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  • Wednesday, March 09, 2022 2:07 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Schlese Castilla

    maggie and milly and molly and may / went down to the beach (to play one day)
    –ee cummings 
     



    In the United States, renewed interest in outdoor learning is flourishing as more parents and educators embrace a daring possibility: the natural world can be a remarkable classroom. While outdoor learning isn’t a new phenomenon, existing models of education and childcare that center nature continue to inspire parents and educators in the United States.  

    The benefits of outdoor learning are well documented, but the terminology used to describe the various educational experiences providing such wonderful benefits can sometimes be confusing. The following brief guide is meant to clarify important terminology about the educational experiences outdoor learning can offer, with two important caveats: 

    1. Terminology usage about outdoor learning isn’t universal or consistently applied. As a result, you may find some schools use the same terms in different ways (or even use different terms interchangeably). The language of outdoor learning can vary from school  to school, locality to locality, and state to state. Keep in mind: in some instances, there are  real differences in the educational experiences outdoor learning programs offer. Always take time to familiarize yourself with the specifics of a program you’re interested in.  

    2. Whatever the educational experience, outdoor learning focuses on a diverse set of  activities that use nature as a tool for open-ended learning and play that also promotes  physical, cognitive, socio-emotional, spiritual development and wellness. Nature, from  that vantage point, can be an immersive classroom for the potential study of all subjects.  


    Let’s Get Started: Defining Basic Terms 

    Forest Days and Nature Days

    Designed for students of all ages, public and private schools maintain Forest Days or Nature Days through weekly, purposeful encounters with nature on their school grounds or nearby green space. Forest Days and Nature Days usually exist as part of a traditional student learning experience.  

    Forest School 

    Forest school provides early childhood education for students ages 3-7. Forest school education takes place daily and exclusively in nature. Students attend school outdoors, even when there are seasonal and weather changes. In other words, students enrolled in forest schools do not use indoor classrooms (unless there is extreme weather). Although the term “forest school” suggests the setting for learning should occur in a wooded area, this is not a hard and fast rule. 

    The term “forest school” is also the name of the learning theory that proposes how children in forest schools learn in nature: through self-directed unstructured play, self-directed hands-on experiential learning, safe opportunities for risk-taking, and instructional material provided by the natural setting of the school. A forest school experience is also designed to build strong, one-on-one connections between teachers and each child. It is a living laboratory dedicated to the unique needs and strengths of each child.  Forest schools follow a learner-led curriculum, though some may incorporate traditional curriculum or learning standards. In both instances, the natural world is a springboard allowing students to experience socio-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive growth.  

    Note: The Forest School movement emerged in 1993 inspired by long-standing traditions of outdoor learning across Europe and the UK. The Forest School Association offers specific guidance around this experiential outdoor learning model.

    Nature-based Education 

    Nature-based education programs focus on nature as an object of study. Their goal is to give children an opportunity to experience nature as a doorway that facilitates learning while promoting a sense of responsibility for the environment and a sense of place in the natural world. Children attending nature-based programs generally spend up to 50% of their learning time outside in concert with traditional, indoor schooling. You may also encounter the term nature-based education as a general umbrella term describing a wide range of learning experiences that take place in, with, or about nature.   

    Nature Preschool 

    Typically, nature-based preschools are licensed early childhood education programs for children  ages 3-5. Most experts agree that three characteristics define nature preschools: play and instructional time spent in nature (less than 50%), instruction with a heavy emphasis on nature themes and environmental literacy, and a purview bringing nature into indoor classroom spaces.  Nature preschools also provide space for early childhood development while helping children build an environmentally conscious identity. 

    Place-based Education

    Place-based education engages and introduces children to their local community and environment in order to teach a variety of subjects. Place-based education helps children forge deeper connections with and between the people and places that make up their community. It encourages an appreciation of the natural world with a focus on community, service, and local civic engagement. Place-based learning can occur in any environment, and has gained popularity because it allows students in urban settings to connect and learn in green spaces while developing their cognitive and socio-emotional skills.  

