30 SES 05.5 PS, General Poster Session
General Poster Session
Since 2015 we have researched the experiences of educators in kindergartens and how young children solve problems creatively. With roots in the European forest kindergarten project, the bush kinder is a rapidly growing movement and experience for Australian early years’ learners. We set out with a focus on creativity in science and STEM experiences as bush kinder environments provide strong opportunities in these areas. Toys and activities are removed from play and the children’s learning and play is determined solely by the natural surroundings and their own imagination. As the environment alters with the seasonal changes, so too do young children's opportunities to observe and play within their surroundings. Having set out to understand how science learning occurs in the bush kinder we found differences in how play offers opportunites for creativity. Sternberg and Lubert (1995) define creativity as the ability to produce work that is both novel (original, unexpected, imaginative) and appropriate (useful, adaptive concerning task constraints).
Adapting the key creativity components used in the Torrance Test for Creativity (Torrance 1966), we developed a template of four creativity components by which individual creativity could be observed and measured: fluency, flexibility, elaboration and originality. With the template, observation and video capture as tools for recording creative play, we recorded over 80 instances of creative play across 26 bush kinder sessions. We found that all four components were evident in activities such as construction, problem-solving, and re-purposing of material. Our observations support Howard-Jones’ (2002) notion that creative thinking is enhanced when attention is allowed to wander in a relaxed and uncompetitive environment such as in the bush kinder. As children used the materials available to them: fallen logs, trees, loose material, wooded and open spaces to initiate and conduct play, we noticed how they were being creative in their use of these materials. This was environmental learning that provided 'direct and ‘unmediated' sensorial contact with non-human others' (Greenwood & Hougham 2015: 97). The bush kinder is an exemplar of contact that provides direct sensory opportunity for learners enabling the opportunity for them to be creative.
Research in creativity is at a critical point (Kim 2011) who found that creative thinking was declining in all age groups. Increasing emphasis on high-stakes, standardised testing was considered to be contributing to this. A focus on an assessment environment of ‘one right answer’, suppresses opportunity to engage in creative thinking. ‘Forest kindergartens’ allow for educators to move away from these forms of outcomes-based testing as they provide not a ‘blank canvas’, but rather a canvas with only nature to foster creativity. Forest kinders, derived from the identification of a need to address environmental learning, exist in their hundreds in differing guises around the world (Walden 2012; Sobel 2016). Often within walking distance of the kindergarten premises, bush kinders allow for regular contact with the same setting over a set period of time. They occur as weekly visits to the same natural environment all year-round, in almost all weathers. Those responsible for kindergarten provision, see the bush kinder environment as one response to the Australian Government's policy directive that four year old children are required to be provided with 15 hours of ‘quality’ preschool per week (Elliott & Chancellor 2014; Campbell & Speldewinde 2018).
The research question we considered was: How is creativity demonstrated in bush kinders? For the purposes of this presentation, we provide examples of creativity within the bush kinder and describe how we measured creativity using Torrance’s work. We will focus on a range of examples to outline how we came to our conclusions that Torrance’s work has applicability in this context.
To undertake this study, the project employed a qualitative methodology (Tashakkori & Teddlie 1998; 2010). The paper is part of a broader study on how STEM is experienced in Australian kindergartens and the place in early years learning and pedagogy We have employed an ethnographic approach at times, becoming participant observers, taking field notes, conducting individual teacher interviews. Data was collected using voice recorders and iPads during semi-structured interviews and conversations based upon video recordings, photographs and fieldwork observations. The research method used here was also informed by Malinowski’s (1922) anthropological methodology of participant observation and rich ethnographic description. It was impossible not to interact with the children as the observation sessions would occur over full kindergarten sessions lasting three to four hours. Being in the setting for this length of time caused the researcher to become immersed in the setting, and working with the children to observe the children’s learning experiences there were even time when children would actively seek to draw the researcher into their play and share their discovery with the researchers. In our research we were limited in how we could incorporate the children’s ‘voice.’ We could not interview the children as we were restricted by ethics to only observe the children and collect interview data from educators and children’s parents of their child’s bush kinder experience. Ethics approval was gained and procedures put in place following the university’s Human Research Ethics protocols. Participation in the research was voluntary and signed consent by the kindergarten organisation, its teachers and its parents was provided using the University’s formats. Consent included anonymity of all participants (pseudonyms have been used throughout this paper to ensure that anonymity), secure and timely data storage, and rights to withdraw consent and participation.
We observed science learning opportunities in the bush kinder and how children produced novel solutions to problems. In particular we observed children’s judgements, assumptions, idea generation, overcoming of obstacles, and risk-taking. Given that creativity, as measured by the Torrance Test for Creativity, has been shown to be in decline (Kim 2011) in children aged 3-6, our study reinforced the importance to study ways that creativity can be enhanced through play-based activities. Our work, through its application of the Torrance Test, is also an updated consideration of Cropley’s (2014) work on creativity. Cropley saw open-ended, child-instigated tasks where a solution was not immediately apparent and multiple solutions were possible. We were able to observe children’s problem solving in multiple situations that enhanced creativity in children’s play situations. Educator interviews revealed their perception of creativity and what they had also observed. Our study revealed the multiple ways that creativity is demonstrated in children’s play in bush kindergartens through measurements of fluency, flexibility, elaboration and originality. We found examples of each type of creative measure. We can demonstrate how to measure growing creativity and the potential for future research exists as this study could be undertaken on a more longitudinal basis, examine how children, who are exposed to the bush kinder site for a year, develop creativity from the day they begin at the bush kinder in February until their final session in December. What this initial research will build is an understanding of children’s creativity through science play. It will provide insight into ways the environment can be enhanced to enable creativity in children to be further developed.
Campbell, C. & Speldewinde, C. 2018. Bush kinder in Australia: A new learning ‘place’ and its effect on local policy. Policy Futures in Education, First Published 28 Jan 2018. Cropley, D. 2014. Fighting the Slump: A multi-faceted exercise for fostering creativity in children. The International Journal of Creativity and Problem-solving. Vol 24(2), 7-22. Elliott, S. & Chancellor, B.(2014. From forest preschool to Bush kinder: An inspirational approach to preschool provision in Australia, Australasian journal of early childhood 39(4):45-53. Greenwood, D. A. & Hougham, R. J. 2015. Mitigation and adaptation: Critical perspectives toward digital technologies in place-conscious environmental education. Policy Futures in Education, 13(1), 97–116. Howard-Jones, P.A. 2002. A dual-state model of creative cognition for supporting strategies that foster creativity in the classroom. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 12, 215-226. Kim, K.H. 2011. The creativitiy crisis: The decrease in creative thinking scores on the Torrance tests of Creative thinking. Creativity Research journal 23(4): 285-295 Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Sobel, D. (ed) 2016. Nature preschools and forest kindergartens: the handbook for outdoor learning. St Paul: Redleaf Press. Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T. I. 1995. Defying the Crowd: Cultivating Creativity in a Culture of Conformity. New York: Free Press. Tashakkori, A. & Teddlie, C. 1998. Mixed Methodology: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks: SAGE. Tashakkori, A. & Teddlie, C. (eds.) 2010. SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE. Torrance, E. P. 1966. Torrance tests of creative thinking: technical norms manual, Lexington, Personnel Press. Walden, C. 2012. Nature kindergartens and forest schools, Mindstretchers, Perthshire. Sullivan, A. & Bers, M.U. 2016. Robotics in the early childhood classroom: learning outcomes from an 8-week robotics curriculum in pre-kindergarten through second grade. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 26(1):3-20
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