Bringing Nature into Early Childhood classrooms

In today's fast-paced world filled with technology and screens, children are spending less time outdoors and more time indoors. This shift has led to what Richard Louv famously termed as "nature deficit disorder," highlighting the disconnection between children and the natural world. As educators, it is crucial to recognise the importance of nature within early years settings and classrooms, not only for the physical health of children but also for their cognitive, emotional, and social development.

In his book “Last Child in the Woods," Richard Louv emphasises the detrimental effects of children's lack of exposure to nature, citing increased stress, attention difficulties, and a decline in creativity and imagination. It is evident that children today face unique challenges in forming meaningful connections with the natural world, making it imperative for educators to bridge this gap.

Today we would like to respectfully reflect upon the modern classrooms and its reliance on faux, fake, and artificial plants and decorations as substitutes for authentic natural elements. While these may seem convenient, they fail to provide the same sensory experiences, learning opportunities, and intrinsic benefits that real nature offers.At The Curiosity Approach we offer to be a critical friend and challenge this trend and advocate for the the use of authentic natural elements in indoor learning environments. To fill childcare settings, classrooms and environments with nature. Whether this be an array of plants, growing seeds, flowers and foliage, or just jam jars of daisies or dandelions.  There can be no replacement for the gifts of Mother Earth. 

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If you are familiar with The Curiosity Approach® you’ll know we draw inspiration from many of the great pioneers of Early childhood Education and stand on the shoulders of giants. If we look to the incredible work of the McMillan sisters' their timeless wisdom resonates with us today as they proclaimed that "the richest classroom is roofed only by the sky." This quote recognises the boundless potential of the natural world as a source of inspiration, wonder, and learning for young children. By blurring the lines between the outdoors and indoors, we can create enriching environments that cultivate a deep appreciation for nature. 

Why is this important ? Why do we need to connect with nature at Every opportunity? We have already mentioned the term nature deficit Have you ever heard of the term Biophillia? Biophillia, a term coined by biologist E.O. Wilson, refers to the innate human connection to nature and our urge to seek connections with nature and other living beings. As humans its about our deep-rooted affinity to the natural world. For young children, biophilia plays a crucial role in shaping their development by providing opportunities for exploration, discovery, and connection with the environment around them. 

When children are immersed in nature-rich environments, they are more likely to experience a sense of calm, wonder, and curiosity that can stimulate their cognitive, emotional, and social growth, this will also ensure that they have an appreciation for the world we live upon and will look after it long after we are gone.

By fostering biophilia in early childhood settings, educators can tap into children's natural inclination to engage with the world around them, leading to enhanced learning experiences and holistic development. Exposure to nature has been shown to improve children's concentration, creativity, and problem-solving skills, as well as promote physical health and well-being. Additionally, cultivating a biophilic environment can instill in children a sense of respect for the natural world and a desire to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Integrating biophilia into early childhood education not only benefits children individually but also contributes to building a generation of environmentally conscious and empathetic individuals who value and cherish the beauty and diversity of the world around them. By embracing and nurturing children's biophilic tendencies, early years educators can create nurturing environments that support children's innate connection to nature and inspire a lifelong love for the natural world.

Have you heard of the team Eco literacy ?At The Curiosity Approach and within our accreditation academy, we believe that eco-literacy in early childhood education is essential for helping children connect with and respect nature. By providing hands-on experiences with the natural world, we instill in children a deep appreciation for the environment and empower them to become stewards of the planet. Through eco-literacy, children develop critical thinking skills, a sense of environmental responsibility, and the ability to make sustainable choices. As early childhood professionals, we play a crucial role in shaping children's attitudes and behaviour towards nature, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to address environmental challenges and build a more sustainable future. But how can they do this if everything they come into connect with is plastic, fake, faux or artificial? What messages are we giving to children ? That everything is easily replaceable and can be purchased form a catalogue or from amazon?

We are sadly living in a commercialised world. We need to be creators not consumers. To see that outdoors in the natural world, in our gardens and countryside beauty and nature is everywhere. That within the Early Childhood environment, we look to bring nature indoors at every opportunity. Let us step beyond the convenient, the trend to stick, staple and drape plastic ivy everywhere. Why are we doing this and what’s its purpose? 

