Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rocks as a Loose Part

Rocks are a wonderful loose part and great way to connect to nature! As I think of their history, I am a bit amazed at how they are formed, how old they may be, and how they change over time. I have a decent rock collection, mainly from a great uncle who passed away. He liked that these rocks would be in elementary schools with my students.

I also value the possibility of a big rock pile, larger rocks that take a couple of hands to move, and even rocks from the dollar store.

We really enjoyed participating in Stonework Play Day in November 2017. Joining, we were able to download a packet for the event, including the background of the special day, a poem, tips to host an event, a participation certificate, a 5 step process, and more! Luckily we met at a local park with tons of rocks. I didn't even tote my others around as there were plenty there. Of course, we put them back when we were done with our event. I found that my own son had more detailed drawing after he created his story with the rocks first. He usually makes a "tornado", yet had clear "people" as subjects in his story. I tried to write down what he said as well, even if it was a little morbid.

There are several books we like on rocks and rocks as a loose part. Here are a few:






We also look to art for inspiration. Here are a few of our favorite books on land art/nature art that include stones as part of the work. We often flip through these as inspiration and then create our own works that eventually get recycled as well. 

Land Art in Town (Pouyet)

We also use rocks as part of an invitation. While the rock may be part of loose parts play, it may be used as a manipulative at a later or earlier moment. We use a variety of approaches to exploring and learning. 

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose you absolutely need one of these books, I get a minor commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for helping me find more books! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fall and Halloween Loose Parts


I love Fall and Halloween! I enjoy the changing of colors, cooler air, leaf piles, harvest season, and so much more! To me, this is a great time to incorporate seasonal or holiday inspired loose parts. I've linked to a lot of my related blog posts so feel free to explore the hyperlinks, including my post on 30+ ways of approaching Loose Parts Play

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Incorporating Loose Parts at Home

As you all know if you read the blog, I assert there are many, many ways to "do loose parts". Read my blog post 30 plus ways to approach loose parts. There may be some overlap in these posts as the principles can be similar. In the home setting there are often many considerations, such as a variety of ages, wanting to keep parts of the house tidy, safety concerns for younger children, etc. I am treating this blog post as a mother, not as an early childhood educator, college instructor, presenter, etc., sharing what has helped us in our home. How do we keep sanity with all the loose parts and strike a balance between allowing free access and keeping a house running smoothly?

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Theory of Loose Parts





How Not to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts
Simon Nicholson
Landscape Architecture--October 1971


It's good to revisit classic literature on the topic of loose parts from time to time. Nicholson largely wrote on loose parts from the perspective of creating playgrounds and outdoor spaces. Marc Armitage has repeatedly said in our Loose Parts Play group that Simon Nicholson never used the term "open-ended" in the Theory of Loose Parts. It seems that because we often see children having open-ended opportunities as they play with loose parts that we have put this phrase as one of the descriptors. Let's take a look at what Simon Nicholson, the one who coined the phrase, had to say about the topic.

Nicholson starts the article attacking the lie that creativity is rare and for the few who are "gifted" that is perpetuated by society. The "gifted few" are not the only ones who can "solve environmental problems".  Most people are not given the opportunity or made to feel as they are not able/competent to explore building and construction. In particular, children often have many restrictions on their experimentation. He shares some basic observations on creativity (note quote below on children interacting).

Nicholson also mentions that many places of human interaction (schools, hospitals, airports, museums, etc.) do not work as they do not have the needed loose parts and are "clean, static and impossible to play around with." The adults/planners had all the fun designing and the "fun and creativity (has) been stolen: children and adults and the community have been grossly cheated."


Contributing influences at his time included adventure playgrounds (Anarchy magazine 1961ish) and behavioral planning, such as the discovery method. Check the example of caves below and the need for interdisciplinary units and the blending of indoors/outdoors.  A connection to environmental education was made, looking at real-life problems, getting children outdoors and out of the school confines. He also looked at the art world and museums, sharing examples of people were most engaged with exhibits that had interactive elements. He concludes with 4 steps to bring this theory to more effectiveness.

