Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Creativity In Outdoor Classrooms--Research Article

Just my thoughts, notes, and musings on this article linked below

In Playing withNature: Supporting Preschoolers’ Creativity in Natural Outdoor Classrooms, Kiewra and Veselack look at four factors in these space:
  • Predictable spaces
  • Ample and consistent time
  •  Open-ended materials
  • Caring, observant adults who support creative play and learning.

Obviously, the open-ended materials are loose parts! How do these factors enhance and support loose parts play?

Why is creativity important? The first paragraph in Kiewra and Veselack’s article looks at why creativity is important.
  • Sustainability of the planet—we’ll need problems solvers that can adapt to many situations and communicate well with others.
  • Seek adventure and find better ways of doing things—this takes creativity and application.
  •  Live life fully—have more control over what happens to them.
  • Economic growth
  •  Solutions to societal challenges
  • Maximize human potential
  •  Sense of well being
  •  Positive social change
  •  Learn and develop skills
  •  Handle stress and be more confident

Which of these are important to you as an educator? While we might not be thinking of the long-term effects of creativity in early childhood, how can looking at the bigger picture help as we cultivate creativity in children?

Creativity is declining at a global level even though we need it to solve complex issues. A big threat to creativity is our approach to education in the U.S. Kiewra and Veselack quote Kim (2011), “Children have become less . . . expressive . . . energetic . . . humorous .  . . imaginative . . . unconventional . . . . less likely to see things from a different angle.” What challenges in our educational system are threatening creativity? How can we overcome some of these challenges?

Kiewara and Veselack share ways educators can promote creativity in young children, such as: 
  • encouraging flexible thinking
  • wide-ranging play experiences

“Play can be used as a springboard for teachers to scaffold and support.”

John Dewey, an educational theorist, says educators should “give children something to do not something to learn”. This supports the use of:
  •  provocations for learning
  • planning open-ended play-based experiences
  • “messing around”

Sir Ken Robinson states, “Creativity is not the opposite of discipline and control. On the contrary, creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill. Cultivating creativity is one of the most interesting challenges for any teacher.”

How can you encourage flexible thinking? How can you plan for wide-ranging play experiences? What provocations for learning have worked for you? How do you plan for open-ended play-based experiences? How do you allow for “messing around”?

This reminds me of when I wrote about the “Ex Quotient” or the need and willingness to experiment. Read more about it here.

Find certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms here.

Kiewra and Veselack (2016) mention predictable spaces as part of creativity in natural outdoor classrooms. Caring, observant adults who support creative play and learning are an aspect of creativity that Kiewra and Veselack report, sharing a few key characteristics:
  • open-ended questions that further scientific inquiry
  •  ensure long blocks of time for deep exploration
  • keen observers of children’s play to see and document learning
  • close observation of children’s explorations
  • strategically support children’s processes and thinking to enhance learning
  • physically in proximity of children
  • offer observations
  • follow children’s lead without taking over
  • trust children to make decisions
  • dialogue with children to promote taking other perspectives and learn about problem-solving
  •  facilitate and scaffold children’s learning
  • model and support a sense of wonder
  •  set up learning areas in outdoor classroom
  •  make sure an abundance of loose parts are available
  • provide learning support materials (clipboards, paper, pencils, other loose parts)
  •  freedom and flexibility to use spaces and materials in unintended areas or manners

What is our role as educators in promoting creative or loose parts play?

“The teacher’s role is critical to supporting children’s skill development in self-initiated experiences in a Nature Explore Classroom. The teacher needs to be physically in proximity of children, offer observations, ask thought-provoking questions, follow children’s lead without taking over, and trust children to make decisions.” (Veselack, Cain-Chang & Miller, 2010)

“Teachers bring a selection of equipment and play materials outside from storage sheds and classrooms daily based on several factors: teachers’ observations of and response to children’s needs; children’s articulation of their needs or initiative in bringing items outdoors themselves; staff members consideration of the weather and other factors.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016)

“Play is the way children discover the world around them. They explore, invent, and transform it to suit their needs.” (Almon, 2013)

“How hard they work, only we who have watched them really know. They do not waste one precious moment. They are going about their jobs all the time. “ (Pratt, 1948) I Learn from Children

Nature inspired outdoor classrooms have many interesting natural materials that invite creative play. In contrast manufactured toys encourage acting out familiar scenes with predictability.

“A mistaken belief is that an effective way to support creativity is by providing toys in which the inventor has already done all the creating. Premade props for dramatic play do not offer the challenges or opportunities that arise when children must find natural items they can use to represent what they envision.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016

“Natural loose parts such as sticks, logs, sand and snow can be anything children want them to be and are ever changing.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016)

“If we encourage children to hone their own imagination and inventiveness, they are less apt to need the transient novelty of a new toy to generate capacity for creative play. We are helping them develop skills and values that lend themselves to better stewardship of the earth and its natural resources.” (Linn, 2008)

As part of the methodology of the Kiewra and Veselack’s study, Nature Notes were examined.  Nature Notes is a way to document children’s learning and interaction with the environment. Take a look at some of the examples, such as Boating on a Log, the Motorcycle, the Door, Gravity with Gutters, The Dinosaur. I have been to training on Nature Notes and see the potential for documenting learning and collecting research. Read more about Nature Notes here.

How might you use Nature Notes to document learning with loose parts play? What other approaches do you use to document loose parts play? How can you use this information to communicate with parents, share the worth of your program, reflect on practice, etc.?

As far as the various Nature Notes scenarios, what ideas for loose parts play did you find? What is a simple way you might allow for more loose parts play from these examples?

Take a look at the descriptions of each school and outdoor classroom under the heading Research Approach and Procedures of the article. What aspects are appealing to you? Both schools use an emergent curriculum approach, allowing children to “choose for themselves the materials and experiences that most pique their interests” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016).

One key aspect from Kiewra and Veselack’s research includes the value of predictable spaces. How does the concept of space affect loose parts play and creativity? The design of Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms plays a role as part of the space and learning environment.

“We noticed that when children have the ability to spend regular daily time in a predictable outdoor environment, it becomes known to them, understood to them, and familiar. In other words, its predictability empowers children to explore their own ideas. This predictability showed up in teacher’s documentation as children formulated plans for their work in the designated interest areas that they knew would have the right materials and ample space. Upon entering the outdoor classroom, teachers frequently noted that children went directly to the areas of their interest and were often able to begin again in places where they had left off previously.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016)

62% of the documentation happened in the Messy Materials Area and the Building Area (or a combination) Creativity was often found through construction or manipulation of materials.

Scale was important. Outdoors, children could make larger creations which also encouraged more children to be involved. How does space play out in your loose parts play? Could it benefit from having less restricted space requirements and moving it outside from time to time?

The examples in this section remind me of the variety and depth of learning though loose parts play. What examples resonated with you? What examples from your own child or work show that power of loose parts play?

Flexibility of space was also important. Play would spill over the designated areas and children might transport materials to another area for creation. They were given this freedom and flexibility. How can we allow this with the children we work with?