At Learn to Play, sustainability is our driving force. We want our resources for play to be readily available and replaceable within the community. We don’t want to have a negative impact on the environment, especially since so many of our communities rely on their immediate environment for food and farming.
Whilst there is a place for paint and glue and the other staples you may find in a typical classroom, the natural world provides art and learning materials in abundance.
Despite the dry, desert climate, Botswana is blessed with vibrant flora. Soft purples, vivid reds and shining yellows can be found in the trees and bushes that grow easily in arid soil. Taking the petals of these plants, adding a drop of water and crushing them into a paste makes a dye or paint that can be used to colour paper, card or rocks. We used pestle and mortars in our trainings but large rocks can also be used to grind the plants.
Including the children in this activity gives them an opportunity to work their gross muscles, to learn about the biology of plants and identify their colours. Mixing spices and coffee with a small amount of water creates effective water colours and we’ve even taken to painting with mud and dirt as well. Whilst the artwork may not always last too long, the beauty and valuable learning experiences are in the process.
Anyone who works with young children will know that finger painting is usually a favourite activity at pre-schools or day-care. Children love to see how their actions and movements transpire into marks and pictures. They receive the sensory feedback from the nerves in their fingers and they begin to understand that they are creators. They have a natural curiosity that can be nurtured through providing different materials for painting and making marks.
Leaves, branches, feathers and seed pods make excellent tools for exploring texture, size, shape and effectiveness when used as paintbrushes.
Sticks, stones, rocks, seeds, pods. These were the counting tools used before the introduction of plastic and they remain just as effective today. More so even, because they offer sensory feedback that cannot be gained from highly manufactured counters. Different textures, sizes, shapes and smells add another dimension to the maths activities.
We recently had the pleasure of meeting with the CEO of a prominent corporate business. He recalled how his early experiences of education in Botswana included lessons under trees, collecting bags of stones that could be used as personal maths tools and building toys out of reclaimed rubbish and natural materials. From humble beginnings, he went on to excel in the field of engineering. He credited some of his learning to the lessons derived from working with raw materials and using his hands to create and problem solve.
Not only do we not need plastic alternatives to many learning materials, we find many benefits in using what is readily available as the sensory input is greater and that makes the learning memorable.
One of the most inspiring things about Learn to Play is seeing the creativity at work. Once the Mumprenuers and children see the use of natural materials, they begin to experiment, creating new tools for play, new ways of working with objects and the outdoor environment becomes a classroom before your eyes. It ignites wonder, and through wonder, our eyes are open to learning and exploring.
Why not take a walk and see how many art and educational supplies you can find in the great outdoors?