Exploring nature and learning through play

“As is the philosophy of our school and in line with the IBPYP, inquiry through play is fundamental and in the early years supports the notion that learning is an active process. Healthy learning environments and supportive relationships, created and demonstrated by the learning community, further support this learning process. MIS actively fosters the home-school partnerships in many ways both during online learning and when we are face-to-face. When these elements are in place, children respond with curiosity, imagination, creativity and agency. Through this active inquiry process, they naturally develop language ability, practice symbolic exploration and expression, and become self-regulated learners. Symbolic exploration and expression such as listening, speaking, reading, mark making, drawing, building, movement, dance, drama, role play is developed through play and explorations of spaces, ideas, materials and tools. As their skills evolve, early learners develop a positive sense of identity to interact, reflect and contribute to their own and others’ learning and development in the early years and beyond.”

In early December 2021, the learners of EY1 set out ‘exploring nature and making new discoveries’ as they began their unit of inquiry ‘Sharing the planet’. The first two weeks were fantastic as the learners had access to outdoor spaces, perfect for nature exploration and active play. However, their outdoor nature explorations in communal spaces such as parks and gardens were short-lived due to the rising cases of Omicron in Pune. We had barely begun venturing out exploring nature and treasures in nature, and we were disappointed to say the least. Now the question was, ‘How to sustain learning and develop a sense of nature and self with limited access to nature/natural spaces?’

The simple and obvious answer was play- yes, play and playful explorations of ideas, spaces, tools and materials that are available easily, making learning experiential, contextual and learner centric. After a quick survey and discussion with the parents about the availability and access to spaces at home to support play, multiple play invitations were shared with the learners and families. We had to ensure that the play engagements were accessible, purposeful and relevant to all learners. Invitations such as paint sticks to paint with sticks, water and mud play were intentionally added to the list to encourage messy, open-ended, sensory play creating opportunities to indulge and soothe senses; much needed for emotional well-being of our learners.

Then we waited patiently wondering if the play invitations were enticing and powerful enough to nurture our learners’ curiosity and fuel their desire to further explore, experience, discover and wonder about nature around them.

Shrinika makes chapatis and soup. What would you cook in the mud kitchen?

Day by day, little by little, videos and photographs were posted on Seesaw by the learners and parents of their play and explorations. It was inspiring to see many of our learners thoroughly engaging with materials and tools from nature available at home. Natural loose parts such as sticks, leaves, flowers, water and stones became tools for expression for many as they explored colours, shapes and patterns, created art and narrated stories.

Some discovered their first ladybird resting on their bicycle in the garden and wished for more ladybirds to visit them. Others noticed tornadoes and bubbles in a bucket of water as they watered plants and swirled a tumbler in a bucket as they engaged in water play. A few discovered that leaves, sticks and flowers float while stones and rocks sink in the water. Some wondered how birds fly and imitated the movements of the birds in flight with a pea shell. Some discovered nests in their gardens and outside their windows, inspiring us to build nests and develop creative thinking and empathy towards birds.

Armaan built a nest for himself. What is it like to build a nest?

It was magnificent to witness many interpretations and possibilities of play and exploration experienced and shared by our youngest nature explorers and inquirers. The play invitations not only offered young learners’ opportunities to experience and discover nature but to explore their own ideas, experiment with materials and tools from nature, follow their interests and wonder while developing essential skills and dispositions as individuals, inquirers and thinkers for life-long learning.

Imara observed her first ladybird. What do you notice?

Ms. Anu Heyworth

EY 1 Teacher.

Work cited

“Laying the Foundation for Lifelong Learning.” IBO, International Baccalaureate, 2021, https://resources.ibo.org/pyp/works/pyp_11162-418371?lang=en&view=div&root=