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  • Monday, November 21, 2022 8:34 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    As a hub for conversations among educators, ERAFANS has been approached by many of you asking for help finding alternative ways to acknowledge the Thanksgiving holiday in your classrooms and programs. While responding to this need, we begin this blog post with a blanket of apology: recognizing that we are in the very earliest stages of starting to address the harms done by a long global history of colonization, with ongoing oppression of BIPOC and other marginalized communities.

    We cannot hope to dismantle the legacy of such complex and often unacknowledged harm through a single post or holiday. We offer this blog as our best effort to simply begin to acknowledge and act against these wider and pervasive systems, by responding specifically to your request for support around the particular topic of Thanksgiving, as well as Native American Heritage Month.

    Beginning with Gratitude

    The practice of pausing to acknowledge what we’re feeling grateful for has long been common in many cultures around the world. As a core routine, this practice helps “bring hearts and minds together” at the beginning of the day, or when a group gathers, or before eating food together, etc.

    Within the nature connection movement, awareness of the Haudenosaunee practice of the Thanksgiving Address or Words Before All Else was shared by Jake Swamp,Tekaronianekon “Where Two Skies Come Together,” royaner (sub-chief) of the Wolf Clan, Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) from Ahkwesáhsne (across the New York/Ontario border), founder of the Tree of Peace Society and delegate to the United Nations, of whom many people say “The single most influential person I never met.” His wife Judy Swamp is a traditional elder of the Kanienʼkehá:ka who also mentored many nature connection programs, and one of their children, Skahendowaneh Swamp, is an installed speaker of the longhouse, educator, and traditional artist.

    Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message is a book by Jake Swamp suitable for young children. This is one Teacher’s Guide to go along with the book.

    Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World is a small booklet version by Jake Swamp and John Stokes available online in eleven different languages paired with Mohawk. It was produced by The Tracking Project together with the Tree of Peace Society, the Six Nations Indian Museum and the Native Self-Sufficiency Center; proceeds are shared among these groups.

    Skä•noñh - Great Law of Peace Center offers this video explanation of the Thanksgiving Address/Words Before All Else.

    This is a video of Jake Swamp speaking the Thanksgiving Address with Joanne Shenandoah’s music.

    Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of one school’s implementation of the Thanksgiving Address in their morning announcements in her book Braiding Sweetgrass (also available as an audiobook read by the author, and a new edition adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith. This was the first book of ERAFANS Nature Book Club series, which is open to new members.

    A simple group way to practice gratitude is to go around a circle of those gathered and invite each one present to say their name, then share something they’re feeling grateful for, in no hurry, then somehow signal when they are complete such as “thank you for listening to my words.” You might find a stone, feather, or stick to pass as an indication of taking a turn. Coyote mentors often include each person’s Nature Names, and reflect on aspects of nature in our current location and season we’ve noticed and appreciate. It’s wonderful for children to see adults model this pattern of speaking from the heart. Keep in mind that sharing should always be an open invitation and not a requirement. You may invite everyone to speak but remind them that silence or pass can be a way to share.

    Reciprocity as the Natural Extension of Gratitude

    Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, offers an insightful reflection on reciprocity and mutualism among all species

    Four Worlds International Institute - “Sixteen Indigenous Guiding Principles for Co-Creating a Sustainable, Harmonious, Prosperous World emerged from a 50-year process of reflection, consultation and action within Indigenous communities across the Americas. They are rooted in the concerns of hundreds of Indigenous Elders, Spiritual Leaders, and Community Members, as well as in the best thinking of many non- Indigenous scholars, researchers and human and community development practitioners.”

    This article explains some of the ways in which many indigenous languages reflect a non-dominant way of relating to the world: 

    With these in mind, you might find inspiration for practices with the children to engage in small acts of gratitude for and reciprocity with the plants, trees, animals, birds, and water-dwelling creatures near you, whether that’s caregiving in a physical way, and/or offering a song or dance to those species, or telling one another stories about them.

    This post is part one of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at

  • Monday, November 21, 2022 8:10 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Deepening Our Awareness of Local Indigenous Cultures and History, Avoiding the “Ethnographic Present,” and Initiating Indigenous Connections Here and Now

    In our language and visual imagery, it is important to avoid speaking or presenting Indigenous peoples as if they only existed in the past, or as if they continue to exist in ways that were true long ago. Whether considering a story, worksheet, video, or other educational materials, it is good practice to keep an eye and ear out for such representation.

    As a rule, avoid depictions and activities related to generic “historical” “Indian” clothing, shelters, household goods, hunting and gathering methods, etc., unless you are presenting a history lesson and being specific to the people, place, and timeframe. Saying Native Americans/Indians or even a particular tribe “live close to nature” or “Native Americans used a talking stick” are examples of speaking in the present or past verb tense to overgeneralize inappropriately.

