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What is a nature-based preschool?

Dr. Patti Bailie, a pioneer of research on the nature preschool movement who currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Maine at Farmington, and Ken Finch, Founding Director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, offer three main criteria to distinguish nature preschools:


  • Nature is the central organizing concept of the program. That is, nature is the integrating thread that intentionally ties together the preschool’s philosophy, methodologies, classroom design, outdoor spaces, and public identity.

  • The program of a nature preschool is based on high-quality practices of both early childhood education (developmentally appropriate practices) and environmental education (the North American Association for Environmental Education’s “Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education” and principles of interpretation), requiring its teaching staff to have skills and experience in both early childhood education and environmental education

  • A nature preschool program uses the natural world to support dual goals that address both child development and conservation values. These include the development of the world of the child (in all domains – cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and aesthetic) and the development of an ecological identity or environmental ethic.

Some Benefits of Nature-based Learning
  • Improvement in gross motor skills

  • Cultivate stewardship for our planet

  • Connection to nature

  • Children who play regularly in natural settings are sick less often.

  • Stimulate children's imagination.

  • Children who spend more time outside tend to be more physically active and less likely to be overweight.

  • Encourages creativity

  • Improves language 

  • Builds self-confidence and competence through confidently negotiating risk 

  • Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other.

  • Bullying behavior is greatly reduced where children have access to diverse nature-based play environments.

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