Co-Constructing Spaces and Explorations with Children in the Natural World

Child (Eric) filling a blue water table with a hose on the playground

It was a sunny summer day, Eric went to the water area to help set up as usual…

Water play is one of children’s favorite experiences during the summer; no matter what they combine with it. Take a moment to think about what a “water area” conventionally looks like; what materials we, as educators, choose, how educators “set up” the water activities there for the children. 

Toys (including those often offered in a water area) come with instructions that tell children how they are going to play; however, natural resources and open-ended materials will bring the children over a hundred opportunities to express their hundred languages, hundred thoughts and hundred ways of thinking and playing…

We value the environment as the third teacher; it encourages creative exploration and supports child-led learning. One that may provoke; embracing  nature and filled with open-ended materials… 

We wonder why we, as educators, often feel that we can’t leave the water area open without setting up any materials, without setting up an “activity”? 

What happens if we leave space for the children to create the experience they want to explore, the environment they want to set, to choose the materials they want to add and the way they want to explore them? 

Perhaps it becomes be a provocation for us as well, leading us to prepare an authentic learning environment for children. An environment that becomes their own which will lead or invite them to imagine, create, explore and make connections with the materials they have selected.

We learn from children. They teach us how they think, what they need to continue their work of discovery. They lead us to a deeper understanding of their ideas when we truly listen.

As educators we may ask ourselves: 

What does the environment say to the children? 

What materials might they choose and how might the materials choose them? 

What’s the relationship between children and materials, and between materials and other materials?

In the course of filling the water table, Eric found a rotting apple on the ground that had fallen from our crabapple tree, picked it up and began to toss it into the water over and over again.

I wonder what intrigued him? Captivated him? He seemed to notice the changes in the strength he was using to throw the apple changed the way the apples and water responded. Was it sinking or floating more? After filling the water table completely, Eric invited Nina to join him.  “Come! Come! Nina, come to see my apple!” he said. 

They gathered more apples from the playground and took turns throwing their apples into the water as laughs filled the air. That moment brought me to my childhood, skipping stones along the water. 

Did they notice their apples bouncing in the water and making beautiful art through water ripples? Why did the ripples spread out further and further? Why do they stop? Were they testing floating and sinking or something else?

The children began to collect materials and add to their exploration and discovery.  

What’s the relationship between children and materials? In this moment, Eric shows us the relationship between him and these materials, is not one where Eric is active and the materials are passive, animate and inanimate. Instead, it’s one where they are  communicating and inspiring each other; learning from the environment because they’re all part of the natural world.

We know that in our natural world all kinds of beings have their own value of existence; everything is interconnected, has different forms and plays different roles. There is always so much more for us all to learn about the world around us. As adults, there are still many things about the world in which we live that we don’t know.

What would it look like if we as adults, as educators, came to view the world with the same curiosity, joy and wonder that Eric shows us in this moment?

The way that children explore naturally? 

The children remind us how to engage in these ways, how to stay curious about the world, to explore the mysteries of nature. When children explore the world in these more open-ended ways, developing their own ideas, we feel a draw to explore together with them, to wonder alongside them. This becomes our role as educators; to wonder, to learn, to discover with the children as equals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.