    One practice many outdoor and nature connection programs have begun is to recognize the local Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have been among those to tend the lands and waters of that area. Mindfulness around concepts of “ownership” vs “caregiving” and “tending the place” might be helpful cultural considerations.

    This online map is an excellent way to begin to explore the Indigenous connections where you are.

    You can also begin to look into what the Indigenous language names are for places, land features, water, and various species such as plants, animals, trees local to where you are. is a search engine that plants trees, and there are a number of online resources related to Indigenous languages you can explore on the internet.

    One placename to start with could be to mention “Turtle Island” as an alternative name for “North America,” and share a local version of a story how Turtle Island came to be, if it applies where you are (not all indigenous cultures of North America share this name for the continent).

    When looking to connect with local Indigenous people, consider deepening an existing connection - or reach out to a cultural center or other organization whose mission includes connecting with the general public. Inquire about the best first steps toward creating a long-term relationship with Indigenous mentors who have chosen to be point persons of intercultural connection.

    One way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is the 35-mile Walk and Learn Challenge presented by the American Indian College Fund. This is a fun and educational way to combine what you already do – exploring nature outdoors with children – while advocating for Native American communities. Registrants get access to weekly “Learn” segments that help deepen your knowledge of Native students, their culture, and their communities. You can join the Facebook Group and engage with fellow challenge members by sharing pictures and/or thoughts about where your walks have led you. Once you join the challenge, you can ask your community to donate in support of the American Indian College Fund.

    Harvest Celebrations & Honoring the Ancestors

    Coming together at the end of the growing season to celebrate the harvest is a common practice in many cultures around the world. In Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, this is linked to the West direction: a time to gather and celebrate. It is also a time to “catch one anothers’ stories,” a practice we feature in an ERAFANS webinar, related to the core routine called “Story of the Day” in Coyote’s Guide.

    We now know that the familiar story of the “Pilgrims and Indians” coming together for such a celebration is historical fiction. Yet we can still find ways in integrity with our own heritage and the practices that emerge naturally from a relationship with our food sources, our local place, and our ancestors.

    At this time of year, consider holding some form of Ancestor / Harvest Supper, Feast, or Celebration for the families of your students, or the wider community. Here are a few ideas from regenerative culture design mentors Honey Sweet Harmony:

    Create a large basket or paper mache cornucopia / horn of plenty for your class/community. Invite each person to contribute one small item that symbolizes something for which they are feeling grateful from the past year. Then either in an extended time together, or over multiple circle times, take out 1 item at a time to return to that person, and invite those who wish to take a turn sharing what their item is and how it represents their gratitude. These shares can be about something very specific or something very broad, whatever comes from the heart.

    Invite families to send in photos or other items that remind them of those who have gone before, and create an artistic Honoring Our Ancestors display in the (indoor or outdoor) classroom space. Fabric, shells, sticks, leaves, nuts, bones, feathers, and anything else the participants gather with consent from and gratitude to nature can add to the decorations. Candles can be a beautiful addition if age-appropriate. Make sure the personal items are name-labeled and appropriate to have exposed to the hazards of weather and handling.

    Hold a community/class Ancestor Feast in which food from the participants’ ancestral heritage, or food loved by someone dear who has died, is shared with everyone, and an Ancestor plate is given a dollop of each dish. Create an Ancestor Chair decorated with special items from nature, and a Storytellers Chair for anyone who wishes to sit and tell a story about the food and ancestor before passing it around for those who'd like to sample. It's important to ask that the recipe for each dish be written up and provided, to allow for any dietary restrictions. Songs, music and dancing also add to the whole experience.

    Coming together to weave community connection in gratitude, food and story sharing is a beautiful practice. As with the familiar but imaginary story of “The First Thanksgiving,” harvest and ancestor celebrations can have profound effects, especially for a community that might feel fragmented in some ways.

    This post is part two of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at

  • Monday, November 21, 2022 8:01 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Songs of Ancestors: a selection from the Honey Sweet Harmony Song Grove


    Roots: From the album The Wild Fears We Tame by Mica Whitney and Graham Remocaldo of Swamp Trees in Richmond, VA. They are singer/songwriters and farmers.

    All of my ancestors live within me (lead/soloist then repeats “within me” 2 more times, while group starts to repeat “within me, within me...” until the next repeat phrase beings)

    Within me I can feel a spirit rising (“rising” follows same repetition pattern)

    Rising up above to where the birds sing (“the birds sing”)

    The birds sing their songs to the stars at night (“at night”)

    At night I dream with all of my ancestors (“my ancestors”)

    And all of my ancestors live within me…

    (continue to repeat)

    Ancestor Sky People (also heard here)

    Roots: Originally a “Dance for Universal Peace” with lyrics by Mischa Saez, Art Director at Camp Sunburst for children and families with HIV/AIDS in the early 90s, with music by Harmony Grisman and movements by Sharee Anderson.

