6. Children & Nature

A Grassroots Effort to Renew the Schoolyard: The Learning Garden

Katie Kingery-Page, Manhattan, KS
Jon Hunt, Manhattan, KS

ABSTRACT: In the United States, children are often isolated from the natural world. In many cities, these children have very limited exposure to ‘wild’ places or food production landscapes. They spend their days in school buildings and their meals are frequently composed of processed foods.


We Grew It! Enrichment through Sustainable Gardening in Elementary School

Melissa Scott Kozak, Athens, GA
Jennifer McCreight, Athens, GA


Green ‘Edutainment’ in a Community Setting: Empowering Kids in the Natural & Built Environments

 Eileen Vandoros, Madison, WI

  • Child-friendly cities should provide children with educational programs which teach them to assume responsibility for taking care of the environment.
  • MaGicEnergy is a lively eco educational program designed to accomplish this in the greater Madison, Wisconsin area.
  • Underpinning its call to environmental action is the notion that one child can make a difference.
  • Since 2003, MaGicEnergy has engaged thousands of kids in schools, libraries, zoos, children’s museums, nature centers, energy fairs and family festivals.
  • Targeted to elementary and middle school-aged kids, the 30-minute performance combines strong earth-friendly messages with magic, juggling, humor, storytelling, and audience participation.
  • Program format is informed by real world evidence that learning is accelerated when educational content is presented in an entertaining manner.
  • A Leader’s Guide available to performance hosts includes lesson plans, glossary, and English and Spanish language scripts.

Major themes encourage resource efficiency, renewable energy and reducing one’s carbon footprint. “Efficient” juggling routines illustrate the value of stretching our resources and doing more with less. A local Energy Club is profiled to exemplify how kids and parents working together can save energy. A handcuff trick shows how steps like putting insulation in building walls can reduce energy use by preventing heat “escape.” An interactive “Simon Says” routine teaches 5 ways children and adults can save energy, from “turning off the juice when not in use” to using compact fluorescent bulbs.

At show’s end, a surprise “jumping stool” reinforces the idea that if kids make the commitment, they may be astonished by the results.

Nature in the Urban Environment: Sustainable Place-Based Educational Settings: Weaving Together Education, Ecology & Community

David Kamp, New York, NY 

As education programs 
become increasingly 
specialized, schools more 
competitive in attracting 
students, and our awareness 
of nature’s role in community 
health grows, educator and 
planners are faced with the 
question of how can the 
delivery of education be 
more relevant.

 The presentation will focus 
on sustainable place-based 
educational settings, where 
the landscape of education is 
redefined to one that 
motivates students to learn 
and connect with their 
community and the natural 

The presentation 
focuses on how can 
education delivery become 
more student, environmental 
and community responsive 
by presenting examples that 
weave the natural 
environment within the 
academic curriculum, 
reinforcing the school’s 
identity, supporting 
collegiality, and engendering 
community / civic 

Today’s schools have 
different ideas about how 
and where learning takes 
place. Traditional classrooms 
designed specifically for 
knowledge delivery no 
longer work. In reality, 
learning also takes place in 
the spaces in-between 
classrooms, the hallways, 
and within the campus 
landscape. Successful 
learners need a variety of 
spaces — collaborative 
space, individual quiet areas 
and active space that 
supports movement and 
making things. Successful 
learning spaces involve 
educators in the planning 
and design process since 
their contributions are based 
on an intimate knowledge of 
the various ways in which 
learning occurs. This 
approach is likely to produce 
much more engaging 
learning environments. 
Learning is enhanced when 
students work with faculty to 
build connections between 
what they study in the 
classroom, apply what they 
learn within the immediate 
environment and what they 
experience directly through 
carefully designed and 
directed programs.

Nature Experience in Pre-School Outdoor Play Areas

Camilla Rice, Lincoln, NE

Nature experience and environmental education are critical components of environmental competency and sustainable development. Evidence of the specific dimensions of nature experience contribution is lacking (Bolscho, D., Hauenschild, K). Environmental competency and sustainable development are critical issues affecting each person in some respect. Proficiency in environmental competency is the basis for leaders’, businesses’, communities’, and individuals’ abilities to contribute to decisions about sustainable development. Nature experience has become an important component of environmental education. The challenge for landscape architects is “How do we provide a nature experience component for environmental education with the highest educational prospect?”

Proficiency in environmental education is being addressed by higher education and K-12 educators with limited success. The outcome of sustainability learning is constrained by lack of contact with the natural systems which are the focus of the curriculum. Each year in the United State the population of children in urban areas increases by 5.7 million (UNdata). Many of these children are from minority and the poor populations. As more children grow up in environments without nature, opportunities for experience through direct, daily contact is decreased. Empirical research suggests that children deprived of nature experience are less motivated to act environmentally on a daily basis (Bolscho, D. Huasenschild, K., Walls, A.E.J.) They are less likely to understand the value of ecosystems and processes sustaining life. Environmentally literate societies are more likely to choose behaviors and practices protecting the environment (Scott, W., Gough, S.).

Research has found that, for adults, emotional affinity toward nature was a strong predictor of nature-protective behavior and that such affinity traced back to present and past experiences in natural environments (Kals, Schumacher, and Montada, Dutcher, Finley, Luloff, and Johnson). This paper will present the quantitative and qualitative research finding of my grant, “Is emotional affinity toward nature an outcome of Outdoor Learning Classrooms for Young Children?” although not yet complete, it suggests children who have opportunities for daily contact with nature and nature processes are developing connections with nature and preferences for outdoor play. This is a cross-disciplinary study utilizing the assistance of Dr. Julia Torquati in Early Childhood Education.

Natural Play & Narrative

Philip Waters, Cornwall, UNITED KINGDOM 

Natural play is becoming increasingly popular with practitioners as an approach to maximising the value for the children involved. Compared to the use of fixed and over-designed play equipment, natural play relies on the use of the landscape and 'loose parts' such as sticks and stones. As well as providing the exercise benefits of play, this approach encourages high levels of imagination and creativity , problem solving skills and collaborative social interaction. Despite the typical focus of this approach on green spaces at the Eden Project we have demonstrated that there is scope for implementing forms of natural play even within quite urbanised settings and within buildings as long as the right kinds of prompts are provided. Our Mud programme is designed to encourage outdoor play and over the last three years it has engaged over 60 000 people in activities such as den building. This paper will review the activities and evaluation undertaken.

When reflecting on the best facilitation for natural play we have become focused on the question of narrative as an important creative prompt for starting an activity. Eden Project is a highly 'narrated' environment (not just through the use of text but also through visual cues and art) and there are many ways in which even some small and almost un-noticed prompts can transform the appreciation and energy within a person's experience. Examples will be presented.

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