Early Childhood Education

Nature-based Learning In Early Childhood: Benefits, Activities, And Stewardship

Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood is an approach that emphasizes the importance of incorporating nature and outdoor experiences into the education of young children. At Kienhoc, we believe that exposing children to the wonders of the natural world can have a profound impact on their overall development. In this article, we will explore the benefits of nature-based learning, discuss how to integrate nature into the early childhood curriculum, and highlight various engaging outdoor activities for young learners. By fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity in nature from an early age, we aim to cultivate environmental stewardship and promote holistic growth in children.

Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood: Benefits, Activities, and Stewardship
Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood: Benefits, Activities, and Stewardship
Key Takeaways
Benefits of nature-based learning Incorporating nature into the curriculum
Engaging children through outdoor activities Cultivating a sense of wonder and curiosity in nature
Developing environmental stewardship from an early age Fostering holistic development through nature-based education

The Benefits of Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood

Enhanced Cognitive Development

Engaging in nature-based learning activities during early childhood provides numerous benefits for cognitive development. Spending time outdoors and exploring the natural environment stimulates children’s curiosity and encourages them to ask questions, make observations, and solve problems. Research has shown that exposure to nature enhances cognitive abilities such as attention span, problem-solving skills, and creativity. For example, when kids engage in activities like identifying different types of plants or tracking animal footprints, they develop critical thinking skills and learn valuable information about the world around them.

Improved Physical Health and Well-being

Nature-based learning promotes physical activity and contributes to the overall well-being of young children. Spending time outdoors exposes children to fresh air and provides opportunities for them to engage in active play. Activities such as running, climbing, and exploring nature trails help children develop important motor skills, coordination, and balance. Additionally, exposure to natural sunlight supports the production of Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bone development. Research also suggests that being in nature can reduce stress and improve mood, leading to a greater sense of happiness and overall well-being.

Enhanced Social and Emotional Development

Nature-based learning offers a rich environment for children to develop their social and emotional skills. When kids engage in nature play, they often collaborate with peers, negotiate roles, and communicate their ideas. This fosters teamwork, cooperation, and the development of social relationships. Nature also provides a calming and therapeutic environment, allowing children to regulate their emotions and develop self-awareness. For example, when children observe the changes in nature throughout the seasons, they learn to recognize and appreciate the beauty of the world, which can promote a sense of awe, gratitude, and emotional resilience.

The Benefits of Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood
The Benefits of Nature-Based Learning in Early Childhood

Incorporating Nature into the Early Childhood Curriculum

1. Outdoor Exploration and Discovery

One way to incorporate nature into the early childhood curriculum is through outdoor exploration and discovery. Taking children outside allows them to engage with their natural surroundings, learn about different plants and animals, and develop a sense of curiosity about the world around them. Teachers can plan nature walks, scavenger hunts, or even create outdoor learning stations where children can explore and interact with natural elements. This hands-on approach to learning not only enhances their knowledge but also promotes physical activity and cognitive development.

2. Gardening and Planting

Gardening and planting activities offer a great opportunity for children to connect with nature. By involving them in the process of growing plants, teachers can teach concepts like plant life cycles, environmental sustainability, and the importance of taking care of living things. Children can learn how to plant seeds, water the plants, and watch them grow over time. This experience helps foster a sense of responsibility, patience, and an understanding of the interdependence between humans and nature.

3. Nature-based Art and Craft

Nature-based art and craft activities allow children to express their creativity while connecting with the natural world. Teachers can encourage children to collect leaves, sticks, stones, and other materials from the outdoors and use them to create artwork. They can make leaf rubbings, paint with natural dyes made from flowers and plants, or construct sculptures using natural objects. Through these activities, children not only enhance their artistic skills but also develop an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of nature.

4. Incorporating Nature into Circle Time

Circle time is a common practice in early childhood education where children gather together for group activities and discussions. Teachers can incorporate nature into circle time by engaging children in conversations about the natural world. They can read books about animals, plants, or the environment, sing songs about nature, or play nature-themed games. By integrating nature into these daily routines, teachers can reinforce children’s understanding of the natural world and make learning more enjoyable and relatable.