    Outdoor Preschool  

    Outdoor preschool is a broad term acknowledging the reality that immersive  early childhood education nature programs do not have to take place in a forest. Outdoor  preschools, in fact, can have a home-base at beaches, farms, parks, and deserts. Outdoor preschools are usually immersive, meaning they are outdoors 100% of the time, except to seek shelter during severe weather or emergencies.

    Urban Forest and Nature Programs 

    Urban forest and nature programs demonstrate that nature is all around–and often closer and more convenient than a car ride to green space. Some urban forest and nature programs are situated in city parks. Other programs have creative ways of connecting with nature (gardens, urban farms, beekeeping, etc.) and bring the immediacy of nature to a child’s fingertips and imagination. Like place-based learning, urban forest and nature programs connect young learners from all socio-economic backgrounds to the wonder of nature in urban communities as they develop a respect for the environment and build a rich reservoir of cognitive and socio-emotional skills. 

    The Road Ahead 

    Already an inclusive educational phenomenon, as more students begin their outdoor learning journey,  programs that are responsive and intelligently meeting the realities of student diversity (economic  background, disability, language, race, LGBTQI+) are appearing on the horizon, too. To date, the number of forest and nature schools continues to grow. In 2021, the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools offered professional development to teachers in all 50 states and 11 countries! Such unprecedented demand for nature-based teacher training may indicate a promising shift in how we think about learning and play.  

    Spotlight on Lingelbach Elementary School Forest Days Program, Philadelphia, PA  

    Written by: Susan Chlebowski and Brianne Good  

    Imagine for a moment you are standing beside a brook after a long rain. The energy of that water is near to overflowing the banks, and anything in its path gets swept hurriedly down stream. This is the experience we have weekly with students at a public school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as they pour from their classroom to our outdoor space on the school grounds. Each week, we spend two hours outdoors with a group of kindergarten or first grade students on their wooded, yet urban school campus, providing nearly 100 children with regular outdoor learning opportunities.


    What have we noticed? These are highlights of what we are learning the children need from Forest Days:  

    F - freedom. The children crave freedom of choice, freedom of movement, and freedom to be themselves. This freedom shows up in their exuberant love of exploration, discovery, tree climbing and creative self-expression in our outdoor art areas.  

    O - outdoors. When outdoors, many of the children seem completely different. Quiet becomes loud, bold becomes shy, and outcast becomes friend. It is all welcome, and celebrated.  

    R - routine. We carry the same simple routine with us from week to week, and the children know and love that familiarity.  

    E - empathy. We are building empathy among the children, between the children and living creatures, and between the children and the earth.  

    S - safety. We hold a safe space for the children to learn, ask questions, and feel feelings.  

    T - time. Perhaps one of the most important pieces of the Forest Days model is simply the gift of time we give children to play, learn, wonder, explore, and be.

  • Tuesday, December 21, 2021 2:51 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    On this, the shortest day of the year, we welcome the return of the light. Autumn officially turns to winter today, December 21.  In winter (and in all seasons), forest and nature schools participate in experiences that honor and respect nature. During the Yuletide season, we revel in all that winter heralds and find ways to beckon back the light. Indigenous and global traditions vary widely, but the ideas below may help inspire new traditions in your forest school community.

    Yule Logs
    Use plentiful fire wood and evergreens such as pine, juniper, holly, cedar, or fir boughs to create a yule log to burn during the solstice. You can also bundle up cinnamon sticks, star anise, and dried fruit (such as oranges or apples) for a festive, fragrant touch. Some people opt to create a yule log that contains a candle or battery-operated votive to make a beautiful centerpiece instead of a log to burn in the fire.

    Solstice Spiral
    The concept of the solstice spiral is to provide a reflective place to consider the everchanging cycles of light and dark that rule our seasons. The spiral also represents how people can find and spread light among community, despite dark times.

