Integrating Environmental Ed / Nature Play | NAAEE
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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: http://www.naturalcuriosity.ca

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: http://www.curiouskidss.org/
"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!

Hi everyone,
Thanks for your thoughtful ideas and suggestions around this important topic! I am one of the new moderators of the Early Childhood group, and environmental ed/nature play for K-2 students is my personal passion. A few years ago I got really into learning about the Forest Kindergarten/Preschool model and wanted to see if similar programs existed for lower elementary school students, and I couldn't fine much in the way of examples or resources. So I started my own program! I developed a year-long curriculum that I have been using with my own students for the past 4 years, and I also recently wrote an eBook of quick and easy outdoor activities that any teacher can use (and it's Common Core aligned!). I hope you will find these resources helpful. I'm happy to help if you have any question!

I'm loving this thread! My program will be in Spanish, so I'm excited to check out the Audubon units in Spanish. Also, those of you near Phoenix AZ, have you thought about using the Desert Botanical Garden as a resource? Such a great place to visit!

Hi Pilar, your new venture into AFS, Los Angeles sounds so interesting, would definitely like to learn more about your venture, please share more about how you are planning nature based curriculum. A new concept in preschool learning among children!

Hi Dipanwita, thanks for your interest! I primarily am using an emergent curriculum approach with a STEM focus that follows the children's interests, which I learned from Erin Kenny at Cedarsong Nature School. I also am incorporating songs and read alouds in Spanish, yoga from Kidding Around Yoga in Spanish, and nature-based crafts from Wings, Worms, and Wonder. These activities also will be inspired by the children's interests and our natural environment.

As an early-childhood educator in Chicago, I can relate to Emily's great point about outdoor settings sometimes being unsafe. In Arizona, I am guessing it's the extreme heat that makes it so. In Chicago, it's the cold and sometimes, sadly, gun violence. We had to go on lockdown last month due to a nearby shooting. Such things make it harder to go outside and off campus

I like the approach of bringing loose parts in the classroom. It's no substitute for going outside, but if students can gather the loose parts themselves (rocks, leaves, feathers, etc.) then the activity can be extended indoors even on the snowiest day. One of my colleagues had been doing this fabulous unit in which students gathered fall leaves, brought them inside, and ground them up to make paint. Now the class is creating a prehistoric cave in their classroom, complete with handprints and animal paintings. You can go really far with some of these explorations.

Hi Pilar,
Want to visit your program either in Summer or Fall. I work at Santa Monica College and creating a Nature-Based Pedagogy Certificate and hoping your program could be an option for students to complete their assignments. Plan on sending you an email in the near future.

Hi Laura, thank you for your post! Cathi Miller told me about your work when she visited my program in its pilot phase. We are now a full-blown program with 9 children! Please feel free to contact me at aventurasforestschool at gmail dot com

We had the pleasure of hosting Rikke Rosengren from Denmark,( https://rikkerosengren.com/) twice at Santa Monica College. Rikke shared her Forest Kindergarten program with our students and the community. In fact, we are planning a study abroad sometime during the 2019-20 school year, for our students and interested early childhood educators to go visit Denmark for a 4 .5 day forest kindergarten learning experience.

I really enjoyed reading about all the various environmental ed and nature play for different countries all over the world. Especially with using display items that come from the ecosystems in that area, like in Canada with pinecones or mini gardens in cups of native plants for the students to nurture and watch grow. In Arizona, I educate at the largest reptile sanctuary in the nation. We are always pushing for our students to enjoy the outdoors, but we want to teach them how to respect the wildlife, and to coexist with the wildlife in their areas. Our state is complex with its ecosystems, but every individual animal is important. Especially our rattlesnakes. Since we cannot take the kids outside in the middle of the desert to find all these reptiles, we bring them up close safely in a class setting. For our snake summer camps, we have a classroom inside right next to our venomous snake room. Our venom handler, will lock his side of the door and all the student sit in front of it (it is all glass). The handler takes out various venomous snake species, native and exotic, to engage the students. Even for the students who are nervous, tend to be more comfortable when they see the handler is not fearful of these animals, but cautious around them. That is so important to keep in mind if they ever see the wild reptiles in their backyard. We always open up for discussion afterwards to see what each student thinks. We have not had any students in our camps that are not allowed to observe captive reptiles, they usually do not enroll in our camps. But that is always something to be aware of!