Quotes/Info I Liked:



  • "Creativity--the playing around with the components and variables of the world in order to make experiments and discover new things and form new concepts."
  • "Young children (often) find the world incredibly restricted--a world where they cannot play with building and making things, or play with fluids, water, fire or living objects, and all the things that satisfy one's curiosity and give us the pleasure that results from discovery and invention." 
  • "There is evidence that all children love to interact with variables such as materials and shapes; smells and other physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism and gravity; media such as gases and fluids; sounds, music and motion; chemical interactions, cooking and fire; and other people, and animals, plants, words, concepts and ideas. With all these things all children love to play, experiment, discover and invent and have fun. All these things have one thing in common, which is variables or 'loose parts'."
  • The quintessential quote--" In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it."
  • "In terms of loose parts we can discern a natural evolution from creative play and participation with wood, hammers, ropes, nails and fire, to creative play and participation with the total process of design and planning of regions in cities."
  • "The study of children and cave-type environments only becomes meaningful when we condor children not only being in a given cave but also when children have the opportunity to play with space-forming materials in order that hey may invent, construct, evaluate and modify their own caves. When this happens we have a perfect example of variables and loose parts in action." (This really leaves room for applications to elementary school and curricular options rather than just always being "open-ended")
  • Another often quoted snippet-- "Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves."
  • Caption for a picture of kids by a puddle--"Loose parts at work--water, ripples, reflections, slush, floating and living objects. Many curriculum units are based on experiments with water; here is the quickest, cheapest way to introduce variables into an asphalt/chain-link environment." (wouldn't a meme with "just add water" be great--I can see a whole series of these!)
  • "Human interaction and involvement with water--its refraction, beading, noise. Liquids, gases (waterfall, wind tunnel) afford classic examples of how loose parts permit experimentation, creativity." (also shared a museum with controls for cascades, water flow, etc.--"number of variables or loose parts would be increased by public access")
  • "By allowing learning to take place outdoors, and fun and games to occur indoors, the distinction between education and recreation began to disappear." 
  • Educational evaluation is important! "What did children do with the loose parts? What did they discover or rediscover? What concepts were involved? Did they carry their ideas back into the community and their family? Out of all possible materials that could be provided, which ones were the most fun to play with and the most capable of stimulating the cognitive, social and physical learning processes?"
  • "The most interesting and vital loose parts are those that we have around us everyday in the wilderness, the countryside, the city and the ghetto."
  • "Although it is fine to allow scientists and artists to invent things, how about allowing everybody else to be creative and inventive also?"
  • "Is society content to let only very few of its members realize their creative potential?" (We need this! We need problem solvers willing to be creative and experiment to solve hard conditions in this world. I an era where robots will be taking over many of our tasks, creativity and problem solving are typically things that are uniquely human.) 
  • "The process of community involvement, once started, never stops. The environment and its parts is always changing and there is no telling what it will look like." (I love this about outdoor classrooms--they are never done, but responding to needs and interests of those who use the space." 
  • "In early childhood there is no important difference between play and work, art and science, recreation and education-the either/or classification normally applied by adults to a child's environment."                                                                          
  • Caption to empty waiting room at an airport (similar to waiting anywhere) "Waiting anywhere, any institution--no loose parts. Time spent here is life spent sitting in fixed rows in utter boredom." (This is why we have grab and go loose parts "kits" to have portable variables on the go.)

Important Related Theories/Principles Mentioned:
Adventure Playgrounds--community involvement, play-leaders, experiment/play, 'free society in miniature'
Variables and loose parts--Mathematics in Primary Schools, 1966
Nuffield Mathematics Program--imaginative curriculum units--interdisciplinary (visual art, music, mathematics, natural sciences, blend indoors/outdoors)
behavioral planning and design--study of human requirements and needs to design the environment, loose parts derives from these theories
Discovery method (curriculum innovation for elementary schools
The "ex-quotient"--My own phrase from observations I have made, well before I "got into" loose parts. I need to revisit this with my knowledge on loose parts! Read my thoughts here.

