ASG NEiTA gets David in touch with nature

by User Not Found | Jul 20, 2016

David_Gilkes_500x500Imagine being in an environment where children’s learning isn’t confined to four walls, where their creativity is nurtured by nature, and children are trusted to make their own judgements—not held back by fear. 

This is David Gilkes ideal ‘classroom’ and the ASG National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) recipient and early childhood educator from Tasmania is pushing for the tide to turn. 

David from Illawarra Primary School, in Tasmania’s south, is one of 12 national ASG NEiTA recipients from 2014 and used his professional development grant to travel to Denmark.

He visited several forest schools in different settings to see how they engage young children with nature, and how they’ve incorporated that into their pedagogy and practice.  

“I’m very passionate about children engaging with nature and the outdoor environment. We’re very lucky in Tasmania because we have such beautiful natural environments that are nearby and really accessible. 

“What was really fantastic was listening to these educators talking about their practice and listening to how much it’s embedded in their culture,” David said.

“From what I saw in Denmark, there are some really concrete things which I can implement and really make a difference to the children’s learning, their wellbeing, and their engagement with outdoor spaces.” 

David says the trip has also inspired him and other staff at his school to be more appreciative of the valuable resources they’ve always had, right in their own backyard. 

“We’ve been able to access the local bushland and beach a lot more, and not feel scared of the risks associated with that, because many teachers are afraid they’ll get into trouble if something happens. 

“It was interesting to see that the Danish community don’t view nature with associated risks —unless humans have changed it in some way.”

“When I was in Denmark, I watched this little boy climb all the way up this tree, which is unthinkable here. These children know their limits and what they’re capable of, because adults have given them the information they need, and trust children to make judgements, instead of a blanket ban, ‘no you can’t do that’. Because that’s when kids start taking risks that are not safe.” 

David says too much emphasis on fear has the opposite effect. 

“There are statistics and studies, which show that kids are having a lot more accidents now because they’re so wrapped up in cotton wool or bubble wrap. Playgrounds in our desire to make them safe, are actually become more unsafe because they’ve removed all the risk by taking away all that opportunity for children to experience risk.” 

Changing the tone of the conversation with parents is also an important ingredient, David says. 

“Since returning, one of the conversations I’ve had with parents is to try and change a few ideas in their heads—‘what are benefits of children playing with sticks,’ not ‘what are the bad things that happen when children play with sticks’. 

David says he’s very thankful for the opportunities which ASG NEiTA has provided.

“You don’t do this job to get pats on backs, but when you get it, it does make a difference. This profession is trying, exhausting, and challenging, and you need those pats on backs to give you the motivation to keep going, to say, ‘I’m doing a good job, I’m making a difference here.’ 

“To know this is coming from parents and communities that are seeing you every day and knowing the difference you’re making in their children’s lives, that’s really powerful. I’d encourage people to apply because I’ve had the opportunity now through this—to pursue something I’ve always wanted to pursue—going to see the forest schools in Denmark, it’s made a difference to my practice and my philosophy. But it’s also had that ripple effect—being able to influence my staff that I work with, my colleagues, and be able to impact families and children as well. 

Nominations for ASG NEiTA soon close on 31 July 2016.

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