WESTMINSTER, Vt. – Several local teachers from the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union (WNESU) recently participated in a weeklong nature workshop hosted by Antioch University New England’s early childhood education program.
The new program – Inside-Outside Nature-Based Education – is designed to assist young students in rebounding from some of the effects caused by Covid-related education cancelations and shut-downs over the last two years.
The workshop trains teachers, administrators, and founders of nature preschools and “forest kindergartens,” a movement that has been thriving in Europe for thirty years and has recently taken root in the United States, along with a growing number of nature preschools. However, both nature preschools and forest kindergartens have a different approach to curriculum than conventional “indoor” early childhood programs.
The objective of Inside-Outside Nature-Based Education is to make the courses as practical as possible. The goal for each course is to have the student generate a product that is useful in their work situation, including policy development, program brochures, business plans, grant proposals, and newsletters. The program offers help with content, so that founders of new programs will be supported in developing materials to launch their own programs.
The 13-month program offers courses (with credits that can be applied to a teaching master’s degree program) such as “Childhood and Nature,” “Ecology of Imagination,” and “Natural History for Early Childhood.” The common goal is to get students back outdoors for learning, and not just learning about nature.
Since the Inside-Outside program launched in April of 2018, they have grown from ten members to over 500 members, including 17 active local chapters expanding from the Northeast to the Midwest.
20 WNESU educators, including classroom teachers, pre-school educators, nurses, para-professionals, and even two librarians, participated in the program, with individuals coming from several schools throughout the district.
Ellen Davis, a professor of education at Antioch University New England, indicated that getting students outside in nature helps both the student and nature, by not only making young people more aware of their environment and the natural habitat around them, but just getting them outdoors in itself.
Davis also indicated that a growing number of schools are becoming interested in the program and its philosophies, offering the opportunity to complete courses which lead to a certificate of completion or Master’s Degree credits. The outdoor elements create a unique way to learn about nature and develop new skills.
WNESU Superintendent Andrew Hass has also endorsed the nature-based approach to the program, stating that they were excited to create a relationship with Antioch University in order to participate in the initial one-week program attended by the 20 local educators. He also indicated that the plan was to participate and expand the program next year. The Westminster Center School was the ideal location for this year’s workshop, as “Evan’s Woods,” a nearby wooded area open to the public, is close to the school.