Children’s curiosity is one of the most important prerequisites for their interest in the natural sciences at school. This curiosity is innate for children but, like flowers, their curiosity needs to be nurtured to be sustained and not wilt before school starts.
Sustaining and strengthening children’s curiosity for nature-based learning are exactly what Charlotte Damgaard from Dagnæs Børnehus in Horsens and Louise Nilsson and Karina Birk Nielsen from Børnehuset Bullerby in Roskilde do every day.
These three early-childhood educators are receiving the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s 2019 Nature-based Educator Prize for their tireless and innovative efforts to inspire the children attending their respective childcare centres to be curious about nature.
Building robots at the childcare centre
Charlotte Damgaard from Dagnæs Børnehus is the prime mover behind a project that has piqued the curiosity for nature-based learning of 250 children from various nursery and childcare centres. Her activities include collecting materials and developing learning initiatives in the Dagnæs Børnehus STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) makerspace, in which children can develop their creativity by experimenting with known and new materials and technologies. For example, the children can build robots, use microscopes and program micro:bits.
Charlotte Damgaard takes an experimental approach that stimulates children’s curiosity and in which they collaborate with adults to establish hypotheses and test them to acquire knowledge. She develops her own material for and with the children and teaches her colleagues about the educational content of the material so they can also benefit from it.
“It’s great knowing that someone appreciates what I work on every Friday. But I don’t just do it for the children. I also do it because I am curious and think that nature and science are really exciting. And I hope that I can pass on some of my own curiosity and fascination about nature to the children,” says Charlotte Damgaard.
Children learn about letters and numbers in the forest
In Roskilde, Louise Nilsson and Karina Birk Nielsen use nature to sustain and develop children’s innate curiosity. Louise and Karina take rhyming cards, counting cards and object cards on trips to the forest so the children can learn letters and numbers through their curiosity about nature. The whole thing is planned as a treasure hunt, in which the children, for example, have to find things in nature that start with a specific letter, and then they examine moss, ladybirds and dandelions under a microscope brought along by the adults.
Louise Nilsson and Karina Birk Nielsen are pleased to receive the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Nature-based Educator Prize, but they do not think they are doing anything beyond what they expect of themselves.
“I just think we are doing our job. We have chosen the approach that we should not teach the children to read and calculate but instead teach them to be curious. Fortunately, children are naturally like this. Each time they say ten words, three of them are what, why or how. They want to know why grass is green and poop smells. It’s great to work with these young children and ensure that, when they start school, they are not tired of learning but want to learn more. This makes their school experience much easier,” says Karina Birk Nielsen on behalf of herself and Louise Nilsson.
Louise Nilsson & Karina Birk Nielsen
Proud to receive the Prize
Betina Brounbjerg Martinussen is the manager of the Dagnæs Børnehus og Dagpleje childcare centre at which Charlotte Damgaard works. She explains that she and her colleagues at Dagnæs Børnehus are very pleased and proud that Charlotte Damgaard has received a prize and that they will jointly determine how to use the centre’s share of the Prize money to create new initiatives to benefit the children attending the centre for many years in the future.
Charlotte Damgaard & Betina Brounbjerg Martinussen
“It’s very important to have an early-childhood educator who is committed and professionally dedicated and who can motivate both children and colleagues. Combined with having excellent colleagues who support the initiatives and approve of experimenting and playing along, we can develop a learning environment for the children in which experimenting and testing things together become part of our culture,” says Betina Brounbjerg Martinussen.
Lone Ornø, manager of Børnehuset Bullerby, is equally proud: “We are incredibly proud that our colleagues have been recognized in this way through a prize. It is great when the work the employees do can be described and that other people understand and recognize the descriptions. At Børnehuset Bullerby, we are very pleased to have the opportunity to profile ourselves, and this makes us very proud when others see that we are making a special effort,” says Lone Ornø.
She explains that Børnehuset Bullerby will use part of the Prize money to buy iPad microscopes for each of the groups at the centre and a metal detector for the children to use in the forest. Lone Ornø also hopes to be able to develop some experiments with water at the playground because water is an excellent medium for experiments to inspire scientific curiosity.
Karina Birk Nielsen & Lone Ornø
About the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Nature-based Educator Prize
The Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Nature-based Educator Prize targets committed and talented early-childhood educators who provide preschool children positive experiences with the natural world, numbers and technology. The purpose of the Prize is to recognize and publicize a special educational initiative by such educators within the planned learning topic of nature, outdoor learning and science.
The Prize is awarded annually and is divided into two prizes: one for an educator or a team for eastern Denmark and one for western Denmark.
Each prize is DKK 100,000, divided into a personal award of DKK 50,000 and DKK 50,000 for the childcare centre. The award given to the childcare centre is to be used for developing early-childhood education with the planned learning topics, such as acquiring equipment for technical or nature experiments, upgrading classrooms and outdoor areas or continuing education.
The Prize is awarded to an early-childhood educator or a team based on the nomination of the manager of the childcare centre.
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