By CELA on 21 Jan, 2019

The source of some of Amplify’s most popular articles on excursions, Su Garret of Explore and Develop Annandale, returns with a story about taking the children on bird watching excursions from their inner Sydney service all the way to Central Australia, without even needing a permission slip!

Read Su’s story now to find out how technology, science, education, and a couple of adventurers brought the birds of the Simpson Desert to urban children and made the experience meaningful for all.

Culture of connection

James MacDiarmid, adventurer

Explore & Develop Annandale has developed a strong culture of connecting with our community through getting ‘out the gate’. Regular excursions and our nature play program have the children visiting local businesses and parks several times a week. We have built a strong connection to Gadigal country, the land on which we live work and play.

Recently we received an invitation from Barefoot TV to be a part of a virtual expedition to travel and make connections to a very different land. The project would connect us with an early childhood teacher and adventurer named James MacDiarmid, as he travelled to the Simpson Desert. (Scroll down to read more about James)

James was planning to meet up with a scientist named Emma who was part of a team researching nesting birds.

When this project was first suggested we were sceptical. How could we make this meaningful, flexible and based on the children’s interests and perspectives? How would the children connect to “James the Adventurer”? He had not met our children, so we wondered how he would he bring our classroom to the desert?

Stepping into the unknown

James partnered with a digital documentation platform as a tool to connect with the children. We understood that this was a pilot project and that we would have opportunity to shape James’ approach to bringing real life experiences to classrooms virtually. We saw it as unique chance to co-construct a project that responded the children’s emerging interests in response to the material that James shared with us.

Before beginning the project the educators began a conversation with James, where he spoke about his philosophy and we shared with him ours. It was an important first step.

James gathered some background information about the children in our preschool room, their interests, and knowledge of Australia. We sent him documentation from some of their previous projects. He promised to post the story of his journey from Wollongong to the Simpson Desert each day via our communication platform, posing questions to the children and inviting the children to ask questions back. We were excited to begin and wondered how the children would engage.

First post

The first post arrived and we eagerly gathered the preschool class to share it.

Calling out to all adventurers. One more sleep till we leave for the biggest of adventures. Are you excited? Well I’m really excited to have your help and receive all of your great questions and ideas.

My name is James and I am an adventurer just like you. Hello!

Tomorrow I am leaving for a really, really dry and hot place. Can you guess what that might be?

That’s right, the desert. I am travelling two whole days so I can explore a place called the Simpson Desert with a team of scientists doing a whole bunch of science. Maybe you can try and find where the Simpson Desert is using a map. I’ll give you a hint, it is in a big place called Australia.

What do you think we might find in the Simpson Desert.

Do you think I will need some food and water?”

We projected it on a screen so the children could get a good look at the photos and video.

They were intrigued and loud and enthusiastic conversations began.

The teachers’ hearts swelled with pride when the children used their knowledge of Australia’s Indigenous people and asked whose country James was on?

What did the land look like?

What animals live there?

Our Indigenous Countries Australia map was referenced, and the children began to add photos and lines that followed his journey and highlighted where James was.

Coincidently, our preschool children have had an ongoing interest in local birds and have an affection for what they call ‘Gadigal birds’ (Gadigal is the Aboriginal land Annandale is upon) and were participating in the Aussie Bird Count in response to their interest. They wondered what birds James was spotting?

18th October: James to Possums

Today we visited a sacred Aboriginal place called Pulcehra. This is a sacred water hole that is home to over 170 different bird species. Today we didn’t see 170 but we did see some, including the wren. We also saw brolgas, which are very big.

While the project was unfolding, the class happened to be visiting the Australian Museum, an excursion this class undertakes in small groups several times a year. This was a great opportunity to see and connect to the taxidermy birds James was seeing. They were able to use the maps that identify where the birds on display lives and made connections to the birds James had been telling them about;

23rd October:  Possums to James

When we went to the museum, we spotted some birds which live in the Simpson Desert and also in Annandale.

Have you seen any of them? We also spotted a brolga and were surprised at how big it was.

Concurrent conversations

There were so many conversations running concurrently, about the weather, the earth, the cows, other animals and of course about the central reason James had travelled to the desert, to document the work of Emma the Scientist.

James shared some of what Emma was discovering with the children, especially her work about birds’ nests, however his communication with the children was primarily focused on their questions.

Families added their questions in the digital communication comments and this added another layer to the conversation. It was obvious that the children were going home and talking to their families about the adventure and using the digital platform meant we invited everyone to join in.

Real life meetings

The journey was quickly over in just three weeks. James’ work was done and he headed south-east back to his home in Wollongong. The most exciting part of the project was when James and Emma visited us here at school, “for real life”.

They bought back samples from their trip and replicated some of the science experiments with the children.

This project, although quite short, gave the children a wonderful perspective of a different part of Australia.  We are committed to celebrating our country, especially our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture and supporting children to understand their connection to our place. In such a short time James was able to expose the children to a very different part of Australia that they may never be able to experience for themselves, and he left them with a very important message.

12th November: Possums reflection

To finish off their visit James read a book called ‘Tracker Tjugingji’ by Bob Randall which is a story about a young Aboriginal child who finds his parents by following their tracks. It was the perfect way to extend on the tracks which the James the Adventurer sent to us whilst in the desert. The children were encouraged to guess the track before James the Explorer turned the page. It encouraged children to think about how the tracks were made.

What an amazing experience for the children (and teachers) to be a part of.

It made us teachers think about the tracks we leave as we journey through learning with children. How do we work with children to make meaning and out “tracks” visible?

P.S the children will connect with James again when he travels to the Kosciusko region.

About James The Adventurer

James MacDiarmid [B.A; B.Ed; M.Ed.]

Founder of Barefoot, Educational Consultant, Innovator for the LEGO Foundation and an avid naturist and photographer, James has been sharing his passion for learning, science and adventure from the right age of 14, where he journeyed to the Khumbu region of the Himalayas in assisting with the construction of a school. His ambition for science communication and outreach has seen him travel to the SubAntarctic, Arctic and many places in-between, including the deserts of both Australia and mainland America.

James is a Churchill Fellowship finalist, a published author for Ottiya Magazine, Nabalo and Rattler and a regular speaker at conferences, including the UNICEF Child-Friendly Cities conference, Indonesia.

As a strong advocate for education, the potential of a human and nature’s awe and wonder, James has parlayed his expertise across fields into creating evidence based learning experiences that, not just include, but rely on the natural world to deliver improvement in education, as well as positive psychological benefits.

Meet the author

Su Garrett and Lauren Kenny

Su Garrett is the Approved Provider and Nominated Supervisor for Explore & Develop Annandale. She has been in this role for 4½ years and has worked in early childhood for 16 years. “It is my goal to provide an environment where: the needs of the children at the priority a, they have time to play and interact with their peers.” We provide an environment where educators are valued as key in the scaffolding of children’s learning. Ensuring that children and educators are connected with our community is vital to building meaningful partnerships.Lauren Kenny is the Educational Leader at Explore & Develop Annandale. She has been in this role for 4½ years and has been working with children and families for the past 15 years. “I am passionate about children being visible in the community and making connections to real life experiences that further support their learning”.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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