Skills Active trainee cultivating budding nature explorers through a Bush program
Nature allows children to learn with all their senses, says early childhood teacher Jen Turconi, who has almost completed her diploma in outdoor education thanks to Skills Active.
Jen has been involved in Early Childhood Education (ECE) for over 20 years and is the Director of the Te Puna Center, which is part of the University of Otago Child Care Association. She also coordinates the centre’s “bush program”.
Jen loves working with young children because they are open to new ideas and “everything is wonderful for them” – especially in the outdoors. She herself has had a strong connection with the outdoors since her early years.
“I also have a passion for sustainability, which I think starts very early and starts with kids developing their own relationship with nature,” Jen says.
“There are many benefits to having an outdoors-based early childhood program. It is an incredibly rich space for play and learning, and fosters creativity and curiosity for the world.
“It can challenge you and help you build resilience and leadership,” she adds.
“It’s also a space where kids learn through all of their senses, and that’s a really important thing these days with the adoption of digital platforms. Being outdoors is a way for children and young people to be in their bodies and to take time off. “
Jen notes that children’s lives are more “ programmed ” now than they used to be and that outdoor education is a good way to encourage them – and their families – to get out and move on. unstructured time in nature.
“We do an orientation for parents before we start each term, and we show them everything we’re doing and where we’re going. Some parents will say, “Oh wow, I’ve never been to this place before.
“It kind of opens them up to new experiences and shows them that they can connect with their local environment and bring their kids to those places to play.”
Since Te Puna’s bush training program began eight years ago, it has grown and flourished. Jen enrolled in the New Zealand Certificate in Outdoor Leadership (Education Outside the Classroom) (Level 4) in order to improve her outdoor education practice, increase her confidence and fulfill some shortcomings.
“I wanted to learn outdoor education skills that would coincide with my early childhood qualifications and complement what we were doing. And I wanted to be sure that the health and safety aspect of things was covered, ”she says.
“It was a bit of a challenge at the start. Coming from a background in ECE, rather than outdoor education, I was introduced to quite a few new things.
“So there was a lot of back and forth with my assessor and my learning support advisor, and they helped me find the resources I needed to improve my skills.”
As part of her assessments, Jen created new processes to accompany Te Puna’s outdoor education activities.
“We were already doing the right things, but it wasn’t well documented, and the program helped me build these systems. It was quite a bit of work, but it was well worth it. “
Jen plans to encourage her fellow early childhood educators to take the Skills Active program.
“I think that one of the main obstacles for ECE teachers to get children out of their centers and outside is having all the documents in place and being convinced that they have assessed. and managed all risks.
“This program will give teachers the confidence to break down barriers and allow children to experience all of the amazing things that a nature studies program can offer.”
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