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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ECO - Educating Children Outdoors

The ECO program at North Branch Nature Center is a new project that helps reconnect children with the natural world and foster stewardship in their communities.  Through collaboration with public schools, preschools, and daycare facilities, ECO helps to open the doors to the joy of learning outside in all kinds of weather. By using city parks, public lands, and other local green spaces ECO engages children in the natural inquiry based learning of their surrounding environment. Through this type of active learning, children gain a healthy respect for nature and for one another. ECO provides an opportunity for teachers and students to apply integrated academic curricula beyond the classroom to the outdoors for exploration, experimentation, creativity, and personal growth.

 Now in its second year, ECO is working with 10 area school teachers on a weekly and biweekly basis to get their students outside and immersed in the natural world. ECO is not a field trip or a one hour visit to a forest. The students participating in ECO spend 2 ½ to 4 hours exploring a forest, playing games, learning woodcraft skills, journaling, and sharing in a community circle. These experiences happen continously throughout the school year. Rain, shine, and snow are welcomed weather features on any ECO day at public school. Schools have gathered all the needed equipment for their students to be dry and warm for engaged learning outdoors. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
Not surprising, these days are some children’s favorite day of the week. Singing a song about rain, using ropes to climb a hill, making debris huts, following squirrel tracks in the snow, and boiling water in a Kelly Kettle for tea are all some things a child may experience on an ECO day. Inevitably, with more time spent outside moving and engaging in the natural world, each child develops a sense of themselves and their place in the world. By helping to foster a relationship with nature at an early age, children are given the chance to have a multi-sensory experience that will help them to retain knowledge in a more effective and meaningful way. This old Chinese proverb gives clarity to the purpose of ECO and the ongoing journey of life long learning for all human beings:
Tell me, I forget.
Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand. 

If you are interested in learning more about ECO and how to get involved, please contact amy@northbranchnaturecenter.org

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