Instead of stapling plastic ivy up on display boards. We question WHY? What is its purpose? Is it to bring nature indoors?Let’s reflect how we can do this in an authentic way that is truly beneficial for the children, environment, health and our budgets.

By truly understanding The Curiosity Approach pedagogy, educators can transform their early years settings into immersive natural spaces that ignite children's curiosity and spark their innate sense of wonder. Here are some examples of how we can bring nature indoors and further down WHY.

Examples of HOW

1. **Natural Materials**: Incorporate natural materials such as wood, stones, shells, and pinecones into play areas to stimulate sensory exploration and creativity.

Natural resources are wondrous loose parts and can be used throughout the Early Childhood provision. At The Curiosity Approach® we step beyond the catalogue and commercialised resources, we recognise that at every opportunity nature offers such incredible multi sensory resources that offer a wealth of learning potential. As mentioned before “there can be no replacement for nature’ Look here to this sorting activity below. Nature will offer the opportunity to seek similarities and differences, sorting into sets and being curious investigators whose are now exploring using all senses. Plastic feels the same and smells the same. Want to save money? Get outside and seek Mother Earth’s treasures.

A rich array of natural resources, loose parts fill a Curiosity Approach setting.

Baskets of sticks, leaves, feathers and twine allow children to create their own nature wands

2. **Living Plants**: Introduce potted plants and indoor gardens to provide children with opportunities to care for living organisms, observe growth and changes, and learn about the natural world.

3. **Nature-inspired Art**: Encourage children to create art using materials found in nature, such as leaves, flowers, and branches, fostering a connection between creativity and the environment.

4. **Treasure shelf **: Provide a space within your environment where children can display the natural treasures collected on their journey to your setting or when exploring the great outdoors at home. These shelves or baskets become filled with natural treasures like feathers, acorns, and bark, inviting children to engage their senses and explore textures, shapes, and colours.

5. **Outdoor Exploration**: Design outdoor learning spaces that seamlessly flow into indoor areas, allowing children to move freely between environments and experience the wonders of nature firsthand. See our post on managing Free Flow 

By embracing the transformative power of nature and integrating it into early childhood education, we can nurture children's holistic development, foster a sense of environmental stewardship, and inspire a lifelong love for the natural world. Let us heed the call to reconnect children with nature, for there can truly be no replacement for the wonders that the great outdoors provide.

Benefits ? 

In early years childcare environments, incorporating plants offers numerous health benefits specifically tailored to children's well-being and development:

1. **Improved Air Quality**: Plants help to remove toxins from the air, providing children with cleaner and healthier indoor environments to breathe in.

2. **Stress Reduction**: Being around plants can help reduce stress and anxiety in young children, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.

3. **Enhanced Cognitive Development**: Exposure to plants has been linked to improved concentration, focus, and cognitive function in children, supporting their learning and development.

This image is curtesy of The Crafty Kiwi Teacher. ( see instagram page the_crafty_kiwi_teacher )Look how simple connections to nature can occur when we investigate and explore placing potatoes, avocado stones etc in water.

4. **Emotional Well-being**: Interacting with plants can boost children's mood, self-esteem, and emotional resilience, fostering positive mental health outcomes.

5. **Physical Health Benefits**: Cleaner air and reduced exposure to pollutants can help prevent respiratory issues and allergies in young children, supporting their overall health.

6. **Connection with Nature**: Having plants indoors encourages children to connect with the natural world, fostering a sense of wonder, curiosity, and appreciation for the environment. Adding petal heads, leaves, flowers to play invitations and provocations to play.

Simple Tuff Trays, don’t have to neatly manicured or curated, by using the gifts from Mother Nature children can play following their own learning style. See previous blogs on how we offer Tuff Trays within a Curiosity Approach setting. Or purchase our Team Gathering a 60 minute CPD staff meeting that’ll explain more 

https://the-curiosity-approach... Click the link to purchase

*Useful hint. Ask your local florist for broken flower stems, leaves or foliage that get wasted when making floral tributes or bouquets. 

