Levi stands by the stove with green leaf clippings, about to slide them from the cutting board into the pot. This ingredient looks somewhat strange.
Me: “What do you have there?” Him: “My daffodil.”
A meaningful event from our educational routine, experienced and narrated by Barbara from our educational professional team.
I look around: the delicate Tête-à-Tête on the windowsill stands bare and leafless. I don’t believe it’s edible. He does. We use our smartphones to search the internet. Narcissi contain Lycorine. If you eat them, you’ll at least feel sick. The four-year-old wants to know what Lycorine exactly is. We ask Siri again and hear about alkaloids. Since Levi is also interested, but the Wikipedia explanation is impossible to understand, we ask a chemist dad from the neighboring group for advice. Levi listens to the video message, nodding his serious little face. The expert has put in effort. The question is answered.
“And all this because of my daffodil,” he concludes his investigation and thanks the bald plant with a tender gaze.
I am moved by this inquiry. There is no fear of complicated matters, no “I won’t understand this anyway.” Children can still ask questions. Real, open questions. Questions that can handle any answer. Children educate themselves. We’ve heard it many times, but what does this self-education look like? Our intellectualized, highly organized adult world often thinks that we should be the ones teaching children the really important things. Perhaps because we ourselves often can’t think of any questions anymore. Perhaps because we believe we already know everything. Children are different. They encounter the world and have ideas. And questions. Hundreds of them. In our example here: What else belongs in this food? Herbs? What can I use? The daffodil? Can you eat it? No? Why not? … well, and suddenly we are deep into organic chemistry.
This is nature-based education. Children encounter their environment, have ideas, and ask questions. We adults are education guides. We walk alongside the children, so to speak. We accompany them in their search for answers and help them where necessary (for example, by preventing them from eating inedible plants or by knowing whom to ask). However, the children themselves find their topics. In their encounters with the environment. In nature, preferably out in the vast, wild outdoors. And within themselves.
When these two come together, sparks fly. Small inspirations that can ignite a real fire. When children do something, when they want to understand or achieve something, they are incredibly serious about it. Levi didn’t want to tick off STEM educational goals; he didn’t inquire because our society values scientific exploration in early childhood. He simply did it because he was interested in it in that moment. And that’s the only reason why the information is relevant to him. That’s the only reason why it stays in his memory, becoming “sustainable education.” But the magic goes even further: If we manage to take children’s questions seriously, if we are empathetic education guides, they don’t just learn content. That’s important, but it’s not everything.
This learning shapes, so to speak as a bonus feature, the child’s self-image. And it determines how they will deal with future challenges, with themselves, and with their environment.
On that day, Levi learned: You can’t eat daffodils. I even know why.
And: My questions are important. Someone takes the time to find the answers with me because I am important. I am someone. I can do something.
He will ask again. For sure.
With the forest-dweller project receiving the “ÖkoKids 2022” award. For the forest children, the kindergarten grounds are like their extended home. It’s clear that they