    Spirals can be made of branches, evergreens, pine cones, berries, etc. Generally it is a large-scale outdoor spiral with a path that is big enough to walk into the center. Many forest schools host an evening Winter Solstice event where children walk into the spiral with a lit candle, which may be contained in a hollow orange or apple. Children walk into the spiral and place their candles in the center and/or along the path of the spiral. As more children walk into the spiral, the light grows.

    If you lack an outdoor space for a spiral, another option is to create smaller evergreen solstice spirals that can be part of the children's loose parts play. Miniature spirals can be created on mirrors, small trays, or tree rounds, or anything similar and offered as invitations for play.

    Ice Lanterns & Ornaments
    Check out this Ice Lantern document for instructions if you'd like to give these beauties a try. There are several variations and if you prefer to make an ice ornament, you can use muffin tins along with string or ribbon for outdoor hanging.

    Outdoor Garlands (for the Birds)
    Spread vegetable shortening over pine cones, magnolia pods, or other seed pods and roll into bird seed, then tie onto a 3-4 foot length of twine. From here, string cranberries, dried orange slices, popcorn, figs, etc. onto the twine. Tie on evergreen clippings as desired to make a festive garland that the birds will thank you for. These may decorate your outdoor classroom or children may prefer to take them home.

    Harvest Food & Treats
    There are SO MANY treats you can roast over a fire to celebrate the season! Consider roasting apples or pears with oats and cinnamon. Savory root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or sweet potatoes with rosemary and thyme are also fun to cook in a Dutch oven. Bread dough or pre-made pizza or crescent roll doll can be wrapped around branches for roasting (we call it 'snake bread'). Or you can try your hand at roasting chestnuts on an open fire, which smell amazing and are delicious, as the song suggests. Brew cider with mulling spices for a warm drink.

    Books about the Winter Solstice
    Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Pak
    Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
    The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
    The First Day of Winter by Denise Flemming
    The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
    The Shortest Day:  Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch
    The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren
    The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis

    Find more inspiration for nature-based activities and nature-based books on Pinterest.com/erafans. However you choose to welcome winter, we wish you a joyful Yuletide season!

  • Tuesday, December 08, 2020 8:47 AM | Deleted user

    By: Laura Nicolas,https://mapetiteforet.fr and Sologna Nature and Culture http://sologna.fr



    Nature-Based Learning, Outdoor Learning, Outdoor Education, Forest School Education…the English speaking world offers rich examples of nature-based educational trends ! What about France?

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    A progressive shift from traditional French teaching pedagogies

    As a French educator and researcher, I cannot find here, in France, any equivalent of the materials created by my British and North American colleagues. Nevertheless, several recent books have been written in French in the last five years that address these topics, some which include:

    • "Emmenez les enfants dehors" (“Bring Children Outside!), Crystèle Ferjou, 2020

    • L'école à ciel ouvert” (“The Open-air School”), SILVIVA, 2019

    • “L'enfant dans la nature” (“The Child in Nature”), Matthieu Chéreau et Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne, 2019

    • Tous dehors en Forêt” (“Everyone Outside in the Forest!”), Patrick Luneau, 2018

    • “A Guide to Open-Air Schools” (Eco-Conseil), 2018

    • “Let Them Climb Trees” (Louis Espinassou), 2010

    • “Children in the Woods” (Sarah Wauquiez), 2008


    Undoubtedly, these books announce a real shift in French national educational trends with two major dimensions :

    • Taking kids outside. French society, and more precisely, the French national educational system, is far from having the same level of concern for outside education compared to Canada, the USA, or even its closest European neighbors such as England, Germany, and Switzerland. It is true that since the beginning of the 19th century, France has inherited a European tradition of summer camps and school study trips. (The ‘summer camp’ phenomena actually expanded at the beginning of the 20th century to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.) But those activities are considered additional and recreational. They are not – or not totally – considered part of the educational process. That is to say that these outdoor pursuits are not viewed as part of a serious academic education, the one where you study inside a building, seated in a chair. Children in many French schools actually remain sitting and silent for hours during the days. They take recreational breaks in the schoolyard where, most of the time, there is no vegetation. And sport is being taught inside a gymnasium.