Terms: variables, loose parts, , playing around, self-instructional

VERBS: build, construct, play, experiment, invent, explore, discover, evaluate, modify, study, think, consider, measure, draw, model-making, calculate, destruct, slide, fold, hide, paint, bounce

Terms I did not see: child-led, unstructured, open-ended (most of the popular posts about loose parts usually include these terms; however, Nicholson did not, even sharing examples of learning in context with a specific object in mind, using loose parts to accomplish this goal. While I think it's great that Loose Parts Play is often child-led, unstructured, and open-ended, rereading the original work on this gives me additional permission for broader application and use of this concept. There are many ways to "do" Loose Parts Play--check out my compilation of 30+ approaches to LPP.)

Types of Loose Parts: nature, voice tubes, water, pendulums and bouncers, newsprint rolls,

Application: 
Look for ways to make spaces more interactive--how can the children and adults in the space also invent and build?

Nicholson proposed a four-part program to implement this theory of loose parts for immediate use:
1. Give top priority to where the children are. 
Children are in schools, day-care, hospitals, etc.--these need immediate transformation! "Even if a local community is sold on the idea of a pocket-park or adventure playground it is still better to use the asphalt area of an elementary school for it, for this is where the children are."
2. Let children play a part in the process.
They enjoy the process of design, looking at the problem, the requirements, planning alternatives, etc.
3. Use an interdisciplinary approach.
Play/work, art/science, recreation/education are the same for children with no apparent distinctions made in early childhood.
4. Establish a clearing-house for information. 
It takes 5-10 years for the publication process to print journals, but that time "should be reduced to near instantaneous" in "newsletters, microfilm, audio, and video-cassette systems" and shared across schools, day cares, and other institutions that need it. Allow children to explore this evaluation as well. (I am heartened to see that in our highly electronic world, we have quick access to information! Any of us can share a video, narrative or picture of how loose parts impacts our environment. We have Facebook groups, like Loose Parts Play and others, where we can discuss this information. I just found open electronic access to a fresh article on the topic just published. Here is a list of other research articles I have compiled (there are many more that are harder to access). What do we do with this information? Let's use it and discuss it!)

My Questions/Thoughts? 
Loose parts are not only restricted to play--there can be experimentation, invention, and more! While play worker principles are great for many settings and definitely have a connection to loose parts play, they may not be applicable in every situation. There are many places where loose parts are being implemented--these are all unique. Can we be patient of others'  applications of loose parts and maybe even understanding of different sets of circumstances that may not look like ours? Is there really a "right" way to do loose parts or are there MANY right ways that look very different? Here is my list of 30+ ways to approach loose parts--I'm sure there are many more.

Perhaps there can be more context and curricular ties to loose parts. Perhaps some applications may be more than just having loose parts available, but using them to solve problems.

The discovery method takes TIME! In many of today's classrooms, there is a lot of pressure for increased academic performance. How can we allow the exploration of loose parts (even connected to curricular needs as evidenced by the cave example) and still meet the learning standards and requirements?

Loose parts are not just for children, adults can have that spirit of inventiveness and creativity as well. I really have liked the show "The New Creatives" which can be found on BYUtv. How do we as adults engage in the theory of loose parts? For many of us, it is setting a backdrop for these experiences with children. We enjoy the hunt, the find, the setting up of spaces where children can design their play and experimentation.

"Variables" do not have to be "things"--it might be concepts, sound, light, etc.

This article was written before I was born. I know many of us who are over 35 or so had less restricted childhoods; however, Nicholson mentions this issue 46 years ago. Are his words making an impact? Why don't we see a bigger impact? I think there is a resurgence in understanding this concept more. As I mention many times in the Loose Parts Play group, I believe this to be a timeless principle. It is how many of the "older" generation grew up scavenging for things in the woods. We have moved to a largely indoor, over scheduled, and electronic childhood; however, many are bucking that trend and allowing children to explore, experiment, and invent. As I think on my own childhood, I had books available, such as the Junk Artist's Workshop and Inventor's Workshop, that showed examples (and maybe gave permission) to create and explore with castoffs/scavenged items. I was in high ability classes that perhaps allowed for experimentation and creativity more--how do we bring this to more classes? I had large amounts of unrestricted outdoor time when we gathered and collected, sold/bartered, constructed, experimented, and played.