    Ancestor Sky People all here today

    Hear our Heart song

    Hear our Respect

    Hear our Love

    Hear our grateful tears fall

    We are truly blessed (oo - oo),

    We are truly blessed (oo - oo),

    We are truly blessed.

    Mahk Jchi

    Teaching version

    Roots: Composed by and copyright Pura Fé and Soni of Ulali, a haunting song written by the Native American women’s group Ulali. The song is in a compilation of Tutelo and Saponi languages, now extinct dialects of the Sioux nation from the Ohio Valley. There is a commonly mistaken translation of this song widely circulated on the internet but the translation below has been confirmed by the artist. This song takes an investment in learning and is more complex for choral, oral-tradition learning, but do-able and worth it with older children, teens and adults. You could teach some of the simpler lines to sing with younger children, and enjoy dancing while listening to the rest.

    Mahk Jchi tahm boo-ee

    yahm pi-gih-dee

    Mahk Jchi tahm boo-ee

    kahn speh-wah eh-bi (x2)

    Mahm-pi wah ho-ka yi nonk,

    tah hond tah-ni kih-yee tai-yee

    Ghee weh meh yee-tai-yee,

    Nan-ka yaht yah moo-ni-yeh wah-jhi-seh

    English translation:

    Our hearts are full and our minds are good

    Our ancestors come and give us strength

    Stand tall, sing, dance and never forget who you are

    Or where you come from

    Voices of the Ancestors

    Roots: by Sandy Vaughn of Tonasket, Okanogan Highlands, WA, with words transformed and added by the folk process of oral tradition. Original by Sandy.

    Listen to the voices of the ancestors calling

    Listen to the voices of the ancestors calling

    They say wake up, wake up

    Listen, listen.

    May the waters all run clear,

    May the mountains be/go unspoiled,

    May the air be clean,

    May the trees grow tall,

    May the Earth be shared by all.

    Indigenous Foodways

    There is increasing support for North American Indigenous foodways among people of indigenous ancestry and non-BIPOC allies. More than simply offering a few stereotypical recipes, such efforts aim to cultivate a deeper understanding of the present conditions, historical journey, and local cultural associations of various foods. This includes practices for tending, harvesting, and preparing for meals. Here are some folks that are engaged in this work:

    North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems FB Page

    The Souix Chef: Revitalizing Native American Cuisine FB Page

    Indigenous Food Lab FB Page

    Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance - NAFSA FB Page

    Nourish Leadership #FoodisOurMedicine @nourishhealthcare

    On Indigeneity

    As you consider how to approach Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month with children, the interview below might help inform your adult perspective on mutual belonging with a place. It may also help guide you in ways to express gratitude. Together, these understandings may provide a deeper experience and connection to the present place and people where you teach/mentor.

    “Pat McCabe, also known as Woman Stands Shining, is a Diné (Navajo) mother, grandmother, activist, artist, writer, ceremonial leader and international speaker. The discussion focuses on the question of what it is to be Indigenous, and how those of us in the West can reclaim a sense of our own indigeneity.”

    Some additional resources

    7 Thanksgiving Books for Kids Written From the Native Perspective By Cool Mom Picks

    A collection of culturally and historically accurate Thanksgiving coloring pages for children resources

    A racial justice guide to thanksgiving for educators & families

    “Teaching the real story of the first thanksgiving”

    Some Native American perspectives on thanksgiving (National Museum of the American Indian)

    Supporting Native Indian Preschoolers and Their Families

    Some additional resources specifically for young children

    Teaching about Native Americans in Preschool and Kindergarten: Do’s and Don’ts

    Native American Preschool Activity Teaching Resources

    Books for Preschoolers by Native American Authors

    While this guide is far from exhaustive, we hope it gives you some useful stepping stones. We encourage you to continue your own research and come to decisions based on the children and wider context in which you share your Thanksgiving and Native American activities and conversations.

    This post is part three of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at

  • Wednesday, March 09, 2022 2:07 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Schlese Castilla

    maggie and milly and molly and may / went down to the beach (to play one day)
    –ee cummings 

    In the United States, renewed interest in outdoor learning is flourishing as more parents and educators embrace a daring possibility: the natural world can be a remarkable classroom. While outdoor learning isn’t a new phenomenon, existing models of education and childcare that center nature continue to inspire parents and educators in the United States.  

