Building Nature Connections in the Early Years

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I regret to say that when I worked with young children I did not fully embrace the opportunity to help them build nature connections. I have made that confession in a previous post. However, in the last five or six years, nature pedagogy has become both a passion and a research focus. In my work with the York Region Nature Collaborative  I have had multiple opportunities to be involved with many different professional learning experiences that take place outside. I recognize now because of these experiences how important it is for early years teachers to embrace nature and outdoor play. The emphasis needs to be on the play. This is how young children learn. What I have come to realize is that it is not about teaching children about nature or the environment, it is about young children becoming aware of the environment. It is about opportunities to play and in the process connect.

Growing Roots

I am very excited about the upcoming York Region Nature Collaborative spring conference Growing Roots: Building Nature Connections in the Early Years, May 5th at the beautiful Kortright Centre. This conference is in partnership with the p.i.n.e project. I had the opportunity to visit one of the p.i.n.e project’s programs Oaks and Acorns last year. That day I realized the significance of the mentoring approach to building nature connections. While the children played, the adults were mentored. On this sunny day with a sprinkling of fresh snow on the ground we focused on animal tracks. The premise is that supporting the acquisition of the parent’s nature connections will impact the children. There will be a time that is right for the children to acquire nature knowledge but on this day they wanted to play. When that time is right, the parents have the confidence, knowledge and especially the questioning approach to mentor the children, supporting their learning in a way that is not direct teaching.

A Visit to Oaks and Acorns

It was such a magical morning and as a result I wanted to share the mentoring approach with others. Through the York Region Nature Collaborative Andrew McMartin from the p.i.n.e project has facilitated two workshops. During the Rhythm of Learning in Nature #Rhythm2017 participants had the opportunity to connect to nature on a hot summer day. This past November Andrew was back to facilitate another workshop. I am excited about his return to be the keynote speaker at #GrowingRoots2018 conference.

In addition to the keynote address, representatives from the p.i.n.e project will be facilitating these amazing workshops:

  • Wild about Plants 
  • Birds and Bird Language 
  • Working with Fire
  • Mentoring Techniques 
  • Tracking the Stories of the Landscape

At the last York Region Nature Collaborative spring conference we included an option for attendees to bring their children. There was such positive response that this feature was added to this year’s conference. Participants can sign up their children to attend the Nature Camp, run by the p.i.n.e project team. Learn more about the building nature connections and the mentoring approach by attending the conference. Rachel Carson considered the finest nature writer of the 20th century supported the concept of mentoring. She suggested that it “includes nature in storm as well as calm by night as well as day, and is based on having fun together rather than on teaching” (Carson, 1956, p.10). Let’s have fun together on May 5th! Attend #GrowingRoots2018!  


4 thoughts on “Building Nature Connections in the Early Years

  1. Thank you, Diane, for your meaningful and relevant post on connecting with nature. There’s so much in it and about it–not only for students but for teachers and principals too.

    As I was reading your post, I was thinking how our attention on nature can help—
    for students and teachers alike–SEE (understand) our “bigger-than-self” goals, which improves academic motivation and performance. When students think beyond themselves, it changes the meaning of their studies and academic struggles. Their new meaning is to make a difference in the world—which motivates them to engage with, rather than avoid challenging themselves. So instead of “fight-or-flight”—there’s a “tend-and-befriend” response. Stress doesn’t just make us fight, freeze or flee. It can be made to deliberately shift our mindset to think and act “beyond self.” If we’re constantly competing with other people—we’re going to struggle much more than if we frame our lives in the context of something bigger than ourselves. So rather than putting ourselves and others down–we keep the big picture questions in mind: What kind of positive impact do we want to have on the people around us? What mission in life, school or at work most inspires us? What do we want to contribute to the world? What change-for-betterment do we want to create? Our focus is not on our deficits, who we are not, or being less fortunate, rather being more motivated and more contributory. And, again, this is about students and teachers alike.

    And like in nature and the connection to nature, there is also a process and experience to education: It’s not just about outcome, graduation. Most persons who are “truly educated” vs. “merely graduated” are sincerely thankful and grateful for their education—the process and the experience. These persons exhibit and enjoy emotional health and “relationship wellness” in that they get along well with others simply by supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating differences.

    Principals, then, set-up teacher wellness development programs that are not only professional but “personal” in nature–because our personal and professional lives are enjoined: We bring our personal life to work, and we take our professional life home. And the focus is on self-knowledge, self-critique, self-correction, self-respect, and self-sufficiency—and how this makes us “feel felt”—the goodness and wellness it brings…plus what it ousts: No more criticizing, blaming, judging, complaining, nagging, threatening, and disbelieving.

    Ultimately, one of the great lessons of nature is that all the facts we think we know— are not always all the facts. So, sometimes unlearning is as important as learning. Unlearning is learning! What was once thought–is hard to be un-thought. It is almost as difficult to make someone unlearn one’s errors as their knowledge. All of us who are worth anything–must invest in unlearning our follies or expiating the mistakes of our youth or life. We unlearn to learn what unites and what separates us, and what gnaws at our heart. That’s the real nature of education.


  2. Pingback: Emergent Curriculum Across the Seasons: Let Nature be the Invitation | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  3. Pingback: Playing and Learning Outdoors: Building Capacity in the Early Years | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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