Educating Children Outdoors (ECO)
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, ECO helps to open 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, their communities, themselves, and for one another. 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. 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 third year, ECO is working in 6 area schools on a weekly and biweekly basis to get their students outside and immersed in the natural world and in their communities. 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, doing science experiments, collecting data, 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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The following are comments from school teachers on the benefits of ECO:
“Seeing the cooperation between students happen while working outdoors is amazing. All the social pieces we’ve taught in the classroom are practiced and perfected while walking through Hubbard Park. Students have worked together on many projects outside, teaching each other and providing a learning environment for each other. Students are inquiring about their natural world, their backyard, sharing what they know and asking questions about what they find.”
“Every day I come back, I think that it [ECO] was magical. Things happen that we’re not expecting. [For example,] Amy saw a bird and had everyone huddle down so she could call the birds. We had 20 birds come over. There are so many extensions we could do in the classroom. With the bird sighting we came back to class and looked up the bird, listened to its call and read books about it.”
“Students are spending weekends bringing their families back to the forest to find their sit spot, visiting the shelters they built or walking on the trails. Students who had never been here before are actually getting their families outside to explore nature
“ECO has changed how we work together as colleagues on science. It’s also made science less compartmentalized as part of our curriculum. Instead of being something we fit into our schedule we consider science in a more thoughtful manner.”
Branch Nature Center