    The benefits of outdoor learning are well documented, but the terminology used to describe the various educational experiences providing such wonderful benefits can sometimes be confusing. The following brief guide is meant to clarify important terminology about the educational experiences outdoor learning can offer, with two important caveats: 

    1. Terminology usage about outdoor learning isn’t universal or consistently applied. As a result, you may find some schools use the same terms in different ways (or even use different terms interchangeably). The language of outdoor learning can vary from school  to school, locality to locality, and state to state. Keep in mind: in some instances, there are  real differences in the educational experiences outdoor learning programs offer. Always take time to familiarize yourself with the specifics of a program you’re interested in.  

    2. Whatever the educational experience, outdoor learning focuses on a diverse set of  activities that use nature as a tool for open-ended learning and play that also promotes  physical, cognitive, socio-emotional, spiritual development and wellness. Nature, from  that vantage point, can be an immersive classroom for the potential study of all subjects.  

    Let’s Get Started: Defining Basic Terms 

    Forest Days and Nature Days

    Designed for students of all ages, public and private schools maintain Forest Days or Nature Days through weekly, purposeful encounters with nature on their school grounds or nearby green space. Forest Days and Nature Days usually exist as part of a traditional student learning experience.  

    Forest School 

    Forest school education takes place daily and exclusively in nature. Students attend school outdoors, even when there are seasonal and weather changes. In other words, students enrolled in forest schools do not use indoor classrooms (unless they need to shelter in extreme weather). Although the term “forest school” suggests the setting for learning should occur in a wooded area, this is not a hard and fast rule. 

    The term “forest school” is also the name of the learning theory that proposes how children in forest schools learn in nature: through self-directed unstructured play, self-directed hands-on experiential learning, safe opportunities for risk-taking, and instructional material provided by the natural setting of the school grounds or nearby green space. A forest school experience is also designed to build strong, one-on-one connections between teachers and each child. It is a living laboratory dedicated to the unique needs and strengths of each child.  Forest schools follow a learner-led curriculum, though some may incorporate traditional curriculum or learning standards. In both instances, the natural world is a springboard allowing students to experience social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive growth.  

    Note: The Forest School movement emerged in 1993 inspired by long-standing traditions of outdoor learning across Europe and the UK. The Forest School Association offers specific guidance around this experiential outdoor learning model.

    Nature-based Education 

    Nature-based education (NBE) is a learning process that utilizes nature as a the basis for all learning. Nature is the object of study and is the learning environment. Materials and approaches are all focused on nurturing deeper connections with nature. NBE gives children an opportunity to experience nature as a doorway that facilitates learning while promoting a sense of responsibility for the environment and a sense of place in the natural world. Children attending nature-based programs generally spend up to 50% of their learning time outside (though it certainly can be 100%!). Outdoor learning may be in concert with traditional, indoor schooling in a classroom. There is an astounding range of NBE formats and settings, so one size does not fit all! The term nature-based education is a general umbrella term describing a wide range of learning experiences that take place in, with, or about nature.   

    Nature Preschool 

    Typically, nature-based preschools are licensed early childhood education programs for children ages 3-5. Most experts agree on these characteristics that define nature preschools: about 50% of each class is spent outdoors (sometimes more or less), learning is centered on nature themes and environmental literacy, and nature is infused into indoor classroom spaces as well.  Nature preschools provide space for early childhood development while helping children build an environmentally conscious identity.  Because they are usually licensed programs, there may be more emphasis on academic components of curriculum.

    Place-based Education

    Place-based education engages and introduces children to their local community and environment in order to teach a variety of subjects. Place-based education helps children forge deeper connections with and between the people and places that make up their community. It encourages an appreciation of the natural world with a focus on community, service, and local civic engagement. Place-based learning can occur in any environment, and has gained popularity because it allows students in urban settings to connect and learn in green spaces while developing their cognitive and socio-emotional skills.  

    Outdoor Preschool  

    Outdoor preschool is a broad term acknowledging the reality that immersive  early childhood education nature programs do not have to take place in a forest. Outdoor preschools, in fact, can have a home-base at beaches, farms, parks, and deserts. Outdoor preschools are usually immersive, meaning they are outdoors 100% of the time, except to seek shelter during severe weather or emergencies.

    Urban Forest and Nature Programs 

    Urban forest and nature programs demonstrate that nature is all around–and often closer and more convenient than a car ride to green space. Some urban forest and nature programs are situated in city parks. Other programs have creative ways of connecting with nature (gardens, urban farms, beekeeping, etc.) and bring the immediacy of nature to a child’s fingertips and imagination. Like place-based learning, urban forest and nature programs connect young learners from all socio-economic backgrounds to the wonder of nature in urban communities as they develop a respect for the environment and build a rich reservoir of cognitive and socio-emotional skills. 

