Mapping Scientific Concepts through Nature Play in Early Childhood Education

Year: 2019

Author: Knight, Linda, Lasczik, Lexi, Cutter-MacKenzie-Knowles, Amy, Malone, Karen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the last ten years there has been a rapid resurgence in supporting ‘open free nature play’ in education settings. The justification of this resurgence has been triggered largely by the works of Richard Louv (2011, 2016) who alleges that children (particularly in Western contexts) suffer from ‘nature-deficit disorder’, and the introduction of ‘forest kindergarten’ models emanating from predominantly Scandinavian countries.

The absence of nature in children and young people’s lives links to alarming childhood trends in western society: obesity, poor wellbeing, learning difficulties, severe anxiety, attention deficit disorders and depression so childhood experiences in nature are important for building positive environmental and emotional dispositions.

There is increasing research evidence in early childhood education which shows that young children do not easily learn scientific concepts through open or free play-based learning alone, intentional teaching is important in supporting young children’s learning about these big ideas and concepts. An important question, therefore, is what is the balance between free nature play as opportunistic child-centered learning and intentional pedagogical practices to enhance children’s scientific concepts?

Nature play is a core feature and tradition of early childhood education, as is open-ended play which requires adult interaction and guidance to support children’s learning. While there is a wealth of research into the role of play in early childhood, progress is yet to be made with respect to nature play and children’s consequent development of scientific concepts [fundamental STEM concepts].

The authors report on a research study to test the importance of nature play in children’s associated acquisition of scientific concepts in early childhood education. The project utilises cartography; an educational research methodology of creating visual maps focused on the relations between people, places and objects from observations, ideas and pedagogies for nature play. The key questions the project asks are: What are early childhood educators’ conceptions of nature play and its associated scientific concepts? What are young children’s conceptions of nature play and its associated scientific concepts?; and How can nature play pedagogies best support young children’s learning of scientific concepts?

Louv, R. (2011). The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Louv, R. (2016). Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: 500 Ways to Enrich Your Family’s Health & Happiness. New York: Algonquin Books.