These resolutions offer some lofty goals to further your approach to nature-based education. The questions that follow each resolution are great for individual teacher reflection and/or discussion among school staff.
1. Stop talking to the kids. Yes, YOU! Resist the urge to narrate every moment of a child’s play. Children need space to get into their flow of play, and teacher narration interrupts this important work. While basic directions may be needed for transitions or for urgent safety matters, once children are engaged in unstructured outdoor play, let them play without adult interference. (Note: Trusting relationships with children are crucial. When we say ‘stop talking to the kids’, it is to underscore the importance of child-led learning, not to ignore the children we work with.)
How much time do children spend in unstructured play without adult direction? How would you describe the quality of that play? Consider ways to offer even more unstructured outdoor play time.
2. Be picky about materials you use. Opt to offer far less materials, or none at all. We are often tempted to think we need lots of ‘stuff’ to enhance skill development. You’re not shirking your duty as a teacher just because you don’t offer lots of materials or activities, you are being thoughtful and selective about what children truly need for outdoor learning. Children can become more resourceful and reliant upon natural materials in the landscape (and each other) when we offer less.
What non-essential items can you do without during outdoor play? Evaluate the materials you typically provide and adjust as needed to offer even more open-ended play opportunities.
3. Start talking to colleagues. Make a commitment to deepen collaboration with colleagues to discuss what learning and play looks like for the children you serve. Dialogue may be in the form of planning to build upon children’s interests, documentation of emergent learning processes, notable seasonal happenings outside, tools for authentic assessment, or individualized supports for children and families.
What have been your favorite moments of colleague collaboration? How can you build on those moments to increase dialogue with colleagues in the new year?
4. Make diversity a priority. Nature-based education is disproportionately offered to families from middle- and upper- socio-economic status, and for predominately Caucasian children. We all need to work towards offering inclusive programs for children with diverse abilities, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. “They just don’t sign up” is a cop-out. It’s our job to go above and beyond to remove barriers for families so that all children can thrive in our programs.
Who is not represented in your program? What can you do that goes beyond your current approach to include more diverse children and families?
5. Don’t judge parents. Every program has the mom or dad who is always ready to lend a hand. We are grateful for those amazing parents who volunteer to make our programs better! But many parents beat themselves up about not being able to do more. From the outside, they may seem like uninterested parents who are “too busy” to know what’s going on. The reality is that many families struggle to find a healthy work/home life balance. We can relieve some of parents’ stress and guilt by providing a more accepting, non-judgmental atmosphere and by finding alternative ways to help parents be involved without being present.
What can you do differently to offer more options for working parents who have difficulty being involved?
6. Nurture your nature connection. Commit to weekly (or better yet daily) practices that help you become more attune with the nature that surrounds you. When you feel personally inspired and connected to the land, your potential to facilitate nature connection also grows.
What can you do to deepen your personal nature connection in the coming year?
7. Tend your own fire. As teachers, we spend a great deal of time caring for others, and this is usually in addition to our roles as caretakers at home. Self-care isn’t an indulgent extra; it is an essential component to balance our physical and emotional needs with those of others.
What are some ways you can incorporate 10 minutes of self-kindness into your daily routine?
If you'd like support making or keeping your resolutions, reach out and let us know! We offer nature-based professional development that touches on all of these topics. Your local ERAFANS state chapter can also provide a network of support. Here's to a new year of adventures in nature-based education!