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Nature based programs

  • 1.  Nature based programs

    Posted 10-17-2019 02:49 PM
    The early childhood family education program I work for is considering started a nature based program in a nearby park with hiking trails.  I'm wondering if anyone else is doing outdoor programs for 1-5 year olds that are non separating with a parent education component.  We'd have about 2 hours and parents would stay with children.  I'd love to learn from other people's experiences.  What worked?  What didn't?  What advice would you give someone just starting out?

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 2.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-18-2019 10:39 AM
    Hi!  Try the National Parks website, they have many activities and lesson plans available for all ages!  They are a great resource in my experience.

    Patty Peterson
    Parents As Teachers
    West Yellowstone, MT  59758

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    Patricia Peterson
    PAT
    Community Health Partners
    West Yellowstone MT
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  • 3.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 09:26 AM
    Thanks so much Patty.

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 4.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-19-2019 11:21 AM
    Hi Meg,

    It sounds like you're looking for insights beyond activity ideas--business aspects of what does/doesn't work. Two resources to check out for finding other people operating similar programs are Natural Start Alliance (https://naturalstart.org) and Children and Nature Network (https://www.childrenandnature.org). The Natural Start page includes a map that says "nature preschools" but there are sometimes family programs listed as well. One program to check out, for example, is Loblolly Adventures in North Carolina (https://www.loblollyadventures.com).

    One detail to consider is what sort of agreement you'll have with park system to operate a program on their property. Some park systems might require you to be officially registered with them as someone running a business operation on their property. Just one of the many details to consider.

    Good luck!

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    Rachel Larimore
    Founder
    Samara Early Learning, LLC
    Midland MI
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  • 5.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-19-2019 02:22 PM
    Thanks Rachel,
    That's very helpful.  Our district already has a relationship with parks and rec, so if we choose a city park, it will be easier- but I also have my eye on a National wildlife refuge nearby.
    I'll definitely check out the links you shared.
    I'm so excited about making this happen.

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-20-2019 07:16 AM
    Hi Margaret,
    What an exciting adventure! Nature-based programs, as you know, are not only fun for kids, they are crucical to healthy growth and child development. As the founder of three nature preschools/forest preschool programs in MD and consultant to countless others, I champion educators like you who build capacity for nature-based education.

    Rachel Larimore is right, the Natural Start Alliance (www.naturalstart.org, a project of NAAEE) has fantastic resources and blog posts full of wonderful information specifically for nature-based early childhood educators. (Rachel is also very humble - she wrote a book specifically on estabilishing nature preschools that you would love!)

    The Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS), the nonprofit that I work for, also offers many free resources for people just starting nature-based programs (erafans.org/teacher-resources). Please feel free to contact us, as we are always happy to help, and best of luck to you on this journey!

    Warmly,

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    Monica Wiedel-Lubinski
    Executive Director
    Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
    Glen Arm MD
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  • 7.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 30 days ago
    This is an exciting new step. I wish you much joy and growth. You will be.interested to know that there is a naeyc nature. Interest forum that will certainly be able to help you. Also, the research on nature education connects to play and spiritusl development
     Together, nature, play, and spiritual nurturing can have amazing positive affects on young children's development of an inner sense of self,  ability to focus, and the emergece of empathy through expierences in wonder. awe, and joy. If you are interested in learning more please feel free to be in touch with me.
    Deb
    Facilitator of the young children's spirituality interested forum and
    Growing wonder.com





  • 8.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 09:12 AM
    Hi Meg,

    I teach in a cooperative preschool, so we have parents in our classroom daily.  While we have always incorporated lots of nature in our program, this year we are in the process of making it official and becoming a nature-based preschool.  We have 21 students in the class and always have 3 parents and 2 teachers.  So far, children and parents are loving the nature-focus and the time spent outside.  As with anything new, we are learning a lot as we go along.

    Because we are in a transition year, we have been slowly extending our outdoor time as well as our boundaries.  The commitment to being outside no matter what the weather is like seems like a good idea until you're faced with a torrential downpour, but we stuck with the plan, got a little more wet than anticipated, lived through a little discomfort, and have since had MANY weather inspired talks with little people. We - adults and children alike - are all suddenly much more attuned to what is happening around us.  And that's really the point, right?

