Hi folks!
I am a mom with a MS in geology and a love to connecting children with nature. I have recently "taken the plunge" and signed up to present at the local education conferences. I have taught third grade before becoming a mama and now I stay home and have a small nature based daycare. But I want to know from you guys working in schools what are the most important things for me to talk about at these conferences 1) why nature play is important; 2) how to use nature as a tool for learning subject matter.... what else? What do early childhood educators need to really make outdoor education accessible and not daunting?

Thanks for your time, Shannon
aka Backyard Mama

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Replies to This Discussion

Well there's a coincidence - I'm having to give a keynote presentation on the same subject in 3 weeks time to early years educators too! You may find this section of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing helpful for "grab 'n' go" quotes and tips.

I find that many pre-school teachers need reassurance and practical guidance. Whether you are indoors or outside, a very useful activity is to provide groups of teachers with 5 lego or duplo bricks and ask them to build a tower. This is straightforward. Then ask them to build a tower with 5 stones. This may not be as straightforward. Discuss with the teachers how they found the second task and point out the greater cooperation required, the increased about of talking, the need to have several attempts (increases resilience in children), the success felt (increased challenge), the amount of problem solving taking place, the multi-sensory nature of stones, etc. Basically the activity demonstrates very effectively that the variety found in natural materials works on every level to provide quality learning opportunities.

From my own experience and through working with teachers, I do know that issues around children's behaviour with unfamiliar sticks and stones causes concern. I give the teachers practical suggestions and gentle ways in. For example, Julia Donaldson has a book called "Stick Man" which demonstrates the endless uses of sticks, aside from being weapons.

If your teachers are from urban areas or not used to being outside much, then (ahem) shop bought natural materials can be reassuring. A chain store in the UK sells river stones, florists sell pine cones, garden centres sell sticks, stones, pet shops sell allergy-free hay, etc.I use these materials as well as materials gathered from woods and beaches locally. Giving teachers opportunities to play and work out how they would use these materials in different projects or to build upon children's interests helps.

If literacy and numeracy are deemed important, then I demonstrate how natural materials enhances learning in these curriculum areas. I bring stones along with painted letters and pictures (story stones) which children really like using. I do maths activities that demonstrate the higher order thinking, e.g. making a 1 metre line of shells. Then discuss the learning - everyone will use a different number of shells, why is this, etc. Children chat about the shapes and colours of shells and generally the quality of the learning and understanding of concepts is increased. In outdoor schools in Sweden, the children learn each letter outside in the first instance, by making it with sticks. A stick is then used to draw the letter in mud or sand. It's then painted or clay is used indoors. Eventually, the letter is written with pencil on paper. In other words, natural materials are used as the primary tool to introduce handwriting and letter recognition.

As you've probably guess I could go on at length here! Feel free to contact me off-line if you wish.

Enjoy yourself and congratulations - we need more folk to work with teachers this way more than ever before!
Juliet
Hi Shannon and thanks so much for your commitment to connecting young children with nature. The Children & Nature Network is just beginning to pull together resources for the early learning community, and we hope to have an early learning group site up and running within the next few months. Recently, Project WILD has published a guide for nature education for young children ages 3-7 called Growing Up Wild. The curriculum has been approved by the National Assn. for the Education of a Young Child as a helpful tool to get kids school ready. There is a short training program that comes with Growing Up Wild in each state. Here is a website for more information: www.projectwild.org/GrowingUpWILD.htm .

In addition to the education value of nature for all subjects, it is important to just allow young kids to explore natural places and experience the wonder and curiosity of it all in an unstructured way, every day if possible. It is a different world today from when my mom kicked me out of the house in the morning and told me to come home by dinner, so these explorations have to be done safely. If you have read Last Child in the Woods, you know the research supporting this important issue of unstructured play in natural places.

Stay tuned for an early learning group site later this year, and thank you for connecting with the Natural Teachers Network. I will ask other educators to weigh in on your question. John
Hi Shannon,

I am so glad to hear that you are presenting to early childhood educators. I did a similar presentation about a year ago, and I found that the most valuable pieces were modeling outdoor activities in the outdoors. Have a discussion about setting boundaries and behavior guidelines that would be appropriate for students.

I think one activities that you could model would be sensory type activities - I really like scavenger hunts. Example of things to find might be the softest thing you can find, the hardest thing, the smelliest thing, etc.

One discussion that came up and went into a different direction than I expected was about safety issues - particularly stranger danger. It might be worth looking into the rules that regulate early childhood programs in your state so that you can see what boundaries that the teachers must work within. Then be prepared with the facts about stranger danger - Last Child in the Woods is a great source for these.

The other piece that I handed out was a 1 pager on the "benefits of nature for children". It was created by Louise Chawla and includes research supported points about the benefits of being outdoors - particuluarly on young children. Here's a link to the file: http://www.cudenver.edu/Academics/Colleges/ArchitecturePlanning/dis...

