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Joyful Environments
August 30, 2019
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.
-Mary Lou Cook

In the book, Growing With Nature, educators from many places have contributed stories of how natural environments have helped infants and toddlers, preschoolers and elementary students flourish in many ways – socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically. This story about a joyful interaction with an infant came from Heather Fox in Lincoln, Nebraska:

“Hannah and I danced out the door to our outdoor classroom today. The wind made me feel like swaying as I carried her, and as I sang to her softly about the wind her eyes lit up. When we got in the Nature Explore Classroom, I laid Hannah on a blanket near a tuft of tall grass. One particular seed head moved in the wind and curved into her visual field. Hannah looked at the grass intently for almost a minute. She then looked towards me. I said to her, ‘The grass moves in the wind.’ Just then a toddler played a few notes on the marimba. I asked, ‘Did you hear the marimba?’ Hannah responded, moving her body, starting from her toes and up to her head in an ‘s’ shape. She smiled and looked at me. She seemed to me to be very pleased. I said the word ‘marimba’ again and she responded in the very same way.”

After each story shared is a paragraph called “Insights.” Here are a few of the insights about Heather’s story:

“The gentle way the natural world can stimulate senses and heighten children’s awareness created a golden opportunity for this joyful contact and rich communication between a caring adult and a very receptive infant. This kind of sensory engagement in nature happens spontaneously in outdoor environments that have been thoughtfully designed. Compare this with many infant environments that are filled almost exclusively with static plastic materials, where experience is artificially created and motivation needs to be manufactured from outward sources.”

And in the book, Bringing the Outside In, by Sandra Duncan and Jody Martin, the authors also make the case for indoor environments full of wonder: “Nothing dulls children’s enthusiasm more than lack-luster environments filled with plastic and laminated cardboard, commercially purchased toys and one-use learning materials. Instead, create enthusiastic environments where children can…jump, sing and dance, create and construct…be silly, have opportunities to make choices and decisions, and most importantly, have provocative, interesting and engaging nature materials to explore, investigate and discover.”

Bringing the Outside In

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Bringing the Outside In offers nature-based experiences to encourage educators and young children to bring the natural world into the early childhood classroom. Each hands-on, open-ended, and sensory oriented experience is designed to spark discovery and imagination; encourage conversations and collaborations; and allow young children to develop a sense of wonder and get to know the natural world.

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