In our April School holiday programme, I ran a structured half-day programme on the farm that connected the children to the senses and to the farm. This was, in essence the very heart of what I use to only do. Giving children knowledge through an experience. The children had a good time. They were engaged. Yet, something felt wrong. On reflection with the farmer at the end of the session, I felt that I had not given these children the fuller experience. I had in essence, not given them any free-play. Instead, I had taken them onto a new farm environment. I had let them use their senses, as they listened and observed the farmer, milk. I had let them touch the cow's. I had let them herd the cows back up to the paddock. I had taught them processes of the farm. But I had not given them, the opportunity to take their time and explore the farm at their pace. I had in fact, dangled a carrot in front of them, to see. But to not fully experience. I wonder then, how could this become a fully embodied opportunity? At what point, does a programme become so worthwhile, so meaningful that makes a child desperately want to come back and say, 'that was the best thing yet!'
Running Bush Farm has been some trial and error. Many are philosophies that I have picked up along the way from over 15 years working in education, but yet I still struggle with the free-play principles. Naomi, my friend and colleague, with her wealth of early childhood experiences has nudged me further into this realm. And I must say today, I am so excited of how we teach and conduct any Bush Farm session with the children. I believe we now have a healthy mix of a child-led programme, with a touch of structure to alert children to new ideas that they may not have otherwise thought or engaged with before. Yet, when it comes down to free-play, I have been nervous. How will I make sure they are engaged? What happens, if they say, I'm bored? Yet, what this school holiday half day programme made me realise was that letting children explore is far richer, more beneficial and so much more rewarding for both the child, as well as the teacher. Thus the real reason is about us, the educators, to trust that process that the children innately have. Letting them explore and find their own wisdom as they play. Our only task, during that time, is to guide and mentor their beings.