ( these Italian schools founded by Loris Malaguzzi) capture the hundred languages of the child through inquiry, explorations, the work of the atelier, and power of project and research. Reggio Emilia is a province in Italy ( there are not to say accredited schools here in Ontario, there are inspired schools, choose wisely and note that these schools will take their approach to the philosophy). Lastly, I admire the authentic traditional Montessori school of thought from its founder Maria Montessori, where it is more about the development and independence of the children and not a push for concentrated academics within the early years (again, choose wisely and know what you are looking for) due to its ability to foster independence in the early years and shared importance for the outdoors and movement.
All of these educational philosophies share a play-based learning approach, the appreciation for the capable child, and the importance of free, deep play both indoors and outdoors ( materials and the kinds of "toys" are left for another post). Importantly, all of these philosophies start in the home and truly reflect the daily life and experiences of the child. Picking a preschool and or using these approaches in the classroom are just the tip of the ice berg... the impact remains within the upbringing of the child. As a kindergarten teacher, sharing these words and welcoming families to understand more about play-based learning is a valuable and exciting opportunit. There is not a one size fits all to selecting a preschool or designing your kindergarten program ( that is why open ended learning welcomes all entry points)
I value the Ontario Early Years Framework and those who work closely with the Child and Nature Association of Canada. Quality professional development and engagement/knowledge with the Ontario Kindergarten Program, specialized outdoor education programs, and progressive outlook to rethinking spaces is key. I was happy to learn that the value of play and importance of childhood was the main message of programs, which all encourage natural, authentic, and developmentally appropriate transition into academics (later on, taking a Waldorf learning approach) .
I look for programs which foster those interests into inquiry based learning explorations year long. Importantly, I value a program where the outdoors is the primary learning environment for young learners and that learning is reflected into their indoor learning spaces. Sounds like our kindergarten program educators? (yes you are right!)
Here are some of the look fors I take with me...
In all, nature and forest schools work for our family and within my professional practice. I admire learning from these specialized forest and nature school educators and hope our family and my practice will grow because of it!