Like this? Follow my page, Loose Parts Play, on Facebook! Find our international GROUPLoose Parts Play, there as well. Also check out my blog section just on Loose Parts Play.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Natural Refuge: Research Article Summary

Take Five by Patrick Dougherty is in Niles, Michigan. 

Nature as refuge in children's environments
by MaryAnn Kirby
Island Garden Designs
Mercer Island, WA

I have read various journal articles on "hidden spaces" as an essential component in play spaces for children. Typically dramatic play goes up. Of course, as adults, we often still need to supervise and/or are regulated to supervise, depending on the age of the children and our particular setting. Seeing the background on why these spaces are important can be helpful in feeling more comfortable with "hidden spots" in our outdoor areas. This article by MaryAnn Kirby seems as though it is one of the earlier ones on the topic and is often cited in other research, though also looks at earlier published research as a basis for the information.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Loose Parts in Museum Setting Article Summary


In the Hand and Mind: The Intersection of Loose Parts and Imagination in Evocative Settings for Young Children

by Mary Jo Sutton, 2011 Children, Youth and Environments 21(2)

This article focuses on loose parts in outdoor learning environments as part of the informal learning field, particularly children's museums. The Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California is the base for the research. It has over 275,000 visitors a year, which can really impact how things are used and consumed, with a median age of 3.9 years old for children.  Mary Jo reviewed several research studies used at the site, such as the summative evaluate through the National Science Foundation grant of the space, another study by the Natural Learning Initiative with Robin Moore, a visitor study by the Partnership of Playful Learners research project through the Chicago Children's Museum. Some studies looked at the timing and tracking of groups, "sweeps" to record density of people in each area used, and interviews with adults. Others mapped spaces for learning behaviors. Video track was used as well as an online survey for members. They suggested using a pedometer in future studies to track how much movement is happening. They focused on Lookout Cove and Outdoor Tot with complete descriptions in the article.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Finding Loose Parts on Amazon

While we love loose parts we find, make, and scavenge from local sources, sometimes it is nice to be able to click on Amazon for loose parts. I have bought some things for specific kits and such in the past. Here are some picks that I drool over--click on any picture to take you there. I often find similar stuff at our local craft stores. I like to browse after holiday sales for good deals.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fabric as a Loose Part


Someone recently asked me about durable fabrics for an indoor play cafe--isn't that a cool concept?!

Here was some insight I shared--I look forward to hearing your ideas and what is working in your situation! I find there are various fabrics that work well in different situations. And one of my bigger criterion is price point--I really like FREE--it's always nice to repurpose or use something that would otherwise be going to the dump.

What to Do with a Box: A Book Review

We found another cardboard box book! Here is a list of other books about cardboard and tools to help that have been helpful for us. I always like a good read aloud to get the juices flowing as we start a session.

 In What to Do with a Box by Jane Yolen & Chris Sheban, the box becomes a library, palace, nook, and more. You can unlock it with a key (imagining this as I've seen kids do this before!), invite dolls for tea, and paint and color in it. It becomes a racing car, a boat to sail to Paris, and a plane for adventures!



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shelling Beans

We recently went to a friend's house and explored her wonderful garden! If you don't have your own garden, I find the most gardeners would love to share their pride and joy with you, as well as some of their harvest, especially during tomato and zucchini harvests. :-) 

I noticed she had beans on a trellis and asked if our nature preschool group could shell them after they are dried. She was ecstatic and it turns out that she had a small barrel of dried beans from last year that still need shelled. She hasn't taken the time to do them all so just goes out and shells a few at a time for whatever soups or other foods she is making. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Pokemon Party!

There is something about planning things that I LOVE to do! Even better when I get to collaborate with others for it. My boys are in the middle of a string of birthdays. My now 5 year old wanted to have a Pokemon party--of course we love nature, outside, and loose parts, but they do watch television, read books, and have toys/games. Anyway, I remember my students way back when I taught 4th grade almost 20 years ago in Japan loving Pokemon as well--it has really had some staying power!

