Sensory Education at Nature Kindergarten
Eoghan McConigley & Cliodhna O’ Neill from Park Academy’s Nature Kindergarten explain the endless sensory benefits that the forest presents to children.
Sensory exploration helps children to make sense of their environment and is essential for a child’s development in many areas. Through refining their senses children will achieve a greater understanding of many concepts and can better adapt to the world around them.
Sensory play supports cognitive development, language acquisition and the development of fine and gross motor skills, as well as encouraging children to develop their creativity, problem solving ability and social skills. However we often don’t create enough opportunities for children to engage in sensory exploration, particularly in today’s world where technology has overtaken traditional forms of play and children are spending less and less time outdoors.
Within the Nature Kindergarten every day is a sensory learning experience. This is a very unique setting, where the children are given the opportunity to engage with nature each day and have access to a multitude of sensory experiences. Freedom of choice is an integral part of the Nature Kindergarten ethos so children can explore the natural environment without restriction, using all of the senses they possess. In this way they can naturally develop the skills they will need for both school and for life.
Listed below are the ways in which the five main senses are stimulated at Nature Kindergarten and the benefits of these sensory activities for a child’s holistic development.
By using the natural environment, the benefits of sensory play within a nature kindergarten early environment are unlimited
1. Bug hunts: This activity supports not only the development of sight but also the development of fine motor skills. Searching for tiny creatures requires a child to focus and use their concentration and encourages them to employ gentle and controlled movement. Bug hunting also has great benefits for a child’s social and emotional development as it promotes empathy, curiosity and wonder.
2. Identifying plants & species – Upon starting at Nature Kindergarten, the children are taught how to distinguish between safe plants and those which can be poisonous. Using their sight in this way promotes attention to detail and aids a child’s classification skills. These are important skills which will be necessary for many other areas of learning.
1. Listening to the wildlife: The children listen to the environment and understand the different sounds of wildlife that they hear. The children can differentiate between the calls of the sparrow-hawks and wood pigeons who reside in the forest. Listening to birds singing can also help to improve a child’s spatial awareness which will reduce the amount of accidents that they can have. It is important that children develop these skills before starting primary school with teachers reporting increased incident of pupils falling off their chairs and running into things in the playground.
2. The natural music of the forest: The unique song of the forest is created when the natural elements and materials fuse together. These calming sounds are heard only by the children attending the Nature Kindergarten. Not only do these sounds soothe the ear and mind, they also help focus the child’s hearing to the minute sounds of the forest. The ability to tune into minute sounds will enhance a child’s listening skills – another crucial skill for learning.
1. Preparing drinks: Throughout the year we experience the natural environment through taste. Each season provides different opportunities for tasting, so one method we use is to make drinks with the plants that grow in our forest. The children are involved in the whole process from picking the type of tea they want to make, to gathering the plant materials needed. We then prepare the fire, plants and equipment and wait for the water to boil, before enjoying a nice cup of our unique tea together. At this point the children use their sense of taste to decide what type of tea it is, if they need to add more plant flavours and if they like the drink or not. This type of activity also encourages children to be more adventurous in tasting new and different foods at home. Therefore we don’t have many fussy eaters in the forest!
1. Seasons and smells: During a whole year in the Nature Kindergarten smells change each and every day. One of the main reasons for this is the change in the seasons. The children learn about the seasons through the change in the smells around them, such as the flowers that appear in spring and summer, the rooting leaves in autumn and the crisp smell that accompanies the cold and frost in winter. This natural experience creates a deeper understanding of the concept of seasons.
2. Death: One unique quality of the Nature Kindergarten is that it helps children to develop a basic understanding of death. This is a regular natural occurrence in the environment that they are in. On a daily basis we see life and death in the forest from bird’s eggs hatching to the remains of dead animals. The children quickly learn that different smells represent certain things, such as that good/nice smells usually mean that something is good for you or won’t harm you, whereas bad/rotting smells normally mean to stay away from something or that it can be harmful.
1. Barefoot sensory track: One of the most important senses for learning, is the sense of touch. No matter what activity or learning experiences the children take part in, they will need to use this sense. Our barefoot sensory track activity is a very popular activity at Nature Kindergarten and involves the children walking through different textures such as water, sand, soft mud, leaves and wood. Through this experience, children learn to become aware of different sensations and the different materials that can cause these sensations.
2. Natural materials
There is an abundance of natural materials in the forest, from rough bark and wood to smooth shiny leaves. Exploring these materials introduces the children to many different textures and gives them the opportunity to test theories and processes. For example, mud play and sand play will introduce children to basic scientific principals and concepts.
One of the biggest benefits of sensory exploration is that it promotes imaginative play. This is particularly true at Nature Kindergarten where the children do not have a range of toys and devises to entertain them all of the time. Instead our children get to use their imagination and are inspired by the beauty of the natural environment that surrounds them. This was demonstrated recently when two of the children collected red bark from a fallen tree and then used it to represent fire in their game. The children have also created their own stick puppets which have starred in many a show in nature Kindergarten! The abundance of natural materials in the forest present limitless opportunities for role play and imaginative games such as these.
It is clear that the forest environment presents endless benefits for a child’s sensory development. Putting children in contact with nature will not only enhance their understanding of the natural world but will equip them with skills they need to thrive in the wider world. By enabling children to explore the world through their senses, we are providing a valuable opportunity for their growth and development. So let’s get outside and get exploring!
Park Academy Childcare’s Nature Kindergarten is a unique outdoor educational campus set in the heart of Killruddery forest. It’s an astonishing classroom where children immerse themselves in nature and learn organically through their discoveries. Our team of Early Years Educators cater for both preschool and after-school age children, with an after-school bus collection from a selection of local schools. There is a range of full and part-time options available and parents can avail of ECCE funding, which will be deducted from their monthly Nature Kindergarten fee. For more information visit http://bit.ly/1gMg1q0 or contact our enquiries team on 1850 273 243.