“Teach, Inspire and Protect!” – an Erasmus+ project encouraging young children to love nature

January 21, 2020 11:07 am

As the name suggests, the project aims to teach and inspire educators to use contemporary teaching approaches to connect children with nature from their first years of kindergarten and school. Together with the Ministry of Education and Employment who are heralding a new innovative approach to education called the Emergent curriculum, BirdLife Malta is working with three other international partners who are experts in this field and St Nicholas College Mġarr Primary School.

What is the Emergent curricula and how does it go hand in hand with nature-based learning? 

Children are naturally curious learners, showing interest in their surroundings and eager to experience new things. One challenge is that adults often prefer to follow a set of rules of what the little ones should know and learn. However, learning should be less restrictive and more enjoyable for children. Nevertheless, a transition is now happening! The Emergent curricula is promoting listening to children’s voice, identifying their needs and choosing the activities according to their interest.

“Let the children decide what they want to do and just follow them!” 

Instinctively, children’s ideas and interest are a valuable source of what the curriculum should look like. When children show interest in what they are doing, the learning process is more effective in the long term and most importantly: enjoyable! At this early stage in their life, children have the right to play, have fun, allowing them to decide on their own, and sparkling their creativity through the things they are interested in, whilst also encouraging them!  

Without refraining them and with no limitations, children’s creativity is so exceptional that we are always amazed about the things they do and say! 

A nice illustration of children’s creativity is presented by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his book “The Little Prince”. 

“Once, when I was six years old, I saw a magnificent picture in a book called “True Stories”, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast. Here is a copy of the drawing. 

In the book it said: “Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion.” 
I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My drawing number 1. It looked like this: 

I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. 
They answered me: “Why should any one be frightened by a hat?” 
My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Then, I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My drawing number 2 looked like this: 

The grown-ups’ response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my drawing number 1 and my drawing number 2. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” 

Why is nature important in this process? 

UNICEF explains that the foundation of a child’s future relays on the brain-building process and neural connections which are also shaped by life experiences, alongside with their inherited genes. Children learn about themselves and the world around them through investigation and discovery. Luckily, nature and outdoor spaces provide the perfect setting for this!  

The environment is hence considered the third educator next to family and school. Nature provides stimulating environment and contributes to their healthiness, cognitive and emotional growth, well-being, enhanced skills and appreciation of nature, supporting the holistic development of the child.  

Spending time in nature is not only beneficial for children’s development, but also contributes to nature’s sustainability. Establishing a connection between children and nature from early years, will increase the chances for having future adults more attached and responsible for the environment.  

The project aims to support teachers on this path, to help them in integrating these teaching approaches and in enhancing school grounds into their current work plan, considering also the challenges schools are facing nowadays. To succeed on this path, it is important to inspire teachers and make them feel confident to carry out nature-based learning with their pupils and how to listen to children’s voices!  

The organisations which are taking part in this journey are BirdLife Malta as leading partner, the Ministry for Education and EmploymentSt Nicholas College Mġarr Primary SchoolLearning through Landscapes trust from the UK, BirdLife Spain and INAK from Slovakia. Each partner is bringing their expertise in the field and with a lot of cooperation and motivation invested, this project is already promising to be successful and exciting for both teachers and children alike! 

By Stefania Papadopol, BirdLife Malta Project Coordinator