For the invitations, I just found an image online and put the party information on top. These were easy to text or email to mommas. :-) 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Button Box

Don't you love buttons? I recently found this box of buttons for $5 at a garage sale--it was even all sorted and separated in little baggies. I thought we'd explore a bit as we read The Button Box (again) and we started opening a few buttons and putting them in a divided, recycled cookie tray; however, children had other ideas and I'm pretty open to following their lead.



Soon all these little baggies of carefully sorted buttons were in one big pile. And then we started sorting again! We found buttons that had four holes or two holes or just a shank.


The Button Box shows a boy opening his grandmother's button box and sorting through the treasures. It also shows how buttons could come from shells, wood, deer antlers, and more. He makes a string and button toy, counts his "gold" as he puts them back, and then ends with a little history on buttons. I also played with my grandmother's button box. Do people still have button boxes? I hope so! Our button box actually had antler/bone buttons, too. So neat to see the connections from the book! 


We found some that the boys looked like eyes and separated out the shiny ones! 

Some ideas to extend the buttons from the book: 
Sort, count, create pictures from buttons, puppet eyes, etc. 

Sort by:
-Flowers
-sparkly
-cloth
-metal
-leather
-shoes
-family connections
-shiny
-rainbows
-wooden
-seashells, sand, wood, antlers

Ask, “Are they alike?”
As children get older you might chart types of buttons even, bringing in a math component if they are interested. I was surprised even my 8 year old and almost 11 year old were enjoying these as well. My youngest (almost 5) spent over an hour with these today. I'll leave them out this week for them to peruse as they'd like!

Interested in Loose Parts and Books? Find my list here

Buy the book "The Button Box" here! (aff link)

Here is a video of the book. Here are some other extension activities as well. 

How do you all use buttons? 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Nature Preschool Planning in an Outdoor Classroom

In many types of spaces, we do a little planning for our learning experiences. I have heard many say to "just let them play"; however, most spaces also need to meet learning standards and such. Even in an emergent learning setting, a little planning can help us pull things together for success. I have used a planning sheet similar to this for the last 5 years I have done a nature preschool group. I also use a similar approach to event planning using an outdoor classroom.  Our basic rhythm for our group is to have a gathering activity (or more), craft/art, a story time, hike, wash hands, edible craft (snack), and then open options centered around our areas of the outdoor classroom. We try to do as much as this outside as possible, but do have some moments inside as well. Below is a very sketchy example of seeds. Children are free to participate or not and we follow the children's needs and interests, as well as any seasonal or unexpected finds when we are outside. We may not get to all of these options and it is okay if the children do not do each option. Having a variety allows the needs of all children be met.

Since I typically do programs at a place where other activities are happening, I schlep a lot of stuff around. This helps me remember everything I need. See some examples of the results of this under "Nature Preschool" on the blog.

I use a few resources to help in planning:
Growing Up Wild
Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood
Pinterest Boards:
Spring
Fall
Winter

Here are a few examples of how our activities turned out. Honestly, there is usually enough that could work for a week at a time; however, we just had one morning a week for a couple of hours.
Oh Deer!
A Natural Holiday
Spiders
Exploring Trees
Sensational Senses
What's Bugging You? 

Here are some events planned using a similar sheet:
Fairy Wings and Wild Things
International Mud Day


Find the planning sheet here. Let me know how you use or modify it--I love seeing how others use similar stuff!