I hope this is helpful! Good luck with your presentation!

Cheers,
Leslie
Hi Again Shannon. After reading Leslie's post and great suggestions, it dawned on me that I should have mentioned Nature Circles as a great tool for young children and families. They were created by Hooked on Nature as a way for families with young children to get started connecting with nature. Here is a website to learn more about them: http://www.naturecircles.org/about.html

My Children & Nature Network colleague Avery Cleary has received some grant funds to distribute Nature Circles for workshops and other gatherings. You can contact Avery to see if she can provide some to you. Her email is averycleary@gmail.com. Hope this is helpful. John
Hi Juliet, I loved reading all these ideas. Do you have any of these presentations available online? Jenny

Juliet Robertson said:
Well there's a coincidence - I'm having to give a keynote presentation on the same subject in 3 weeks time to early years educators too! You may find this section of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing helpful for "grab 'n' go" quotes and tips.

I find that many pre-school teachers need reassurance and practical guidance. Whether you are indoors or outside, a very useful activity is to provide groups of teachers with 5 lego or duplo bricks and ask them to build a tower. This is straightforward. Then ask them to build a tower with 5 stones. This may not be as straightforward. Discuss with the teachers how they found the second task and point out the greater cooperation required, the increased about of talking, the need to have several attempts (increases resilience in children), the success felt (increased challenge), the amount of problem solving taking place, the multi-sensory nature of stones, etc. Basically the activity demonstrates very effectively that the variety found in natural materials works on every level to provide quality learning opportunities.

From my own experience and through working with teachers, I do know that issues around children's behaviour with unfamiliar sticks and stones causes concern. I give the teachers practical suggestions and gentle ways in. For example, Julia Donaldson has a book called "Stick Man" which demonstrates the endless uses of sticks, aside from being weapons.

If your teachers are from urban areas or not used to being outside much, then (ahem) shop bought natural materials can be reassuring. A chain store in the UK sells river stones, florists sell pine cones, garden centres sell sticks, stones, pet shops sell allergy-free hay, etc.I use these materials as well as materials gathered from woods and beaches locally. Giving teachers opportunities to play and work out how they would use these materials in different projects or to build upon children's interests helps.

If literacy and numeracy are deemed important, then I demonstrate how natural materials enhances learning in these curriculum areas. I bring stones along with painted letters and pictures (story stones) which children really like using. I do maths activities that demonstrate the higher order thinking, e.g. making a 1 metre line of shells. Then discuss the learning - everyone will use a different number of shells, why is this, etc. Children chat about the shapes and colours of shells and generally the quality of the learning and understanding of concepts is increased. In outdoor schools in Sweden, the children learn each letter outside in the first instance, by making it with sticks. A stick is then used to draw the letter in mud or sand. It's then painted or clay is used indoors. Eventually, the letter is written with pencil on paper. In other words, natural materials are used as the primary tool to introduce handwriting and letter recognition.

As you've probably guess I could go on at length here! Feel free to contact me off-line if you wish.

Enjoy yourself and congratulations - we need more folk to work with teachers this way more than ever before!
Juliet
Hello Jennifer

Thanks for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of a recent presentation onto my page in the "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!" section. I'm not too sure if it's helpful because I tend to just use slides to support the talk and the interactive activities and have music playing when the research section comes up. Any questions, please ask.

Best wishes
Juliet

PS You will find me quoting your blog and several others I've come across on C&NN Connect at future events as a great source of information and ideas! It's been one of the pluses of this international network.
Hello Juliet,
I really enjoyed what you had to say about preschool teachers needing reassurance and practical guidance. Nature education is just not an option offered at local conferences. I hope to see more presenters offering ideas for teachers. Thank you for your inspiration.
Where do I find your link to "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!"
Nature Hugs,
Deb

Juliet Robertson said:
Hello Jennifer

Thanks for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of a recent presentation onto my page in the "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!" section. I'm not too sure if it's helpful because I tend to just use slides to support the talk and the interactive activities and have music playing when the research section comes up. Any questions, please ask.

Best wishes
Juliet

PS You will find me quoting your blog and several others I've come across on C&NN Connect at future events as a great source of information and ideas! It's been one of the pluses of this international network.
Hi Deb

There's 2 ways:
1) Go back to the main page and click on my name in any of the "latest activity" posts, if you see my name there.
2) Go to the "members" section. At the moment I'm on the list of "featured members" and you can click on my name/photo there.

You'll need to scroll down about halfway.

Alternatively - as I have just learnt to upload directly onto replies...click on the links below!