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    • Teaching differently. France has a long tradition of educational movements such as the socalled “new pedagogies” or “alternative pedagogies” (EX. Montessori or Freinet). But it seems that there is a huge gap between those private (and expensive!) schools and the public school system. Even if the approaches invented by Montessori teachers are used more and more by teachers and parents, the educational system itself does not change. 

    • From my perspective, the most common way of teaching remains the following: teacher explains or shows the things to learn or do, and then asks students to learn or do it. Even if feedback practices and socio-constructivist attitudes are far more common now than ever, very little has changed in approaches to French instruction since the end of the 19th century. This way of teaching and learning is rooted in the historical tradition of seeing the world through an intellectual prism only.

    The nature-based education movement is moving forward regarding both of these two specific aspects. Through the books I mentioned before and through several initiatives started by teachers in French schools, change is now happening. Today, we can describe the movement as following :

    • Increasing media coverage: more and more media outlets (blogs, websites, podcast channels and TV channels) are addressing the nature-based education movement;

    • Strong support from foundations such as Fondation Nature et Découvertes which supported the creation of hundreds of forest schools projects the past ten years;

    • The recent creation of a network aimed at promoting nature-based teacher training, not only through a private programs but also through public education;

    • The exponential growth of nature-based education initiatives everywhere on the French territory.


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    Forest Schools, the French Way

    Most French proponents of nature-based learning find inspiration in the British model of Forest schools, since many can attend training offered in the United Kingdom by British experts in the field. I must say that the focus that has been made by the French government and in the media most recently is on the preservation of forested environments in France. French educators have become increasingly interested in the concept of Forest school as a result. The Scandinavian model is also renowned in France. Still fewer educators get inspiration from other models, such as Adventure Education. This is largely because many educational models are not translated into French language

    What Does This Mean for French Forest Schools in Practice?

    Most forest schools have been created by individual associations that have private status. 90% of them do not have full-time school enrollment. They typically offer parents the possibility to come with their kids to spend time in a forest. This place is dedicated to pedagogical activities, most of them related to environmental education (getting to know trees, plants and animals, etc.).

    A few forest schools (less than a dozen) are full-time schools where children spend all their time outside where they learn math, languages, sciences, etc. in the forest. Those schools usually are what we call “under State contract”, which means that they follow the national educational curriculum. [In the United States, this is akin to “State-licensed” schools.]


    A significant number of public school teachers take their class outside or design the schoolyard to carry out typical activities of outdoor education: manipulating natural elements, playing with loose parts, learning how to count or write using pieces of woods or stones, creating art pieces with those elements, etc. 

    For more details about the geographic locations of French Nature-based Learning Initiatives, see the Réseau Pédagogie par la Nature map here.

     I’m currently addressing the problem of the lack of translation from English to French languages by offering translations of English written materials to French, on the website Ma Petite Forêt.

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    This variety of places, processes, and status combines with another kind of variety: the pedagogical differences in implementation. Indeed, outdoor education is what educators decide to make of it! Here are some ways French educators undertake outdoor activities :

    • Some teachers take children outside to play. They only carry out unstructured play. This means that there is no pedagogical program. It does not mean, of course, that there is no learning. But learning is not focused on a specific subject nor evaluated by teachers.

    • Some teachers consider the outside world as THE place to experiment with art and creativity. They use the environment as a dedicated place for all creative activities, but will not experiment with other subjects or learning outside.

    • Some teachers only lead environmental or science-based activities outside such as discovering trees, plants and animals ; learning about environmental issues, etc.

    • Some teachers take children outside and reproduce what they do inside the classroom. They have kids sit down around them and carry out a reading activity, for instance.

    • Some teachers carry out what we call “activités didactiques”, which means that they bring children to learn specific skills and knowledge (according to the children’s ages and profiles) corresponding to national program [curriculum standards]. They may include unstructured play and other typical activities from outdoor education, but always keep the program [required curriculum standards] in mind.

