Creating Community by Learning With Nature | NAAEE
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Creating Community by Learning With Nature

Hello everyone! I am happy to be hosting this weeks discussion on creating nature immersion programs in public schools. I have been working in partnership with our area schools here in Vermont for 8 years on creating direct learning experiences in nature on a weekly basis for students in grades preK through 6th. Let us know about your experiences and challenges of teaching outdoors. I am happy to answer questions and connect you with other teachers who are helping their students re-connect with the natural world.

Incredible work, Amy! We need more of this sort of collaboration among those educating and working with young learners. ECO is an inspiration. Way to go!

Thank you Brooke, Shelia and Peter! It's great to know that there are many teachers around the country bringing their students outdoors and into their communities to learn. The teachers here in Vermont look forward to their ECO days each week, it feels like a release and a time to just be. Fresh air and space. The children are happy and content and I feel each child's needs are met, both emotionally and cognitively!

I love the sayings "“Ask two friends first!” followed by “Hoods are not hats!”"
Those are great rules for mitten weather. I often say "Give the mittens a try and then show me when you get to the part that is difficult". Usually they end up doing the whole thing and are so proud.

Hi Amy! Have you looked into expanding the experiences in nature program to secondary education? What kind of pushback did you receive from starting this program? Do you think that more schools in Vermont have started to reconnect with nature? How did you bring up starting this program?

Hello Amy, I was wondering what type of push back you receive from policies within Vermont and as an educator in general? What advice would you have for an early educator on integrating nature into into a formal curriculum in a formal or non-formal way? What is your point of view on the integration of nature and environmental education in Vermont? Are there positive or negative reactions? What type of programs are you integrating? What is the reaction from your students?

Hi Rachel! Thanks for reaching out and asking about the work we do in Vermont.
We work with teachers and their students via ECO up to grade 6. We haven't had many requests to go further with this model into secondary ed. Although, being that we are a nature center we are able to work with any teacher who would be interested in bringing their students to the center to participate in any of our citizen science projects. Their is local high school teacher at Northfield High School that runs the STARS program, which is a land based and place based half day program (5 days a week). This is a great model to check out and see how proficiencies are met outdoors during an entire school year.
We didn't have too much push back from school administration in the start up of this program. We created a successful program in one school that was entirely initiated by the teachers themselves and supported by the principal. Once that was seen by other teachers and parents, it quickly spread. We didn't have to advertise or convince schools that this was a powerful medium for learning, the teachers and parents were already making that known through anecdotal stories and evidence of learning back in the classroom. ECO was really created by the teachers and the students experiences in conjunction with the newly adopted NGSS. There are of course always questions and concerns about content and meeting standards. We have units of study and lesson plans for each season that are aligned with NGSS and Common Core and safety protocols for learning outdoors. by being able to provide this, teachers and administrators have less apprehension about time spent outdoors away from classroom time.
We have seen this work spread throughout Vermont and because we offer a summer training teachers are going back to their schools and creating nature immersion experiences for their students that are designed specifically to their school culture and needs. It's been heartening to see this approach to learning grow throughout Vermont and become a part of schools.
I hope that's helpful! Check out our summer course and come visit us in Vermont!

Yes! I started telling children to talk to their fingers/thumb and tell them where they need to go in the mittens/gloves. Look right at them and tell them what they need to know and show them where to go in your mitten! It seriously works every time. I think because they are looking at their fingers and making a connection? I don't know but it's pretty darn cute hearing children talking to their thumbs while they are getting dressed!

Hi Emilia! Thanks for your questions and I'll do my best to answer them!
We have not experienced any push back in Vermont. The one push back category falls under cost of the program to schools, which we work with in every way possible to make this accessible to schools and teachers who want this for their students. Because we work within the public school system, we are co-teaching outdoors with certified teachers. This makes for a powerful duo with our teaching staff and the classroom teacher. It is truly a collaboration.
From day one we have looked towards the teachers curriculum maps in science, literacy and math in order to inform us on what is applicable in an outdoor setting (which most is with some creative thinking!) We also have created a document that we fill out after each session to show how we have met the Vermont Early Standards (this goes up to grade 3). This shifts the thinking from "this is informal learning" to "this is meeting our performance expectations and can be brought back into the classroom for further exploration".
Our outcomes can be measured by talking to the children, of course! They love their ECO days and parents have shared with us that these can be the favorite day of the school week for students. We know the benefits of time spent outdoors, especially on a regular basis, throughout the year, in a community of others who enjoy it. I like to stress the benefits for the teachers as well. Fresh air and room to observe your students in a different medium is so valuable. And that value can be tracked and expanded upon when it happens every week!
What I see happening here in Vermont and that all children are being served on our ECO days. They are being met where they are at as learners and nature provides a "level playing field". Teachers are being inundated with new initiatives towards learning, especially SEL. Nature does this and more. This is a great time to build "green time" into a school day , we all need it desperately right now and I would encourage teachers to move beyond thinking of it as environmental education, but rather a health and wellness opportunity packed with other opportunities for growth and connection to the places we live in.

Dear Amy, Thank you for the great initiative.

I would seek guidance on material and training modules for persons between 5-19 years. Here in Nairobi, Kenya and other global south countries, the disconnect between nature and curricula is increasingly posing a threat to sustainability. I'm hoping to help some urban and country-side school appreciate natural environments thus any material / modules / guidance, will be of great value.