Proposal for a Nature Kindergarten

Proposal for a Nature Kindergarten

What is a Nature Kindergarten? A Nature Kindergarten provides young children with large amounts of time in natural outdoor settings where they can play, explore and experience natural systems and materials found there. Engaged outside in all types of weather, children and educators investigate natural phenomenon and learn about the place in which they live. For almost fifty years there have been forest preschools, Waldkindergarten, and “rain or shine” schools in Northern Europe which provide outdoor experiences for children in the early years (3 to 6 years old). Research in these European settings has shown that the children go on to do well in public school. Now, these kindergartens are found in Australia, the UK and New Zealand.

Benefits: Learning from play and from hands-on experiences, children benefit from being outside. Research has shown that children learn when they are engaged and active.  Being able to experience tides, rain and wind, and the coming of spring in the forest enables children to more clearly build understandings of the operation of natural systems, while allowing them to develop emotional and aesthetic engagement with place. Building an awareness of environmental stewardship in this and following generations of children is increasingly important to all. Climbing a hill and running down the other side provides evidence of gravity, as well as expending energy and encouraging balance and agility.

Other benefits include:

  • Healthy child development: “Overall, there is a great deal of encouraging evidence linking green space to important developmental outcomes… To the extent that the findings reflect a real effect of green space on children’s development, this effect would seem to be pervasive and generalizable to different populations and environments” (Taylor & Kuo, 2006, p. 126). (Also see Wells & Lekies, 2006)
  • Fitness: “Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements” (Ryan et al., 2010, p. 159).
  • Cognitive development: “Results indicate that children whose homes improved the most in terms of greenness following relocation also tended to have the highest levels of cognitive functioning following the move” (Wells, 2000, p. 775). “Natural views were associated with better performance on attentional measures” (Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995, p. 77)
  • Self-discipline: research demonstrates a “positive link between near-home nature and three forms of self-discipline [concentration, impulse inhibition, and delay of gratification] in girls” (Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2002, p. 60)
  • Environmental citizenship: “Participants immersed in natural environments reported higher valuing of intrinsic aspirations [e.g. prosocial and other-focused value orientations], and lower valuing of extrinsic aspirations [e.g. self-focused value orientations], whereas those immersed in non-natural environments reported increased valuing of extrinsic aspirations and no change of intrinsic aspirations” (Weinstein, Przybylski, & Ryan, 2009, p. 1315). “A growing literature shows that active care for the environment in adulthood is frequently associated with positive experiences of nature in childhood or adolescence, along with childhood role models who gave the natural world appreciative attention” (Chawla, 2007, p. 144)
  • Mental health: Initial findings indicate that nature plays a vital role in human health and well-being, and that parks and nature reserves play a significant role by providing access to nature for individuals. Implications suggest contact with nature may provide an effective population-wide strategy in prevention of mental ill health, with potential application for sub-populations, communities and individuals at higher risk of ill health” (Maller, Townsend, Pryor, Brown, & Leger, 2006, p. 45). (Also see R. Kaplan, 2001; Maller, et al., 2006; Wells & Evans, 2003)
  • Increased pro-environmental orientations: “…childhood participation in ‘wild’ nature such as hiking or playing in the woods, camping, and hunting or fishing, as well as participation with ‘domesticated’ nature such as picking flowers or produce, planting trees or seeds, and caring for plants in childhood have a positive relationship to adult environmental attitudes. ‘Wild nature’ participation is also positively associated with environmental behaviors while ‘domesticated nature’ experiences are marginally related to environmental behaviors” (Wells & Lekies, 2006, p. 1).
  • Attention Restoration Theory: “Attention restoration theory (ART) provides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities… walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities” (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008, p. 1207; S. Kaplan, 1995)
  • Support for children with ADHD diagnosis: “Twenty minutes in a park setting was sufficient to elevate attention performance relative to the same amount of time in other settings. These findings indicate that environments can enhance attention not only in the general population but also in ADHD populations. ‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool in the tool kit for managing ADHD symptoms” (Taylor & Kuo, 2009, p. 402)

Another benefit would be that children would be ready to focus on indoor learning activities after time spent outside using their minds and bodies.

In our school district, this is an opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to benefit from the wisdom of local Elders. Knowledge of local plants, animals and stories would enrich the knowledge of students and the school community.

The Proposal:

To develop a full day Kindergarten pilot in order to explore the possibilities of children spending part of their day outside engaged with their body, mind and spirit in a natural setting, and coming back to school where there would be opportunities for indoor play-based learning.  This Nature Kindergarten pilot would meet the needs of the prescribed learning outcomes for Kindergarten as well as the goals of the Primary Program and Early Learning Framework.  For this proposal, a school that can access Royal Roads University, Esquimalt Lagoon and the Strait of Juan de Fuca would have a rich environment from which to draw.

Children could explore their local, natural environment and learn to know and understand their home place, developing confidence in being outside while meeting the objectives of the Kindergarten curriculum. Working as a group of learners, they can develop confidence in their own abilities to investigate and to collaborate. Outside, large and noisy movements are acceptable and children who need this type of activity will be able to engage in a manner that supports their learning. All of the children will be physically active and engaged in activities that will facilitate their balance, stamina and strength. All of this play-based outdoor learning will support indoor learning activities that often call for a quieter and calmer presence.

In order to ensure an optimal environment for the children we propose to have a teacher and an early childhood educator to teach the kindergarten students.  This will be a significant opportunity to have educators from different, yet related, educational backgrounds working together as professionals.