    The Road Ahead 

    Already an inclusive educational phenomenon, as more students begin their outdoor learning journey,  programs that are responsive and intelligently meeting the realities of student diversity (economic  background, disability, language, race, LGBTQI+) are appearing on the horizon, too. To date, the number of forest and nature schools continues to grow. In 2021, the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools offered professional development to teachers in all 50 states and 11 countries! Such unprecedented demand for nature-based teacher training may indicate a promising shift in how we think about learning and play.  

    Spotlight on Lingelbach Elementary School Forest Days Program, Philadelphia, PA  

    Written by: Susan Chlebowski and Brianne Good  

    Imagine for a moment you are standing beside a brook after a long rain. The energy of that water is near to overflowing the banks, and anything in its path gets swept hurriedly down stream. This is the experience we have weekly with students at a public school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as they pour from their classroom to our outdoor space on the school grounds. Each week, we spend two hours outdoors with a group of kindergarten or first grade students on their wooded, yet urban school campus, providing nearly 100 children with regular outdoor learning opportunities.

    What have we noticed? These are highlights of what we are learning the children need from Forest Days:  

    F - freedom. The children crave freedom of choice, freedom of movement, and freedom to be themselves. This freedom shows up in their exuberant love of exploration, discovery, tree climbing and creative self-expression in our outdoor art areas.  

    O - outdoors. When outdoors, many of the children seem completely different. Quiet becomes loud, bold becomes shy, and outcast becomes friend. It is all welcome, and celebrated.  

    R - routine. We carry the same simple routine with us from week to week, and the children know and love that familiarity.  

    E - empathy. We are building empathy among the children, between the children and living creatures, and between the children and the earth.  

    S - safety. We hold a safe space for the children to learn, ask questions, and feel feelings.  

    T - time. Perhaps one of the most important pieces of the Forest Days model is simply the gift of time we give children to play, learn, wonder, explore, and be.

  • Tuesday, December 21, 2021 2:51 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    On this, the shortest day of the year, we welcome the return of the light. Autumn officially turns to winter today, December 21.  In winter (and in all seasons), forest and nature schools participate in experiences that honor and respect nature. During the Yuletide season, we revel in all that winter heralds and find ways to beckon back the light. Indigenous and global traditions vary widely, but the ideas below may help inspire new traditions in your forest school community.

    Yule Logs
    Use plentiful fire wood and evergreens such as pine, juniper, holly, cedar, or fir boughs to create a yule log to burn during the solstice. You can also bundle up cinnamon sticks, star anise, and dried fruit (such as oranges or apples) for a festive, fragrant touch. Some people opt to create a yule log that contains a candle or battery-operated votive to make a beautiful centerpiece instead of a log to burn in the fire.

    Solstice Spiral
    The concept of the solstice spiral is to provide a reflective place to consider the everchanging cycles of light and dark that rule our seasons. The spiral also represents how people can find and spread light among community, despite dark times.

    Spirals can be made of branches, evergreens, pine cones, berries, etc. Generally it is a large-scale outdoor spiral with a path that is big enough to walk into the center. Many forest schools host an evening Winter Solstice event where children walk into the spiral with a lit candle, which may be contained in a hollow orange or apple. Children walk into the spiral and place their candles in the center and/or along the path of the spiral. As more children walk into the spiral, the light grows.

    If you lack an outdoor space for a spiral, another option is to create smaller evergreen solstice spirals that can be part of the children's loose parts play. Miniature spirals can be created on mirrors, small trays, or tree rounds, or anything similar and offered as invitations for play.

    Ice Lanterns & Ornaments
    Check out this Ice Lantern document for instructions if you'd like to give these beauties a try. There are several variations and if you prefer to make an ice ornament, you can use muffin tins along with string or ribbon for outdoor hanging.

    Outdoor Garlands (for the Birds)
    Spread vegetable shortening over pine cones, magnolia pods, or other seed pods and roll into bird seed, then tie onto a 3-4 foot length of twine. From here, string cranberries, dried orange slices, popcorn, figs, etc. onto the twine. Tie on evergreen clippings as desired to make a festive garland that the birds will thank you for. These may decorate your outdoor classroom or children may prefer to take them home.

    Harvest Food & Treats
    There are SO MANY treats you can roast over a fire to celebrate the season! Consider roasting apples or pears with oats and cinnamon. Savory root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or sweet potatoes with rosemary and thyme are also fun to cook in a Dutch oven. Bread dough or pre-made pizza or crescent roll doll can be wrapped around branches for roasting (we call it 'snake bread'). Or you can try your hand at roasting chestnuts on an open fire, which smell amazing and are delicious, as the song suggests. Brew cider with mulling spices for a warm drink.

    Books about the Winter Solstice
    Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Pak
    Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
    The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
    The First Day of Winter by Denise Flemming
    The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
    The Shortest Day:  Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch
    The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren
    The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis

    Find more inspiration for nature-based activities and nature-based books on However you choose to welcome winter, we wish you a joyful Yuletide season!

