Nature is the Greatest Teacher for Children

Covid-19 has actually made teachers rethink how to best teach young children.  At school, we decided that spending more time outside is better for children.  We teachers all know the benefits of nature, yet the demands of what children need to learn, including providing opportunities for technology, have pushed nature aside over the years.

Not this year!

At last we are back to basics, the root of investigating and discovery. Thank goodness.

The erosion of outdoor play in schools, and also art and music, has been a thorn in my side for decades.  Parents want their child to succeed, and they think computer programs and phonics are the way to go.  They want school to have straight instruction.  The problem is, children need to figure things out on their own, and that happens with teacher and parent support, not direction.

Public schools answer to parents.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could educate parents?  Schools might look different.  I figured this out decades ago.  If I educate parents, I am helping the child, too.  Parents are always hungry to learn, and isn’t it better to learn straight from the teacher?  Makes perfect sense to me.

That is why I write newsletters to families.  They soak up everything, because they care about their child and they truly want to learn.

Back to the topic of nature… here is the newsletter I sent to families. I will be able to build upon this and explain in detail how math and science and writing and stories ‘happen’.

Hi Families,

Nature is truly a great teacher.  We have been including more outdoor activities in our day, and your children are learning and having fun.

Our play packs are perfect to bring along.  The tools inside include binoculars, magnifying glasses, crayons, and a clipboard for drawing and recording our finds.

Our short walk to the Woodland Grove was an opportunity to use our tools.  There are shapes of different colors mounted onto trees.  We had to look hard to find them.

Of course there were other things along the way to discover, such as leaves, bird feathers, and interesting rocks.  We will continue to visit and explore the Woodland Grove.

We have a StoryWalk close to the playground.  There are twelve poster-size yard signs, each depicting a page in the book “How Do You Wokka-Wokka?” and challenging children to move in different ways.  Can you stand on one foot while raising your opposite hand?  Can you dance?  The book inspires movement, and is perfect for a StoryWalk.

As the school year progresses, the StoryWalk will change periodically.

Stay tuned as we continue to learn from the great outdoors.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Inspiration, Nature, preschool, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

117 Responses to Nature is the Greatest Teacher for Children

  1. denise421win says:

    You are so right, there are valuable lessons to learn outside the home and the computers damage the children’s eyes

  2. beth says:

    Absolutely and I’ll be doing as
    Much of an outdoor kindergarten as I can this year

    • Jennie says:

      Hooray! I feel like what we intuitively know is best for children can actually happen. Today we took a shape and color walk, with binoculars. My words cannot begin to express all the excitement and discovery. They were so tired and happy today. Me, too.

  3. Norah says:

    I so agree with you, Jennie. Now is a great opportunity to reinstate some of those important learnings that have been eroded over time. Learning outside in nature is one of those. I love your play packs. The children will enjoy learning with them. And your story walk is great too. I also agree with you about educating parents. It was always high on my agenda when I was in the classroom and even now when I’m not in the classroom any more.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Norah. This is reinvigorating for teachers and for children. And, I know it is what children need most. I wish you had been there today. My StoryWalk will be “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”, next month. I know you educated parents and realized that was as important as educating the child. I wish more teachers did, and I keep reaching out to them, but with little success. The glass-half-full here never stops trying. 🙂

      • Norah says:

        I wish I was there too, Jennie. And I love Brown Bear, Brown Bear too. I am a huge fan of Bill Martin Jnr and his work. I was lucky to get to hear him speak at a literacy confernce in the 80s. He blew me away. In just a few minutes he had all the participants singing along with him and “I love the Mountains”. The story of his own journey into literacy (as an adult) was inspirational as was all the work he then did to promote literacy. I love his Sounds of Language books. He was a real force for good in this world. I still feel his presence though he is no longer with us in person.
        Never give up, Jennie. We must keep trying in all we do to make this world a better place. Educating children (and their parents) has an important function and we never know how far one tiny ripple may reach. The world is a better place for your being in it.

      • Jennie says:

        How wonderful and inspiring to know about you hearing Bill Martin Jr. speak at a conference! I did not know he was such a force. I must learn more. Yes, never give up. That one ripple might make a big difference. Many thanks for your kind words, Norah. 🥰

      • Norah says:

        Bill Martin Jr was an inspiration to me. I was very sad at his passing. He had so much more to give. I used to sing his song “I am Freedom’s Child” with all my classes while it was still available on his website. I haven’t looked for a while now but it hadn’t been there the last few times I looked. It is in his big book of poetry (I think) but he’s not singing it, of course.

