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Exploring Nature with Young Children

 
     
 
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New York Project WILD Coordinator shares on Growing Up WILD

Gina Jack, the New York State coordinator for Project WILD, is accustomed to leading teacher workshops with large numbers of participants, but every once in a while an exceptionally large group comes together for one of her workshops. She recently facilitated a Growing Up WILD training session, held on June 5, 2012, that saw 39 people. All of them were early childhood educators and directors from the childcare centers based at schools in the State University of New York (SUNY) system, attending their annual conference. Growing Up WILD is the Council for Environmental Education’s newest award-winning curriculum featuring 27 nature-based activities for building school readiness skills among children ages three through seven. 

While early childhood educators are the backbone of the Growing Up WILD audience, in New York State Gina is seeing growing interest from professors who wish to incorporate Growing Up WILD into the teacher education curriculum at the SUNY colleges. This early introduction to Project WILD materials is something New York State’s Project WILD program strongly supports. Learning to use Project WILD’s full cadre of resources encourages pre-service teachers to incorporate them into their lessons early on, and to continue to do so throughout their teaching career. College professors at more than five schools—SUNY Fredonia, SUNY Cortland, and SUNY Oswego, to name a few—have been trained to serve as workshop facilitators for their students and now weave Project WILD into the coursework.


 

 

 

While Gina likes all of the Project WILD materials, she is especially fond of Growing Up WILD. In her experience as an outdoor and environmental educator, she has encountered many early childhood educators who were timid about taking their students outdoors for anything more than a visit to the playground or a neighborhood stroll. During her Growing Up WILD workshops, she asks anyone who feels uncomfortable taking children outdoors for hands-on science and exploration to consider that Growing Up WILD figuratively holds your hand and guides you through the process. “It helps early childhood educators feel comfortable being outdoors with their students,” she says. If the teachers are confident, then the students will be too.

Gina, herself, has fond memories of spending time outdoors while growing up in Canada, exploring outdoors with friends and family. She understands from personal experience—both as a child at heart and as the mother of two young girls—that spending time exploring outside is essential for young children. Not only can educators teach valuable academic lessons in a natural setting, but their students will begin to observe, ask questions, and learn something about themselves as they learn about the world around them.     

 

 

 

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