  • Tuesday, December 08, 2020 8:47 AM | Deleted user

    By: Laura Nicolas, and Sologna Nature and Culture

    Nature-Based Learning, Outdoor Learning, Outdoor Education, Forest School Education…the English speaking world offers rich examples of nature-based educational trends ! What about France?


    A progressive shift from traditional French teaching pedagogies

    As a French educator and researcher, I cannot find here, in France, any equivalent of the materials created by my British and North American colleagues. Nevertheless, several recent books have been written in French in the last five years that address these topics, some which include:

    • "Emmenez les enfants dehors" (“Bring Children Outside!), Crystèle Ferjou, 2020

    • L'école à ciel ouvert” (“The Open-air School”), SILVIVA, 2019

    • “L'enfant dans la nature” (“The Child in Nature”), Matthieu Chéreau et Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne, 2019

    • Tous dehors en Forêt” (“Everyone Outside in the Forest!”), Patrick Luneau, 2018

    • “A Guide to Open-Air Schools” (Eco-Conseil), 2018

    • “Let Them Climb Trees” (Louis Espinassou), 2010

    • “Children in the Woods” (Sarah Wauquiez), 2008

    Undoubtedly, these books announce a real shift in French national educational trends with two major dimensions :

    • Taking kids outside. French society, and more precisely, the French national educational system, is far from having the same level of concern for outside education compared to Canada, the USA, or even its closest European neighbors such as England, Germany, and Switzerland. It is true that since the beginning of the 19th century, France has inherited a European tradition of summer camps and school study trips. (The ‘summer camp’ phenomena actually expanded at the beginning of the 20th century to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.) But those activities are considered additional and recreational. They are not – or not totally – considered part of the educational process. That is to say that these outdoor pursuits are not viewed as part of a serious academic education, the one where you study inside a building, seated in a chair. Children in many French schools actually remain sitting and silent for hours during the days. They take recreational breaks in the schoolyard where, most of the time, there is no vegetation. And sport is being taught inside a gymnasium.


    • Teaching differently. France has a long tradition of educational movements such as the socalled “new pedagogies” or “alternative pedagogies” (EX. Montessori or Freinet). But it seems that there is a huge gap between those private (and expensive!) schools and the public school system. Even if the approaches invented by Montessori teachers are used more and more by teachers and parents, the educational system itself does not change. 

    • From my perspective, the most common way of teaching remains the following: teacher explains or shows the things to learn or do, and then asks students to learn or do it. Even if feedback practices and socio-constructivist attitudes are far more common now than ever, very little has changed in approaches to French instruction since the end of the 19th century. This way of teaching and learning is rooted in the historical tradition of seeing the world through an intellectual prism only.

    The nature-based education movement is moving forward regarding both of these two specific aspects. Through the books I mentioned before and through several initiatives started by teachers in French schools, change is now happening. Today, we can describe the movement as following :

    • Increasing media coverage: more and more media outlets (blogs, websites, podcast channels and TV channels) are addressing the nature-based education movement;

    • Strong support from foundations such as Fondation Nature et Découvertes which supported the creation of hundreds of forest schools projects the past ten years;

    • The recent creation of a network aimed at promoting nature-based teacher training, not only through a private programs but also through public education;

    • The exponential growth of nature-based education initiatives everywhere on the French territory.


    Forest Schools, the French Way

    Most French proponents of nature-based learning find inspiration in the British model of Forest schools, since many can attend training offered in the United Kingdom by British experts in the field. I must say that the focus that has been made by the French government and in the media most recently is on the preservation of forested environments in France. French educators have become increasingly interested in the concept of Forest school as a result. The Scandinavian model is also renowned in France. Still fewer educators get inspiration from other models, such as Adventure Education. This is largely because many educational models are not translated into French language

    What Does This Mean for French Forest Schools in Practice?

    Most forest schools have been created by individual associations that have private status. 90% of them do not have full-time school enrollment. They typically offer parents the possibility to come with their kids to spend time in a forest. This place is dedicated to pedagogical activities, most of them related to environmental education (getting to know trees, plants and animals, etc.).

    A few forest schools (less than a dozen) are full-time schools where children spend all their time outside where they learn math, languages, sciences, etc. in the forest. Those schools usually are what we call “under State contract”, which means that they follow the national educational curriculum. [In the United States, this is akin to “State-licensed” schools.]

    A significant number of public school teachers take their class outside or design the schoolyard to carry out typical activities of outdoor education: manipulating natural elements, playing with loose parts, learning how to count or write using pieces of woods or stones, creating art pieces with those elements, etc. 

