The aim of this report is to provide a ‘blueprint’ for a proposed sensory garden initiative in an early years setting. Growing a garden is metaphorical to the aim of the project-- the intent to grow plants while nurturing the development of those who plant them, furthermore the key person’s understanding of the child as a learner in practice. This rationale is intended to explain the why this particular project was chosen, outline the roles of the persons involved and the pedagogy/strategies it will incorporate.
This project was chosen through observations made during outdoor free play in a Pre-Kindergarten (30 to 50 months old) setting. Cummins (559: 2015) points out that “engagement with literacy… will be enhanced when… instruction connects to student’ lives by activating their background knowledge, interests and aspirations”. This project was chosen originally as a result of an observation during outside play when a group of four students (three boys and one girl) picking up twigs and running around to find an ideal place to ‘plant’ them. This was an extended play experience lasting 10 minutes and was uninterrupted by adults for that time. During the final 5 minutes of the free play period, the teacher asked the students to explain what they were doing (in Chinese). One student said they were planting corn (which they eaten and appeared to enjoy at lunchtime as most children asked for seconds). The practitioner asked some questions such as, “how do you grow corn?” and “what other things do you want to grow?” These findings were recorded, and it was decided that gardening appeals to at least a few of the learners. During closing circle, the teacher showed photos (key visuals) of children planting a garden and asked the class if they would like to grow a real garden. They unanimously indicated that they did. In effect, the project was decided on by the children. Knowing students’ existing abilities and interests determines what should be taught and when. Through a multitude of observational and assessment techniques, teachers can thoughtfully compile information geared toward their particular students which will lead to successful lesson planning that incorporates both learning and positive behaviour.
Cummins (2015) discusses the concept of identity in promoting self-confidence and pride in oneself as a learner, while the EYFS (2012) heavily emphasizes the importance of feeling a sense of connection to the classroom community. This project-based learning experience aspires to both provide occasions of individual awareness of various competencies whilst achieving a sense of belonging and contribution to the school community. Research in the field of Early Years education points out that young children are constantly interpreting their surroundings so that they can make sense of their environment (Anning, 2009). This garden project focuses on allowing learners to take responsibility for their own learning by exploring, testing, trying, playing with all the natural materials around them to assist them to self-realise and think critically. Mixed methods of direct (minimal) and indirect instruction will be given, however the garden itself will be relied on as a teacher to scaffold the learning.
Planning for this project came from observing the children’s actions and interests, thus valuing the learners’ sense of identity and sharing the power over their own education (Baker, 2017). Further project planning will incorporate the following principles: “challenge and enjoyment, breadth, progression, depth, personalisation and choice, coherence and relevance”— intended to achieve high-quality provisions for each participant (Rodger 2012: 17). Children had been asked (directly through questioning and indirectly through methods such as drawing) what they already know on the subject and this knowledge served as the basis for planning to suit the needs of various multicultural and developmental backgrounds. This project was designed for The International School of Sanya (TIS) which follows the Alberta (Canada) curriculum. The February/March unit of inquiry as stated in this curriculum is the ‘Healthy Me! Unit’.
The children have attended the class since then beginning of the school year (September). Their individual needs have been observed up to this point. To ensue differentiation and inclusion, special needs had been discussed with teaching assistants and colleagues to ensure that all individual needs are met, both cognitively and developmentally. Good practice in the early years requires the practitioner to first assess then remove learning barriers and provide necessary differentiation (Rodger 2012). Drummond (2003:3) mentions the “close relationship between what we choose to assess and what we value most in the education of our children”. The key focus areas of development for the project are: ‘personal, social and emotional development’, ‘communication, language and literacy’ and ‘knowledge and understanding of the world’. Children will not be assessed on what they do not know, what and how they learn will be the markers of success. Process over product is key in all learning experiences. Assessments that focus on outcomes are not inclusive to a child’s abilities, culture or language abilities (Ang, 2010).
There are some specific issues that should be addressed while observing and assessing. Teachers should be aware of how their subjectivity, experience, mood, personal values and morals affect how they observe their environment, and an effort should be made to try to be as objective as possible. There is a natural tendency to see what one wants to see instead of seeing what is actually happening[MSOffice2] . Grieshaber (2000:112) noted, “We are reminded of the need to resist the temptation to create binary oppositions. Such black and white formulations hide the complexity of what is going on.” This principle must also be applied to the final stage of the interpretation of the data collected and the determination of how it will be used. In order to capture a more holistic view of the children’s learning, a variety of observation and assessment techniques will be used.
