Sparking imaginations naturally in a home-based environment

Tiny Nation home-based educator, Janene Baxter, has been working in the home-based sector for 11 years and she has recently shaken up her programme with amazing results. Janene sees her role as being part of a village, helping to offer the children in her care the best start in life. To continue to offer the very best service and opportunities to families, Janene regularly assesses her programme, to ensure that she offers relevant learning experiences and is up to date with different educational theories.

Lately, Janene has completely changed her resource focus. Janene has made an informed decision to turn away from the plastic – with all its lights and sounds, to focus on more natural objects and their potential for creativity and learning.

I was inspired by online research and articles,” explains Janene. “I began reading up on the benefits of heuristic play and of loose-parts play, and its effect on children’s interactions with their surroundings. I felt it was a really positive direction worth exploring.”

Whilst similar in theory, there are some key differences between heuristic play and the theory of loose parts play. Heuristic comes from the work ‘eurisko’ which means to discover. Elinor Goldschmeid coined the term ‘heuristic play’ in the 1980’s to describe how young children use their senses to interact with and explore every-day objects that come from nature and around the house. ‘Loose-parts’, on the other hand, was a term coined by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970’s used to describe the marrying of unrelated parts that are collected by a child or educator for a child to interact with spontaneously. Loose parts can encompass large objects such as tree stumps and tyres. Collections are fluid – children can transfer, add, combine, redesign and deconstruct. They set their own goals and challenges and develop intellectual skills such as planning, communication and problem solving. Through this, children are inspired to look at objects in unprescribed ways and the learning outcome is unique for each individual.

I’m passionate about this theory of learning,” enthuses Janene. “I like to inspire children to collect, re-use, consider and invent uses for natural objects. I believe that by encouraging children to think about natural resources in their own unique way, their imagination sparks.”

Amazingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Janene reports that without the distraction of the bells and whistles of plastic toys, and with the endless opportunity that natural objects offer, the children in her care are more engaged, calmer, occupied and fulfilled. “To create a game from a natural object a child needs to focus and think about what they want to create and what they want to achieve. There is something simple and natural about watching a child engage with something that has no prescribed outcome, there are no expectations – just limitless opportunity. And they don’t get bored, they just change direction and recreate.”

And what do the children in Janene’s care think about this change?

I currently have four busy boys and I can honestly say that they are happier for it. Each morning they choose what they want to play with and in the last three months they haven’t chosen to play with anything except loose parts and heuristic items.”

Janene is motivated to encourage other home-based educators to try this approach and see the results for themselves. Founding Director of Tiny Nation, Erin Maloney, is thrilled that Janene is championing such a transformation to improve learning outcomes for children. Erin says, “Tiny Nation educators are our fire lighters and magic makers, it is their dedication and professionalism that allows us to offer high-quality, qualified, education and care to our tiniest citizens. Janene’s programme is a shining example of what our educators offer families as informed, trained and dedicated kaiako.”

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