Learning outside the fences

The Only Fence. NKNP

Numala Kinder Nature Play believes children must have opportunities to learn about their world, in their world. This has meant sticking together, doing a little exploring, trying some new experiences and being brave sometimes.

In moving beyond the security of our own fencelines, our comfort zones where everything within is known and safe, the jarjums and I have learned so much about boundaries. Through our play in nature we have learned that each person’s zone of comfort is different, and that its a risk to step out of it. We’ve also learned that our friends have got our back. We hold hands and offer support and encouragement and we learn about fear … safely. And together. When one of our friends is feeling uncertain, the others know just what to say:

“Are you feeling worried? I felt that way too at first. This is what I do to feel braver…”

“Would you like some help? What can I do?”

“Do you want some help to pump up your courage? Here, I’ve got your hands”

“Why don’t you watch us until you are ready? Or try it this way instead?”

“I’ll give you a clue. Watch out for this bit, it’s tricky”

In this way the jarjums are acknowledging risk and learning to greet challenge. They know its hard to try new things when you don’t feel confident in your skills yet. They know that feelings are real – whether it is concern about leaving your mum, not liking the look of that spider, the feel of mud on your toes, uncertainty of walking through tall grass or fear of falling off a branch. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, they all know how it feels. They also know that we can’t make anyone step out of their comfort zone until they are ready to move that fence by themselves. But we can be kind.

I wonder, if we never ventured out into the world and just stayed in our comfort zones, might we have had these experiences and opportunities to build relationships, confidence, resilience, trust and sensible decision-making? I reflect on these jarjums, and myself, and realise how wide our comfort zones have now grown, and how happy we are in them.

Children can do it, and so can the big-people. We forget sometimes that our comfort zones have fences that can be moved. It takes effort, courage and community support. The rising interest in nature play is starting to challenge the comfort zones of early childhood education in Australia, and so it should. The Early Years Learning Framework supports children’s learning and participation in their world. Can we honestly say that we are encouraging “Belonging, Being and Becoming” if we remain within the walls and fences we have constructed for children based on our own comfort zones? We need to revision those fencelines, and when we step beyond them we look first (both for danger and adventure), hold hands, say kind words and feel the feelings. And as we go forward together we learn more about our world and how to be in it.

Jennifer McCormack offers professional development for early childhood services to encourage critical thinking and skills for practical approaches to a variety of arts-based and playful topics. Jennifer is also available for conferences and special events. See the PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT page for details.