Natural resources are a big deal in early childhood education at the moment. It seems every catalogue, blog and article is talking about the importance of natural resources for children. But why?
The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) states;
“Materials enhance learning when they reflect what is natural…Environments and resources can also highlight our responsibilities for a sustainable future and promote children’s understanding about their responsibility to care for the environment. They can foster hope, wonder and knowledge about the natural world.” (pg. 16)
The National Quality Standard (NQS) talks about the role of natural resources too, highlighting the need for children to have access to natural elements such as rocks, sticks, sand and water.
When we consider that the NQS and the EYLF are our guiding documents in early childhood, we must acknowledge that natural resources are a requirement for high quality education. These documents are based on contemporary research and it is our legal requirement to follow them.
But more than that, from a pedagogical perspective natural resources provide children with so many more opportunities for creativity and imagination in their play. Natural resources provide a range of textures and possibilities for children to explore within their play. They are flexible, open ended, aesthetic and unique.
Traditional early childhood toys such as those mass produced from plastic do not offer the myriad opportunities that natural resources do. Generally speaking, mass produced, manufactured children’s toys tell children how to play with them; they resemble something so closely that it becomes difficult for children to use them in any other way than their purpose. A plastic toy car, for example, is almost always going to be a car. A stone that fits inside a child’s hand, by contrast, might become a person, a building block, a car, or a piece of a pattern. The stone may also feel cool, it may be rough on one side and smooth on the other. It might have different colours swirled through it that look to one child like the ocean and another child like a snake. A stone is more than a toy, it is an invitation to wonder and explore.
And this is why we use natural resources; to foster a sense of wonder; to create space for children’s imaginations to roam wildly.