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Nurturing Early Learning: The Latest in Science on Young Children’s Learning and the Outdoors

August 5-8, 2018

Thank you for joining us on Bainbridge Island for the Nurturing Early Learning Institute. We appreciate the passion and contributions from this year’s attendees, presenters, and keynotes. Below, you’ll find summaries of the institute workshops, as well as additional tools and resources.

2018 Keynote

The Neuroscience Behind Having a Field Day

Speaker: John Medina, Developmental Molecular Biologist, Author of Attack of the Teenage Brain, Brain Rules for Aging Well, Brain Rules (New York Times Best-seller, Brain Rules for Baby)
Though well known to most caregivers, the benefits of exercising in outdoor settings have surprising empirical support in the research literature. In this talk, we discuss some of this literature, describing the powerful positive effects “green exercise” has on executive function, focusing behaviors, and general mental health in children - and in the adults who take care of them.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Science Behind the Importance of Outdoor Play for Young Children

Speaker: Pooja S. Tandon, MD, MPH, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Asst. Professor, University of Washington
A big picture of the science and research behind why outdoor time and nature contact are important for young children, including the relationship between physical activity and early learning.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Intentional Teaching in the Outdoors

Speaker: Rachel Franz, Tiny Trees, Curriculum Manager
Whether your outdoor space is a lush forest, a busy neighborhood, or a school playground, nature always offers fascinating and imaginative opportunities for STEAM learning. But how do we tie curriculum to outdoor play? In this workshop, we’ll explore that question through hands-on interactive activities.

#naturesowhite: Tools and Solutions for Decolonizing Outdoor Spaces

Speaker: Khavin Debbs, Tiny Trees/IslandWood
History, false narratives, and stereotypes have all played a part in the exclusion of people of color from outdoor, wild spaces. In this seminar, we will explore ways to engage with communities and families to ensure that everyone has access to the wonderful environments this world has to offer.

Peacefulness in Every Step

Speaker: Kim Votry, University of Washington, Cultivate Learning, Curriculum Specialist
Infuse your morning with a sense of peaceful harmony and bask in the joyful appreciation of life by practicing a variety of modalities of meditation (silent, guided, and labyrinth meditations, intuitive movement, and nature walks).

Play is the Engine of Learning

Speaker: Daniel Finkel, Math For Love
Play may be the single most critical element of mathematical learning for young children. We’ll review some of the science on the power of play and explore ways we can play with mathematics and create opportunities for students to play too. In particular, we’ll explore how building the right environments and being willing to play yourself can create a vibrant culture of mathematical thinking.

Teaching Empathy Using Slugs, Worms, and Other Common Creatures

Speaker: Caroline Cook, Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center, Early Childhood Supervisor
Caring for animals can help children develop empathy and respect for living things. Even in urban settings, there are creatures right outside your classroom that children can build relationships with. In this workshop, we’ll learn strategies for finding backyard bugs and incorporating them into curriculum, with a focus on activities that build empathy.

Watching and Wondering in the Woods

Speaker: Christina Doherty, IslandWood, Community Programs Coordinator
Forests, neighborhood parks, and play yards are complex and sensory-rich environments ripe for experiential learning and play. Join us for a walk in the woods where we will demonstrate how you can allow for children’s wonder, excitement, and curiosity to take the lead in your explorations.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Creating with Natural Materials

Speaker: Jessica Henderson, IslandWood, Arts Coordinator
In this session, you will be introduced to early childhood art activities that incorporate natural materials that can be found in your neighborhood and schoolyard. Join us to have fun creating and discover easy, fun, and beautiful activities to bring into your practice.

Embrace the Rain: Strategies to Facilitate Outdoor Play in Any Weather

Speaker: Val Loughney Stapleton, Peacock Family Services, Nature Nuts Program Director
With preparation and the right approach, outdoor learning can flourish rain or shine. From activities to gear choices, explore how to embrace the weather and help children build a positive relationship with the outdoors.

Mindfulness First...Preaching to the Choir

Speaker: Kim Votry, University of Washington, Cultivate Learning, Curriculum Specialist
We already know the benefits of mindful practices and the importance of resilience and self-care...so why is it so difficult to prioritize these things in our busy lives? This workshop provides a space for mindfulness in action and relies on the collaboration of participants to observe, describe, reflect, discuss, experiment, and share personal solutions. Join us for an afternoon of peaceful learning, conscious breathing, gentle movement, and authentic connection, and take home a bounty of new ideas for prioritizing mindfulness in your life.

Risk Assessment in Outdoor Learning

Speaker: Sarah Salazar-Tipton & Sarah Greenwald, Olympic Nature Experience
What are the risks and related consequences of any given situation? How can we train staff and students to manage dangers? How do we assess and manage risk on the move?

Science Through Story: Children’s Picture Books as Contexts for Teaching and Understanding Environmental Science Concepts

Speaker: Déana Scipio, Ph.D, IslandWood, Director of the Graduate Program in Education for Environment and Community
In this session, we will leverage children’s picture books as contexts for learning environmental science and stewardship concepts. Reading stories with children can provide opportunities for them to experience empathy, engage in STEM sense-making, and develop a variety of imaginative embodiment strategies.

Young Children in the Garden

Speaker: Mónica Garcia de Mesquita, M.Ed, IslandWood, Garden Educator
Gardens are a unique place for children to develop positive, reciprocal relationships with the world around them. By engaging in sensory-based learning in the garden, children experience the wonder of giving and receiving care from their plant teachers. This session will offer educators an opportunity to learn about the value of garden education and how it could be implemented in their own contexts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Connecting Research, Practice, and Personal Growth: Wrap-Up Lunch Panel

Speakers: John Haskin, PhD, IslandWood, Senior Vice President for Education and Andy Shouse, WA STEM, Chief Program Officer
Join your colleagues in this final session to discuss what we learned from research about the power of outdoor learning, what we’ve learned about how to realize this in our work with children, and how our connections to the outdoors help us as people and educators. Box lunches provided.

Nature-Centered Learning in Your Context

Speaker: John Haskin, PhD, IslandWood, Senior Vice President for Education
Different early childhood environments offer unique opportunities and constraints for outdoor learning and play. Explore ways to implement nature-centered learning in your context.

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