We follow the seasons
In fall we find seeds dispersed by animals, wind, and water. We line up umbrella-tree leaves to measure our heights, and look for the furry covering of next year's flower buds.
In winter we spot cardinals, old bird nests, and icicles. We smell the witch-hazel blooms and skunk cabbage, watch the dance of light on snow, and scurry like squirrels.
In spring we mimic the woodpeckers, chipping away at a log's wet bark to find insects. We mark the seasons with song and dance; for example, in spring we move like croci:
Deep in the earth, in their dark winter beds,
"Someone is calling," the crocus said.
In colors bright, they quickly dress,
Lavender, purple, and gold of the best.
Then out in the grass they danced in a ring,
And called to the children, "Come, it is spring."
We Learn with Nature
There are three types of learning related to nature:
Learning in nature (doing a traditional classroom lesson outside)
Learning about nature (for example, learning about the parts of a flower)
Learning with nature (un-planned-for learning based on what nature presents and what the children show interest in)
While we use all three approaches, we primarily learn with nature. Our lesson plans flow organically from opportunities nature presents each day. Teachers support learning by asking questions such as: “What is that?”, “What is different today?”, “How do you think it got that way?”, What do you notice?”, “What do you think it is?” “What else could it be?” We align with Reggio Emilia in our belief that children are fully engaged when their own interests lead learning.
We Learn through Play
Research shows that play is essential for cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Play enhances self-regulation, empathy, and ability to concentrate.
Play in early childhood contributes to success in school and in life.
Germany provides as interesting case study:
In a wave of cognitive "reform" in the 1970s, most of the play-based kindergartens in Germany were changed into centers for cognitive achievement. However, research comparing 50 play-based classes with 50 early-learning centers found that by age ten the children who had played excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. They excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression and "industry." As a result of this study, German kindergartens returned to being play-based again. (citation)
We view academic skills as tools children need to further their own intellectual goals. Karen Katz, co-creator of The Project Approach, explains the difference between academic and intellectual goals:
While academic goals address small units of knowledge and skills, intellectual goals address dispositions or habits of mind that include a variety of tendencies to interpret experience. Intellectual dispositions include the dispositions to analyze, hypothesize, and synthesize, to predict and to check predictions, to strive for accuracy, to be empirical, grasp the consequences of actions, to persist in seeking problem solutions, to theorize about cause-effect relationships, to predict others’ wishes and feelings, and many others. (citation)
Our Learning Standards
BOPN combines high-quality practices in early childhood and environmental education by following the NAAEE Guidelines for Excellence in Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs. These standards emphasize child-directed learning, authentic experiences, making connections to previous experience, and culturally appropriate practice.
To guide our daily work, we use the “Standards and Indicators for Three- to Five-Year-Olds” from the book Lens on Outdoor Learning. These standards align with our focus on developing habits of mind:
Curiosity and Initiative
Engagement and Persistence
Imagination, Invention, and Creativity
Reasoning and Problem-solving
Risk-taking, Responsibility, and Confidence
Reflection, Interpretation, and Application
Flexibility and Resilience
Each standard has 3-5 observable behaviors that demonstrate the standard in action. We document each child's progress toward these standards. Developing initiative, persistence, creativity, and a capacity for problem solving are essential to future success in school and in life.
Risk and Safety in Nature
Children need risk because it helps them to develop good judgement, persistence, courage, resilience, and self-confidence. For example, balancing on a log helps children learn to assess risk and make informed judgements. To keep children safe we have a low 1:6 teacher-to-child ratio, yellow vests, and emergency shelters.