Learning in and with Nature: The Pedagogy of Place

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. The joy of discovery can span over time. As a child, I loved finding hidden treasures in my explorations in nature. As an adult, I have retained this compulsion to search for nature’s bounty and my favourite place to do it, is on the beach. It might be a rock that’s shaped like a heart, a piece of granite, a fossil, some driftwood or a shiny piece of beach glass that captures my gaze.

I am particularly enamoured with beach glass. On the beach where I comb, it is not that easy to find. Some days, my pockets are full, other times, I come back with only one or two pieces. Still, I have an opportunity to reflect and connect to nature. As I search for the treasure I think deeply about what I am looking for. Beach glass fascinates me. Where does it come from? How long has it been tumbled by the waves of this great lake? Legend has it that beach glass is really the tears of a mermaid banned to the bottom of the ocean because of her love for a sea captain. Her tears arrive on the shore as beautiful coloured glass. Really, what the glass is, is pollution. Someone has trashed a bottle and tossed it into the water. As it breaks from the motion, it starts off sharp and dangerous but as the water tumbles and tosses the glass, it is shaped to smooth unique pieces of treasure. During my reflective moments on the beach, I think about how a piece of beach glass is like a child.


Beach glass is an affordance of the place, that I call home during the summer. Grand Bend, is a little beach town in southwest Ontario where Main Street leads to the main beach. Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, you can walk for miles along the shore, stopping to scoop up treasures all day until the sun sets in its glorious technicolour.

Treasure hunting at sunset

In Outdoor and Nature Play in Early Childhood Education (2018) we write about the beach as place. What pedagogy can be born from this place? Think about your beach experiences as a child. What emotions do your memories evoke? The beach as place offers children distinctive opportunities that can have lasting emotional connections.

Outdoor and Nature Play in Early Childhood Education

The beach as place affords opportunities for math, science, language, art and construction play that is particular to the space. How many rocks can you balance? What are the best rocks for stacking? As children use the materials found at the beach they engage in math experiences. As the sun goes down, they are observing the science of the sunset. Children can engage with the animals found on the beach by learning new names and creating stories about birds and fish. Rocks and beach glass offer endless possibilities to create transient art and the driftwood washed up on shore offers opportunities for construction play. For many, being at the beach is a self-regulatory experience. Listening to the sound of the waves lapping the shore, watching glistening reflections and the smell of the water and plant life certainly are stress relievers!

Learning at the Beach

After this cherished time at the beach, I will leave to go to the forest to be part of the fourth annual, Rhythm of Learning in Nature I will be bringing my 2018 beach glass collection as a gift from the land. Each participant will be invited to also bring a gift to the retreat. I anticipate these might be put together to create collaborative art or many other emergent experiences. Rhythm2018 is sold out but we will bring the collective gifts to I am a Teacher Get Me OUTSIDE! on August 18th with Juliet Robertson of CreativeSTAR. We hope to see you there in the forest! To register, click on tickets.

I am a Teacher Get ME OUTSIDE

From the beach as place to the forest as place, what is important is the meaning making. Cumming and Nash (2015) discovered that not only do children develop a sense of place from their experiences learning in the forest, they also form an emotional attachment to place that contributes to place meaning. Place meaning can help to explain why people may be drawn to particular places. Place meaning helps to support the development of place identity, and to promote a sense of belonging. I am grateful for the opportunity this summer to experience the beach and the forest. It is my hope that children will be given the gifts of these places too.





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