Gardens of Wonder – Early Years STEM learning experience
by Aaron Harrison, Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia
Children constantly draw on their experiences to make sense of their world. Community spaces can inspire curiosity, wonder and scientific thinking; they can become significant places that elicit a range of personal meanings and sense of belonging for individuals.
In 2017, the Botanic Gardens of South Australia engaged in a research project to demonstrate how a community space can be utilised by children, educators and families as a catalyst for STEM learning.
Forty children from two preschools were involved in the yearlong research… along with their parents, teachers, an artist, Botanic Gardens staff and a team of Early Years educators from the Department for Education.
The research was based in the Kitchen Garden which the children visited on four occasions throughout the year. The Gardens staff also worked with the children at their Preschool.
Children were invited to explore the Kitchen Garden space whilst teachers and parents recorded their wonderings and questions. At the end of this first session, educators sat together and reviewed the questions to ground the inquiry.
One site had a mathematic interest, with the children interested in shapes, the placement of plants and mapping the space. The children at the other site were more interested in the plants, so their investigation took on a scientific lens looking at the diversity and lifecycles of plants.
Various learning experiences were organised to develop the children’s understandings. To support mathematical understanding the children looked at shapes in the garden, explored perspective and birds eye view and drew maps of the space. To support the scientific understandings children looked at seeds, planted two different species of beetroot and investigated and designed structures to support plants to grow.
From the learning experiences the children located problems and each preschool was given a challenge to solve. One group came up with a solution to, how can we map the kitchen garden space when it changes with the seasons? The other group were challenged with can you design a structure to support your plants to grow? Technology was employed throughout with the use of drones to support birds-eye view, iPads and digital lenses for closing viewing of plants.
Involvement in this research allowed educators and families the opportunity to slow down and listen to the children’s voice. It allowed them to hear, respect and honour children’s insightful views, in order to design authentic STEM learning opportunities in this garden space.
The research was made visible in an exhibition entitled, Gardens of Wonder at Adelaide Botanic Garden. Open to all, the Gardens of Wonder exhibition showcased to educators and the wider community how gardens and a natural environment can provoke deep STEM thinking and learning for young children.