“What we learn with pleasure we never forget” ~ Alfred Mercier
Learning about nature is an essential part of our program. Not only we believe in the importance of children learning about natural world and the need to protect it, especially in our times when species are disappearing so quickly. But also nature-based learning is a wonderful way to touch upon many disciplines while keeping them all tied in together, thus avoiding the pitfall of disassociated learning.
“… nature-based learning is a wonderful way to touch upon many disciplines while keeping them all tied in together, thus avoiding the pitfall of disassociated learning.
So this winter our nature learning was dedicated to African Wild Dogs. All of the learning activities were play-based and were so much fun for kids and us. I’m excited to share it here with you. In the process of this play-based learning we touched upon zoology, animal anatomy, geography, basic veterinarian tools, as well as learned how to use radios, compass and stethoscope.
Here is a little video covering some of the moments from our 2 months learning journey. And below it you can find more photos and details about our activities.
Establishing a connection
“Children have a natural affinity towards nature. Dirt, water, plants, and small animals attract and hold children’s attention for hours, days, even a lifetime.” – Ben Hewitt, Homegrown
In the very beginning of this year our forest school adopted a pack of African Wild Dogs through African Wildlife Conservation. Every month we pay a little bit of money from the program’s tuition that we collect and send it to support the work of rangers in Zimbabwe. You can see more details about this project in this post.
Our very own African Wild Dog
The news of adopting some animal pack somewhere far away would most likely be meaningless to the kiddos on its own. So here came our very own African Wild Dog (in a form of a stuffed animal) and instantly they were all in love with this specie and eager to learn all there was to know about it. 🙂
Our African Wild Dog was collectively named Spotty.
Learning through play is the best way
Learning though play is such a wonderful way to approach education as it is children’s natural way to learn everything they do. And as long as teaching happens as a part of some game it goes effortlessly and children go along with all of it!
Rangers and Veterinarians game
For the purpose of this learning journey we came up with a game of being Rangers and Veterinarians. It started with me setting up pretend snares and the children searching for snares and rescuing our beloved Spotty from one of the snare. The game had all the ingredients to become an instant hit — an element of scavenger hunt, coming to a rescue to an animal in trouble and playing make-believe of being animal doctors.
Learning skills for life
“This kind of play-based learning gives children an opportunity to learn about real world in which they live and acquire basic real-life skills.
While the children love to play make-believe games they also always strive towards learning the real skills and using real tools, not their toy substitutes. They want to be good at their make-believe jobs! So once the children were invested into the game it was an effortless process to get them learn a few things along the way 😉 . After all, it makes logical sense to them that every ranger should know some geography, how to use a compass, or that every veterinarian would want to know canine anatomy, know how to measure temperature or how to use a stethoscope.
This kind of play-based learning gives children an opportunity to learn about real world in which they live and acquire basic real-life skills. Children feel empowered by being allowed to use grown-up tools. It is really great for their sense of self-esteem.
Mastering real tools
For our ranger job we practiced how to use radios — real radios, not toys. And of course how to use a compass. We also learned about what snares look like, and what rangers in real life do when they run into an animal with a snare.
And for our veterinarian work we learned canine anatomy, the purpose of X-Ray imaging, how to use stethoscope, how to measure temperature for a canine, what temperature range is healthy vs those that require medical attention.
We also had our field journal where we put notes of all our animal rescues, their injuries, temperatures we measured and so forth, which gave the older kiddos an opportunity to practice their reading and writing skills also.
Our African Wild Dog became a pack
To the excitement of all the children one day we discovered that our African Wild Dog Spotty has met another African Wild Dog and they formed a pack. The new dog’s name was Blacky. So the kiddos got busy building them a den expecting the puppies. And you can only imagine the delight of everyone when one day they discovered 2 little puppies in the den.
Through this part of the game we learned about social structure and life of African Wild Dogs.
Building dens for our pack
Meeting the puppies!
As the children were all busy building dens and expecting puppies we had to figure out how to get them puppies. Fortunately my mom, Valentina, who is our craft teacher during summers, is always up for a challenge of making a hand-made toy for the school. 🙂 So her and I spent a weekend making two little puppies for our pack. The excitement we had around that the next day at the forest school was worth all the work! 🙂
Using active games for learning
Children are just not meant to be motionless for more than 5-10 minutes. At the most!! 🙂 So in addition to learning through a game of Rangers and Vets, we also used chase games to keep warm, have fun and keep on learning.
So we played chase games pretending to be lions chasing Wild Dogs. Or Wild Dog pack hunting. And also Wild Dogs running into a hyena and then having a fun harassing it and nipping it. All actual nature scenarios.
You can see little clips of kids excitedly running and chasing each other in the video at the top of this post.
Learning with arts
Art projects are always fun and using them as a part of a learning activity goes hand in hand with the approach of engaging 8 types of intelligences during learning. So we always try to figure out a form of art project to go with our learning topics.
