Nature play specialist, Sam Crosby travelled to Denmark to experience a range of outdoor-based curriculums. She returned filled with inspiration and ideas for helping children develop a relationship with the natural world. Hear from Sam below and learn how you can also celebrate the power of outdoor learning and play for young minds.
Scandinavia has some of the world’s best education systems, with Finland and Denmark often rating in the top five for performance and attainment. Within this educational success lies a strong cultural tradition of outdoor learning that begins as an infant – babies are put out to sleep in their cots even when it snows – and continues through their schooling life.
As an enthusiastic outdoor and nature educator for the Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands I recently took the opportunity to travel to Denmark, thanks to a very generous scholarship from Foundation & Friends, to visit a variety of outdoor educational centres. These included a nature-based child care centre, a Viking-style nature school, a primary school researching effects of outdoor learning, and a forest kindergarten.
I started at Tumlelunden kindergarten in Viborg, managed by Marte, a very experienced and dedicated community educator, or pedagogue, as they are called in Denmark. My first impression was of silence and emptiness, but as we approached the outdoor spaces the familiar noise of children playing became louder.
The play spaces were a lot different to what I usually see in Australia. They were open to the woods, and there was lots of what we in education call loose parts – bits and pieces of man-made and natural objects that children used to build, create and construct.
There was no expensive play equipment, just plenty of imagination and creativity, and the children made the space what they wanted it to be, instead of what any regulations and adults dictated. What really struck me was not only the freedom and trust the children have, but also references to the child care centre as their home. It certainly felt like it.
Next I visited a forest kindergarten on the edge of a fjord in Skovbørnehaven in central Denmark. The centre, led by internationally renowned nature pedagogue Johan Laigaard, takes about 30 children. Many of them were moving in and about the woodland, up and down slopes and, wait for it, running with sticks! There was not an adult to be seen, but the children knew where the pedagogues were if they needed them.
A level of trust
They climb trees, whittle wood with knives (some as young as three) move large logs about and have total control over how they play. I saw a sense of adventure and playfulness, and excellent physical capabilities. Their respect and connection to their woodland runs deep, the space is well cared for, and although there are signs of impact on the landscape it is not destructive.