Leadership in this project reflects Dunlop’s (2008: 8) notion that “leadership is that it is not an isolated activity invested in a single person, but rather that a variety of people contribute to effective leadership, and that leadership is therefore distributed.” The ‘variety of people’ will include teachers, colleagues, parents and the children. As most of the children at the setting are Chinese, referring and consulting with the Chinese practitioners increases cultural inclusivity and reduces communication and language barriers, connecting varying communities of practice (Brock 2009). To create a more child-initiated project and allow for maximised self-expression, teachers will assume the role of facilitator (Egbo, 2009). When practitioners share the control of the classroom with the children, all participants feel empowered and are more inclined to participate and engage in activities that are interest-driven, which in turn creates a positive and satisfying social atmosphere and promotes the notion of inclusion and democracy (Murray 2013). It is important to view colleagues and parents as resources by discussing their thoughts and ideas for a more holistic collaboration of learning and experiences.
Parents’ involvement in this project is intended to improve the project as a whole by providing input and feedback for the project and to promote effective communication using L1 and hopefully L2 whenever possible between child and parents. The Department of Education (EYFS, 2012) issued research based on the family’s impact on child development. Research shows that parental involvement in the foundation stage has a significant effect that may be long-lasting (EYFS, 2012). Parents will be asked to share their ideas throughout the project. They will be kept up to date via internet forum, notes sent home and photographs will be taken of the children’s work. Suggestions of questions they may ask their children and interesting and communicative homework that they may do together will be issued.
In conclusion, this project will incorporate aspects from the programmed approach (following curriculum standards), open-framework approach (more flexible to circumstances, providing continuous provisions) and child-centred approaches (heavily depending on the input of the children to guide certain aspects of the project) (REPEY 2012). This project aims to teach by doing, providing an education through hands-on experience. Stewart (2009) writes that learners should “attempt, believe and celebrate” their efforts, of which this project offers ample opportunities. Children will be given the chance to “actively construct his/her own understandings within a social and physical environment” (REPEY 2002:32) via open ended questions, continuous provision and risk-taking. Previous teaching experience and pedagogies based on social constructivism will be challenged with more progressive and emergent strategies to continually focus on meeting the needs of all learners (MacNaughton 2003).
Ang, L. (2010) Critical Perspectives on Cultural Diversity in Early Childhood: Building an Inclusive
curriculum and Provision: An International Research Journal, vol. 30, no.1, pp. 41-52.
Anning, A., Cullen, J., and Fleer, M. (2009) Early Childhood Education: Society and Culture. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Ltd.
Baker, C., & Wright, W. E. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. 6th Ed. (pp.304-328). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Brock, A., Dodds, S., Jarvis, P. & Olusoga, Y. (2009) Perspectives on Play: Learning for Life. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Cummins, J., Hu, S., Markus, P., & Kristiina Montero, M. (2015). Identity Texts and Academic Achievement: Connecting the Dots in Multilingual School Contexts. TESOL Quarterly: A Journal For Teachers Of English To Speakers Of Other Languages And Of Standard English As A Second Dialect, 49(3), 555-581.
Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (2012) 1st ed. London: Department for Education.
Drummond, Mary Jane. (2003) Assessing Children’s Learning 2nd ed. London: David Fulton Publishers.
Egbo, B. (2009). Teaching for Diversity in Canadian Schools (pp.63-94). Toronto, ON: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Grieshaber S. et al. (2000) Child Observation as Teachers’ Work in Contemporary Australian Early Childhood Programmes. International Journal of Early Years Education, Vol. 8, No. 1.: Carpax Publishing.
MacNaughton, G. (2003) Shaping Early Childhood. New York: Open University Press.
Rodger, R. (2012) Planning an Appropriate Curriculum in the Early Years: A guide for early years practitioners and leaders, students and parents, 3rd ed. Oxon: Routledge.
Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Muttock, S., Gilde, R. and Bell, D. (2002) Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY), London: Department for Education and Skills.
Stewart, J. (2009). Supporting Refugee Children: Strategies for Educators (pp. 235-59). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.