Forest as a learning environment: children and a trail camera

We just published a research article in the journal Educational Media International: 

Vartiainen, H., Leinonen, T. & Nissinen, S. (2019) Connected learning with media tools in kindergarten: an illustrative case. Educational Media International, DOI: 10.1080/09523987.2019.1669877

The article reports a study of  an illustrative case of using digital media tools — iPads, a trail camera & PCs — in a kindergarten community (42 children + 8 adults). Our results indicate that by using the media tools children were able to realise connected learning practices. With the help of the media tools children were able to study and to do their own discoveries in and after a forest trip and harness their own funds of knowledge.

The process itself, the images captured and artefacts created mediated connections with parents, grandparents and outside experts. Children were collecting data with a trail camera and then naming, classifying, and categorizing the data as well as searching, evaluating and applying new information. Children were also sharing their insights with each other and the wider community with spoken words, drawings and images.

The case was unique. The kindergarten was participating in educational project for in-service teachers organized by a University. The idea was to support the teachers to co-design forest-related learning projects with the children. The forest was used as a learning environment to provide children dynamic, unstructured, and multisensory modes of information, and full-bodied primary experiences where they could create different kind of interpretations and objects of activity. 

The media tools played an important role in the case. Without them and the media created with them the connected learning would have not happen. The media tools helped children to study interest-driven and inquiry-oriented manner and to connect their learning with wider social network. Naturally critical in the case were the teachers, who were letting this to happen by sensitively encouraging children to work this way.

Although being a case with rather special setup, we see that the results can be used in the learning design of early-childhood education and care. Here are some Implications for practice and policy: 

  • Take advantage of environments in the natural world, from forest, to lakes and parks.
  • Do not plan too much the forest trip: let children to play, explore and tell stories in and about the environment.
  • Encourage children to materialize their evolving ideas though activities such as by drawing, singing, storytelling, and by making material or digital artifacts.
  • Have the media tools available as tools for children to document and create their artifacts.
  • Involve parents and grandparents to the activities: ask them to join the forest trips and share the artifacts created.

The article was co-authored with Henriikka Vartinainen (the first author) and Saara Nissinen. The study is supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the “Forest as a Learning Environment: South Savo as a Key to Communal Forest Knowledge” Project (UEF, project no. A70133).

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