Feature Story

March 2020

The New World of Nature-Based Education

Natural Start Staff

As we navigate the new and ever-changing world of social isolation, programs are closing their doors and parents are stepping into the role of teacher. How do we lend support and stay connected to each other, children and families, and nature during this time of uncertainty?
One of our biggest strengths as an Alliance is the diversity and depth of knowledge of the educators and professionals that comprise our network, so we asked our members, “What are you doing to connect with children and families and encourage nature-based learning at home?” 
Below you’ll find a cross-section of the many amazing ways nature-based educators have quickly pivoted. No organization has all of the answers right now, but we look forward to learning together as we go. The list below is a snapshot of where we are today. Our practices will surely evolve with time. 
We will continue to share updates, resources, and encouragement on our social media pages and hope you’ll follow us to stay up-to-date! 

Videos for Nature-Based Activities at Home

Nature-based educators have begun recording their favorite trail songs and outdoor lessons, and sharing daily plant and animal facts. Here are a few you can check out:  
Curious Coyote 
Amanda Caloia, EverWild LA (California)
Curious Coyote offers nature-based activities, projects, and challenges. EverWild mentors create the videos centered around Jon Young’s Coyote’s Guide to Mentoring in Nature, project-based learning, and place-based learning.
Nature Time Adventures from Home
Emily Woodmansee; Live & Learn Early Learning Center, Seacoast Science Center (New Hampshire)
Emily’s videos range from nature challenges to silly or simple songs you can sing on the trail. Most of the resources focus on New Hampshire, but can be adapted for your area. Additional resources can be found here
Community Building & Play
Meredith Florkey; Learning Tree Farm, Ohio Naturally (Ohio)
Enjoy a daily video, plant and animal facts, seasonal songs, and a book of the day as a way to keep kids engaged outdoors. 

Virtual Meetings & Morning Circle Time

We’ve been inspired by the ways nature-based educators continue to support children and families. Here are some of the ways our members have approached virtual programming: 
Morning Circle Time on Facebook
Lee Hamzy, Little Schoolhouse in the Woods (Ohio)
Educators go live on the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods Facebook page every morning at 9:30 AM ET to share a morning blessing. “We have had a lot of feedback from our parent body that the children are really enjoying this and are participating at home. I think any kind of normalcy that we can bring to our students is a gift.”
Live Zoom Sessions
Sally-Ann Anderson, SOL Forest School (New Mexico)
Sol Forest School “Treeschoolers” have stayed connected with weekly 45-minute online sessions and have received wonderful feedback from families. They hope online sessions will provide a sense of connectivity, care, belonging, and dependability right now. 
Nature Preschool “Hangouts” 
Anna Dutke, Prior Lake Savage Schools (Minnesota) 
Educators in the Prior Lake Savage Area Schools have stayed connected to students and their families through Seesaw by sharing videos of reading stories, doing nature journaling, etc., and students have responded with their own pictures and videos. They even scheduled a Google Hangout with the preschool class!

Professional Development and Resources for Educators

Regional associations are transitioning chapter meetings, workshops, and other professional development events to a virtual platform. Here are some of the upcoming opportunities: 
Free Webinars
Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS)
ERAFANS is offering webinars on a variety of online topics. Ranging from mindfulness activities like yoga and gratitude practices to facilitated discussions for preschool administrators, there is something for everyone. Webinars are recorded and can be accessed on the ERAFANS website. 
Virtual Chapter Meetings
Inside-Outside Nature-Based Educators of New England
Inside-Outside is moving all of its upcoming chapter meetings online. These meetings will focus on the goings-on in the New England area, but all are welcome to join. They’ll be adding weekly meetings to the schedule that cover topics from slow birding to nature-based learning in elementary school. More resources are available in their spring newsletter

Family Nature Clubs at Home 

Many of the family nature club activities translate beautifully to your own backyard--or even your living room! Here are a few examples of how it’s being done: 
Everyday Outdoors with Free Forest School
Free Forest School suspended all gatherings and is focusing on building Everyday Outdoors, a virtual community of support for parents around routine nature play. Subscribers receive a weekly email with tips and ideas. 
Tinkergarten at Home
Tinkergarten is providing a weekly guide for parents with DIY activities that are simple, fun, and designed for learning at any age with their new Tinkergarten at Home initiative. Tinkergarten’s founder, Meghan Fitzgerald, has also written a few blog posts about how to adjust to learning from home. 

Virtual Events

Some organizations are offering events that help people take advantage of backyards and nearby nature. Here are a few examples of online events that aim to help people stay connected with nature while social distancing:
Backyard BioBlitz on April 5
Harris Center for Conservation Education (New Hampshire)
As long as you have a smartphone and an iNaturalist account, you can participate in this bioblitz from home. On April 5, at your own pace, record all of the species of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms you find in your yard or neighborhood. 
Daily Home Safaris
Cincinnati Zoo & Aquarium (Ohio)
Each day at 3pm ET on Facebook, the zoo will highlight one amazing animal and include an activity you can do from home. All videos will be posted on the zoo’s website and YouTube channel shortly after the Facebook Live ends. Additional resources can be found here.

Resource Compilations: 

As long lists of resources for navigating the pandemic become more prevalent, we’re zeroing in on the lists that have a specific focus. like these: 
Natural Start Alliance
We selected a few stories from our archives that felt particularly relevant today. We hope you enjoy reading them with a fresh perspective! 
Finding Nature
Children & Nature Network
Children & Nature Network created a new website where they will be posting resources, tips, tools, blogs, webinars, stories, and insights from the field. 
Backyard Activity Archives
Childhood by Nature 
If you have a backyard or green space nearby your home, you can try these activities that are specially designed for small spaces.