Friday, July 7, 2017

Joyful Noise: A Book Review

Don't you love finding something at a garage sale? I stumbled upon Joyful Noise recently. The mom said she loved it in her classroom when she was a teacher. Note the Newbery Medal? I like Newbery books! It also is all nature based, with poems that are meant to be read by two people. As I read through the book, I wanted to hear what these would sound like when presented by two people. Of course, I took to Youtube! Here is one rendition of the poems.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Texture Balls


So, I drool over those ceramic sand balls--such pretty designs and so aesthetically pleasing! I really like the sets that Montessori Restore designs. She is great at creating loose parts sets, typically on the higher end, beautiful, and carefully curated.  She is very intentional and up cycles many items and works with great artists for others. Take a look at her work at her Etsy shop or her Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

30 Plus Ways to Approach Loose Parts Play!

The term “loose parts” has grown in popularity recently as educators and parents have rediscovered this timeless approach to play. Loose parts play can be as simple as finding a stick and using it in play or it can take a more complex approach to open ended landscapes. The term “loose parts” became popular with the Theory of Loose Parts by Simon Nicholson.  He advocated for movable items in outdoor play settings in his work as a landscape architecture. Today, the term is fairly ambiguous with some guiding principles: open ended materials and lots of options. See a post about quotes about loose parts here and the basic premise and resources here.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Role of the Educator in Loose Parts Play



I met Chris Kiewra last year at the Leadership Institute National Conference, one of the collaborations Nature Explore puts together with the Outdoor Classroom Project. She is delightful and I was delighted to see this new research in the recent copy of IJECEE from the Natural Start Alliance I picked up at the International Children and Nature Network Conference.

What is the role of educators in loose parts play?
Caring, observant adults who support creative play and learning are an aspect of creativity that Kiewra and Veselack (2016) report, sharing a few key characteristics:
a. open-ended questions that further scientific inquiry
b. ensure long blocks of time for deep exploration
c. keen observers of children’s play to see and document learning
d. close observation of children’s explorations
e. strategically support children’s processes and thinking to enhance learning
f. physically in proximity of children
g. offer observations
h. follow children’s lead without taking over
i. trust children to make decisions
j. dialogue with children to promote taking other perspectives and learn about problem-solving
k. facilitate and scaffold children’s learning
l. model and support a sense of wonder
m. set up learning areas in outdoor classroom
n. make sure an abundance of loose parts are available
o. provide learning support materials (clipboards, paper, pencils, other loose parts)
p. freedom and flexibility to use spaces and materials in unintended areas or manners
What is our role as educators in promoting creative or loose parts play?
“The teacher’s role is critical to supporting children’s skill development in self-initiated experiences in a Nature Explore Classroom. The teacher needs to be physically in proximity of children, offer observations, ask thought-provoking questions, follow children’s lead without taking over, and trust children to make decisions.” (Veselack, Cain-Chang & Miller, 2010)
“Teachers bring a selection of equipment and play matierals outside from storage sheds and classrooms daily based on several factors: teachers’ observations of and response to children’s needs; children’s articulation of their needs or initiative in bringing items outdoors themselves; staff members consideration of the weather and other factors.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016)
Great article! Research coming out of Natural Start Alliance 

Read the full article here. Join us for discussions on the topic in Loose Parts Play on Facebook! 


Monday, April 17, 2017

Out on a Limb: Benefits and Risks of Tree Climbing


Tree climbing is such a fun and challenging activity for many children around the world. As I started noticing more restrictions on tree climbing in parks and other places, I brought the topic to my research team, Suzanne Levenson Goldstein and Tricia Rosengarten, to see if they would like to investigate the topic in more depth. They were hooked!

In February 2016, we started our journey. We did preliminary research, started contacting organizations, and developed a survey that launched in May 2016. What did we find? Study participants are really passionate about tree climbing! Below is a copy of our poster session to be used for the International Children & Nature Network 2017 conference. Our research paper is also under consideration at a peer reviewed environmental education research journal.








Nurturing Nature: The Educator's Role in Nature Play

Chris Whitmire and I recently did a presentation on Nurturing Nature: The Educator's Role in Nature Play. We had three objectives for our training:

We started with a continuum. How much time are providers spending outside? 

We allowed educators to consider what is nature play, sharing their own definitions on the topic. We shared the following definition: 

"Natural Play challenges and fascinates children and teaches them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they explore and play within it. It is intuitive and unstructured, constructive (or deconstructive), and timeless, encouraging interaction with natural materials, features, indigenous vegetation, and creative landforms. Natural Play is often a blend of materials and experiences to create purposely complex interplays of natural and environmental objects." 
                                                          – Oregon Natural Play Initiative Definition of Nature Play


Oregon Natural Play Initiative also shared 5 distinct types of nature play, including the following:

Think of playgrounds, activities with a specific end. 

