Nature-Based Education in Early Childhood

When did things change?  When did it become so difficult for young children to play and learn outdoors? And how can we get them back out there? What are the benefits for children when their classroom is the natural world?   

These questions – and some answers – will be explored at a conference on June 10 at Shelburne Farms.  But not in the normal conference manner.

There will be amazing keynotes,  Patti Bailie and David Sobel, at the In Bloom in Vermont: Promising Practices in Nature-based Early Childhood Education Conference. But for most of the day, participants will  experience, live and embrace what it means to play and learn outdoors.

How? They will build fires to cook harvested food or make pencils from the fire’s cooled embers. They will ‘plant’ their feet into the garden soil to experience growing like a vegetable. Stuff you can easily do with kids! By doing the activities themselves, educators will be ready to share these outdoor experiences with their young students.

There is so much recent research on the benefits of outdoor experiences for children.  The Children and Nature Network give daily updates on recent research (see links below) and the National Environmental Education Foundation has connected the medical and environmental education professions to compile pertinent research.

Here at Shelburne Farms, we’ve been getting kids outside for over forty years. But we continue to push ourselves to give children even more nature-based experiences. A couple of years ago we created our first “all outdoor” summer camp for preschoolers, based out of a new outdoor classroom.  Our recent book, Cultivating Joy & Wonder: Project Seasons for Young Learners, focuses on Education for Sustainability in the early years with a strong component of helping young children find their place in their natural communities.

But we can’t do it alone! That’s why we partner with others like Antioch University NE and Four Winds Nature Institute to reach out to other educators and parents. Because if educators are going to include the outdoors into their curriculum, they must feel comfortable and confident in that setting.

It’s not too late to sign up to get your feet muddy, campfire smoke in your hair and your mind opened to the beauty and benefits of learning with your children/students in the natural world.

Can’t make it to the conference? Check out some of these resources:


There are the number of institutions who provide early learning to kids. You can also visit at

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