7. **Sensory Stimulation**: Plants provide tactile, visual, and olfactory stimulation, engaging children's senses and promoting sensory exploration and development.

8. **Educational Opportunities**: Plants offer hands-on learning experiences for children, teaching them about growth, life cycles, ecosystems, and the importance of caring for living organisms.

9. **Aesthetic Appeal**: Plants add beauty, color, and a sense of tranquility to early years environments, creating inviting and stimulating spaces for children to play and learn.

10. **Risk Assessments**: To ensure the safety of children, risk assessments should be conducted to assess the toxicity levels of plants and determine suitable placements within the childcare environment. Plants should be chosen carefully to avoid toxic varieties, placed out of reach of young children, and regularly monitored to prevent any potential hazards. https://www.poison.org/article...,resolve%20within%20a%20few%20hours. It is  important to ensure supervision and look to the BENEFITS v Risk. The safety of children is of paramount importance.  Recently there has been much conversation about the risk of using Daffodils in Early Childhood settings. It is essential we consider where we place these beautiful spring flowers. Is it stage appropriate and how are we managing and supervising the provision. Are we offering opportunities to explain the potential hazards to touching, eating these flowers or are we completely removing all opportunity to experience these wondrous flowers indoors and out?

 Let us recognise that daffodils are out in nature, what do we do when children encounter them outdoors?  

By incorporating plants into early years childcare environments and implementing appropriate risk assessments, educators can create nurturing spaces that promote children's health, well-being, learning, and connection with the natural world.

As always risk assess use of conifers , as the seeds from conifers should not be eaten and again have levels of toxicity. 

If you are struggling to keep plants alive in your setting, use cuttings and foliage, jam jars or vases filled with leaves, cuttings and greenery from outside. 

Look to grow vegetable tops and see the new shoots appear. Show children the beauty of nature and Mother Earth. Offer alternatives to plastic artificial alternatives. This image is from Pinterest and no copyright infringement was intended

Follow the seasons and offer invitations and provocations throughout your Early Years provision. Why not offer natural resources upon the light box

Adding clip on lights can bring a whole new perspective to exploring nature.

A rich abundance of loose parts

As with all items these need to be stage appropriate, if you have children who like to mouth items then some of the natural resources may not be suitable. You Know your children best. You know the supervision within your setting and whether you’re a silo educator. It’s about risk assessing based on the children you care for. We cannot strip our environments bare of natural resources and plastic wash everything. In a world of nature deficit its important we allow children to respect and connect to nature. To learn how to become stewards of our incredible planet and foster innate love of the natural world. 

Natural elements are incorporated throughout our provisions, look here at Sam Boyd’s image, a Curiosity Approach Accredited Childminder who is showcasing her understanding and advocacy of The Curiosity Approach® Pedagogy . Interested in becoming a Curiosity Approach Accredited setting?  See link to more information here https://www.thecuriosityapproa...

Finally, One of The Curiosity Approach® ingredients is being inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s work and Waldorf Education
Rudolf Steiner’s insights into nature are more relevant today than they were in his time. Believing that we need a conscious equilibrium with nature; That we are not entitled to simply exploit the Earth, but neither should we view ourselves as devastating irritants on Earth’s surface. We are an integral part of the evolving natural world from which we arise.“This world surrounds us, and we can rediscover ourselves within it, just as we can find all of nature transformed within us. “
Credit from https://www.biodynamic.org.uk
It’s important we take every opportunity to help children connect to nature, to fill our environment with wondrous treasures.

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World.

As with any critical reflection, it all starts with WHY. We hope this article has given you an insight into why we challenge and push back on traditional norms. To be that critical friend who is inspiring educators to reflect on provision and practice. To unlearn and relearn and be advocates for eco-literacy and bringing nature into every part of our Early Years environment. Fostering children’s love, appreciation and connection to this natural world.

Want to learn more from us? We have a wealth of mini courses and our signature programme which allows all your team to join and work towards their accreditation. See the link here https://the-curiosity-approach...

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