David is an outdoor educator at The Rumpus Room Darling Street, NSW, and has been working in early childhood education for 12 years with a focus on outdoor play/learning, creating engaging environments, interacting with the natural world, growing food, simple machines, and animal interactions.
David explains that the play-based model used at his service blends into inquiry-based learning, where children are able to follow their interests, at their own pace, by their own choice and with intent and focus on learning through their explorations. He considers one of his greatest challenges as an educator is his reflex to provide the answer when asked a question . Being mindful of this inspires him to create situations where the children can work towards discovering their own answers.
One of these set-up scenarios – making a wind-powered vehicle – was one of David’s most inspiring STEM experiences. Providing the children with a trike, scooter, mast, and piece of fabric as a sail, he challenged them to work through engineering solutions to each of the problems that arose. In the end, the children were able to power a vehicle across the yard. David enjoyed seeing the children work collaboratively, discussing solutions and experimenting with those solutions as they refined them. He also enjoyed the sheer excitement the children had for the project and for having a turn riding the vehicle. “Being able to do a mix of risky play, creating a machine, building and engineering practice while involving kids in harnessing renewable energy has been a highlight activity,” David says.
David describes how STEM exploration often helps children transition into care at his service. By providing stimulating environments that allow children to explore and discover, educators help engage children in activity and learning. The children’s curiosity often helps them move past the anxiety of separating from their parents. The service’s chickens and cockatiel allow the children to examine birds, discover eggs, feathers, beak shapes, and diet, but they also require them to regulate themselves to be calm and still so the birds feel safe enough to come for an interaction.
In another example of the holistic benefits of STEM experiences in nature, David says that the creek has helped develop the cooperative and communication skills of some of the preschool-aged children as they have to work collaboratively while building their bridges and dams and operating the pump. It has also helped with resilience and problem-solving skills.