This how-to article accompanies the feature "Early-Childhood Education Takes to the Outdoors."
Here are five ways to adopt the ideas behind the Waldkindergarten concept:
Partner with a Local Nature Center
Some schools are forming partnerships with local environmental centers and organizations to expand students' access to outdoor resources. Asking a local nature center to lead classes on bird-watching or other types of nature observation is one easy way to create a meaningful outdoor-learning experience.
Connect with a Natural-Education Initiative
Advocacy groups and initiatives aimed at connecting kids with nature are forming nationwide. Nature-education proponent Richard Louv is chairman of the nonprofit Children and Nature Network, which has identified and encouraged more than 50 regional, state, and local campaigns that are helping reintroduce children to nature.
Use the network's Web site to find a group that can help connect students with nature. Or you can use materials provided by the network to start your own group.
Network with Other Professionals
Teachers cannot always do it alone. Build relationships with other professionals invested in expanding outdoor opportunities. In New York City, a coalition of environmentalists, teachers (including early-childhood and outdoor educators), health professionals, businesspeople, and government leaders make up the Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids.
LINCK works on projects with museums, libraries, community centers, schools, and other organizations to promote and create outdoor-learning opportunities for children. The group also trains educators and landscape architects who specialize in designing outdoor natural-learning spaces.
Bring the Forest to Campus
Small changes to a school's outdoor space can dramatically enhance the opportunities to use nature as a teaching tool. Planting a school garden or pushing for a green playground makeover can bring nature to the campus.
The Dimensions Educational Research Foundation is collaborating with various organizations to develop a network of outdoor-learning spaces at schools, libraries, museums, and other public places. These nature-exploration classrooms are equipped for hands-on, outdoor learning in science, art, music, movement, and other areas.
Sensible precautions and attention to safety make outdoor learning possible in all but the most extreme conditions. Educating parents about the benefits of outdoor exploration will encourage families to dress their children appropriately, and schools can also require proper gear. Outdoor programs may also want to have outerwear on hand for students who show up unequipped; thrift stores often have affordable children's gear for sale.
Andrea Mills is an early-childhood teacher who has taught in both the United States and Europe. She lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband and sons.