Hello, my fellow educators. Today, we are delving into how place-based education complements my home daycare. I operate a nature play-based childcare, and we are outdoors all seasons. We frequently visit this park during Spring through late Autumn months. Year after year, we explore this place within walking distance from our home playschool. Some days, we walk to this open lot, or I push the quad stroller with the younger children, and occasionally, we drive here.
Now that I am a little older and stiffer in the joints, I prefer walking or driving to our nature spots than pushing the bulky quad stroller with children in tow. Quad strollers are bulky, and pushing them can be painful on our backs, especially if moving four children over the age of three. Please think of the number of pounds we would be pushing around. I usually reserve the quad stroller for younger children or those accident-prone ones (I am sure we all have a child or two who falls, stumbles or is straight-out clumsy).
I first heard the concept of place-based education from David Sobel. I didn’t know such a theory existed. I’ve always used my backyard and our community as teaching tools, but now I know the name. Place-based education works for my in-home child care because of its hands-on approach and the direct experiences the children learn with. I’ve witnessed firsthand the effects nature and the outdoors have on the children’s love for learning. Outdoors is a natural classroom, and the children in my environment learn about the seasons, animals, and changes in topography. The flora and fauna of the land aid our curiosity, play, teaching, language acquisition, and stewardship. This kind of approach embodies childhood awe and wonder. For this, I am hooked on this learning method that we infuse in our everyday learning within our neighborhood, city, state, and mainly within the confines of my fantastic backyard, which feeds our curiosity constantly.
Here is an example of learning at this exact location – the playground near the elementary school.
- At this location, depending on the time of year, the land carpets with clovers, dandelions, crabgrass, crickets, grasshoppers, and tadpoles. We have spotted turtles coming from the woodlands,
- Early mornings, when the mist and fog are thick, I have spotted coyotes waiting for prey. Over the years, rabbits have emerged from their burrows; however, this year, we haven’t seen any.
3. Children joyously engage in the physical activity of picking flowers from the location covered in clovers weeks ago but now teeming with wildflowers.
4. The children’s social-emotional connections are deepened as they work together to fill a basket of beautiful wildflowers.
4. Learning from the natural world helps us to slow down and find beauty in what’s in front of us. I try not to take the simple things I once enjoyed as a child for granted. Picking wildflowers, chasing birds, and hunting for insects are all parts of my childhood that I hold dear.
5. The older children become mentors to younger children.
Asking questions – where did the bees go? Last year, we witnessed more bees on the clovers. This year, there weren’t a lot of bees.
Where are the grasshoppers? – Many white grasshoppers hopped and flew around in late summer last year.
What color are the flowers?
Where are the tadpoles? – A small pond sits to the side of this open lot. It is a habitat for frogs, dragonflies, pond skaters, fish, turtles, and red-winged blackbirds. The pond had very little water during our visit, and there were no signs of tadpoles.
This vast landscape allows children to walk, run, hop, jump, skip, and use their limbs while engaging in and with the natural world. Joyously, we are afforded an outdoor classroom without borders or the typical indoor rules – educators, we know some of those no-running indoor rules.
The children play games like hide and seek, which helps them with their spatial and numeracy skills. Since I challenged myself to embrace a play-based and place-based pedagogy fully, I have witnessed how the children learn freely, with joy, and with a higher retention.
- Children connect with the natural landscape of their area, and they remember the lay of the land and its ecosystem.
- We visit the exact location repeatedly, and every time we see something different, the flora keeps changing.
- Nature walks are good for the children’s spatial skills and awareness and help with their motor skills. Sometimes, we use a buggy; other days, we walk without.
- Our children learn about our community and build stewardship of the greater world.
- Learning with nature helps young children develop a love for learning in and with nature.
- Early learning standards can be met with outdoor and nature learning – science, colors, shapes, language, and social skills are developed when we explore the outdoors and places we visit often. Nothing is static when we venture outdoors.
What has inspired my love for teaching with nature?
My childhood experiences while living in Jamaica inspired me to wander my current location. I love exploring the Dupage Forest Preserves and the Morton Arboretum, hiking and traveling on road trips to the US national parks, and reading books and magazines by National Geography, David Sobel, Richard Louv, Peter Gray, Rachel Larimore, Scott Samson, and others. Nature keeps healing my heart; whenever I feel overwhelmed and need to clear my head, I head to nature. Yes, I slow down with nature. Gardening is also an obsession of mine. One of my favorite pastimes is looking at the clouds. I teach the children to listen to their surroundings, find insects, and observe the foraging ways of birds or squirrels. I know the healing power of nature and gladly infuse this into my teaching practice, yes, I operate a nature school.
Here are two websites that may help you with place-based learning. In addition, some books helped encourage my naturalistic curiosity and allowed me to value the depth of knowledge that unfolds when children learn in and alongside nature. I hope these resources may encourage your teacher’s heart.
And if you desire more – let google be your guide.
Until next time, I am Miss Sue, your educator working alongside you.
Xoxo Miss Sue.