Session 6–Using Nature-based Play in Early Childhood Programs to Support Development For All Children

The connection with nature is as important as it is wonderful for young children. During this session we discussed the benefits of nature-based learning in every domain of education, specifically focusing on the ECIP’s to help frame your curriculum and assessment. As studies continue to point to the benefits of time outdoors and nature education, making it accessible to all children, in a variety of settings, is of growing importance.

We discussed what an equitable and inclusive environment looks like in the classroom, in the staff, and in the school community. We also discussed supporting inclusive environments including sensory integration, motor development, and pro-social skills in children that may already be identified with a disability or may need additional support from families or professionals.

Throughout the session participants had the opportunity to share ideas, additional challenges, and resources. We had time for hands-on opportunities, including venturing outdoors.

Session objectives

In this session, participants:

  • Identified the benefits of nature-based learning in every domain of education, specifically focusing on the ECIP’s to help frame your curriculum and assessment
  • Described what an equitable and inclusive environment looks like in the classroom, in the staff, and in the school community
  • Explained how to meet the needs for children with diverse learning styles through nature-based play
  • Described strategies for setting learning goals and objectives that can be demonstrated by students through the use of natural materials in the outdoor classroom

Intended audience

Early childhood educators and program staff

Intended skill level

Beginner to Advanced

Other pertinent information

Participants should dress for the weather, including rain gear, sunblock, hats, etc.

Instructor

Sheila Williams RidgeSheila Williams Ridge

Sheila Williams Ridge, MA, is the Director of the Shirley G. Moore Lab School, which is a part of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Sheila’s prior experience extends to school business manager and preschool teacher/naturalist.

In addition to her role with the Lab School, she is a facilitator for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Nature Interest Forum. Sheila is also a member of the Voices and Choices for Children coalition, a board member for the Minneapolis Nature Preschool, and a member of the Natural Start Alliance Council. She is the co-author of the book, Nature-Based Learning for Young Children: Anytime, Anywhere, on Any Budget, and is passionate about encouraging nature-based play and the lasting developmental benefits of a relationship between children and nature. Williams Ridge holds a B.A. degree in biology and an M.A. in Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood.

Anna DutkeAnna Dutke

Anna Dutke, M.Ed., is a Nature Preschool Teacher and Nature Preschool Program Developer for Prior Lake – Savage Area Schools here in Minnesota.

After graduating with a degree in Biology, Anna quickly realized her true passion was environmental education in early childhood, so she obtained her teaching license and M.Ed. in early childhood education from the University of Minnesota. In 2014, she had the opportunity to develop and pilot the first nature-based preschool class in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools as a way to carry out the district’s E-STEM initiative.

Dutke is actively involved as Advocacy Chair of Natural Start Alliance’s Council of Nature and Forest Preschools, and partners with the Jeffers Foundation to run MnECO, an organization providing professional development on nature-based learning for early childhood educators in Minnesota.