Miss Katie Vander Donk1
1Explore and Develop Annandale, Annandale, Australia
Nature play immerses children into a sensory environment, where the senses and imagination are heightened. The unstructured environment devoid of typical play materials draws children to create and play with materials that do not have a defined outcome. We value allowing children the time for discovery, creativity, time to wonder and just be present in the environment.
Our curriculum at Explore & Develop Annandale is underpinned by pedagogy of place; our program is responsive to the natural environments we have in our local area. The children steer the course of each excursion. The uninhibited choice of resources allows agency; what experiences to engage in and how to interact with the environment in that moment. The children are beginning to connect with the larger universe of living things. Changes in children’s engagement with the space were observed over time; demonstrating a growing sense of custodianship to this land.
The lens of teacher action research has been used as the vehicle to explore what place based pedagogies could mean in an inner city context. The presentation will outline the development of regular walking excursions with infants and toddlers, into natural spaces in the urban environment and how through this practice we are fostering children’s connection to place and community. It will explore how the establishment of rituals strengthened a sense of belonging for the babies in our program and how these relationships provide the foundation for deeper learning over following years.
The presentation will address the theoretical intersection between nature play, Indigenous pedagogies and sustainability, and will unpack how this is relevant to practice with children three years and below. Building knowledge alongside children on the land we live, learn and play has deepened relationships to place and subsequently understanding of place and Country.
Katie Vander Donk is an Early Childhood Teacher currently teaching at Explore and Develop Annandale in the roles of Outdoor Teacher and Sustainability co-ordinator, previously leading the birth-two year-old program. She is currently studying a Master of Education, majoring in Sustainability. Katie believes even the youngest of children are capable beings and every child should be valued as active members of their community. Coupled with her strong professional interest in nature pedagogy, these beliefs have influenced her desire to develop an authentic connection to nature program for the infants and toddlers. She believes that every child has the right to develop a meaningful and authentic connection to nature.