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Sun Mar 26 11:11:19 SAST 2017

The greatest classroom on earth

Tanya Farber | 2017-03-21 11:46:29.0
Classroom. File photo.
Image by: iStock

Many classrooms are under-resourced‚ but a ground-breaking workshop on early childhood development has shown how young minds can be grown before those resources are forthcoming – especially when it comes to science and the environment.

According to Georgie McCall and Peter Hadebe‚ who facilitated the workshop in Cape Town last week‚ “If you see the outdoors as a second classroom‚ you can’t go wrong. Even the smallest backyard can provide a home for plants and creatures.

However‚ we are conditioned to believe that soccer is for outside‚ and learning happens inside.” McCall encouraged teachers and parents in South Africa to open the minds of young people in a country where maths and science often fall off the agenda as hope of success is lost.

Even with pre-schoolers‚ teachers‚ parents and caregivers could get children to engage with the outdoors by asking simple questions.

“When you ask them to look up at the clouds and describe what they see‚ it opens up their imagination. When you ask them to describe what sounds they are hearing‚ that can open up a conversation about what goes on in the world around us‚” she said.

Also of concern was that many teachers and parents‚ who are role models to children‚ stamp on insects.

“When you stamp on a snail‚ you are teaching children to do likewise‚” she said‚ “but a whole new lesson begins when you say: let’s observe the patterns on the shell and describe them. When you let the snail walk on a black piece of paper‚ they can observe the trail that it leaves.”

She said that adults often pulled spider webs apart instead of getting children to observe the patterns.

“You can recycle a spritzer that was once used for perfume‚ for example. You clean it out properly and put water in. Get the children to gently spray the water onto the spider web. Now they can see the beautiful pattern more clearly – and you can ask them to draw it.”

Also‚ a ladybird can open up conversations across a range of subjects: “Look at the patterns. That is art. Count the spots – this is basic mathematics. Then we get to engineering: how does a ladybird fly? What about biology and the eco-system – did you know that ladybirds clear away the aphids for you?” she said.

She encouraged parents‚ teachers and caregivers to grow plants in shopping bags rather than throw the shopping bags away or allowing them to litter public spaces. Car tyres could also be used to grow herbs. Other activities she suggested included the bag game – where one learner has something from nature in a bag. That learner puts their hand in the bag and describes what they are feeling. The other learners must then guess what it is.

This encourages observation techniques‚ use of language‚ engagement with the sense of touch‚ and critical thinking.

With older children‚ you can first start with a map to get them to find the things in nature.

That teaches them how to follow directions‚ and also engages mathematical skills as they must count how many steps they have taken.

“When children do these activities in groups‚ they also learn social skills‚” she said.

Other projects which required very little and could be made from recycled material included a flower press‚ a sun dial‚ a weather vane‚ a bug hotel and a rain gauge.

The two-day workshop was a collaboration between the Department of Higher Education and Training‚ Unicef‚ and various local non-government organisations.

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