5. Virtual Nature Experiences

In cases where outdoor access is limited, virtual nature experiences can be a valuable tool to incorporate nature into the early childhood curriculum. Teachers can use technology to show children videos or photos of different ecosystems, animals, or natural phenomena. They can also participate in virtual field trips to botanical gardens, national parks, or wildlife reserves. These virtual experiences help children develop an awareness and appreciation for nature, even if they are unable to physically explore it.

Incorporating Nature into the Early Childhood Curriculum
Incorporating Nature into the Early Childhood Curriculum

Engaging Children through Outdoor Activities

1. Exploring Nature’s Patterns and Cycles

Outdoor activities provide children with a unique opportunity to explore and observe nature’s patterns and cycles. They can witness the changing seasons, observe plant growth, and learn about the life cycles of animals. Through hands-on experiences, children can develop a deeper understanding of how nature works and learn to appreciate the interconnectedness of living things.

  • Collect fallen leaves during autumn and discuss their colors and shapes
  • Observe the growth of plants in a garden and learn about the different stages of plant life
  • Watch birds build nests and discuss their life cycles

2. Engaging in Sensory Play

Outdoor environments provide a rich sensory experience for children, stimulating their senses of touch, sight, sound, and smell. Engaging in sensory play not only promotes cognitive and physical development but also fosters a deeper connection to the natural world. By immersing themselves in sensory activities, children can develop a greater appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the environment.

  • Create a nature sensory bin filled with items like pinecones, rocks, and flowers
  • Encourage children to listen to the sounds of birds chirping or leaves rustling in the wind
  • Provide opportunities for children to feel different textures, such as grass, sand, or tree bark

3. Promoting Physical Health and Well-being

Engaging in outdoor activities promotes physical health and well-being in young children. It allows them to develop their gross motor skills, build strength, and improve coordination. Outdoor play also offers opportunities for children to engage in active and imaginative play, which supports their overall growth and development.

  • Set up an obstacle course that incorporates natural elements like logs, rocks, and balance beams
  • Encourage children to engage in games that involve running, jumping, and climbing
  • Provide ample open space for children to engage in unstructured play and explore their physical capabilities
Engaging Children through Outdoor Activities
Engaging Children through Outdoor Activities

Cultivating a Sense of Wonder and Curiosity in Nature

1. Encouraging Exploration and Discovery

By immersing young children in nature-based learning experiences, we can foster a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. Encourage children to explore their surroundings, allowing them to discover the different plants, animals, and natural phenomena. This firsthand experience ignites their curiosity and engages their senses.

  • Allow children to touch, smell, and observe various plants and flowers.
  • Encourage them to listen to the sounds of birds chirping or leaves rustling in the wind.
  • Point out interesting patterns or textures they may come across, such as the ridges on a tree trunk or the petals of a flower.

2. Incorporating Nature-Based Art and Creativity

Engaging children in creative activities that involve nature can further enhance their sense of wonder and curiosity. Encourage them to express their observations and experiences through art. This allows them to deepen their understanding of the natural world and explore their creativity.

  • Provide art materials such as paints, crayons, and natural materials like leaves, sticks, and pebbles.
  • Encourage children to create nature-inspired artwork, such as leaf rubbings, nature collages, or paintings of their favorite outdoor scenes.
  • Discuss the different colors, shapes, and patterns they observe in nature, helping them develop an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the environment.

3. Introducing Nature-Based Storytelling and Literature

Storytelling and literature play a significant role in cultivating a sense of wonder and curiosity in children. Introduce them to nature-themed books and stories that spark their imagination and expose them to different ecosystems, animals, and natural phenomena.

  • Read aloud books that feature characters exploring nature, such as camping adventures or wildlife encounters.
  • Engage children in discussions about the stories, asking them questions about their favorite parts or what they would do if they were in the same situation.
  • Encourage them to create their own stories or drawings inspired by the natural world.

4. Providing Opportunities for Scientific Inquiry

Nature-based learning provides an ideal platform for introducing scientific concepts and nurturing a sense of curiosity about the world. Encourage children to ask questions, make predictions, and engage in simple scientific investigations.

