Anyone who has or works with young children these days has surely noticed a trend where kids spend less and less of their time outdoors. Some blame the prevalence of screens in the home. Some blame “helicopter parenting,” which is shorthand for parents who hover over their kids and try to remove any sort of danger or obstacle they might face. And some blame the idea that the sense of community that defined many of our neighborhoods, towns, and cities has degraded to the point that it’s not safe to let our children play outdoors without adult supervision.
Whatever the reasons for this trend, the results are often the same – most young children have less experience being outdoors in nature. In the past few years, there’s even been a new term created to describe this: Nature Deficit Disorder.
At Bluegrass Greensource, we believe that the outdoors and nature make the best classrooms, particularly when it comes to reaching young minds early on and connecting them with a sense of wonder and curiosity about our natural systems. For many years, we have been developing a program that encourages preschool children and their teachers to get outdoors more and use the natural world around them as a classroom. This summer, because of a generous grant from Norfolk Southern, we are happy to finally bring this new program – the Junior Nature Explorers Program – to life.
“As the mother of a preschooler, I am extremely excited about this new program,” says Amy Sohner, Bluegrass Greensource’s Executive Director. “I see how much my daughter responds to discovering worms under rocks and veins in tree leaves. Junior Nature Explorers will expose preschoolers in Central Kentucky to the wonders of nature and show preschool teachers how to use the areas outside their buildings to inspire exploration.”
Simple in design, the Junior Nature Explorer Program has two parts. In the first phase, Greensource educators will provide three in-depth lessons to preschoolers, guiding them as they play, explore, and learn about the world around them. After completing the series of lessons, each student will be awarded a Junior Nature Explorer certificate and given their very own Explorer Kit, which will include books used in the program, a magnifying glass, binoculars, and nature journal. The second part of the program involves working with the teachers to help them better incorporate outdoor learning into their curricula. After completion of the program, classrooms will receive an Explorer Resource Kit that is filled with all of the materials used in the program, as well as a detailed packet that includes all of the lessons. This is being done to ensure that the participating teachers can continue to replicate these lessons for future classes.
“Every time we go outside, there is an opportunity to learn about something new in our natural world,” says environmental educator Kara Sayles, who has been working with young children at Bluegrass Greensource for nine years. “Exposing children at a young age to environmental education can help them understand the world around them. It can help them develop a sense of place, allowing them to utilize their innate, natural curiosity to develop a life-long desire to learn.”
If you are a preschool educator, or know a preschool educator, who would like to participate in this program, please contact our education director, Pattie Stivender at pattie@bgGreensource.org to register or learn more about our early childhood education offerings.
For more information about Bluegrass Greensource education programs, check out the video below!