The Web of Ecological Concepts: Kindergarten

Yogesh Pathak

With this article, we will start looking at EcoUniv’s Web of Ecological Concepts, one year at a time, starting with Kindergarten.

First, let us look at what is part of kindergarten curricula today.

  • Developing fine and gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination through a variety of hand-brain activities
  • Free Play
  • Listening to stories. These may include fairy tales, adventures, various mythological stories, stories about values and morals, and many others.
  • The child telling stories that he/she happens to know.
  • Listening to songs
  • Singing songs together. The songs may be of many types: nursery rhymes, storytelling thought songs, songs about nature, fun songs, poems, or prayers.
  • Talking about the things we do in our daily lives (e.g. chores, work, play, cooking, cleaning), as children and adults, at home and outside home
  • Learning to follow rules
  • Reading – often through visual and phonetic learning
  • Basic math e.g. counting numbers – usually supported by a set of activities
  • All kinds of physical activities, exercises, indoor play, and gym
  • Gardening and cooking, where available
  • Some field trips
  • Performing arts, including dance, drama, and puppets
  • Learning through the five senses: Seeing a variety of things, appreciating colors, drawing and painting, appreciating textures and surfaces, Smelling a variety of substances, Tasting various things, Listening to music and dialog, Watching short videos and movies
  • Sports (in cultures where sports play a dominant role).

In many places, the kindergarten curriculum now includes some writing skills, advanced reading, and some advanced math, pushing beyond the usual kindergarten-level abilities. Many parents prefer this, as it put their kids ‘ahead’ in the race of becoming advanced learners.

Many parents are also using curricula similar to the above to homeschool their children.

My contention is that if a child had no pre-designed curriculum, but

  • a very supportive community at home and in the neighborhood
  • several friends of a similar age
  • parents keen to facilitate learning
  • plenty of freedom to play

then the child would still do comparably well on learning outcomes relative to the kindergarten curriculum. i.e. Such a child would still develop some appreciation of reading and math, motor skills, storytelling, or experiencing through the five senses. After all, kindergarten as a focused experience occupies only 3-4 hours of a child’s day. The rest of the learning still happens at home.

What, then is the real benefit of kindergarten?

  • It provides a structure and sequence to their development
  • It allows children to socialize and makes them get along with others.
  • It instils in them some seriousness about reading and math, skills that are vastly important for the years following kindergarten. In other words, they are not completely raw when entering the first grade.
  • It makes them follow rules and systems (e.g. those in a school) which could be a foundation for collaboration with humans in the future. The school presents a model social structure to them, which must be adjusted to (this is a foundation for future life).
  • It provides them some structured play and more variety in storytelling and expression than they would find at home.

(Homeschooling parents may argue that there are pros and cons of schooling, and they would be right.)

Having said that, we also find that the central point of discussion in the kindergarten curriculum for many decades has been the ‘HOW’ (i.e. pedagogy) and not the ‘WHAT’ (i.e. content). As a result, content has largely stayed the same (see the list at the beginning of this article).

Unless specifically introduced, there is a void in nature education in kindergarten. i.e. Nature can be easily ignored (and has been mostly ignored), if the curriculum designers and facilitators are not paying attention. Materials for some of the kindergarten activities may come from nature (e.g. leaves, flowers, or stones) but here nature is merely seen as a supplier.

At EcoUniv, we believe the foundation of the holistic perspective to the environment, can be and should be laid from the kindergarten years. Parents need to be the key facilitators of such learning, with teachers also playing an instrumental role.

We propose that nature as a force that binds us all be a central concept in kindergarten curriculum. Other powerful threads could be nature’s diversity, nature’s beauty, observing and experiencing nature, and learning about people living closer to nature.

Below are the key concepts and concept clusters that would form the kindergarten-level strands of the Web of Ecological Concepts:

  • Me and My family
  • My home (Including: What is it made of, what was here before?)
  • My surroundings
  • The weather in my area: Rain, Snow, Winds, Sunshine, Clouds
  • Seasons in my area
  • The Day: Sunrise, Noon, Sunset, etc
  • The night: Moon and it’s shapes, stars
  • The things we use at home
  • Natural places around me
  • The land around me
  • What is soil?
  • Water bodies around me e.g. rivers, lakes, streams, (and oceans, if available)
  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Herbs
  • Grasses
  • Mammals
  • Birds
  • Insects
  • Amphibians
  • Snakes
  • Life cycle of a tree
  • Life cycle of various types of animals
  • Homes and habitats of animals
  • My community
  • My village/town/city (includes: How did my village/city got built, and what was here before?)
  • The food we eat: Where does it come from. How much of it comes directly from nature and what comes from the farm. What do people eat that comes directly from nature
  • The types of foodgrains/meat/vegetables/fruit we eat.
  • Our need for water: Where does our water come from?
  • What is air and where does it come from?
  • Parts of a tree
  • Leaves: Their designs, smell, taste, colours, texture
  • Flowers: Their designs, smell, taste, colours, texture
  • Bark: Their designs, smell, taste, colours, texture
  • Fruit: Their designs, smell, taste, colours, texture
  • Roots: Their designs, smell, taste, colours, texture
  • Variety in nature – trees
  • Variety in nature – animals
  • Are we just one of the many animals?
  • What do animals and plants need to survive?
  • Sounds of nature – especially sounds of wind, trees, water, and animals
  • What do various adults in my community/city do as a profession: How do they interact with nature in their work (if they do).
  • Are there communities who work within nature as part of their vocation? What do they get from nature? How does nature affect them? Is their work seasonal?
  • Medicines: Where do they come from? Is it possible to find medicines in nature?

Each of these concepts could be integrated in the kindergarten curriculum in a preliminary way. Parents and teachers could co-create and co-facilitate a variety of activities to make this happen. The actual content of each activity would differ as per local ecosystems and habitats, locals land and water forms, and local climate. (Eventually we will publish some guidelines on the activities).

The outcome of integrating the above concepts would be a much higher appreciation (on part of the child and parents) of the role nature plays in our lives, and why it needs to be preserved. This is especially important for families living in urban areas.