Nature-based education means time spent outside, where the outdoor living environment provides the framework and the setting for the early childhood curriculum. A nature-based education has goals of promoting whole-child development and environmental literacy, and it encourages children to understand the ebb and flow of the seasons, the importance of environmental preservation, and learn about the passage of time and the cycle of life.  Among other benefits, a nature-based education also allows for activities that are too loud or too large for an indoor setting — so it’s also lots of fun!  

Some key principles of Nature-based education are:

  • Access to the land
  • Reciprocal Relationships
  • Child-led inquiry
  • Trust and Risky Play

Nature-based education, like Montessori education, is inquiry-based and child-centered. Through play on the land, children can develop a deep connection with place, and plant seeds that can sprout into life-long care for the land.

History of Nature-based education

Nature-based early childhood education, also called Forest Schools or Nature Schools, is a 21st century endeavor to reform aspects of the more traditional approaches to teaching kids. 

The ideas behind Nature-based education are not new — educators have been developing theories and methods of outdoor environmentally-conscious learning for more than two centuries! In the US, the nature-study movement was popular between 1890 and 1920, and combined American educational reform theory with the study of the environment. In Germany, forest schools were developed in the 20th century for their health benefits, and then were reintroduced and modernized later that century in Denmark, and then in Canada, England and the United States in the 1990s up to present day.

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