Thanks very much for asking!
Best wishes
Juliet
Attachments:
Hello Deb and welcome to the Natural Teachers Network. A couple of suggestions about getting started on the path to connect children with nature in their everyday lives in preschools. Nature Circle Cards offer a simple and effective way to get started for both preschool teachers and parents. Click on www.naturecircles.org for more information. Also, there is a new nature-based curriculum for ages 3-7 published by Project WILD called Growing Up Wild. It is very good work and in some states there is training available. Click on www.projectwild.org/GrowingUpWILD.htm for more information. Thank you for your interest in getting started connecting kids to nature. John


Deb "Tdeb" said:
Hello Juliet,
I really enjoyed what you had to say about preschool teachers needing reassurance and practical guidance. Nature education is just not an option offered at local conferences. I hope to see more presenters offering ideas for teachers. Thank you for your inspiration.
Where do I find your link to "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!"
Nature Hugs,
Deb

Juliet Robertson said:
Hello Jennifer

Thanks for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of a recent presentation onto my page in the "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!" section. I'm not too sure if it's helpful because I tend to just use slides to support the talk and the interactive activities and have music playing when the research section comes up. Any questions, please ask.

Best wishes
Juliet

PS You will find me quoting your blog and several others I've come across on C&NN Connect at future events as a great source of information and ideas! It's been one of the pluses of this international network.
thanks to everyone for these great resources and suggestions. I have quite the presentation sturring inside me! I went to Waldorf School my entire life, so a lot of my schooling was nature based and outdoors, so I come at this from a very experiential background and so it's helpful to have some ideas from folks who really know the types of issues "normal" school teachers deal with.

Thanks so much.. I will read and reply individually as I have time.. I am barely treading water keeping up right now!
Shannon
Thank you Juliet !
I sure do appreciate your taking the time. Love the PPT's. Great presentations!

Interesting how my mention "Stick Man"...I was out doing some very early spring (or late winter) pruning and couldn't live with the thought of wasting the trimmings so I cut the side stems off and cut the branches into even lengths. I am bringing them into the class I volunteer in this week to see what the children do with them. I did save some branches cut in different lengths but i thought I would try the ones that are all the same size first.

I will replace one of their baskets of plastic toys with a basket of sticks. I can't wait to see what the children say and do. Nature is not something that comes into this child care centre like this: everything is store-bought toys. Imagine the sensory input the children will get from handling these sticks as opposed to paper puzzles and plastic keys. I can't wait.

Thanks so much for sharing your resources. I wish you were here in Calgary but I am grateful that even though we are a world apart we are together in heart.

Nature Hugs,
Deb

Deb "Tdeb" said:
Hello Juliet,
I really enjoyed what you had to say about preschool teachers needing reassurance and practical guidance. Nature education is just not an option offered at local conferences. I hope to see more presenters offering ideas for teachers. Thank you for your inspiration.
Where do I find your link to "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!"
Nature Hugs,
Deb

Juliet Robertson said:
Hello Jennifer

Thanks for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of a recent presentation onto my page in the "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!" section. I'm not too sure if it's helpful because I tend to just use slides to support the talk and the interactive activities and have music playing when the research section comes up. Any questions, please ask.

Best wishes
Juliet

PS You will find me quoting your blog and several others I've come across on C&NN Connect at future events as a great source of information and ideas! It's been one of the pluses of this international network.
Hello John,

You will be pleased to hear I did order some Nature Circle cards from Avery...they are absolutely awesome! I plan to order more. I loved them so much, I laminated them just to make sure they would be weatherproof for my outings. I am also going to donate some as door prizes for a conference I am associated with in hopes it will create some awareness.

I have not seen the "Growing up Wild" resource. Thanks so much for the referral, I will check it out. It sounds great.

I am so tickled to have found you all, you are so helpful. Please know you make a world of difference!!!

Thank you !!

Nature Hugs,
Deb

John Thielbahr said:
Hello Deb and welcome to the Natural Teachers Network. A couple of suggestions about getting started on the path to connect children with nature in their everyday lives in preschools. Nature Circle Cards offer a simple and effective way to get started for both preschool teachers and parents. Click on www.naturecircles.org for more information. Also, there is a new nature-based curriculum for ages 3-7 published by Project WILD called Growing Up Wild. It is very good work and in some states there is training available. Click on www.projectwild.org/GrowingUpWILD.htm for more information. Thank you for your interest in getting started connecting kids to nature. John


Deb "Tdeb" said:
Hello Juliet,
I really enjoyed what you had to say about preschool teachers needing reassurance and practical guidance. Nature education is just not an option offered at local conferences. I hope to see more presenters offering ideas for teachers. Thank you for your inspiration.
Where do I find your link to "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!"
Nature Hugs,
Deb

Juliet Robertson said:
Hello Jennifer

Thanks for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of a recent presentation onto my page in the "I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!" section. I'm not too sure if it's helpful because I tend to just use slides to support the talk and the interactive activities and have music playing when the research section comes up. Any questions, please ask.

Best wishes
Juliet

PS You will find me quoting your blog and several others I've come across on C&NN Connect at future events as a great source of information and ideas! It's been one of the pluses of this international network.

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