    The beauty of this young movement, nature-based education, in the French context is that it is deeply engaging and motivating. Educators and parents are enthusiastically inventing, experimenting, and learning each time they take kids outside. The current lack of structured initiatives previously described should not intimidate those who are interested in this kind of pedagogy. More structured approaches may happen in the following years. It will surely happen when teacher training is put in place. 

    As French nature-based learning initiatives take hold, my hope is for a future where teachers will :

    • stay in touch and aware of what is happening at home and abroad in this movement,

    • keep learning and remain enthusiastic about the wonderful benefits of nature-based education,

    • not confuse needed organization of nature-based schooling initiatives with a complete homogenization or standardization of forest schooling, which would lead to less autonomy and less inspiration for daily outdoor learning.

    Laura Nicolas is a teacher, an educator and a university lecturer at Paris Est Créteil University. She also founded the association Sologna Nature et Culture which aims to support outdoor education. She is also the founder of Ma Petite Forêt dedicated to nature-based education in France.


  • Wednesday, November 25, 2020 1:12 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    There are many ways to express gratitude, and gratitude routines are at the heart of forest and nature school programs. Try this LovingKindness Meditation (temp).pdf with children you love. It is a calming, gentle way to focus positive energy towards others. Teachers, parents, and children alike will enjoy sharing lovingkindess as part of their mindful practice, which encourages feelings of gratitude, compassion, and empathy.

  • Friday, October 16, 2020 8:11 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Kai Dickinson, Ellis Hollow Nursery School

    I have always been drawn to outdoor learning where the natural world invites children to experience serendipitous and endless child centered play. I was one of those children; catching frogs while muddying up long dresses, sticky summer days splashing in Skaneateles Lake, picking  grapes that exploded sweetness from the ripe fall sun. I was that child in the dead winter freeze who never wanted to come in for supper because I was too busy catching a feast of snowflakes on my tongue. Today the nature deficit saddens me; where are our forests, our neighborhoods, our right to play? The children have gone inside.

    As a teacher of young children I wanted to give my preschoolers the experience of immersive outdoor play, not just a half an hour at the end of each session. Every Wednesday in our five day a week, three hours a day preschool we would be outside in the elements: the sun, rain, snow and sleet. We name it “Wild Weather Wednesday.” It was a commitment and perhaps a distant longing. It was a process, my co-teacher and I waded through being in charge of sixteen little souls. How do we keep our sign in sheet dry, the kids warm, how do we pack up snacks, water and a million incidentals? Learn by doing, trial by error, good days and days built by grit, for us and the children. 

    Somehow we endured and our days outside became more meaningful than our days between four walls. Our learning was rich and our senses sharpened. Individual bodies, too small to carry giant logs alone, discovered independently they could roll them together to their delight. The children discovered how to build bridges, forts and how to make logs into seesaws. We saw life cycles, gravity and yes, cause and effect. Children and nature lead the learning while we observe their mighty minds.

    Our class was gelled by the time the sugar bush whispered through the trees, “run sap run!” The great manifestation: the running sugars sustain us. We experienced cooperation, problem solving, and the use of our bodies in ways we didn't think possible. We were enamored by nature and each other.

    A slip on the ice walking my family’s beloved fifteen year old labradoodle sent me away from bliss to surgery. Six screws and a steel plate in my left wrist and months of recovery to go. When I returned to the classroom, humbled, and broken, COVID-19 swept through our streets, cities and communities. Now under the Governor's order it was time to shut down, into silence, isolation and the unknown. Depressed, discouraged, trudging through. Pulling myself up by proverbial bootstraps, I needed to continue with these young connections, made now by a virtual world, far, far away from the woods.