    I'm not sure I'm far enough along this journey to give advice, but I can say that the experience so far has been one of learning and bonding for parents and children (and teachers) that is greater than I imagined.

    Wishing you the best of luck!

    Dianne

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    Dianne Rose
    Head Teacher
    Hunters Woods Cooperative Preschool
    Reston VA
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  • 9.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 09:25 AM
    Thanks so much Dianne,
    I am laughing, because I remember some of those torrential downpour learning moments from my time outdoors last year.  I remember one child standing gleefully under the edge of our shed roof letting the run off pour over his head.  I was glad that his parents had sent him in a good rain suit.    I also remember learning from another teacher that when the windchill is below 0 you can find good places out of the wind to play.

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 09:31 AM

    Hello Meg,

    Great that you are doing this!   We are a community volunteer group that does activities very much like what you are considering.  We do two-hour hikes in publicly accessible natural settings, target 0-5 year olds (we welcome older siblings as well), and parents are with their children throughout.   Our activities are open to the public.    We do mostly Saturdays, so outside school time, but we have from time to time helped do hikes with HeadStart, Early HeadStart, and other preschools.     A few things we have learned: 

    For most of our hikes we structure the time so that most of the time is child-initiated / free exploration/ play activity.   We use an 'experiential learning' approach in which we follow the kids' lead as to interest, pacing, what to investigate more closely, etc.   The kids' natural interests and the many things to explore and discover at the natural sites bring out wonderful learning and socializing results.     

    We take 5-10 minutes at the outset to get the group organized, remind everyone of basics like safety and 'parents/kids stay with your child/parents', and perhaps do a brief hands-on like making a snack or a simple explorer item.   Then we spend most of the time in exploring and discovering (the experiential time),   and 5-10 minutes at the end for 'processing' type discussion (leaders facilitate) and any loose ends.  

    We 'organizers'/ leaders pick a site (with parent input), make any arrangements necessary, and promote the hike.  At the hike itself, we prompt the parents with a few ideas at the outset.   We bring a few helpful tools, water, etc.    During the activity both leaders and parents watch what the children do and scaffold gently onto those child-centered interests.   Leaders coach parents to do so with their kids.   Leaders help keep the group together.  

    Sometimes we offer a theme ('today let's think about…' things like colors/ shapes/ same-different/ things that move/ textures, etc. etc.)   And we sometimes suggest a focusing activity (scavenger hunt, making rubbings, collecting a few leaves, or whatever) and bring materials for that (very simple tools and props, low-cost/ no-cost; we want the parents to be able to easily replicate those at home if they wish).  But those are options, not a requirement.   Most families do the suggested activities at least a little, but many of them move on to other things that interest them.   Walking along and looking/ poking/ wondering about things makes up most of the hike time.          

    Favorite activities for our groups have been

    • Walking, running and climbing around (where appropriate), exploring, discovering things and sharing that with their families and (sometimes) with the others in the group are far and away the most popular things for the children.    
    • Matching colors- we give each family or child a few color samples from a paint store and they seek out similar colors in our nature setting
    • Examining things through a flat looker (square of cardboard with a window cut into the center) or a tube looker ('binoculars' made from two toilet paper tubes and a strip of duct tape).
    • Bug catching – parents have a small clear plastic container of some kind (re-purposed recyclable), and help their child scoop up any bugs that they find.
    • Collecting (if permitted at the site) – we give parents/kids a sandwich sized plastic bag to help limit the size and quantity. We also coach them to collect appropriately to respect the natural place that they are in (we use and promote a 'leave no trace' approach). 

    Others have shared great resources.  I'd add the books by Joseph Cornell - great activities.

    Hope the ideas are helpful!    

