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Nature as the Textbook: A Review of Nelson's Cultivating...

Nature as the Textbook: A Review of Nelson's Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms

“By suggestion and example, I believe children can be helped to hear the many voices about them. Take time to listen and talk about the voices of the earth and what they mean—the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of surf or flowing streams.” -Rachel Carson Take a moment and consider the instances

Enviromental Services Employee Teaches Third Graders During the Annual Fish Fun Fair at the Creston National Fish Hatchery. Credits: Evie Bradley / USFWS

“By suggestion and example, I believe children can be helped to hear the many voices about them. Take time to listen and talk about the voices of the earth and what they mean—the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of surf or flowing streams.”

-Rachel Carson

Take a moment and consider the instances of discovery you had as a child. Maybe you learned what plants need to grow, what materials it takes to build a fort, or how to protect yourself against the rain, wind, and heat. There is something to be said about reading books that describe the four seasons and then actually seeing leaves change colors as summer turns to fall. The discovery that takes place outdoors, combined with the physical benefits of spending time outside, have persuaded many of the need to integrate the outdoors into early childhood development. For those convinced and those newly interested, Eric Nelson’s Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms acts as a guide to overcome the absence of nature in today’s child development curricula and effectively integrate the outdoors into a variety of learning experiences.

Amphibian Monitoring at Heart Lake - YFMP

Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms targets those involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of early childhood development, including landscape architects, teachers, and parents. Nelson emphasizes that in order to incorporate nature into the curriculum, traditional views and roles must shift. Outdoor spaces should be designed to provide challenges and opportunities for discovery. Rather than direct instruction, teachers should facilitate self-discovery and provide information based on students’ interests and questions. Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms provides a flexible educational approach that can be integrated into existing practices and adapted to multiple climates and circumstances. Recommendations range from immediate actions, such as moving lunch or circle time outdoors, to long-term strategies, such as redesigning outdoor spaces.

Today, children face many critical challenges, including lack of exercise, isolation, and deprivation of natural experiences. Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms addresses these concerns by offering a guide that recognizes the importance of buy-in and support by the adults involved in education and necessity of appropriate resources to implement outdoor education. Through clear steps and guidelines, the book is a valuable resource to anyone interested in restoring nature to its rightful place in child development.

Outdoor classroom construction

One area not covered by this book is existing case studies that readers can refer to for encouragement and advice. Although the content clearly reflects the author’s experience and research, case studies often bring to life the tenets and recommendations of guidebooks. One such example is the Learning Landscapes Model from the University of Colorado at Denver. The Learning Landscapes Model is intended to reflect the culture and history of the surrounding neighborhood and provide opportunities for physical, social, and creative activities through green design. The program has transformed every Denver Public School yard and has been shown to increase the physical and social activity of its users. Learning Landscapes is a living example of the principles found in Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms and the impact of bringing nature back into the educational system.

Are there outdoor classrooms where you live? What types of outdoor play opportunities do children in your community have? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Cultivating Outdoor Classrooms is a Redleaf Press publication. The Grid is giving away four FREE copies of the book. Follow this link to Rafflecopter Giveaway to enter for a chance to win your free copy!

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Lynn Coppedge graduated from Arizona State University's Master of Urban and Environmental Planning program Currently working as a Sustainability Planner for the City of Lakewood in Colorado, Lynn aspires to advance sustainability in the community of...

  • Yah it is true that today, children face lack of exercise, isolation, and deprivation of natural experiences.

    In my place they have these types of Outdoor learning activities in some of the schools & institutes. When it comes to botany and zoology subjects, the students go on a field trips to appropriate places.
    And it is one of the great learning activity!

    • Thanks for sharing! One of the barriers to these programs is often existing curricula. Have teachers in your area been embracing the new outdoor learning spaces?