Graduates face numerous challenges stemming from environmental damage caused by previous generations. In response to the ecological crisis, education must reconsider our interdependence with the natural world and foster a sense of collective responsibility. Curriculum redesign is needed for connection to the environment from the onset of learning.
Outdoor education is a crucial pillar within early childhood programs. Still, many schools lack a comprehensive curriculum to nurture children’s relationships with the environment and cultivate future leaders who will shape our societies. This Early Childhood Nature School Framework has been inspired by the land and resources accessible in Okanagan, BC, Canada. Despite the document focusing on Canada's resources, it can be modified for any country or region. It integrates the International Baccalaureate and British Columbia Outdoor Education outcomes underpinned by the First Peoples Principles. Although Outdoor Education is relatively new to contemporary education, Aboriginal people have offered their children sophisticated, land-based education for millennia. The content of that education varies from place to place with the diversity of the Nations that live in Canada.
Enriching Relationships with Place and Community: Educators play a vital role in deepening children's connections with their surroundings, land, and community. Recognizing our shared world with all living beings and non-living entities, educators can inspire children to appreciate their interdependence and develop a sense of stewardship. By embracing a Common Worlds framework, educators empower children to participate actively in creating a sustainable future.
The Power of Environments in Wellbeing and Learning: The early care and learning environment, often called the "third teacher," significantly influences children's experiences and adults' interactions. Spaces and materials profoundly impact children's and adults' wellbeing and learning. Early Childhood Education Centers encourage educators to observe and respond to how children engage with the environment. By intentionally designing inclusive environments, educators promote relationship-building, provoke complex thinking, and incorporate culturally responsive objects and materials tailored to the school context and community aspirations.
Embracing Risky Play: Risky play is a natural part of children’s play, and children often seek opportunities to engage in challenging and so-called risky play. Risky play can be defined as a thrilling and exciting activity that involves a risk of physical injury and play that provides opportunities for challenge, testing limits, exploring boundaries and learning about injury risk. Activities such as climbing, sliding, balancing, jumping from heights and hanging upside down can be considered risky. It is essential that both staff and parents are aware of the importance of risky play and that safety policies and regulations are not kept in the way of this necessary form of development. Risky play provides situations where children can assess risks and take control of a problem within their developmental capacity.
Providing opportunities for children to engage in risky behaviours in an environment that promotes risk assessment and hands-on learning is essential to outdoor education. Nature will naturally provide many opportunities for children to engage in risky activities. Options include balancing beams, tires, rocks, logs, stick play, rough and tumble games, and stones or boulders.
Honouring Individuality and Diversity: Inclusive pedagogy encompasses every child's unique way of being, doing, and learning. Educators strive to celebrate each child's abilities, interests, and cultural background, ensuring their full participation in education. Integrating diverse perspectives and experiences enriches the outdoor and indoor learning environments, providing invaluable learning opportunities for all.
Benefits of Outdoor Education: The importance of outdoor education cannot be overstated, especially today. Researchers suggest that including outdoor play in early childhood programs promotes physical fitness, contributing to the healing and strengthening of children's bodies. Exposure to green spaces and the freedom of play also alleviate stress levels, nurture emotional development, and enhance social relations among children. By engaging in outdoor experiential learning, children reap the benefits of a holistic approach to education that encompasses their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. Through a commitment to outdoor experiential learning, educators empower children to become active participants in the world, nurturing their holistic development and building a foundation for lifelong learning.
The Framework includes an intro to outdoor education, an exploration into inquiry-based, experiential, play-based, place-based, and storytelling guiding principles, and a year-long inquiry programme. Resources include a suggested schedule and backpack list. The complete programme of inquiry includes ages, time frames, central ideas, lines of inquiry, learner profiles, key concepts, related concepts, ATLs, reflective teacher questions, outdoor education integration, connections to First Peoples Principles of Learning, math, language arts, and recommended books for the unit.