Opportunity for Wisconsin Early Childhood Educators

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I attended the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education last week and have some good news to share.

I’m not an environmental educator so was a bit of an interloper, as I am in the world of early childhood education, but I was welcomed.   WAEE and environmental education were not much a part of my world until after attending the Nature Action Forum of the World Forum Foundation in 2008, and then again in 2010 with a team committed to help connect young children with nature.  After the exciting 2010 gathering with nature action teams from all around the world, I started exploring environmental education and searching for allies in Wisconsin.  With Wisconsin’s rich heritage in conservation and environmentalism, I discovered an abundance of people, organizations and resources.  This year’s WAEE conference was a celebration of 40 years of service and I learned even more of the accomplishments of Wisconsin Environmental Educators.  All of us in Wisconsin have much to be proud of and to appreciate.

Much of my intention for attending the conference was to learn more about what is happening, to advocate for inclusion of young preschool age children in environmental education and to hear how the efforts to build collaboration were proceeding.

About 8 months ago I’d been introduced to Steve Kerlin who has moved to Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and is coordinating collaborative efforts among environmental educators around the state. At the conference Steve and a team of educators from around the state reported on their collaboration building efforts. With a capacity building grant to supplement current nature center coalition building work, they have identified all the environmental education (informal and formal) organizations in Wisconsin and established a diverse group of consortium members. A variety of collaborative efforts are underway.

So what are the implications of this for early childhood educators?    

When returning to Wisconsin from the World Forum’s Nature Action gathering in 2010,   I envisioned our Wisconsin team developing regional support networks for early childhood educators who were working to connect young children with nature.  While we have contributed to more “children learning with nature” action around the state, our relatively meager, volunteer, unfunded efforts have not moved us much closer to the vision of active regional groups of supportive early education collaborators providing outstanding opportunities for young children to learn in and with nature, and developing loving bonds with the natural world.  This current campaign to build collaborations among environmental educators provides a fantastic opportunity for early childhood educators. The regional coalition building among nature centers seems to offer the most immediate opportunity.

I spoke with a few nature center directors and naturalists at the conference and they seem genuinely interested in connecting with and serving young children. With the many nature centers, parks and environmental education providers around Wisconsin, early childhood centers in all regions of the state have many potential collaborating partners.  I urge all of you to reach out to the nature centers in your area.  You can help the naturalists and environmental educators understand young child development and learning and suggest developmentally appropriate experiences. You can help them understand what sort of service offerings will work best for children’s centers as well as what offerings could be developed for families of young, preschool age children.  Working together, early childhood educators with environmental educators and their wonderful natural settings, can provide opportunities for young children in Wisconsin to develop loving bonds with the natural world.  Child development and learning will be richer, nature center use and membership will increase, and our planet will gain more guardians.  As educator David Sobel suggests, “what’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it, before being asked to heal it’s wounds”.

For all of our children, our planet and all the beings we share it with, please use this opportunity and reach out and cooperate with your area nature centers.

Gerry Slater, Wisconsin Nature Action Collaborative for Children, August 22, 2014