      • Jennie says:

        I must look for this song. Is it also a separate book? I love to sing books.

      • Norah says:

        Jennie, This search shows that it might be available as a book. on its own. You can also see some posters of the song on the page as well. I’m not sure if there are any recordings still available. I loved the way Bill sang it.

      • Jennie says:

        Thank you, Norah!

      • Norah says:

        You are welcome, Jennie.

  4. Darlene says:

    How clever. It’s amazing how a crisis can create new ideas and opportunities, or reinstate old tried and true methods! My daughter offered pottery lessons on the beach this summer which were very popular! When I was teaching ESL in Vancouver to Tibetan students, one sunny day I noticed they were restless (maybe homesick) so we packed up and went outside to a park and learned the English words for the trees, flowers, birds etc. Then they shared a Tibetan folktale with me. It was just the best day!

  5. The kids look so engrossed in what they’re doing, a sure sign that learning is taking place!

  6. quiall says:

    Children do not learn if they are not engaged. They will learn more and engage more while in a more conducive environment. Great Outdoors? vs Crowded Box?

  7. Dan Antion says:

    If only people would stop and think about what they know (that truly matters) and where they learned it. Nature can teach us so much. Keep up the good work, Jennie.

  8. I find it strange that parents don’t instinctively know that children learn from doing and being outside is a great learning experience. IT in young children is only for when there is nothing else for some reason. My children had no computers or cell phone until they were 4. They had limited TV too. They are both hard working and academic now.

    • Jennie says:

      Robbie, you are the ‘poster parent’ for children’s learning. No, parent’s don’t instinctively know this. That’s why I teach to the parents. The great outdoors has always been a classroom for learning for generations. Parents today of four-year-olds have their children on computers for hours. They don’t play with their children, and they don’t always read aloud to their children. While that is a blanket statement of a majority, there are many parents who are like you. Their children are hardworking and have a stronger, broader sense of the world. Thank you, Mother Nature, and thank you to parents like Robbie.

      • Thank you, Jennie. It is quite sad that people don’t know that TV and computers are bad for children and limiting too. It is wonderful for the parents of the children in your class that they have you to give them guidance. It is also lovely that they listen to you and learn.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, it is sad that parents don’t know. That was my biggest inspiration to start a blog, after writing many newsletters to parents over the years. I will never give up! Thank you for your kind words, Robbie.

  9. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you for another wonderful post!

  10. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is a wonderful post from the excellent teacher, Jennie!

  11. I love how you are bridging the gap between the expected learning process and the actual learning of children… children love to play, explore and create. being outside allows for all this and more. Glad you are making it work and finding the way back to the kinder-garden

  12. willedare says:

    Let us not overlook the DEEPLY crucial gift of connecting them with the natural world in an experiential and visceral way. Those trees breath out what we breath in and vice versa. We are all woven together here on planet earth in amazing (and I am sure many as-yet-un-documented) ways. these children are going to wrestling with unimaginable challenges (of when we are getting a horrible taste right now – when a pandemic overlaps with unprecedented forest fires which overlaps with long-needed social justice work which overlaps with multiple hurricanes which overlaps with an economic meltdown for millions (while others see their stock portfolios continue to rise…) during their precious life times. You are planting seeds of love and respect for the natural world which will serve all of us well in future days/months/years!

  13. I love this. Earthing is so important. We often forget how much we need to be in nature.

  14. Sharing… You’re right on track, Jennie! I miss our outdoor classrooms and highly recommend them regularly. Once a week, I would call the principals office to let the admin. know we were on the move. Involving and informing parents is a great way to extend learning and make memories that will last a lifetime! KUDOS!

  15. The exploration and story walk sound wonderful!

  16. beetleypete says:

    Learning in nature and fresh air cannot be beaten for youngsters. As always, you delivered the best kind of education for them, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  17. I think it would be fun to be in your class, Jennie.

  18. I loved this post so much I sent the link to my step granddaughter. She has 2 rambunctious school aged boys and a one year old daughter. She loved the post too and thanked me for sending the link. The link between has been broken for so long but I see repair on the way. She has been doing this kind of thing with her kids since she lost her job during this covid thing. She’s always looking for ways to teach and play at the same time. As it should be. Thanks for this.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you sent the link and gave your step granddaughter some ideas. You can pick my brain anytime, Marlene. So many books can lend themselves to outdoor activities or movement. She will know the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”. Read it outside and act-out each of the animals. Then, explore and find something outdoors that is the same color of each animal. Hope this helps! And, many thanks! 🙂

  19. petespringerauthor says:

    Look at those little faces, covered in masks. Yet, their eyes are full of wonder at being in the great outdoors—so many lessons to learn right in front of us if we allow the children to discover. I’ll bet they love their packs.