Think of taking advantage of the moment, unexpected natural play, using the landscape as a partner in play. 

A child is building confidence in being out on their own, taking more risks, and judging safety measures. 

Through informal and more formal education, nature becomes the subject and tool for learning. 

Daily nature includes the general, every day learning that happens in our backyards, while running errands, and by noticing nature around us. 

There are many benefits to nature play, or outdoor free play, such as the suggestions listed in this info graphic from Caileigh Flannigan, an outdoor play advocate. 

Kenny Balantine from Nature Kids Institute recommends how often we should engage with the wild, advocating for daily outdoor nature play. 


We also looked at the barriers to nature play and brainstormed ways to get around these for outdoor play, with this infographic about Pathways to Play: Overcoming Nature Play Barriers.

This video by Nature Play (a beautiful film!) gives a good intro narrated by Richard Louv to the movement toward nature play:



We moved into developing a sense of wonder at this point as we debriefed watching the clip, sharing the following quote by Mary Paleologos

Once again another continuum to help us understand our staff better. 

The definition of wonder!


How comfortable do educators feel in facilitating nature play?

We moved into direct experiences and inquiry based learning as part of nature as an educator.

We had an experience to first just describe what we saw in the picture. Later we passed sweet gum balls out and investigated them up close! What a richer experience to have real experiences with real nature!

Rachel Carson's Sense of Wonder is a great example of a knowledgable person who could set aside her own agenda in order to explore the natural world to explore nature with her nephew. A new version of her book is coming out, though I've also enjoyed the earlier copy.


At this point, we watched this video by Eastern Connecticut University on inquiry based nature investigations. Great modeling as nature as educator. They have a whole archive of good quality videos  on outdoor investigations and such.

What are the teachers doing in this picture? We all may have been here at one point. Becoming more engaged through our various roles as educators can yield a more fulfilling experience for us and the children. 

What are the roles of educators in nature play? We have many varied roles that will depend on the type of nature play. 

As educators, we are the gatekeepers for children experiencing the outdoors and nature in general. Enhancing our spaces can make a huge impact. I like the natural playscape or outdoor classroom approach to this, though also promote finding some time with wild nature as well. 

Additionally, having a few tools and resources can really enhance our experience. A first aid kit is usually a basic that we should always have as there is a risk in all our learning. Guide books, magnifying glasses, ideas for nature hikes, marking tools (colored pencils, paper, clipboards, etc.), and more can quickly add to our experience outside. 

There are many ways to document the learning that happens through nature play. Dimensions Foundation, a partner of Nature Explore, provides training on nature notes, like the example in the left. Many use Facebook or other social media posts to detail the learning that is happening like the example on the right from the Natural Beginning Program. They have a wonderful nature based early childhood program! I also will take out a clipboard with labels or sticky notes for notes on individual children that can be transferred to their files later. Inquiry based books have observation sheets in the resources often as well. Here is another video that looks at documenting learning. Video and photos can be an important part of this process. There are more apps moving toward an easier flow for documenting learning in early childhood. 

Facebook Groups:
Teaching Resources:
Growing Up Wild
Project Learning Tree Early Childhood Environmental Experiences
Nature Explore
Fostering a Sense of Wonder During the Early Childhood Years
Natural resources providers- state, county, and city parks, birding groups, SWCD, EEAI, IMN, etc. 


Ruth Wilson really delivered with the Fostering a Sense of Wonder during the Early Childhood Years. While a bit older of a resource, she has a new book out called, Learning is in Bloom. She is a great inspiration in this field. So great to meet her in person last year! This can be a way to assess where we are in our journey as a classroom to encourage nature play, inquiry, and wonder in early childhood!

Throughout the presentation we had time to share examples, converse, and work toward inspiring solutions for more nature play! 


Feel free to contact Chris or myself with any questions or comments.

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