  • Set up simple experiments, such as observing how plants grow in different soil types or investigating the behavior of insects.
  • Guide children through the scientific process, encouraging them to record their observations and discuss their findings.
  • Allow them to explore natural materials and engage in hands-on activities that promote scientific thinking and problem-solving skills.
Cultivating a Sense of Wonder and Curiosity in Nature
Cultivating a Sense of Wonder and Curiosity in Nature

Developing Environmental Stewardship from an Early Age

Fostering a Sense of Responsibility for the Environment

By engaging children in nature-based learning from an early age, we can foster a sense of responsibility for the environment. Through hands-on experiences and observation, children begin to understand the interconnectedness of the natural world and develop empathy towards plants, animals, and ecosystems. They learn to appreciate the beauty and importance of nature, and in turn, develop a strong desire to protect and care for it.

  • Encourage children to participate in activities such as gardening, recycling, and composting. This allows them to directly contribute to the preservation of the environment and understand the positive impact of their actions.
  • Teach them about the consequences of pollution, deforestation, and climate change, emphasizing the role they can play in preventing further damage to the earth.
  • Engage children in discussions and reflection about environmental issues, encouraging them to brainstorm solutions and take action in their own lives.

Instilling a Love for Nature and the Outdoors

One of the key aspects of developing environmental stewardship is instilling a love for nature and the outdoors in children. By immersing them in natural environments and encouraging exploration, we can nurture a deep appreciation for the world around them.

  • Provide opportunities for children to spend time in parks, forests, and gardens, allowing them to connect with the natural world firsthand.
  • Engage their senses by encouraging them to touch, smell, listen, and observe the natural elements they encounter.
  • Encourage free play in nature, where children can engage in imaginative and unstructured activities, fostering a sense of wonder and awe for the environment.

Developing a Sense of Environmental Ethic

Alongside instilling a love for nature, it is important to cultivate a sense of environmental ethic in children – a moral responsibility to protect and conserve the environment. This involves teaching values and principles that guide their actions towards sustainable living.

  • Teach children about the delicate balance of ecosystems and how their choices can have a positive or negative impact on the environment.
  • Encourage sustainable practices such as reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and using environmentally-friendly products.
  • Model environmentally-conscious behavior and involve children in decision-making processes related to sustainable choices.
Developing Environmental Stewardship from an Early Age
Developing Environmental Stewardship from an Early Age

Fostering Holistic Development through Nature-Based Education

The Physical Benefits of Nature-Based Education

Engaging children in nature-based learning activities provides numerous physical benefits. Spending time outdoors allows children to engage in active play, such as running, climbing, and exploring, which helps improve their gross motor skills. For example, balancing on logs or jumping over obstacles can enhance their coordination and balance. Additionally, exposure to natural sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bone development and a strong immune system.

  • Improved gross motor skills
  • Enhanced coordination and balance
  • Healthy bone development
  • Stronger immune system

The Cognitive Benefits of Nature-Based Education

Nature-based learning stimulates cognitive development in early childhood. The natural environment provides children with endless opportunities for exploration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. For instance, while observing insects or birds, children develop their observation skills and learn to make connections between cause and effect. Engaging with the sensory-rich environment of nature also helps stimulate the brain and enhances creativity and imagination.

  • Improved observation skills
  • Enhanced problem-solving abilities
  • Developed critical thinking skills
  • Stimulated creativity and imagination

The Social-Emotional Benefits of Nature-Based Education

Spending time in nature fosters social and emotional development in young children. Nature-based activities encourage collaboration, communication, and teamwork among children. For instance, building a fort or creating a nature-inspired artwork together promotes cooperation and the development of social skills. Furthermore, being in nature reduces stress, promotes feelings of well-being, and helps children develop a sense of connection and empathy towards the natural world.

  • Improved collaboration and communication
  • Developed social skills
  • Reduced stress and enhanced well-being
  • Developed connection and empathy towards nature


In conclusion, nature-based learning in early childhood offers a multitude of benefits for young children. By incorporating nature into the curriculum and engaging children through outdoor activities, we can provide them with valuable hands-on learning experiences that foster their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.

Furthermore, by cultivating a sense of wonder and curiosity in nature from an early age, we can instill a deep appreciation for the environment and encourage environmental stewardship. Nature-based education not only enhances academic skills but also nurtures holistic growth in children.

At kienhoc, we advocate for the integration of nature-based learning approaches to create enriching educational experiences during these critical formative years. Let us come together to nurture a generation that values and protects our natural world.

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