A Resource For Early Childhood Educators

Why teach "nature" in your sites?

Additional Information:

Why teach "nature" in your classrooms?

Ruth Wilson (1994)(1), editor of Environmental Education at the Early Childhood Level, North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), states "Few people today would question the need for developing an environmentally literate society and the concomitant need for environmental education programs in both formal and nonformal settings. Less well understood, however, is the need to being environmental education at the early childhood level."

Why should "Nature" be a part of early childhood education?

Richard Cohen, Ph.D., (1994)(2) Director, Research Center at Pacific Oaks College, states "Nature education is critically important in an early childhood program for three reasons:

1. Nature education is important for its own sake. The natural world has inspired awe and wonder in human beings for more generations than we can count. Yet children today, especially urban children, are increasingly divorced from or frightened by this wonder, unaware of its power and beauty.

2. In a world increasingly threatened by the effects of human behavior, we need a custodial generation of young people committed to finding solutions to ecological problems.

3. Nature is a wonderful early childhood curriculum area. The natural world is patterned, yet ever-changing. Birth, growth, and death--topics of abiding interest to young children’s opening minds--are central to it. And the observation, classification, and communication skills that develop in the study of nature lead to the skills and dispositions children will need to succeed in school."

When should environmental education begin?  According to Wilson (1993)3 “an environmental education program for young children should serve as the first step in the development of an environmentally literate and concerned citizenry. Environmental education is a process – a lifelong process that starts with the child’s first experiences in the natural world.”  “Children create strong and enduring mental representations of what they have experienced in investigating the everyday world.” (Conezio and French, 2002)(4)  “Environmental education and early childhood education have common key characteristics: first-hand experiences and active participation, interdisciplinary, conceptual, process development (cognitive, affective and behavioral) problem solving skills; and holistic approach.” (Vanrony, 1999)(5). 


“Parents often have a sense of inadequacy on the one hand when confronted with the eager sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world of complex physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that is seems hopeless to reduce it to order and knowledge.  In a mood of self-deft, they exclaim, ‘How can I possibly teach my child about nature. Why, I don’t even know one bird from another!’” (Carson 1956)(6).  Rachel Carson said, “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.  If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.  The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”


In an April 1995 survey conducted by the Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education7 at University of Northern Iowa, it is stated that “developmentally appropriate practices were formulated for children (birth through age 8) in response to the widespread need for better ways of educating young children. This framework draws upon the base of knowledge about child development to suggest effective strategies for working with your children.” A developmentally appropriate program recognizes that: 

·        Children actively construct their own knowledge

·        Children learn best through activities which engage their interest

·        Inclusive programs expand opportunities for all children

·        Appropriate assessment strengthens learning and teaching

·        Children benefit when parents and others from the community are involved with the program.  


1 Wilson, R.A.  1994, Editor, Envionrmental Education at the Early Childhood Level. North American Association for Enviornmental Education. NAAEE, P.O. Box 400, Troy, OH 45373

2 Cohen, R. 1994. Why Nature Education Should Be a Part of Early childhood Education. Environmental Education at the Early Childhood Level.  North American Association for Environmental Education.  NAAEE, P.O. Box 400, Troy, OH 45373

3Wilson, R.A.  1993.  Fostering a Sense of Wonder during the Early Childhood Years.  Columbus, OH: Grayden Press.

4Conezio, K. and L. French.  2002. Science in the Preschool Classroom. Capitalizing on Children’s Fascination with the Every Day World to Foster Language and Literacy Development. Young Children, September 2002.

5Vanorny, M. 1999. Nurturing Nature, Environmental Education for Young Children.  Minnesota Children’s Museum.

6 Carson, R.  1956. The Sense of Wonder.  New York: Harper & Row


For more information click on DEVELOPMENT and look at Starting Early: Environmental Education during the Early Childhood Years.







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