Child-Led Learning

We love how spontaneous our days are and how our entire play and pedagogy is led by the children and their interests; a perfect example of this is this week’s learning, which has been all about wood and exploring different properties!

We started our week with a quick trip to the vets with Billie before a lovely walk at Cissbury Fields where our interest begun as we noticed the piles of trees that have recently been felled and so we set about exploring the log piles; risk assessing that the larger piles weren’t safe enough for us to climb and discovering a smaller, more suitable pile to climb and explore. We then headed into the woodlands to explore the remaining stumps, and learned to count the circles on the stumps in order to work out how old the trees were. 

Back at base, the children conducted a survey to identify and count how many items around the house were made from wood; the children worked together to find and mark each item, then counted up their findings at the end – we have a lot of wooden things we discovered!

The children were fascinated by the concept of properties and we felt like the learning opportunities and potential to explore this further were endless and so we decided to follow the interest for as long as the children were keen to explore the concept and learn more about wood; and this ended up shaping our entire week’s worth of play and adventures. 

We also headed to our local woodlands where we marvelled at the incredibly tall trees surrounding us and the even bigger log piles of felled trees! We splashed in all of the puddles along the way before tackling the slippery log piles and then exploring how wood can be used for a range of different purposes as we explored the dens made out of large, long sticks and planks of wood!

We provide ourselves on seamlessly meeting the learning and development needs of all the children within a mixed-age group and so to further challenge our pre-school children we  introduced the concept of separating properties and the children wrote their own labels for the experiment, then set about finding and sorting plastic and wooden resources within the playroom, covering a wealth of areas and developing not only their knowledge but also their mark-making and writing skills simultaneously. 


In order to explore what else wood can be used for and develop an understanding of our natural world, we headed to a local woods mill where we explored the range of different logs, trees and log piles and noticed the machinery and how it worked to cut and chop the wood into different sizes, whilst there we learned about the different tools use to cut wood too and were fascinated by the axes.

Throughout the week, the children have been capturing and re-visiting their own learning and experiences using the camera, focusing on capturing different types of wood and sharing these with their peers. We are so impressed with how their ICT skills and awareness of the camera and capturing their images have developed of late.

We then headed to find where the wood goes once it leaves the woods mill and headed to the local timber yard where we watched the wood being transported and loaded and discussed what all this wood might be used for. 

Exploring the various uses of wood, the children asked to build a fire; talking about the different types of wood we would need and also exploring the sizes before building and creating our fire, watching the flames and listening to the sounds the fire made as the wood burned. 

We headed to Chanctonbury in the search of different types of trees, but were greeted with significant amounts of mud which shaped our entire adventure! We tackled tricky terrain, but used tree roots to help us scale steep inclines; discussing how tree roots were also made of wood, and how they are strong enough to support us as we climb and explore. 

We finished our wood themed week with a trip to the beach to explore what the breakwaters were made of, and how they disappear and emerge from the sea dependant on the tide; we watched how the waves behaved around the breakwaters and even discovered broken breakwaters as the tide went out, and were able to apply our knowledge and count the circles on the emerging stub to identify how old the wood was.

For some settings, the pressure to ‘complete’ and ‘follow’ a set list of topics and themes shapes their planning and learning for weeks at a time, but whilst we loosely focus on various topics or celebrate national holidays, we don’t follow set topics and themes (see our blog on this here.)

The wood topic may seem a bit strange and totally random to some and in all honesty, it was! But that’s the beauty of in the moment planning and being led by the children and their interests, we are not afraid to be forced out of our comfort zones and think outside of the box in terms of activities and outings, regardless of how obscure the theme is!

Despite how random and intently the children became absorbed in everything to do with wood and exploring properties, they didn’t ‘miss’ any learning, in fact their knowledge and understanding of the world around them, properties and the wood-based learning they experienced just by having their interests followed in this way, rivals any learning that could have occurred as a result of a more rigid, generic topic or theme. 

Learning in this way is fully embedded in our ethos and something we are incredibly proud of and believe hands-on, experiential learning of more complex ideas and concepts such as properties and materials, within Early Years are incredibly valuable to children’s overall learning and development, as well as their confidence and knowledge of the natural world. 

Allowing the children’s interests to fully influence pedagogy and practice, not only provides the most unique, interesting and exciting opportunities, but also makes the experiences and opportunities that follow more valuable and meaningful to the children and so their learning and knowledge is deepened as a result. 

The spontaneity of children’s ideas and interests make the most exciting, thought-provoking and engaging days/weeks and we adore the variety of our days as a result of the children’s growing ideas.

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