Early educators have the power to change children’s view of the world and the way it works for the better, says Carley Sefton…
I love the new year. To be Honest, I love Christmas more but packing everything away and getting back into a normal routine full of resolutions (and cheese) is another highlight. We have a tradition in our house where the day before we all go back to work/school, we have a pyjama and film day while polishing off all the leftover festive treats. We finish by writing a list of all the things we want to achieve over the next 12 months.
Somewhat similarly, at Learning through Landscapes, we’ll begin 2018 with a whole-team development day to decide our aims and objectives for the year. Starting off with a clean sheet of paper and a head full of ideas is incredibly exciting, and I know top of the list will be finding new ways to open children up to new experiences and reconnect them to their planet!
In a previous life I ran an educational city farm. I remember on one early years tour I was leading, an observant little boy shouted, “That sheep’s just done a pink poo!” It was early in the season and I was expecting to look around to see a fresh pile of sheep manure, but instead I was greeted with a premature lamb and a very shocked-looking ewe. I calmly tucked my dress into my kickers, jumped the fence and went to investigate while instructing the teachers to meet me in the barn. It quickly became apparent that a twin was on the way, so I slowly picked up the tiny bundle of new life and calmly encouraged mum to move into the barn.
Inside I was met by 15 small, excited faces, all competing to get the best view. I talked the children through what was happening as I encouraged mum to bond with her new baby, then moved down to the ‘action’ end. I stressed to the children how important it was to be quiet so we didn’t scare mummy and baby, and I didn’t hear a peep from any of them. I soon realised that twin number two wasn’t going to make it into the world without intervention. I popped my rings and watch into my bra (an important lesson I’d learnt the year before!) and proceeded to give my fascinated audience a basic anatomy lesson, talking them through what I was doing before giving mum a helping hand bringing her perfect little lamb into the world.
What surprised me was that there were none of the “urghs!” or “yucks!” I’d experienced with older children, just a class filled with wonderment and joy. As the lambs enjoyed their first feed, the silence was shattered and I was bombarded with questions, all very relevant and interesting.
I hope that my 15 little friends who witnessed our unexpected delivery will never forget that experience, and they remember where babies come, how they feed and that sometimes things don’t go to plan. The earlier children are exposed to these important life lessons the better. The group returned to the farm a few weeks later and got to have cuddles with the lambs and see how well mum had recovered, as there was some concern when they saw the delivery that she was injured.
It’s wonderful to witness those momentous learning moments, when you see a child’s view of the world change, and I feel so privileged when I’m involved in them. It’s one of the main reasons I do what I do. I know it’s not always possible to organise big trips offsite or to have chicks hatching in the classroom, but when you can, you should. There are some fantastic companies across the country that offer hatching experiences, bringing in fertilised eggs and incubators and providing all the support you need, before taking away the little chicks after they’ve hatched.
So, as you and your team look down at your blank piece of paper neatly entitled ‘2018’, try to pop a couple of life experiences on there – understanding our world and how it works is one of the most important lessons we can teach, and there’s no better place to start than in early years. So good luck, please share what you do and let’s make 2018 a fab one!
Carley Sefton is executive director of Learning through Landscapes, which offers a range of services to support outdoor learning and play in the early years.