Just today I had a conversation with one of our amazing local Natural Teachers, Carole Demers, who is going to retire after the next school year. She doesn't want to just up and quit being involved in making student-nature connections happen after retirement. In brainstorming ways that she might stay "in the loop," we came up with an idea...wouldn't it be great if our state (Alaska) had a Natural Teacher Mentor Program? There already exists a mentor program for new teachers statewide...it could mean merely expanding this. The mentors could be retired teachers who have excelled at getting kids outdoors and using environmental education as a means for connecting the kids to their world - as well as getting them excited about science (and other academic subjects). If supported with funding from the Dept. of Education and Early Childhood Development (such as future NCLI monies), they could travel around the state, spending time with new teachers and showing them how to use the outdoors as part of their classroom. Carole believes so many young or new teachers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and might appreciate some guidance on the details of how to incorporate EE into curricula...something she has mastered over many years of teaching. Something to ponder...

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Hi Carmen

I like this idea. I spend quite a bit of time going into schools, demonstrating how to undertake an outdoor lesson (any subject, curriculum area, age 0-12), planning a series of lessons with the teacher and then supporting them to deliver the next session. This can be done surprisingly cheaply by fitting into the schools routines. This is best supported by a keen principal and an expectation that outdoor learning will take place all year round

I have a "Catch 22" theory. It takes 22 days to make or break a habit. Thus a teacher needs to remember this when developing the confidence to work outdoors and be prepared for some up-and-downs. Shared planning and mutual support within a school can make a big difference too. But I make it clear that like other change, six months is what it may take to embed change.

In Scotland "A Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning" will be published in April. Schools and teachers will be expected to ensure that all students have 'frequent, regular opportunities" to learn outdoors. In England and Wales the guidance goes further and recommends hours per week, e.g. 2.5h per week outdoors in elementary schools - not sure if many are achieving this yet.

I find that NGO's and other freelancers like myself are sometimes reluctant to encourage teachers to take the children outside more in case it stops their organisation from delivering the service. However in my experience the more a teacher takes a class outside the more he or she recognises the specialisms of outdoor professionals and uses their expertise more wisely as part of project work etc.
Hi Juliet,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on - and experience as - a mentor for natural teachers. Can we clone you and send you around our state?? I so agree with your "slower is better" mode of establishing a teacher's comfort zone with using nature as an extension of the classroom. I've watched numerous young, new teachers over the years get frustrated by the challenges of taking field trips or going outside the school walls for class. If they just had a little guidance and advice such as yours, a natural teacher could be born more often :o) I love those outside time targets...and would like to share the Scotland publication's recommendations with the group here in Alaska developing our state's ELP (Environmental Literacy Plan). Can you post a link when/if that curriculum becomes available online? Thanks! Keep up the great work and energy over there!
Cheers,
Carmen
Hi Carmen and thanks for this post. One of our goals for the Natural Teachers Network is to encourage retired teachers to be mentors on this site, to offer their experience and ideas for questions that are raised here. Several of the Group of 40 who met at Keystone last September when we were just getting started mentioned that they were connected to retired teachers in their state. Now that we are up and running, time to cycle back and get this group of mentors engaged. Glad you and Juliet have shared some thoughts about this. I love the IditaNature idea of spending specified minutes in nature during the race. Many thanks for staying engaged on this site.
Hi John,
Thanks for the reminder to connect retired natural teachers we know with the Natural Teachers Network, so their expertise and experience in getting students outdoors can be shared with others around the country. I'll make an effort to contact those I know of in our region.
Cheers,
Carmen