  20. Wonderful to have that outside play area Jennie, so important for children today who don’t have the same freedoms that I had 60 years ago, or live in a very built up area. We were lucky to have some safe grass areas in parks that we went to in groups for nature study and I remember going home ravenous and ready for bed… hugsx

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Even college students like to be outdoors. I taught across the street from Park BLocks and on nice days my students urged me to take them there. I often did.

  22. I agree with all my heart-and look at Finland! Play and discovery is so important-it is really necessary. Have you read any of Charlotte Mason? I love her ideas. I never worry that Lyla will not learn her abc’s-but i think poetry and art are as important-and bird feathers too!

  23. Ana Daksina says:

    This poet sayeth yea!

  24. Thats fantastic, Jennie! You always make the best out of it, and always with highest profession. Thank youfor sharing! Michael

  25. dgkaye says:

    Loved this. And how cute are those little ones with their masks ❤

  26. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – #Pre-School Nature is the Greatest Teacher for Children by Jennie Fitzkee | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  27. CarolCooks2 says:

    Oh, are the perfect teacher…I know it has been years since my kids were young but we never had a computer in the house or Tv’s and to this day we have one TV…in the lounge and that is it…for a few months now Lily accompanies her mummy on her foraging walks and its great to see how much she has learnt about plants and mushrooms … Thais are great foragers for mushrooms and we think it is important Lily knows her mushrooms …I love what you are doing as I am sure the kids do..long may it continue…be well and stay safe, Jennie 🙂 x

    • Jennie says:

      That is so kind, Carol. Thank you! As you know, what happens with children discovering nature is light years ahead of TV or computers. How wonderful that Lily accompanies her mummy on her foraging walks for mushrooms and nature walks. It’s real, exciting, and packed with learning. Best of all, children can touch and feel and observe. They can’t do that on TV or the computer.

      Today we went to the hill to sing and move. Children saw dandelions in seed. It was a wonderful discovery for children. Of course everything stopped, because this was so important. There’s much more to tell. Blog post soon!

  28. You’re amazing, Jennie. Those kids are so lucky to have you and such a wonderful bunch of teachers. The photos of those engaged students are so cute. They say it all. Loved this post.

  29. I love the idea of the StoryWalk – encouraging creativity and interest in nature at the same time. All schools should do this!

  30. Léa says:

    Jennie, as always a delight. I believe that Universities offering degrees in education should incorporate your work. Perhaps in columns over the semesters accompanied by videos of you talking/teaching… When I was young, I was never in a class that went outside except for recess, fire drills, or competitive sport which was usually baseball. Unfortunately, this did not improve as my own children went through school. These practices were not isolated to one town or one state but that is what I found from California to New York and a few states in between. You’ve done so much already and there must be a written and video trail that could be put together for the future teachers and only with proper compensation. Future generations will have much to thank you for.

  31. Diana says:

    So amazing. Great pics!!

  32. Hope all school adapt to this type of learning 😊👍

  33. spiritualfantasia says:

    It’s so cool for kids to go outside and have fun (loosen up), explore their curiosities, and discover new things! I’m in university now and wished very much that we also learned in nature!

  34. Hi there, I am doing a project for The National trust’s project Dynamic Dunescapes, if anyones interested please follow my blog! 🙂

  35. Nothing like learning from the main source- mother nature that a screen or book can’t replicate! Great blog ❤️

  36. lorraineanne says:

    great message and made some good points!
    hope to see progress in this aspect too and think your efforts would be worthwhile!

  37. Fabulous experiences for these little ones. I’m always thrilled to see kids exploring the out of doors – kudos to you and other educators who are helping this happen – before, during, and after Covid!

  38. cathkalcolor says:

    I was impressed by the story walk I saw by chance when my daughter and I visited Lake Placid to go hiking in late October. It was one of those things we would have never seen if not for a wrong turn. Also, a place where there were no people or very few. I was really impressed with it and I hope to encourage our hometown to put one of these up in our city park as it is quite large enough to accommodate such an undertaking.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you were able to stumble upon one! I have seen two others, and what a treat! Fingers crossed your hometown puts one up in the city park. Thank you!

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