    For more details about the geographic locations of French Nature-based Learning Initiatives, see the Réseau Pédagogie par la Nature map here.

     I’m currently addressing the problem of the lack of translation from English to French languages by offering translations of English written materials to French, on the website Ma Petite Forêt.


    This variety of places, processes, and status combines with another kind of variety: the pedagogical differences in implementation. Indeed, outdoor education is what educators decide to make of it! Here are some ways French educators undertake outdoor activities :

    • Some teachers take children outside to play. They only carry out unstructured play. This means that there is no pedagogical program. It does not mean, of course, that there is no learning. But learning is not focused on a specific subject nor evaluated by teachers.

    • Some teachers consider the outside world as THE place to experiment with art and creativity. They use the environment as a dedicated place for all creative activities, but will not experiment with other subjects or learning outside.

    • Some teachers only lead environmental or science-based activities outside such as discovering trees, plants and animals ; learning about environmental issues, etc.

    • Some teachers take children outside and reproduce what they do inside the classroom. They have kids sit down around them and carry out a reading activity, for instance.

    • Some teachers carry out what we call “activités didactiques”, which means that they bring children to learn specific skills and knowledge (according to the children’s ages and profiles) corresponding to national program [curriculum standards]. They may include unstructured play and other typical activities from outdoor education, but always keep the program [required curriculum standards] in mind.

    The beauty of this young movement, nature-based education, in the French context is that it is deeply engaging and motivating. Educators and parents are enthusiastically inventing, experimenting, and learning each time they take kids outside. The current lack of structured initiatives previously described should not intimidate those who are interested in this kind of pedagogy. More structured approaches may happen in the following years. It will surely happen when teacher training is put in place. 

    As French nature-based learning initiatives take hold, my hope is for a future where teachers will :

    • stay in touch and aware of what is happening at home and abroad in this movement,

    • keep learning and remain enthusiastic about the wonderful benefits of nature-based education,

    • not confuse needed organization of nature-based schooling initiatives with a complete homogenization or standardization of forest schooling, which would lead to less autonomy and less inspiration for daily outdoor learning.

    Laura Nicolas is a teacher, an educator and a university lecturer at Paris Est Créteil University. She also founded the association Sologna Nature et Culture which aims to support outdoor education. She is also the founder of Ma Petite Forêt dedicated to nature-based education in France.

  • Wednesday, November 25, 2020 1:12 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    There are many ways to express gratitude, and gratitude routines are at the heart of forest and nature school programs. Try this LovingKindness Meditation (temp).pdf with children you love. It is a calming, gentle way to focus positive energy towards others. Teachers, parents, and children alike will enjoy sharing lovingkindess as part of their mindful practice, which encourages feelings of gratitude, compassion, and empathy.

  • Friday, October 16, 2020 8:11 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Kai Dickinson, Ellis Hollow Nursery School

    I have always been drawn to outdoor learning where the natural world invites children to experience serendipitous and endless child centered play. I was one of those children; catching frogs while muddying up long dresses, sticky summer days splashing in Skaneateles Lake, picking  grapes that exploded sweetness from the ripe fall sun. I was that child in the dead winter freeze who never wanted to come in for supper because I was too busy catching a feast of snowflakes on my tongue. Today the nature deficit saddens me; where are our forests, our neighborhoods, our right to play? The children have gone inside.

    As a teacher of young children I wanted to give my preschoolers the experience of immersive outdoor play, not just a half an hour at the end of each session. Every Wednesday in our five day a week, three hours a day preschool we would be outside in the elements: the sun, rain, snow and sleet. We name it “Wild Weather Wednesday.” It was a commitment and perhaps a distant longing. It was a process, my co-teacher and I waded through being in charge of sixteen little souls. How do we keep our sign in sheet dry, the kids warm, how do we pack up snacks, water and a million incidentals? Learn by doing, trial by error, good days and days built by grit, for us and the children. 

    Somehow we endured and our days outside became more meaningful than our days between four walls. Our learning was rich and our senses sharpened. Individual bodies, too small to carry giant logs alone, discovered independently they could roll them together to their delight. The children discovered how to build bridges, forts and how to make logs into seesaws. We saw life cycles, gravity and yes, cause and effect. Children and nature lead the learning while we observe their mighty minds.

    Our class was gelled by the time the sugar bush whispered through the trees, “run sap run!” The great manifestation: the running sugars sustain us. We experienced cooperation, problem solving, and the use of our bodies in ways we didn't think possible. We were enamored by nature and each other.

    A slip on the ice walking my family’s beloved fifteen year old labradoodle sent me away from bliss to surgery. Six screws and a steel plate in my left wrist and months of recovery to go. When I returned to the classroom, humbled, and broken, COVID-19 swept through our streets, cities and communities. Now under the Governor's order it was time to shut down, into silence, isolation and the unknown. Depressed, discouraged, trudging through. Pulling myself up by proverbial bootstraps, I needed to continue with these young connections, made now by a virtual world, far, far away from the woods.

