By Sarah Sivright
Last Saturday I went to a workshop led by a new organization, the Minnesota Early Childhood Outdoor Learning Network–a bit of an unwieldy title and they’re open to editing suggestions. But this was one exciting day for all gathered! We nature educators have been talking about the need for just this kind of network for years, and finally we have this organization for support and change! All Seasons staff and families know first-hand the benefits of outdoor play and learning. Play and learning go hand in hand for young children, and never so powerfully than when this happens in the natural world. So here I was, in a room filled with like-minded educators, from both preschool and elementary classrooms, eager to learn and share ideas and experiences.
The workshop was held in Savage at an early learning center, created through a partnership with the private non-profit Jeffers Foundation and the Savage-Prior Lake school district. This has been a remarkable partnership that has resulted in school-wide nature curricula that keeps widening to include other grade levels and schools. It made me think of the transformational success of our nearby Garlough Elementary School in West St. Paul.
The breakout sessions and visit to a nature-based preschool classroom were all great chances to meet new people, get ideas and feel affirmed by what we are already doing. This spring, All Seasons teachers will be traveling to Duluth to visit several sites that are part of their nature-based consortium.
The nature education movement has been slowly gathering steam, and this newly formed network will only help that move more quickly. They will hold a workshop every quarter, and have asked us to host one in 2018-2019. I asked the organizers to put one question on the gathering’s next program—how to encourage parents to advocate for nature-based education in kindergarten, first grade, and beyond. Parents regularly ask us to open a kindergarten classroom, after bemoaning the brief or non-existent recess time and lack of natural spaces around the school—such culture shock after All Seasons and other schools like it. We all need to be advocates for nature-based learning. I’ll let you know after the winter meeting what ideas I get for empowering us all!
*Copies of a parent’s guide to outdoor activities by Ken Finch, a leading nature educator and former director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, will be out to take. We’ll get more copies if need be.