In addition to be a fun and enjoyable activity, art projects also provide an opportunity to build fine motor skills, improves self-confidence as children take ownership of their creations, and allow for unique individual expression that is so important to any person.
Painting rocks with African Wild Dog colors
Our first art project was inspired by the nickname of the African Wild Dog, the “Painted Wolf”. They received this nickname for their beautiful and uniquely spotted coats.
After taking some time to look at and discuss the colors found on the “painted wolf”, each child got to pick a rock for painting. We provided them with only a black, white and two browns and they each created their own interpretation of our painted wolves coats.
We made sure to only chose little rocks that we can take home with us, so we would leave no trace in the nature.
Making African Wild Dog tail keychain with stone beads
Another project was making little African Wild Dog tails with stone beads. It was a beautiful and creative process for the children and they all enjoyed it so very much.
We also covered a lot of knowledge any ranger should have during our pretend airplane trips to Africa. 🙂
For example, any ranger should know some geography, right? The kids get it. 🙂 During our flight to Africa the Chief Ranger (myself) would do a special ranger briefing about where we are going and what for. And meanwhile the ranger team munched on little pieces of dried mango as a treat.
Through these short airplane briefings over the course of 2 months we have learned a good deal of geography. We started with only 1 child knowing what a continent is. And we ended with the whole group confidently showing the route of our airplane flying to Africa from North America. And not only they could find Africa on the map or globe, but also most kids could now find Zimbabwe on Africa’s map. Zimbabwe is where our adopted African Wild Dog pack lives and that is where our own ranger unit flew each week on our pretend airplane to do their work.
By the way, did you know that the word CONTINENT coms from the Latin word “continuous” and the word Africa is from comes from ancient Greek word meaning “without cold”.
In the same fashion during our short ranger briefings we chatted about different animals that share eco-system with the African Wild Dogs, why there is a snaring issue that causes Wild Dogs so much trouble, how rangers in African help the African Wild Dogs with a snare and so on.
Rangers getting their passports
All of our rangers and veterinarians also received a passport for their travels. We filled the pages of our passports with maps of African and Zimbabwe, and also each child had a checklist of basic ranger and veterinarian skills, that they could work on as they desire.
Rangers skills checklist
Here you can see few photos of our little Ranger skills checklist — the basic skills and knowledge every ranger is ought to have. 🙂 The children were very eager to complete their checklists.
The final conservation lesson
“What problem do you have? I would like to help.” — child, age 5.5
Imagine how different our world would be if nurturing this viewpoint and attitude was a part of all of our education.
Our final lesson on the conservation was about the importance of working with local communities. The problems animals face from humans could be significantly alleviated through understanding of the problems local communities are running into. In the course of this lesson all kiddos were asked to think of 4 things they could do as rangers to help establish relationship with a local community and help them.
We had some great answers such as bringing water, bringing food or helping to start a farm. And one answer especially impressed us. It was from a 5.5 year old boy, who said he would ask the local community “What problem do you have? I would like to help.” Imagine how different our world would be if nurturing this viewpoint and attitude was a part of all of our education.
Stamps, tokens and edible medals for all the great ranger work!
On the last week of February we wrapped our ranger work in Africa and as most of the kiddos completed their ranger checklists in the passports we were ready to have our Ranger Graduation!
We emphasised the medals are given for their service to the planet, which made them feel proud and their learning experience extra meaningful.
All kiddos got to stamp their own passports marking the completion of their training course. Afterwards everyone received a token with a picture of our African Wild Dog pack, and also a delicious edible medal made with dried mangoes and pineapples to commemorate their incredible work as rangers over the last two months. We emphasised the medals are given for their service to the planet, which made them feel proud and their learning experience extra meaningful.
No rush, no pressure
In closing I would like to mention that although we try to encourage the kids to participate in our projects some kiddos just don’t click with it, or only wish to participate for a brief time and then run off to play their own game. In our opinion getting someone to work on a project they aren’t interested in serves no purpose at all. They will not remember or care about what they ‘learned’ that way, and there will be friction between us and them creating unpleasant experience for all.
So we allow the kids to opt-out from participating in an activity. Some kids seem to really just need their own time to do their own thing.
I also wanted to share that our focus is on play and not on a curriculum progress. We always let children play their own game and try to introduce the new things we wish to teach them as something that is a part of their game. We give a little bit of information and let them play through it as much as they wish. We don’t rush the children to move onto the next stage or next topic. And as we see the topic is starting to wear itself out we introduce new information or add new skills to practice.
We also take into account that different children learn differently. So when it came to compass work our 7 year old could navigate around with ease, finding direction such as 320 North-West and so forth. And our 4 year olds would master how to correctly align the compass by bring the red arrow in front of the N letter.
Lastly, we believe there is so much truth to the quote by Alfred Mercier saying “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” And we try to live by it when it comes to working with the children.
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” ~ Alfred Mercier