Children’s time in nature – running, climbing, playing make believe, building forts, and so on – is rapidly diminishing in modern society despite research that clearly demonstrates the developmental benefits of nature in early childhood and the educational benefits of natural environments for exploration, observation, questioning, and other early science skills.
Recognizing the importance of reconnecting children with nature and the need for high quality early childhood education, the George B. Storer Foundation supports the North American Association for Environmental Education in their creation of the Natural Start Alliance.
The goal of the Alliance is to ensure that all children in early childhood education programs enjoy frequent, positive, and authentic experiences in nature. The Alliance will support and extend the work of nature preschools, other organizations, and professionals working to provide young children with meaningful educational experiences in nature. The Alliance will work with traditional preschools and early childhood educators to promote the benefits of nature in early childhood education, provide professional development opportunities for educators, offer networking opportunities, and find creative solutions to the common barriers to nature education in under-served communities.
The Nature Preschool and Forest Kindergarten movement has been thriving in Europe for the last three decades and has recently taken root in the United States. However, there is a lack of professional development, training and leadership in this new field of nature-based early childhood education.
In an effort to support the field, the George B. Storer Foundation supports the education department at Antioch New England in their creation of a new program in nature-based early childhood education. Under the leadership of expert David T. Sobel, the program aims to provide professional development for teachers and administrators who work in a wide array of preschools, rural and urban early childhood centers and kindergartens.
Specific goals of the program include the creation of a certificate program for existing early childhood professionals that is focused on nature-based early childhood; an increase in the number of nature preschools in New England; naturalization of program designs and outdoor playscapes in existing rural and urban early childhood programs; and the development of documentation and research that supports nature/outdoor programming for young children.
Teton Science Schools (TSS) has been teaching about the natural world and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 1967. The organization has educated, trained, and inspired thousands of children, youth, and adults, bringing them together through the study of nature and its extension, place-based education. The Teacher Learning Center (TLC), a program of TSS, has played a vital role in providing professional development opportunities to teachers across the State of Wyoming.
The George B. Storer Foundation supports the TLC’s place-based education teacher workshops held at the TSS campus, as well as high quality professional development training and outreach held throughout Wyoming. The Foundation also supports scholarships for pre-service and in-service teachers to implement practices of place-based learning.