Bright Ideas

Nature-Based Early Learning in Public Schools

Natural Start Staff

Photo credit: ForestKinder


With an increased focus on academics at earlier and earlier ages, many educators are searching for an alternative to traditional learning models, hoping to see a return of child-directed and nature-based play to kindergarten and early elementary classrooms. As a result, more public schools are implementing Nature Days and other outdoor experiences into their regular routines, with overwhelmingly positive results reported in an early analysis.

Here are some resources that provide an overview of nature-based learning in public schools:



Webinar: Nature Days in K-3 Classrooms

What does nature-based learning look like in public K-3 classrooms across North America? This free webinar features expert perspectives on incorporating regular and repeated outdoor experiences in traditional school settings. Hear from Peter Dargatz of Woodside Elementary (WI), Eliza Minucci of ForestKinder (VT), and Jacqueline Whelan of Rockcliffe Park Public School (ON).


Report: Forest Days Evaluation Report Documents Benefits and Key Ingredients for Success

An increasing number of public kindergartens and elementary schools are committing themselves to integrating nature and the outdoors into the school week. An evaluation report from 2017 on the Forest Days initiative in Vermont and New Hampshire schools finds that programs not only support academic learning but also offer social, emotional, physical, and community benefits to participants.


Member Spotlight: Eliza Minnucci and ForestKinder

Eliza Minnucci founded a public school kindergarten Forest Day program and now team-teaches and leads professional development to help other teachers take their students outside through her organization, ForestKinder. In this article, Eliza shares what inspired her to implement an outdoor learning program at her school, along with the challenges she overcame in the process. 



Feature Story: Forest Kindergartens: A Multicultural Perspective

How do cultural ideas about childhood, development, and learning impact nature-based early childhood education? Samantha Leder shares some of the lessons she learned during her study abroad semester in a Danish forest kindergarten.





Webinar: How to Start an Outdoor Classroom at Any School, Parts I & II

Veteran outdoor classroom teachers Amy Butler and Natalie Crowley led an interactive webinar on the ins and outs of starting an outdoor classroom at any school.

Part 1 covers the "inside" work that needs to be done before heading outside with your students, including: finding your WHY, building alliances with administration and families, and how to find your space and place in nature. View the recording of Part 1 here. 

Part 2 covers the "outside" work that happens once you've laid the groundwork for a successful nature-based learning program. Topics include: safety, schedules and academic time, and good gear. View the recording of Part 2 here. 


Member Spotlight: Peter Dargatz and Woodside Elementary

Peter Dargatz is a nature kindergarten teacher at Woodside Elementary, a public school in Sussex, Wisconsin. He is leading an outdoor movement within the Hamilton School District and has seen the magic nature provides his students. In this article, Peter answers the question, “How do you convince your public school system to have a nature kindergarten?” and shares how he engages parents and navigates risk in the outdoor classroom.



Feature Story: Let Me Take Your Hand

Read an adapted Forward written by David Sobel for, A Forest Days Handbook: Program Design for School Days Outside, by Eliza Minnucci and Meghan Teachout. The handbook addresses frequently asked questions about Forest Days in public schools, including choosing an outdoor classroom space, developing routines, building light infrastructure, and narrative examples of what a kindergarten Forest Day might look like.



Feature Story: Growing with the Children: Bringing Nature-Preschool Practices to Elementary Schools

What happens when children graduate from nature preschool and enroll in a kindergarten program, where nature isn’t at the heart of the curriculum? Rachel Larimore tells the story of how Chippewa Nature Center partnered with the public school system in Midland, Michigan to bring nature-based learning to elementary schools. She shares how providing specialized training and support for teachers is often the key to success when implementing this type of program.