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Nature Based Learning

Last month, Miss Natalie and I were fortunate to be able to join a community of over 40 educators from around the country that all share a passion for encouraging the innate love that children have for nature. We spent two days with these wonderful people in the mountains right outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The three phenomenal facilitators are all founders of Santa Barbara, CA based Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers.

Whenever I tell someone that I went to a workshop or training, usually the first question that is asked is, “What did you learn?” Well, two days filled with hands-on training can lead to quite a lengthy response, but here are some of the many highlights from this workshop and ones that help to fortify my work with the children in the forest:

Changing a child’s symbol year to year is like building that child’s totem. Children can become quite attached to a symbol or not immediately relate to a symbol, but it’s important to emphasize the growth that each new symbol brings. Children have a natural tendency to engage in risky play. Why? Quite simply it helps a child to learn how to regulate their fear response. If adults prevent all forms of risky play we are essentially stunting a child’s ability to respond to fear in a ways other than fight, flee, or freeze.

Fear is Nature’s way of helping us to be aware and “keen observers” in our environment. If one’s environment does not provide opportunities for new experiences, which can understandably result in fear, then the brain simply trims neurons that are not being used. It is like the saying, “Use it or lose it.” Something as simple as uneven ground to walk on makes one more aware of their surroundings and helps to nurture a child’s sense of balance, coordination, and mindfulness of their environment.

Often times Nature expects a child to wait. They must wait until the water warms up before going swimming; they must wait until a friend hops down from a tree before they begin to climb; they must wait quietly until the raccoon finishes rinsing off its snack before walking to the water’s edge. The simple act of withholding fosters within a child a sense of investment, interaction, and attention. Often times the adult in the environment will need to remind the child to wait, but this will later develop into the child telling themselves to wait, which is what we call self-regulation.

Nature is a master at teaching the beauty of diversity. The different flowers, trees, and animals that share a small natural space provide a wonderfully rich way for a child to observe diversity existing in harmony.

Forest school and Waldorf education have a natural relationship. The imagery that young children thrive upon easily finds its way into the stories told by the Forest teacher. The lessons that Nature presents to a young child; lessons of seasonal rhythms, in-breaths & out-breaths, real work through play, as well as sensory experiences are all important components of a Waldorf-inspired curriculum.

As a mom of two young boys, it can be challenging to leave for a weekend that would normally be filled with precious snuggles and unhurried moments. However, to come back feeling confirmed in my work with both my own children as well as the precious kiddos as The Playgarden, makes the time away feel not only like time well spent, but time that will add richness to all of the children in my life.

One message that I heard very clearly at this particular workshop is that teachers of young children need not instill a sense of fear that our beloved home, planet earth, is in danger. As adults, we can know this and do what we can to help turn the tide. However, as adults working with young children our primary goal is to help strengthen the innate love that all children have for Nature; to encourage them to continue to connect and fall in love with the abundant beauty that surrounds them. It is this love that will foster a desire to conserve our home when the children grow into adults.


Miss Anna and Miss Natalie

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