Early learning teachers think about outcomes in broad terms and with programming intent rather than treating them as ‘checklists’. Curriculum frameworks are intended to be tools that support early learning teachers in examining the visual and potential types of learning occurring when children engage in various types of experiences. Rather than assess the child, consider outcomes to assess the experience. Let’s go back to the stick, stone and pinecone experience presented earlier. Since Honey and Richard work in Ontario, they referred to that province’s framework to determine which outcomes were met. They found many connections since the experience was so multi-faceted. They settled on two that they would consider and build upon in future learning experiences: questioning and observing (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014).
Richard and Honey are careful not to focus too narrowly on these outcomes. They added them to their analysis of the experience that they recorded. They were inspired by dialoguing about questioning and observing and decided to bring magnifying glasses outdoors to examine pine cones even more closely and to encourage questions and further experimentation. Environments that support children’s development are those that provide materials, time and opportunities for children to explore and discover, rather than environments that are focused on achieving specific learning outcomes.
Ideally, early learning teachers support children in having the freedom to be active constructors of their learning through play and experiential learning. When early learning teachers assume that young children have the abilities to determine the types of play to support their learning needs, the learning environment is more likely to focus on the process of play rather than the completion of a product or production of items that exhibit defined learning outcomes. Children learn best in spaces where they are given the freedom to try new ideas, combine new ideas with current knowledge and experiences, and rethink how they did things and what they may do differently to accommodate their new discoveries (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). This approach emulates the United Nations Rights of the Child (1991) that indicates children value freedom from structure, making choices and having time to themselves. Controlled environments that focus on children achieving defined learning outcomes are generally based on the shallow interpretations of children’s interests rather than supporting them in deeper engagement with their funds of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. As learners, children are encouraged to develop strategic thinking processes that have learning as a goal. This involves creating an environment where children make the decision to engage and persist with learning and to develop skills to be a collaborative and an autonomous learner. Children require environments that allow them to assume ownership for their own thoughts, processes and actions in their learning. With intentional early learning, teachers can provide experiences that support children in all critical learning areas including the spirit. Supporting a mind, body and spirit connection is attainable in the outdoor learning environment!