Nurturing Early Learning Institute

Institutes header

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

Institutes header

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 will find summaries of the institute workshops, as well as helpful 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
Speakers: Rachel Franz, Tiny Trees, Curriculum Manager and Kim Votry, University of Washington, Cultivate Learning, Curriculum Specialist

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? This workshop takes up that question through hands-on 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. This seminar explores 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. This session highlights some of the science on the power of play and explores ways we can play with mathematics and create opportunities for students to play too. In particular, it explores 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. This workshop features 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. Early learning professionals walked through the woods and saw demonstrations on how to foster children’s wonder, excitement, and curiosity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Creating with Natural Materials
Speaker: Jessica Henderson, IslandWood, Arts Coordinator

This session introduced participants to early childhood art activities that incorporate natural materials that can be found in your neighborhood and schoolyard. Fun, easy, 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 why is it so difficult to prioritize these things in our busy lives? This workshop provided space for mindfulness in action and and participants collaborated to observe, describe, reflect, discuss, experiment, and share personal solutions. An afternoon of peaceful learning, conscious breathing, gentle movement, authentic connection, and a bounty of take home ideas for prioritizing mindfulness in your life.

Risk Assessment in Outdoor Learning
Speakers: 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

This session leverages 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 offered 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

This final session brought everyone together to discuss what was learned from research about the power of outdoor learning, how to realize this in our work with children, and how our connections to the outdoors help us as people and educators.

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.

Browse more of our institutes!

Want to learn more about what we do or want to join in on the educational fun? Visit our institutes page to find out what our institutes are about, register for institutes near you, view past institutes, and download resources on institutes topics.

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