John Thielbahr said:
Hi Carmen and thanks for this post. One of our goals for the Natural Teachers Network is to encourage retired teachers to be mentors on this site, to offer their experience and ideas for questions that are raised here. Several of the Group of 40 who met at Keystone last September when we were just getting started mentioned that they were connected to retired teachers in their state. Now that we are up and running, time to cycle back and get this group of mentors engaged. Glad you and Juliet have shared some thoughts about this. I love the IditaNature idea of spending specified minutes in nature during the race. Many thanks for staying engaged on this site.
What a great idea! What teachers really need to learn from a mentor is the value of getting kids outside and how NOT to feel overwhelmed by it. So often we teachers, especially new ones, feel like we are asked to do more and more until our plate is overflowing. So, instead of looking at it as an "extra" task, teachers need to be mentored in how integrate "natural teaching" into what they already practice. For example, if they are already going to read a book or write a poem- take the practice outside. If they are studying decomposition from the book- go find some real artifacts outside. It is imperative that they also have an ongoing learning community like this one, where they can feel supported and inspired to keep on the path even when the mentorship is over. I am hopeful that there will be a day that this type of mentor program will be just as valued as the beginning teacher mentorship that is so embraced throughout the country.
Hi Yasmin,
Welcome to C&NNConnect and thank you for adding your thoughts and ideas to this conversation! The overflowing plate is an excuse I often hear from teachers who want to get their kids outside but can't manage to actually make it happen. But as you said, if new teachers are mentored to think of nature as an easily accessed, natural part of their classroom, their students will become more engaged in learning and learn not just science but any subject in the outdoors. Perhaps if the NCLI Act is passed an interest in this might grow into a funded natural mentor program...we'll see...
Cheers,
Carmen



Yasmin Shaddox said:
What a great idea! What teachers really need to learn from a mentor is the value of getting kids outside and how NOT to feel overwhelmed by it. So often we teachers, especially new ones, feel like we are asked to do more and more until our plate is overflowing. So, instead of looking at it as an "extra" task, teachers need to be mentored in how integrate "natural teaching" into what they already practice. For example, if they are already going to read a book or write a poem- take the practice outside. If they are studying decomposition from the book- go find some real artifacts outside. It is imperative that they also have an ongoing learning community like this one, where they can feel supported and inspired to keep on the path even when the mentorship is over. I am hopeful that there will be a day that this type of mentor program will be just as valued as the beginning teacher mentorship that is so embraced throughout the country.
Hi everyone,...
A little late on the conversation but I was very excited to find other educators talking about this!
Currently I run a pilot program in a public school for kindergarteners and first graders. We spend almost a full day outside in the green spaces of Vermont's capitol city, learning and exploring the natural world. I use a natural learning outline to lead the children through a day that tends to the seasons and the weather at hand.
Working over a span of a year with two classrooms gives the teachers lots of time to get familiar with taking the children outside. This pilot year is a test run, but we have teachers who want to do it next year as well. The community is fundraising to have me come back next year and work with all the K and 1st teachers for one year.

We also would not be so successful without the help of the parents of the students. Having more adults coming out with us allows us to create small exploration groups that work really well! And the parents love it too!

I feel this is working really well, I am mentoring the teachers and they in turn are also mentoring me. It's a great model because it is offering that one year of in house training, and then the teachers are ready to do it on their own! We are observing great changes behaviorally for the children and their language of the natural world is growing along with their appreciation/empathy for it.

Thanks for the Idita Nature Challenge! I will be incorporating that next year!
Hi Amy

It sounds like your pilot project is going really well. Fantastic news! It's interesting that you've touched on the role of parents! In all the examples I have seen of nature kindergartens and forest schools, regardless of the country, small adult:child ratios are advocated and often there is very good parental support. You may enjoy reading the case studies on my website

Here in Scotland, an interesting project happened 2 0r 3 years ago in one part of Scotland. An Early Years Officer set up a unique training programme for pre-school staff to assist them in getting children outside into woods and other nearby greenspace. Over an 18 month period more than 60 pre-school establishments became involved and started taking their children beyond the designated outside area on a weekly basis. The Fife model used in-house training aimed at staff who were committed, keen and prepared for the challenge. It included:
• Attendance at an initial conference where a Norwegian educator, Anders Farstad spoke
• Pre-school staff identifying and organising access to suitable woodland near their establishment
• 3 days training which included time spent in the woods with a forest ranger and observing a forest kindergarten session

The funding for this training was spread over 2 years and came from the ring fenced staff development budget and the Child Care Strategy. 200 pre-school staff received the 3-day training sessions. The budget primarily was spent on staff cover costs. It was completed on a shoestring budget.

What is interesting is that although this Officer retired more than 18 months ago, the habit became established. Lots of these nurseries are still going to the woods. Many have arrangements such as the parents dropping their child off at the woods instead of the school. So as you are also finding out, change is possible and teachers can do!

Thanks for contributing.

Best wishes
Juliet

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