Here are some takeaways from some of the ONbECE members who attended the Natural Start 2022 Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio July 27-30. Do you want to add your thoughts? Comment in a reply to all!
Sue Elliott and Vicki Carr session: Is DAP Moving Us Toward Global Sustainability? I am still hearing Sue Elliott’s call that early childhood education become “a transformative and empowering process actively engaged in by children, families and educators who share an ecocentric view.” It is our ethical and moral obligation to educate for sustainability. A way to accomplish this is by allowing children to be active agents with rights. And that the research shows that “even for children to get outside once a week can develop these experiences.”
I attended the follow up session of Early Childhood Education for Sustainability which gave a variety of new models to support alternative ways of viewing children and nature. Children need the truth because they see and know the truth. We need to support and empower them to act on that truth and make a change.
I appreciated the balance of being able to not only attend sessions which challenged my pedagogical thinking, but also sessions which allowed me to bring back new, hands-on tools and activities! I am excited to start milkweed plants, utilize the new Project Learning Tree Trees & Me curriculum and add some fun new animal tracks activities to my tool bag.
Other challenges I left with are to keep asking how to make my program more inclusive and diverse and outside of the 3–5-year-olds how can we push nature-based experiences down to include birth -3 and up into the elementary grades and higher.
I am widening my view of sustainability in ECE as well. I will be examining my own thought regarding language and teachings about climate change and providing staff, families, and children agency to combat this issue that will most significantly impact our children.
My biggest take-away is that our field of NbECE continues to be concerned about the lack of diversity and equity in our programming, but is not able to identify with the larger context of childcare in the United States, both the fact that we are in fact childcare, the history of the distinction between daycare and early education in our county and its systemic racial split. Folks were happy to celebrate congress voting to combat climate change with dollars, but were silent about the absence of addressing childcare in our country.
I am grateful for the networking opportunities of this in person event and we were able to connect with other programs who were not in our network such as the Kent State Child Development Center, the Columbus Academy, and TimberTops Dayhome among others. There was also a representative from my resource and referral agency 4C for children-which was really cool-I’ll be calling him!
Lastly, I loved hearing about the rad ladies from University of Delaware lab school and their reciprocal partnership with a local inner city Head Start. As I try to push comfort and excitement about nature-based education into public and more ‘academic/mainstream’ schools, their experiences were super valuable.
Ditto on Meredith’s point about Congress. No amount of money for the economy or climate being passed will have the long term effects we need if our children don’t have access to high quality Early Childhood Care and Education (nature based or not) and our field will never be sustainable if our teachers aren’t making a living wage. If we want to expand access to nature based education, we need to figure out ways to diversify the funding streams (ie, accept public funds, Head Start, etc) we use to run our centers. This loops right back to the issue that we need significant investments in the childcare infrastructure at a federal level.
I continue to be interested in the overlaps between ECEfS/NBE and Reggio Inspired Practices, which I found many examples of, even those that were not explicitly made.
I found Christy Merrick’s request for evidence interesting also. I’m curious as to what kind of evidence they are looking for…what role can research play?
I had a lot of fun showing off some of our familiar stomping grounds by leading the Mt. Airy Forest hike with Lee. She did a great job planning and scoping out parking for that enormous bus! It was nice to see so many people who were familiar with us, as well as beginning to run into folks we have met in previous trainings and related regional networking events.
My big takeaways were some excellent strategies for conversations with children about some of the harsh realities of climate change and human impacts on the environment, including positive actions we can all take to better the world around us. I also felt validated with the recognition of the social, emotional and physical differences in children since the pandemic hit and shifted so much of our lives.
The biggest inspiration for me personally was the absolute importance of what we do. These children will grow up and help make the world a better place, and I believe that positive change will be amplified over generations. What was missing from the conference? More stories and songs (I had to miss the one class that had songs, etc).
Wow! What an amazing time I had reconnecting with like minded educators as well as making so many new connections and relationships! My eyes have been open to so much more in regards to nature based education and I have so many more questions about how I will be able to help get EVERY CHILD outside!
I know this may sound crazy but my biggest “aha” moment was when someone said (I can’t remember who, I’m sorry), something to the effect that “it is important to remember we (humans) are not just part of nature but we ARE nature”! Yes we are! I have always believed this in my own way but something in the way this person said it really shifted my thinking!
My biggest highlight of the week by far was visiting the three sights in Cincinnati. The Arlitt Child Development Center, part of the University of Cincinnati, taught me that some universities run early childhood programs partnered with faculty and also collect research. I am very excited by this concept! I have already reached out to Kent, in my neck of the woods, and am eager to learn more about their program and possible ways I may be able to be involved in this effort in the future!
Once home from Cincinnati, I hit the ground running with leading nature camps for elementary students immediately that Monday. While exploring and playing with my campers, I tried to take time to “digest” more of what I learned. I’m excited that at camp tomorrow (Wednesday, Aug. 10) we will be learning all about animal tracks. I am so grateful to Patty Bailey and Leann Fish from the University of Maine for leading the Three P’s for Tracking workshop. I will be playing their shoe pattern/match game and having campers create stories about the tracks we will find walking in Poutasse Woods and along Euclid Creek! Then on Friday we will make pine needle tea over a campfire - another new skill I learned from Lori Ann Wilde in her workshop Embracing the Forest’s Gifts in Forest School! My gratitude runs over and I can’t wait for us to all be together again!