First hand experiences are so engaging for children, providing many rich learning opportunities. We provide many experiences for our children from cookery, to woodwork and outdoor learning. However, the experiences that seem to have been the most powerful this year have been animal experiences. At the end of the Autumn term, as so many of our usual Christmas plans couldn’t take place, we decided to organise for two donkeys to visit the school. The arrival of Ant and Dec the donkeys, was a big hit! The children were delighted by them, as were the staff and the parents. They provided an exciting experience which brought the community together, which during these times when we are feeling less connected felt so important.
With Spring arriving, and the perfect time for learning about new life and growth and change, we decided to plan more animal experiences for the children; with chicks hatching this week, lambs visiting before we break up for Easter and ducklings to hatch in May. The arrival of 18 eggs at the start of the week has caused great excitement. Watching chicks hatch, really is a moment of awe and wonder, and has prompted lots of rich conversations and curiosity amongst the children. Next week they will learn to care for them and hold them carefully. Sharing photos and videos on our Facebook page, has kept parents up to date of the chick’s progress and has helped support conversations at home. Parents have reported ‘how excited’ their children are and eager to share their learning from school.
Observing children engage with animals is fascinating, and they often bring about a sense of calm and curiosity to children who are otherwise very energetic. There are many ways to include animals in the curriculum, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be experiences which are costly. The garden obviously provides lots of opportunities to connect with living creatures, from snail hunting, or creating a small pond to encourage frogs. Having a school pet or pets visit, is also a great way for children to come into contact with different types of animals. Topsy and Timmy the tortoises have recently joined our school. They arrived as one of our classes was resettling after a period of time off and have provided a brilliant focus for the children, who have been delighted at learning to care for them – giving them a bath has been a highlight!
As we think about what our current cohort of children need, I would argue that they need to feel connected to the real world, to feel part of a community and have learning opportunities where they are not rushed, but can enjoy their learning, guided by enthusiastic adults. Animal experiences can certainly support this. Froebel (founder of the Kindergarten) wisely said ‘The child who has cared for another living thing…is more easily led to care for his own life’. By supporting our children in learning to care for their world, they are more likely to grow up caring for themselves and others.
By Lucy Parker (Deputy Head teacher at Ludwick Nursery)