Visitors to Sunflower Preschool @ Hougang may notice younger-than-usual gardeners tending to the school’s plants. This is all part of the centre’s drive to introduce children to the world of flora and fauna through outdoor learning. These lessons are also designed to engage the preschoolers more deeply, as they venture out to explore the vital relationship among plants, insects and animals.
Planting the Right Seeds
The centre always had a little outdoor space just enough to grow some plants, but these potted plants were only taken care of by the teachers and school ‘aunty’. That was until Ms Zahara had a spark of inspiration — why not use the school’s greenery to show children the essential role of plants in the ecosystem, and how we should care for them.
To bolster their involvement in the learning process, the children were given the responsibility of creating a garden, and maintaining it. This hands-on outdoor learning approach not only equipped the children with newfound appreciation and knowledge of plants, but also helped them develop practical life skills as well.
For example, the children picked up simple cooking skills while making honey-cornflake cookies to reinforce what they had learnt about flowers and honeybees. They also made lemon mint tea, using the mint leaves they had grown and picked from their garden!
Filled with information about flora and fauna, the children were eager to share their newfound knowledge with the community. They made bookmarks, which explained the value of plants and biodiversity, and bravely shared them with shopkeepers around the mall, where the preschool is located in. This activity encouraged the children to express themselves through writing and verbal sharing, building their language abilities and confidence.
Deeper Learning Out in the Field
The preschool’s little urban garden was proving a hit with the children, but the teachers wanted to extend the outdoor learning experience even more.
“Children learn best through exploring with their senses. It would be beneficial to extend the concepts they learnt in the classroom through an outdoor learning journey to the Botanic Garden,” noted Teacher Rebekah.
A haven of biodiversity, the Botanic Garden was ideal for this outdoor learning activity. The children were able to engage all their five senses, including the chance to observe, touch and even smell the variety of plants up close, which made them even more curious and excited.
While full of enthusiasm, the teachers soon realized that there were challenges along the way.
“This was our first time doing such a major project, and we did not realise how much time it was going to take,” shared Teacher Liyanah.
Other than a time crunch, another small teething problem was their location at the rooftop of the shopping mall. There was too much sunlight for some plants, causing many from the first batch to wither.
Undeterred, the teachers quickly came up with clever solutions. They extended the project timeline to allow more time for planning meaningful lessons, and got parents to help out at the workshop and field trip to Botanic Gardens. They even enlisted professional help in learning how to better care for the plants.
The Route to Growth
Inspired by the positive results of this outdoor learning experience, the centre is keen to continue exploring new ways to incorporate outdoor learning into their curriculum.
“Hands-on training engages kinaesthetic learning. Learning is better when it’s an authentic, real-world experience, especially in an open, fun and stress-free environment,” explained Teacher Liyanah.
The teachers themselves have also greatly benefited from the opportunity to take part in an Innovation Grant Project (IGP). From developing lesson plans to executing interesting activities with the children, it was a valuable experience as the teachers gained confidence to carry out similar outdoor learning experiences in the future.
With strong support from the principal and management, the teachers continue to be enthusiastic about the prospects of incorporating more outdoor learning lessons into their curriculum, with a trip to Gardenasia at Neo Tiew Crescent already in the works.
Bringing Learning Outdoors at Your Centre
For fellow preschool educators eager to have a go at outdoor learning, the teachers at Sunflower Preschool have a few useful nuggets of advice:
- Keep a look out for opportunities to take learning outdoors — there are actually a myriad of suitable and free venues around Singapore.
- Always have a Plan B in case of wet weather so that the activities you have planned can still be carried out (and not to disappoint the children too!).
- Most importantly, keep an open mind so you can create a fun learning journey, for the children and for yourself!
Click here for more tips and resources on how you can embed outdoor learning into your centre’s curricula and programmes!
Find out more about and apply for the Innovation Grant Project (IGP) here!