If we spend time observing kindergarten-age students at home and in other learning environments (e.g. school, play areas, gardens), we realize the following:
- Children of this age have enormous trust in adults, particularly parents and teachers, and tend to believe the world as experienced through events facilitated by them.
- Play and storytelling are two major pillars of kindergarten learning. You may present a wide variety of activities to the child, but it is likely that the child will absorb most of them as different kinds of play. Storytelling is their favourite medium to learn about the world at large – past and present, real and imaginary. Storytelling can also take a number of different and participative forms.
- The content of both play and storytelling is up to the adults to design. Also, the children invent their own content when left to play or story-tell freely on their own.
- The more we observe and think about play and storytelling, the more we discover their subtleties and connections to capabilities and competencies in adult life.
- Social interaction with other children, with other adults from the community (including teachers) are other ways the child is growing and learning about man-made world.
Having said all this, the kindergarten child is still a very vulnerable Homo Sapien baby, who is extremely dependent on adults for their well-being and nourishment. The unit of family is the most important unit for kids at this age.
At this age, children are also expanding their vocabulary and identification of objects. They are constantly experimenting with objects and structures. This is in harmony with the ongoing growth of their muscles and brain. They have learned particularly well to remember stories and other forms of learning. They can also add their own imagination to such learning and create new stories.
Wholesome kindergarten education focuses on immersive learning, observation, activity-based learning, physical activity and play, storytelling, and being part of the social community both at school and at home. It increases the sense of security and belongingness within the child.
Implications for nature education
It follows that integration of nature in kindergarten learning must be in harmony with the natural evolution of the child at this age.
- Children observe and imitate adults. If their families spend time in nature and observing and interacting with natural objects and phenomena, the child will more likely do that as well, initiating environmental learning at a young age. Mere intellectual/symbolic learning about nature is to be avoided and nature-immersive learning is preferred.
- Children at this age are developing a vague understanding of the hierarchy of the universe around them. E.g. family being a part of community, and community being a part of city/state/nation. If at this age, we can point out that the man-made world / human civilization is ultimately a subset of nature, that will be an important building block of learning.
- Dependence of man on nature for food, water, and other resources must be pointed out and integrated into learning (to the extent kindergarten kids can appreciate).
- The various kinds of nature-centric communities like tribals, fishing villages, farmers should be discussed.
- Nature is full of beauty and kids should be helped to experience this beauty through sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, etc.
We will return to the design of a kindergarten-focused environmental education curriculum when we talk about our framework at a later stage.