Going Natural

This summer, the Early Learning Center hosted its first annual Early Learning Institute, Cultivating Our Natural Learning Community. During the two-day institute, more than one hundred educators from across the country participated in sessions and workshops, focusing on natural learning initiatives. Sessions were hosted at the L&N Stem Academy
and World’s Fair Park.

Classroom teachers, nature enthusiasts, researchers, and program directors comprised the varied group of presenters who covered a diverse range of nature-themed topics. Sessions about mud play, gardening with very young children, inquiry-based learning practices, and the benefits of spending time outdoors with children were among the sessions and workshops offered.

Richard Louv, nature enthusiast and author of The Nature Principle and The Last Child in the Woods, gave the keynote address on building nature-rich communities in an effort to curb “nature deficit disorder” amongst children. Participants were also invited to tour the two Early Learning Center schools and the UT Gardens, giving them time to ask more questions and fully experience what a focused emphasis on nature-based learning
looks like in practice.

Hosting the institute to share innovative ideas and approaches toward nature-based learning enabled the ELC to fulfill part of its mission to provide outreach and advocacy to the field of early care and education. The topics shared arose from work by the ELC educators as part of natural learning initiative that began three years ago as they fully embraced the benefits of nature-based learning across program. The staff at the ELC believed that by sharing their own challenges, triumphs, and experiences, they could help others begin or strengthen their practices in nature-based learning.

For information about next summer’s institute (June 3–4, 2016),
visit elc.utk.edu/early-learning-institute.

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