    Sam Cornelius
    Kids Outdoors Otsego
    Gaylord, Michigan

     



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    Samuel Cornelius
    Early Childhood Consultant
    COP ESD
    Gaylord MI
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  • 11.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 09:40 AM
    Thanks so much Sam.  This is very helpful.  I love the details on how you organize your time.
    Are you part of the free forest school program?

    ------------------------------
    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 10:07 AM
    Hi Meg,

    No; didn't even know about the free forest school program; I'll have to check that out.

    A colleague and I (both working in home-visit-based early childhood/ early intervention)  just started organizing these family hikes about 10 years back since many of the families we worked were interested but hesitant about getting outdoors with their toddlers, and we knew that it would be a great thing for them.   We both had background in outdoor programming of various sorts and applied those ideas.

    I'll look up free forest school program.
    Sam

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    Samuel Cornelius
    Early Childhood Consultant
    Gaylord MI
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  • 13.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 11:49 AM
    Hi again Meg,
    Thanks again for the reference to Free Forest School;  we are indeed applying the same overall principles/ approaches/ etc.   So many details are the same- even down to similar wording!    I'm amused that I never came across them before, even when pulling together resources and references for workshops!

    KOO is definitely a local and small-scale version of all those elements, in contrast to the events with sometimes 100s of participants mentioned on the FFS site .

    With a small number of families at an activity, we are perhaps more like a collection of family hikes.   We hope that families will pick up on the spirit of it and get out into natural settings on their own more and more (as well as coming on our group hikes again), and some simple surveying has shown that the majority of attending families are doing so.

    Sam










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    Samuel Cornelius
    Early Childhood Consultant
    Gaylord MI
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  • 14.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 10-21-2019 02:14 PM
    Thanks so much for all the amazing responses everyone.  It's giving me great ideas and I feel as though we have a more solid start with every single response.  Samuel, I'm wondering if you or anyone else has experience making this work for parents who are immigrants or refugees from warmer places.  We are hoping to start next semester which will be mid January and  since we are in Minnesota I fear that that will make it more challenging for folks who grew up in  warmer climates to join the class.

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 30 days ago

    Meg,

    Funny you should ask about move-ins from warmer climates.    Over the last few years we've had families participate who moved in from Honduras, Mexico, Hong Kong, and several US southern states;  I don't know about refugee status.  Gutsy that they show up for an outdoor activity in the winter!

    We're in northern lower MI, and it gets pretty cold; we've been out below zero F many times.  We do whatever we can think of to help everyone feel ok about coming outside with their kids in cold weather - both long-time northerners and new arrivals who aren't used to the frigid conditions.   We hope that by encouraging and giving tips to everyone, the newcomers will not feel singled out, and even feel somewhat united with other families about it - everyone has to dress and prepare for cold weather.

    Leading up to a winter activity, a few things we do that are likely particularly helpful for people who are new to the cold  (good reminders for long-time residents, too):
    - We do an activity in early winter when it's cold and snow has come, but it's not yet as cold as it will be in Jan and Feb.   That December hike can provide acclimatization experience for the families, develop confidence, and give a chance to try out winter clothes gradually.
    - We suggest to parents (on FB or if they contact us with questions) basics like layering, insulating fabrics, head cover, footwear, etc.    We also suggest the option of checking with local neighbors and friends about best places to get footwear and coats and so on.  In the process, we've learned that sometimes the friends offer loaners or outgrown clothing - typical small-community helpfulness.
    - We put tips on the FB page about coping with cold.   And post specific suggestions closer to a particular cold weather activity.
    - We have photos on our FB page from earlier winter hikes/ activities that show it all - the fun, the clothes and hats, the depth of the snow, the frosty breath, etc.   And particularly lots of smiling faces.
    - We mention online and at activities that it takes a while of trial and error to find the best combination of cold-weather clothing for each person; while experimenting with that, it makes sense to borrow and mix and match.   Hopefully people catch on that you don't need to spend a lot on new or fancy clothes to be comfortable and safe in cold weather.   The photos of our activities also show my co-organizer and me here and there.   She dresses very sharp/ stylish;  my cold weather get-up is generally pretty well-worn - hopefully demonstrates the point.
    - We use snowshoes when the snow is deep; families from a no-snow homeland would hardly have those.   To remove that barrier we've accumulated a supply of snowshoes in kid and adult sizes, available (to all families) to borrow.    We've also got a bunch of sleds to loan out.
    - We are clear that we'll go out in any (except 'crazy-dangerous' or 'can't drive safely to get there') winter weather.   We dress for it, adjust the plan as needed, and have our safe and wonderful experience.  We don't glorify the cold challenge, and we don't fret or try to terrify anyone about it.  We feel that a matter-of-fact attitude helps parents feel comfortable to join in.  And of course, those who decide not to come, that's an OK choice too- good for them!

