Now Trending in Early Childhood Education: Nature!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Over the many years that I have been an early childhood educator, I have been fascinated with developing trends. I always found it very interesting to reflect on what topics are being written about and spoken about the most. A trend in fashion, can be something that comes and goes. What I have observed about trending topics in ECE is that many stick around. In the mid-nineties, I attended a NAEYC conference in California. One of my travelling companions on that trip was Rosalba Bortolotti of the Acorn Collaborative. Rose was attending every workshop she could on the Reggio Emilia Approach. This was a trending topic. It is still a trending topic. It is more reflective of a direction of change, than a rage, craze or flash in the pan. I feel that this is going to be the case, for the now trending topic of ‘nature’ – “a general direction in which something is developing or changing”.

Definition of Trend

I have been curating for the York Region Nature Collaborative for a couple of years now. There is no shortage of articles, blogs, research, books and videos being published to support the movement to get children more connected to the natural world. Before my free trial time ran out, I did a search on Buzzsumo for “nature kids” and the results suggest that the topic is trending. This trending topic will change the culture of childhood and the practice of early childhood education.

Nature kids - a trending topic

For the third year in a row, the York Region Nature Collaborative is hosting a free event at the Kortright Centre for families: The Family Adventure Walk in the Forest. It has been just over a week, since we posted the registration link and already over 150 people (kids and adults) are attending! From my daily dose of social media, I can see events like this are happening all over. As I look over a few of my favourite photos from last year, I know this year will be another memorable day of playing and learning in nature.

In the next few months, I will be facilitating workshops for early childhood educators in Chicago, Ontario, and Manitoba on this trending topic. I believe that ECEs understand that they don’t need a forest to bring nature to children. A hillside, a meadow, a creek or small enclave of trees offers infinite possibilities for wonder and inquiry. I hope that families and educators recognize that nature is everywhere – we just need to learn to see it!

Reggio educators speak of the environment being the third teacher. I think that the natural environment is not just the third teacher – it is the ultimate teacher. The outdoor environment builds on children’s capacity and enhances their learning in authentic and meaningful ways. According to the theory of biophilia, humans have an instinctive urge to love other living things. You can’t love what you don’t know. Nature offers much to love and can be a very powerful teacher when children are given the time, space and place. Bringing nature into the indoors environment can help beautify a space and give children opportunities to play with natural found materials but it is a poor substitute for learning in and with nature. Bringing the ‘outdoors in’ may be diminishing the experiences we offer children in the outdoors. Consider this – leave the outdoors where it is and bring the children outside! This is nature pedagogy. Often I get asked for outdoor programming ideas. Nature is an invitation that is full of provocations. Go with the flow and see what emerges. However, I do recommend these experiences to support children learning in and with nature.

  • Sit Spots
  • Clay Creatures
  • Nature Mandalas
  • Journey Sticks
  • Dens and forts
  • Storytelling “Campfire”
  • Small Worlds

Nature is a trending topic in early childhood education but it is not a flash in a pan something that happens only once and for a short time. Give it a chance. In nature, a child will find infinite possibilities for learning and development.

Richard Louv quote

8 thoughts on “Now Trending in Early Childhood Education: Nature!

  1. Thank you for this informative post. I do hope that connecting closely to nature is not a passing trend but like you feel that this is and will become more embedded practice. When we see the benefits to children and mankind we can only develop more of the same.


  2. Another wonderful post, Diane. Thanks to Nan Sumner, our children have Forest Fridays and have discovered an entire world that we knew nothing about. How blessed we are to nature to explore (versus my first position, in Brooklyn, where our only play space was a concrete patio, fenced in!). If this is a trend, let it continue to embrace us all!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was at the cottage while reading this post. Sitting with and amongst nature is such a happy place for me and it has been since my childhood. Educators who have deep connections with nature inspire children to. Can wait until our Rhythm of Nature experiences at Swan Lake in August. Thanks for sharing your passions Diane.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Building Professional Vision: What does Child-Led Really Mean? | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  5. This was the reading I needed at this point in time. I recently moved to to teach at an international school in Beijing and it has been easy for me to lose sight of the nature that does surround our school. There are still many barriers to experiencing nature outdoors, namely pollution, but this is when bringing the natural world indoors is necessary and important. A significant number of our school days will likely be spent indoors, so finding solutions and ways to connect will be the heart of my work. Thank you for sharing.


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