Jamie’s published thesis: The Hummingbird Approach; A Case Study of Guided Discovery Learning for Children in Nature

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as Jamie shares a general account of findings from 5 years of research into the engagement of children in Jamie’s published thesis of
The Hummingbird Approach: A Case Study of Guided Discovery for Children in Nature.

Or read below for more specifics.

This case study examines a group of 10-11 year-olds participating in a nature-based educational role-play adventure program called Wild Craft Play. The facilitative approach used mirrors some of the characteristics of the hummingbird, and thereby is affectionately referred to within these pages as The Hummingbird Approach. In this approach, once the facilitator has set the activities in motion (like the Hummingbird), her role becomes one of hovering as observer or witness rather than that of the more traditional didactic instructor who stands in front and tells the students what they will learn. In this way, the Hummingbird facilitator ‘pollinates’ the learning process with questions, comments and stories at appropriate intervals in order to catalyze and deepen the children’s flowering awareness. Seven sessions of Wild Craft Play were video-recorded for the purposes of data collection, theming, and analysis to help examine and assess participant engagement and identify what facilitation techniques effectively optimized their learning, with the potential for replication and possible future training of other nature-based facilitators.

This case study also suggests that strong and important connections are forged
through this more playful approach that invites children to make their own discoveries and
meaning, guiding them toward a deeper level of understanding.


As an environmental educator and communicator, it seems to me that I have been engaged in this research for about the last 15 years despite just embarking formally on this study over the last four years. With deep roots in environmental stewardship programs and empowering youth, I am passionate about finding ways to work with children and understand more about their engagement with nature when they are at an age where they are still open to
possibility and willing to explore. I feel that helping children to grow their relationship with nature is especially critical at a time when our world is in peril and needs environmental stewards as never before. Not least of all, as an environmental educator and communicator, I am also keen to help other teachers and facilitators learn how best to evolve.

In order to understand why my approach seemed to be successful, I reviewed my facilitation approaches in light of literature on the subject. A technique of facilitation that I first read on Richard Louv’s Child and Nature Alliance blog site called “Hummingbird Parenting” (Almeras, 2009), seemed to reflect similar techniques to those that I was practicing. Using this method (The Hummingbird Approach), I set up the scenarios and allowed the children to develop
their own characters, roles, circumstances and experiences over time, while gently guiding this process by observing their experiences from the periphery in order to select appropriate moments to “pollinate” their scenarios with questions, ideas or comments. I uncovered material that clarified the methods that I had been using, Guided Discovery Learning (Janssen, Westbroek, &
Driel, 2014). Based on this preliminary review, I designed a research case study to identify more precisely what methods were useful from my previous work while researching related literature to theoretically support any successes that I had observed.  Click here for more…

Wild Craft Play Program History

Wild Craft Play, a nature-based program facilitated with an approach that helps young people to effectively co-exist in and enjoy nature aims to encourage environmental stewardship in children. The goal is to empower children when faced with issues about the environment, in order for them to make good decisions for our earth. One catalyst for the development of this program was brought home to me when I witnessed children leaving their garbage in the woods during programs that I facilitated. They didn’t seem to even consider the importance of picking it up. The other instigating factor was the recognition of the scale of illegal dumping at Little Mountain. The heaps of garbage found at the base of the 300-foot cliff was disturbing, and linked the current actions of children with the potential actions of teenagers and adults in my mind.
My program was initiated as a pilot project funded by a grant received in partnership with School District 69 and the BC government to host summer camp programs for low income families in Area F, a small rural community in Central Vancouver Island, BC. The children that attended these camps, had many emotional and social issues, and I noticed that their engagement
in the program seemed to improve their behaviors. The two leaders for the Wild Craft Play camps, one of whom was an experienced school teacher, the other a karate instructor, were surprised with how well the children responded to the program. Over the next three years, Wild Craft Play was integrated into programming for children ages 8-12 at Horne Lake Caves Outdoor Centre, located in Central Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Based on a digital game-like experience, the program included questing, finding gold and other treasures, and doing interesting tasks while experiencing canoeing, caving, rock rappelling, wilderness survival, campfires, field games, and night time adventures. The feedback from the children was used to improve the game, altering it, and enhancing it over the years. Since 2008, the Wild Craft Play I
have offered the program at events such as the The Kulth Festival, Coombs, BC, Canada, as well as the Errington Farmer’s Market, with local home-school community groups, and with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island, BC.

At the heart of Wild Craft Play are the core values of fostering collaboration and compassion, problem solving skills and empathy through identification with self, others and nature. The program is designed to provide many other benefits as well, such as: critical thinking, leadership, taking initiative, engagement, curiosity, creativity, imagination, sharing and a willingness to fully participate. By developing these skills, young people may become more competent in their actions and more engaged with the environment, therefore generating a greater possibility of becoming care-takers of the earth (aka: environmental stewards.) There are resources, I refer to in this paper as props, both natural and human made, used within the context of the natural environment. The facilitation style and the resulting interactions that happen between the children themselves are an experience that is nurtured by a facilitation approach that is attentive to the children’s inter-connectedness between each other and with the facilitator.

The facilitator has many roles as: a storyteller, a merchant, a banker, a philanthropist and a trickster of sorts and more. By fully submersing in the game as a character, the children develop a general ease and respect for living the game. The facilitator, while remaining in character, role models effective life skills and behaviors. For the purposes of this study, a facilitator is defined as “one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or
communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision”
(Merriam-Webster, 2016).

Click here for more…

Theories of Guided Discovery

Reynolds & Caperton (2011), in criticizing Discovery Learning, said that it could generate frustration and a feeling of lack of support, which could result in strain on the cognitive process:
[Discovery-based] approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction [Discovery Learning] is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. (p. 273)
Some recent research has also suggested that minimally-guided instruction does not generate effective results because it does not appropriately engage with the processes of our working or long-term memory (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006). There have been considerable discussions regarding whether Kirschner et.al. (2006) appropriately characterized the methods and processes involved in discovery learning.
Guided Discovery Learning (GDL)on the other hand, re-emphasizes the important role of the teacher/guide, but builds on the discovery learning model. According to Dr. Robert A. Lavine (2012): Guided discovery learning combines didactic instruction presented by a teacher, lecturer,
or author with a more student- and task-centered approach. Key features are (1) a framework for student learning, (2) student responsibility for exploring content needed for understanding, (3) provision of study guides, and (4) application to practical, experimental, or clinical problems. (p. 1402)
GDL is a mixture of “pointing the way to understanding or problem-solving by a guide with the discovery of facts, relationships, and solutions by students them-selves, as they explore, manipulate objects, discuss, or perform experiments, drawing upon their own experience and existing knowledge” (Lavine, 2012, p. 1402).
Brown & Campione (1995) championed GDL suggesting that it is the middle ground between a more didactic (or receptive approach) and a discovery approach. However, they recognized that GDL is not an easy facilitation approach, and that it requires an experienced and educated mind to discern the appropriate times to “to intervene and when to leave well enough
alone” (p. 230).

Chapter 6: Discussion

This case study has been a great adventure of self-discovery, deepening my
understanding of what makes a guided-discovery journey so engaging for children. I have found that engagement can be interpreted in many different ways, and that it is difficult to find a single effective approach to analyzing data which is useful enough to uncover results that can be used by many, however, I feel more confident that Wild Craft Play has the potential to engage positive child responses and could be replicated as an alternative nature-based program. I hope that some of the identified factors can be shared as effective and practical facilitation techniques for other environmental educators and teachers. Click here for more…


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