Nature-Based Learning (NBL) uses aspects of the environment as both classroom and curriculum; the teaching and learning approach can be both guided learning and self-directed exploration.
Outside time, despite the weather (though children are dressed appropriately and safety prioritized), is provided multiple times daily. A specially designed outdoor area has a vegetable and edible flower garden, play ground area, a large patio with a water table and sensory bin, along with nature lesson areas. Uninterrupted periods of discovery and a prepared environment provide a Montessori and Waldorf opportunity for natural learning.
Additionally, the monthly themes of our curriculum extend into the NBL provided outside with seasonal materials, themed materials, tools, and lessons. For example, February’s theme is Time and Travel, with each week having its own sub-theme, such as one being ‘Maps and Measurement’. I use NBL for this lesson by helping the children create their own treasure maps based on the outdoor area, along with access to compasses, measurement tools, and binoculars for each child. We learn about distance and directions as we create our maps and bury our treasure boxes for our peers to hunt later.
Many monthly themes are nature-specific, such as Life Cycles in April, Plants and Animals in October, About Earth! in November, and Astronomy in December. These lessons take place both inside and outside in our “nature classroom”. As mentioned above, rotating themed materials and tools are introduced each week for hands-on practice and self-directed exploration. Organic gardening is taught year-round and the children truly love using their own harvests for lunch and snacks! All plants and flowers in the play areas are non-toxic.
Our biome centers are set up to complement monthly themes to let the children explore the plants and animals in different habitats. For example, July’s Summer Splash camp will have a beach and ocean habitat area with a variety of shells, a water-play table, sea animal models (crabs, starfish, etc.), and toys that are ocean/beach specific (boats, fishing, etc.).
Imagination and creativity blossom in our building area with leaves, sticks, feathers, clay and stones, and other materials to build a fairy or bird houses, wind chimes, a nest, paw print molds, and more.
Rest and relaxation areas are available for children to have a quiet picnic or to watch the birds, squirrels, dragonflies and butterflies. Sometimes it is drawing with chalk, playing lawn golf, or blowing bubbles that appeals to them! Outdoor pleasure equates with tending to our nature area with care and respect.