The Heikinharju Nature Home, Luontokoto, is a developmental unit in the fields of environmental education and Steam pedagogy. Its work is grounded on the early childhood education and preschool education plans of the City of Oulu.
Early childhood education teachers Anne Ylitalo and Anu Lassuri are in charge of the development of the Nature Home. These nature-loving professionals are trained environmental educators and well-versed in ICT skills teaching.
The Nature Home roams daycare centres, allowing the children to make field trips to their own surroundings, but groups of children may also visit the Nature Home’s Oivaltamo Idea Lab or the Huutilampi area. The forested surroundings of the area make for a most rich learning environment for daycare children.
“Nature also lets you make use of all of your senses”, says Anne Ylitalo.
Steam is about ideas and problem-solving
The Heikinharju Nature Home is breaking new ground even on a national level through its pilot programme of merging environmental education with Steam pedagogy. Steam, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, is a fusion of engineering, natural sciences, and arts education. Its purpose is to educate persistent, collaborative, and courageous problem-solvers.
“Steam education activities include building and crafting, coding and programming, digital manufacturing, and research and innovation”, says Lassuri.
On a Nature Home field trip, children might bring along tablet computers, loupes, and microscopes. This allows them to take a very close look at a bug or a split berry.
Children may, for example, be assigned the task of building a winter dwelling for an animal and photographing it. They could also brainstorm what would be the best way to measure the thickness of tree trunks.
“Steam is about ideas and problem-solving”, says Anne Ylitalo.
“Our exploration gear includes not only the fancy technical devices we carry, but also the five senses. Those are something a child always has with them.”
Training for early childhood education personnel
All activities by the Heikinharju Nature Home also serve as participatory training for early childhood education personnel. The objective is for daycare centre staff to acquire new ideas and tools to support the environmental education of children in their everyday work, through collaborative exploration and brainstorming.
The Heikinharju Nature Home is part of the Innovative Learning Environments in Early Childhood Education project, slated to run until July 2022. The developers hope to support early childhood education units and collaborate in a broader deployment of both environmental education and Steam pedagogy.