    What were we going to do? Then my steadfast friend and co-teacher, stumbled upon the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. Could we afford it? Did we have the right credentials to be included? Was it the right fit for us and our program? Could we possibly turn everyday into Wild Weather Wednesday in a New York snow belt? Could the woods be our sanctuary while we waited COVID-19 out? It seemed daunting, but safer and healthier for us all. 

    I began my summer of isolation, online, enrolled in a nature education program. Counter intuitive, I know! Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools however, restored me, and helped me to remember who I once was and who I still am! ERAFANS gave me not only practical skills and a plethora of resources, it also gave me a community of like minded mentors and colleagues. Someone at ERAFANS said to us, “Once you go entirely out, you’ll never want to go back in!” I feel this now with my young students. The plan to become an outdoor school during COVID-19 may have just been the impetus to to leave our four walls behind. Being part of ERARANS gave me the validation and tools to do so.

    It is September now, and here in New York the maples are starting to drip with red,  the ganders of geese bid their farewell, and the spotted salamander blankets himself with leaves. The children run smiling and giggling bundled in polypropylene and wool, school has resumed. Already, after a couple weeks of school I am experiencing the great joy and freedom the children are experiencing. At our closing gratitude circle a young girl spoke “I’m sad we have Covid in the world but I'm grateful I get to be in the woods with other kids!” Another child spoke, “I am grateful for the trees, because now I know how much they do for us.” The curiosity and the learning is strong. To others the children may look like they are “just playing.” but I know it is so much more.

    Over the years, I have worked in all kinds of classrooms with different philosophies and teaching styles. In teacher directed environments I have found children can resort to an array of behaviors. I have witnessed disinterest, lack of focus, boredom, restlessness and even aggression. Emergent nature based curriculum on the other hand is patient, observant, communicative, collaborative and kind. It embodies seeing the world though the child's eyes and embracing their vision. 

    Children are self motivated by their own curiosity and then learning happens through playful exploration and expression. As a teacher it entails a keen mind and a creative connection to expand their interest. This kind of learning can be a moment during the day like, allowing a child to trail blaze up a hill of bramble, leading the way with confidence or other times it takes flight; a small bug, manifests into songs, plays, costumes, stories, and an entomologist gracing us with stick bugs, honey bees and praying mantises. 

    Emergent, nature-based curriculum is spontaneous, serendipitous, and resourceful. A joyful innocent learning that is gently cradled in a teachers arms. My “job” continues to cultivate the fertile soil of the minds and hearts of children. I hope to pass along the generational seeds of kindness, empathy and stewardship for each other and for our beloved Earth. I welcome this great responsibility and hope it withstands the test of time. I have found I am not alone. I have met many new friends among this path; sharing tools, sustenance and wisdom. I am hopeful that our toil and love will take root.

    Kai Dickinson is a co-teacher at Ellis Hollow Nursery School in Ithaca, NY. She currently holds a level 1 Nature-Based Teacher Certification with the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. 

  • Wednesday, April 08, 2020 5:27 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    It's an oxymoron if ever there was one. But in this moment of social distancing and online learning, nature-based educators are grappling with how to approach virtual learning for (gulp) preschoolers. It may be counter-intuitive, but there are a few things we can do to make this temporary transition a little smoother. After much dialogue with nature-based educators and directors across the country, we've developed a 3-part Framework for Nature-Based Distance Learning that just may help you navigate these digital waters. 


  • Thursday, March 26, 2020 10:09 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Despite the coronavirus and all its ugly repurcussions, spring is here. The Earth's generous spirit calls us to slow down and reconnect with her. With so much time in our quartined communities, the outdoors is a new kind of solace for us all. 

    Here we share two simple, fun ways to get outside and celebrate spring! The first is a mud paint recipe. Children may gather mud and play with it before, during, and after the mud paint is done! It's a wonderful for experimentation, both when making the paint and when selecting materials that you can use as paintbrushes (EX. paintbrushes, sticks, or pine needles). You'll get different results depending on the surfaces you paint on, too. 