    At the beginning of a winter activity:
    - Our participant families usually include as many new families as repeaters, so we want to get to know them a little.  As they arrive, one of us greets each family (we do that on any hike) and while doing so briefly asks if they are used to the colder weather.  If they are new to it, we offer a little encouragement, reassure them about appropriate preparations/ dress they have done, and say that we'll check with them during the activity to be sure they are doing ok.
    - We also try to determine who in the family is the best one to speak with about comfort, cold, well-being-- that could be a cultural thing, family dynamics thing, both, etc.   Stress about the cold could intensify feelings about who in the family is in charge/ responsible.  If they have immigrated or are refugees, they've likely been through experiences that may have strained family roles.   Likewise we'd want to determine which of us is the most appropriate one to speak with that family member;  male or female might make a difference.  All of these are possible considerations for any family-  we want to be sensitive, culturally appropriate, and be effective communicating with them about their well-being in the cold.
    - So far, most families new to cold weather at our activities have prepared pretty well.   Sometimes they have overdressed, and then we give tips regarding ventilating and not getting sweaty.  Parents have sometimes dressed their children better than they dress themselves, so we watch out for adults' comfort too.

    We want everyone to have a positive experience and finish eager to get outdoors lots of times through the cold months.   We certainly want them to be safe, and we coach them so that they will learn from any discomfort.

    We do other things during the activity once we get under way to help make the cold conditions manageable for all the participants, but those aren't specific to people new to the cold, and this is a long post already so I'll send it on.

    Sam




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    Samuel Cornelius
    Early Childhood Consultant
    Gaylord MI
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  • 16.  RE: Nature based programs

    Posted 30 days ago
    Hi, Meg! I run a similar program as part of a nature-based space (we are neighboring a botanic garden with our own, wilder, natural spaces). We have a few options when it comes to parent attended programs, depending on what anyone is looking for. We have a gardening based program for children 18months-6 years that focuses on what is growing seasonally. We also have started a partnership with a local yoga studio to offer paid family yoga sessions in a natural space. However, I think you are probably looking for something similar to our story time or the book and nature club.

    When we meet, families will gather first for a conversation and story time to introduce a natural wonder. This gives us a chance to gently introduce the ideas of our outdoor exploration to biophobic individuals (sometimes it's the adults!). The story time also introduces some vocabulary so that the children have some basic words to describe or to discuss their discoveries with the caregivers. Following the story we will have a short music and movement activity before heading into our exploration. We focus heavily on encouraging parents and caregivers to interact with their children by co-wondering alongside them - sharing their sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. By coaching parents to co-wonder and to ask higher level questions in conversations, the learning experience is more powerful and meaningful when shared. The NAEYC book "Big Questions for Young Minds" is a great resource. After the outdoor exploration, we have some activity stations with question examples and prompts to guide the parents in deeper conversations with their children through each activity. We have an indoor classroom for the stations, but this could easily be adapted to outside.

    My biggest advice is to pick subject matter that the families can explore together beyond your two hour program. Finding something that sparks curiosity and allows them to continue the meaningful discoveries, conversations, and explorations. For us we look a lot at the wonders of grass plants, trees, and wildflowers (like dandelions) - all things that are visible or accessible even in urban environments and do not require a special trip.


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    Cheryl Potemkin
    Early Childhood and Family Programs Specialist
    BRIT - Botanical Research Institute of Texas
    Fort Worth TX
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