    What were we going to do? Then my steadfast friend and co-teacher, stumbled upon the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. Could we afford it? Did we have the right credentials to be included? Was it the right fit for us and our program? Could we possibly turn everyday into Wild Weather Wednesday in a New York snow belt? Could the woods be our sanctuary while we waited COVID-19 out? It seemed daunting, but safer and healthier for us all. 

    I began my summer of isolation, online, enrolled in a nature education program. Counter intuitive, I know! Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools however, restored me, and helped me to remember who I once was and who I still am! ERAFANS gave me not only practical skills and a plethora of resources, it also gave me a community of like minded mentors and colleagues. Someone at ERAFANS said to us, “Once you go entirely out, you’ll never want to go back in!” I feel this now with my young students. The plan to become an outdoor school during COVID-19 may have just been the impetus to to leave our four walls behind. Being part of ERARANS gave me the validation and tools to do so.

    It is September now, and here in New York the maples are starting to drip with red,  the ganders of geese bid their farewell, and the spotted salamander blankets himself with leaves. The children run smiling and giggling bundled in polypropylene and wool, school has resumed. Already, after a couple weeks of school I am experiencing the great joy and freedom the children are experiencing. At our closing gratitude circle a young girl spoke “I’m sad we have Covid in the world but I'm grateful I get to be in the woods with other kids!” Another child spoke, “I am grateful for the trees, because now I know how much they do for us.” The curiosity and the learning is strong. To others the children may look like they are “just playing.” but I know it is so much more.

    Over the years, I have worked in all kinds of classrooms with different philosophies and teaching styles. In teacher directed environments I have found children can resort to an array of behaviors. I have witnessed disinterest, lack of focus, boredom, restlessness and even aggression. Emergent nature based curriculum on the other hand is patient, observant, communicative, collaborative and kind. It embodies seeing the world though the child's eyes and embracing their vision. 

    Children are self motivated by their own curiosity and then learning happens through playful exploration and expression. As a teacher it entails a keen mind and a creative connection to expand their interest. This kind of learning can be a moment during the day like, allowing a child to trail blaze up a hill of bramble, leading the way with confidence or other times it takes flight; a small bug, manifests into songs, plays, costumes, stories, and an entomologist gracing us with stick bugs, honey bees and praying mantises. 

    Emergent, nature-based curriculum is spontaneous, serendipitous, and resourceful. A joyful innocent learning that is gently cradled in a teachers arms. My “job” continues to cultivate the fertile soil of the minds and hearts of children. I hope to pass along the generational seeds of kindness, empathy and stewardship for each other and for our beloved Earth. I welcome this great responsibility and hope it withstands the test of time. I have found I am not alone. I have met many new friends among this path; sharing tools, sustenance and wisdom. I am hopeful that our toil and love will take root.

    Kai Dickinson is a co-teacher at Ellis Hollow Nursery School in Ithaca, NY. She currently holds a level 1 Nature-Based Teacher Certification with the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. 

  • Wednesday, April 08, 2020 5:27 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    It's an oxymoron if ever there was one. But in this moment of social distancing and online learning, nature-based educators are grappling with how to approach virtual learning for (gulp) preschoolers. It may be counter-intuitive, but there are a few things we can do to make this temporary transition a little smoother. After much dialogue with nature-based educators and directors across the country, we've developed a 3-part Framework for Nature-Based Distance Learning that just may help you navigate these digital waters. 

  • Thursday, March 26, 2020 10:09 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Despite the coronavirus and all its ugly repurcussions, spring is here. The Earth's generous spirit calls us to slow down and reconnect with her. With so much time in our quartined communities, the outdoors is a new kind of solace for us all. 

    Here we share two simple, fun ways to get outside and celebrate spring! The first is a mud paint recipe. Children may gather mud and play with it before, during, and after the mud paint is done! It's a wonderful for experimentation, both when making the paint and when selecting materials that you can use as paintbrushes (EX. paintbrushes, sticks, or pine needles). You'll get different results depending on the surfaces you paint on, too. 

    The second is a recipe that calls for a bowl of sunshine. Or, at least those happy, sunshiny forsythia blooms. This forsythia spring syrup is easy to make and requires lots of lolligagging outside to gather blossoms. Make sure you know what forsythia is before you forage and collect more than you need. In addition to syrup, you can also use the golden decotion as watercolor paint.

    There's no way we can wish away the challenges we are faced with at the moment, but we hope these resources offer nature connection and meaningful family time when you desperately need a breath of fresh air.


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