    The second is a recipe that calls for a bowl of sunshine. Or, at least those happy, sunshiny forsythia blooms. This forsythia spring syrup is easy to make and requires lots of lolligagging outside to gather blossoms. Make sure you know what forsythia is before you forage and collect more than you need. In addition to syrup, you can also use the golden decotion as watercolor paint.

    There's no way we can wish away the challenges we are faced with at the moment, but we hope these resources offer nature connection and meaningful family time when you desperately need a breath of fresh air.

     


  • Wednesday, January 01, 2020 8:41 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    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!

  • Friday, September 06, 2019 3:13 PM | Deleted user

    Written by: K. Airy 

    During the 80s and 90s, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a kid that wasn’t running around outside playing in the streets or at local parks. However, nowadays things are a lot different.

    The development of mobile devices and other gadgets have ensured that the average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a screen. Popular games like Fortnite have children spending more of their lives indoors in front of a screen, rather than exploring outside. The detrimental effects of screen time have been demonstrated in numerous research studies, but as a parent and educator, you can break the cycle and encourage healthy habits, like spending time outdoors, from an early age. Trading screen time for green time has many psychological and developmental benefits for today’s children.

    The long-term effects of screen time are eye opening. In a study being conducted by the National Institute of Health (NSI), 11,000 kids between the ages of 9 and 10 were monitored for 10 years and some of the preliminary results are intriguing. One of the most significant finds by the study director, Dr Gaya Dowling was that children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests. As a result, excessive screen time can have a negative effect on children's academic performance. Other detrimental effects have also been linked to disrupted sleep and increased obesity. So, what are the benefits of letting children play outside?

    Whether it’s summer or winter, the benefits of going outside are both physical and mental. Monica Wiedel-Lubinksi notes how vitamin D from the sun is important for boosting the immune system and elevating mood. This becomes relevant for child development in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD occurs during the winter months where certain regions may see little sunshine, and can lead to depression and other mood disorders.

    Additionally, our natural instinct, known as biophilia, is a bond we share with all creatures and plants and has led researchers to believe that spending time in nature can improve mental health and promote healing. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that at a children’s hospital in California with a healing garden had a positive effect on 85% of patients. Children reported better overall mental wellbeing after spending just five minutes in the garden.

    Studies have also demonstrated positive effects in learning and education, as well as mental health benefits,  as a result of being outdoors. A study conducted at the University of Stavanger in Norway on the effects of the outdoor learning found that students who participated in an outdoor education program reported significantly more intrinsic motivation to learn and felt more competent. Additionally, stress levels were shown to be lower among students who spent one day a week learning outdoors, compared to those who spent the entire week studying indoors. This is partly because outdoor environments offer a unique mental stimulus that captures a child’s attention. The outdoors also presents opportunities to exceed personal limits, like climbing a tree. Risky play also promotes important skills related to persistence, self-knowledge and problem-solving. 

    Maryville University indicated how increasing research in psychology and education draws correlations to improved learning and success. The message is clear: take kids out on a regular basis. Just half an hour a day is enough to catch kids' interest in learning and will have numerous other positive psychological and physiological effects.

    So how do we find ways to get kids outside in nature while not completely cutting them off from technology? The answer is at home.

    Parents can limit screen time and teach kids healthy habits early on by spending time outside as a family and keeping children’s outdoor time unstructured. Simple activities like playing in the park going out for a bike ride or having a picnic in your backyard, are enough to get children interested and curious about the outdoors. Day trips and camping vacations are a great way to have your children disconnect from technology temporarily and experience what nature has to offer.

    Children are naturally inquisitive and nature provides endless stimuli for them to ask questions and learn. Encourage children to find the answer themselves by asking engaging, open-ended questions. This way they will develop an authentic relationship with nature through their own exploration and experiences.

  • Thursday, May 16, 2019 10:49 AM | Deleted user

    Our pals at the Natural Start Alliance have published another fantastic (and FREE!) online journal. It includes an editorial from ERAFANS director Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, too. Enjoy this great free resource! Follow this link to check out the journal.

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