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Integrating Environmental Ed / Nature Play

Though I am a veteran teacher (32 years) I have just become involved in the environmental education / nature play realm of education for our youngest learners. In the past I did incorporate EE into my teaching (Project WILD, Project WET & others), but since taking a 3 day course on Nature Play - let's just say it has become my passion. I am a PreK-3 Content Specialist and I'm working diligently to help our teachers in Mesa, AZ learn how to incorporate EE and Nature Play into their teaching and learning in the classroom. I would love to hear your stories and also some strategies and best practices to assist teachers with the transitions to this type of learning.

I would also love to hear others thoughts. I am just starting to work with an elementary school to integrate environmental and outdoor education into all of their classrooms. While I am finding many good resources for 3-5th grade, I would love to have some better ideas for K-2nd. I do love nature play but how can I get this integrated into a traditional school and get the teachers on board?

We have been doing a lot of work around Nature Based Early Childhood in Wisconsin, which is defined here as birth to age 8, so it would cover K-2. We have been collecting many different resources in a couple of different places (see links). Hope they inspire ideas! Educators in Wisconsin can also contact me to participate in our nature-based early childhood list-serv to share ideas.

A neat resource from here in Canada:

also any kind of play involving loose parts that are natural outdoor materials (pinecones, pebbles, etc.). There are tons of loose play resources if you just google.

My research is showing that the value in outdoor play is that kids can learn from the outdoors and they also have a chance to reinforce the concepts they've learned in class through their play (this is my doctoral work so it will be a while before my conclusions are in final form).

Actually, I am training next month on the new adaptation for 1st and 2nd gr. called Curious KIDSS here in Ohio. Here is the website:
"Curious KIDSS (Kindling Inquiry and Discovery in Science and Social Studies), generously funded by a grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Ohio Environmental Education Fund, aims to increase science and social studies content in grades K-2." Not sure if this will work for you but I think they are hoping to reach out to early elem. teachers with this new component of EE.

This is such an interesting and valuable discussion! Nature play is a topic I am not very familiar with and so I really enjoyed reading this discussion and looking over the resources some of you listed!

I am curious Cheryl as to what you have your teachers do for nature play in Mesa. I live in Tempe and sometimes I find it difficult to teach my kids about nature when we don't have many natural resources or wildlife at our school site. I would also like to know how often or how long other teachers conduct nature play.

Teachers I have worked with usually have nature play time for 1 or 1.5 hours twice a week.

I don't know a lot about Tempe, but I find that working with what you do have is the key. If you have rocks, start with them! One tree or plant can lead to learning about the tiny insects living on that plant, the individual leaves or needles, etc. Adding water can change a mini-landscape!

In Nature Play the key element is free play in nature. It should be child led and outside in as natural environment as you can find. It is often practiced in Forest Kindergartens everyday for most of the day. These types of schools originated in Denmark and I am leading study tours to investigate them in DK and the other Nordic Outdoor Models of Education (N.O.M.E) like Udeskole.

Hi Cheryl!

Just thinking more about your "in the classroom" comment. As a fellow Arizonan, I understand areas like Mesa can be unsafe for children to play outside for very long during certain seasons. I suggest (like Elizabeth Beattie) that loose parts in the classroom are a great way to start! You can have them around all the time, but also maybe take a weekend trip to surrounding life zones (local desert, a riparian area, pine or juniper/oak forests) and collect different types of rocks, leaves, sticks and during those hot months go on a "imaginary nature adventures"! Another small & easy way to bring nature into the classroom is mini-gardens (seeds in cups or bucket gardens!). Your local Cooperative Extension SNAP-Ed Coordinator has resources for you to start one as well as your local chapter of Slow Foods! I also like to keep insects in a tank (for a short time!), name & observe them and imagine their stories. They are always moving, changing, and fascinating and there are so many books, arts and crafts, and play ideas that pair with bugs :) Plus, they are everywhere!

Best of luck on your early EE/nature play journey! And know you can always contact me at the Arizona Association for EE or the Center for Nature and Place-based ECE with any further questions/issues that arise--we're here to help!