Teaching Early Childhood and Elementary Students to Connect With Nature

By Joanna Moppett, Outdoor Learning Teacher

“I love the wonky tree!”  is the first thing I hear when we enter our Forest School site. The students have walked past this tree for about a year now seeing its place in the forest as it grows and they know it’s at the start of some fun learning. Children have almost a supernatural ability to connect with the natural world in some way. When motivated, no rain, cold, heat, wind, or mud will dampen their enthusiasm.  Animals become friends. Plants grow along with them. Holes in trees become fairy houses and a simple stick can become a sword to fight off enemies.

BFIS FOrest Schools Kids playing in the forest

Forest School

Learning in Early Childhood is mainly experienced through their senses.  Being outside there are many things to see: creatures in the clouds, birds soaring through the sky and the leaves changing color. To hear: the sound of birdsong leaves rustling in the wind and crunching underfoot. To smell: flowers as they bloom, the first rain on hot ground, the calming smell of a pine forest. To touch: the softness of a petal, the bark of a tree, and the sand or mud in fingers or underfoot.  Outdoor education and Forest School is a space where learning can come alive. 

Let their natural curiosity grow

Children are naturally curious, creative, and imaginative beings, who have always been rooted in nature. Letting the children experience nature firsthand is very important to their social, emotional, physical, and mental development. Instead of reading about Autumn in books why not go out and experience it? Instead of seeing a plant growing in a video or animation, why not plant a seed and watch it grow in real-time. These are examples of how natural curiosity can grow in our students when we make nature come alive. 

Scientists have started thinking about a ‘nature-deficit disorder’ (Richard Louv: Last Child in the Woods, 2005) claiming that the new generation is spending less time outside than in the past and therefore developing negative moods, reduced attention span, and focus. 

Our Forest School and Outdoor Learning Program battles this and promotes the love of being outside, immersing the children in a natural environment, learning the flora and fauna of the forest and how we can use and take care of it sustainably. 

Forest School

Benefits for the students

Connecting young children to nature is crucial for several reasons:

  • Health and Well-being: Spending time in nature promotes physical health by encouraging active play and exercise. It also supports mental health by reducing stress and anxiety and promoting overall well-being.
  • Development: Nature provides a rich environment for sensory stimulation, which is crucial for the development of young children’s brains. It enhances their cognitive abilities, problem-solving skills, and creativity.
  • Environmental Awareness: Early exposure to nature fosters a sense of environmental stewardship and responsibility. Children who have a connection with nature are more likely to develop a sense of empathy and concern for the environment.
  • Emotional Development: Nature helps children develop emotional resilience, empathy, and a sense of awe and wonder. It offers opportunities for exploration, discovery, and learning from natural systems.
  • Connection to the Real World: In today’s digital age, many children spend a lot of time indoors with screens. Connecting them to nature helps ground them in the real world, fostering a deeper understanding of the natural rhythms and cycles of life.
  • Lifelong Appreciation: Early experiences in nature often lead to a lifelong appreciation and love for the environment. Children who grow up connected to nature are more likely to become environmentally conscious adults.
Forest School Girl playing with plants

In school, most risk is managed for them. In the forest, the children take responsibility for their own safety and take risks. The children notice more and learn more about their environment, how to take care of it, and appreciate the wonder that nature can bring. If the children know this they are less likely to destroy it, keeping our natural environments healthy for years to come. We want the children to feel that no longer is nature something ‘out there’ but feel more that they are part of nature and nature is part of them. 

What did you do for fun when you were a kid? (Nature Valley Video)

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