With 17 years of experience in early childhood education and a special interest in sustainability, Natalie Bennett is a qualified educator in the 3.5-5 years room. She has participated in professional development on a variety of topics, including inquiry-based learning and gardening.
With her holistic approach to early childhood education, Natalie believes all areas of child development, education, and a child’s play experiences are equally important and interconnected. Her experience supporting young children through challenging times or helping them to connect with others has taught her that inviting them to engage in the natural environment often helps them settle and supports them emotionally and socially. Natalie says this is the starting point for children to follow their natural curiosity and discover their environment hands-on: “Through STEM education, they are developing skills that they need not only now, but in the future. This is why STEM is so important. STEM teaches children problem-solving, responsibility, observing skills, collecting ideas, encouraging one another, cooperation, sharing, overcoming fears, resilience, independence, and researching skills. STEM education in the garden also assists with mental health and wellbeing [because] ‘barriers’ come down as children share.”
Natalie was inspired by a child-led STEM learning experience following a child’s question, “Will Elf, our leaf insect, ever exist again?” This started the Breeding project, during which Natalie worked with the children in identifying the process and requirements of egg hatching. She encouraged the children to ask questions, problem-solve, and work as a team to achieve the goal. The project documentation included children’s hypotheses and observations. They gathered information about the eggs, and researched and prepared containers. Natalie ensured that the children understood the meanings of words such as “delicate” and “camouflage”. When insects hatched, the children observed that they looked like ants under the magnifying glass and discussed this, Natalie recalls.
While supporting a child who was transitioning into her room, Natalie invited the child to see the leaf insects. At first, the child stood a little distance from the cage, but soon she began expressing more interest and became involved in the care for the insects, and asking questions like “Have they got teeth?” and “Do they tickle your neck?”. Natalie observed: “The child was developing her emerging autonomy, interdependence, and resilience as she was open to new challenges and discoveries. […] The child took home the leaf insects on the weekend to care for them with her family. “