Documenting the process will be important. As a pilot it will be important to be able to share our process of creating and implementing a Nature Kindergarten and its best practices.  Further research can be considered to investigate the health impacts on children’s fitness levels and overall health, the impacts on their learning and understanding and the strategies used by teacher and educator. Putting in place at the beginning a framework for an impact evaluation will also allow for preliminary understanding of the efficacy of the program.


The Partnerships: In partnership with the Sooke School District is University of Victoria’s Centre for Early Childhood Research and Policy, Royal Roads University and Camosun College’s Early Learning and Care Program. Practicum students and researchers from these institutions will be resources for the program.




Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits ofi interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1207-1212.

Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood Experiences Associated with Care for the Natural World: A Theoretical Framework for Empirical Results. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170. Retrieved from

Kaplan, R. (2001). The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33(4), 507-542. doi: DOI: 10.1177/00139160121973115

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182.

Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & Leger, L. S. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International, 21(1), 45-54.

Ryan, R. M., Weinstein, N., Bernstein, J., Brown, K. W., Mistretta, L., & Gagne, M. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(2), 159-168.

Taylor, A. F., & Kuo, F. E. (2006). Is contact with nature important for healthy child development? State of the evidence. In C. B. Spencer, M (Ed.), Children and Their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, A. F., & Kuo, F. E. (2009). Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. Journal of Attention Disorders, 12(5), 402-409. doi: 10.1177/1087054708323000

Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: Evidence from inner-city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22(1), 49-63.

Tennessen, C. M., & Cimprich, B. (1995). Views to nature: Effects on attention. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(1), 77-85.

Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(10), 1315-1329. doi: 10.1177/0146167209341649

Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature : Effects of “greenness” on  children’s cognitive  functioning Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.

Wells, N. M., & Evans, G. W. (2003). Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress among Rural Children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330. doi: 10.1177/0013916503035003001

Wells, N. M., & Lekies, K. S. (2006). Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(1), 1-14.



24 Responses

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  1. Please consider submitting a workshop proposal for the 2012 Manitoba Nature Summit to be held September 14 – 16, 2012 at Camp Manitou outside Winnipeg, Manitoba.

    Feel free to contact me if you have further questions, consult our website at, or join us on Facebook at ManitobaNatureSummit.

    The request for proposals is attached.


    Mavis Lewis-Webber
    Treasurer, Manitoba Nature Summit

  2. Please consider partnership with the Scout Camp in Sooke – Camp Barnard. You can contact me if you would like to explore this!

  3. I was so excited to hear your segment on CBC, I asked for and received an MP3 copy. Please send me your email so I can send it with a copy of the CBC staff person so you can get permission to post it on your blog. I also wanted to clarify a couple of things you mentioned about the Sooke application of the program. | Patrick

    1. Hi Patrick,
      Thanks for your email and interest. I can be contacted at

  4. Hello, my name is Liz Pierson and I am a graduate level student at Minnesota State University in the US. I am currently working on a project with the Alberta Council of Environmental Education with a similar topic. They are interested in gathering information so that they might be able to start a forest school in their province as well. I would love to potentially connect and see if we can share some resources. The best way to contact me is via email. Thanks so much! Liz Pierson

    1. Hi Liz,

      I’m an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and I’m collecting research on any existing forest schools in both the US and Canada. Would you be interested in sharing resources?

    2. I’m a grad student at Royal Roads University. I reside in Thunder Bay, just a few hours north of you. I’m looking into the potential barriers to parents enrolling their children in such programs (in Thunder Bay); current knowledge, perceptions, worldviews etc..

      We might all benefit from some contact.

      I’ll leave my contact, and hpe to hear from you – -

  5. Hello,

    I’m an academic based at Kingston University in the UK, where I have been carrying out research on outdoor learning, in particular forest schools, farm education and using citizen science materials to engage science learning in primary schools. I am also a trained Forest school leader, and have lead sessions with children from kindergarten through to the end of primary school. I would love to know more about the Canadian experience, with a view to perhaps some comparative work? I am visiting Canada this summer, passing through BC and Ottawa, so there might be a possibility to meet up face-to-face.

    1. Hello Frances,
      We would be interested in having you do an informal presentation on your experience with Forest Schools in the UK to our group if you are going to be spending any time in Victoria BC. We are forming a nature school here, and have some very motivated and passionate families and educators that are inspired by the success of the forest school model! You can get in touch with me, through my email or the Victoria Nature School facebook page: Also, you can see my post below for details.

  6. Hello from #Kinderchat! We would love to hear more about your proposal! We are Globally Networked Early Childhood Educators who value play and the outdoors.

    Please keep us posted on this exciting adventure and let us know if we can be of any service to your work!

    We are having a chat on the “Outdoor Classroom” on May 28th at (9PM New York time) (6PM BC time) if you’d like to join us on the twitter hashtag #Kinderchat

  7. What an opportunity for our little ones!

  8. Hi there,
    I am in my forth year of the Bachelor of Education program and Vancouver Island University. I am doing an inquiry project centred around the benefits of outdoor education on student learning, and how to incorporate aspects of outdoor education within a classroom. Reading about your program only furthered my excitement about learning more about outdoor education and all of the amazing work that is taking place. I was hoping to learn more about your program and how it benefits student learning. Also if you have any suggestions for incorporating aspects of an outdoor education program within a classroom.

    Thank you so much for your time,

  9. Hello,

    I just had some questions in regards to the short segment that CTV did on the school back in September (which can be found here in case anyone needs a reminder)

    Are the children only outside for the morning? In the afternoon do they go back into the classroom?

    Also, in the end it mentions that other schools look to Sangster to model their kindergartens in a similar way. Is there any update on schools in the area that have begun a similar program?


  10. Hello Chenise,
    I wanted to respond to your last question in your post on Feb.25th. We have a group of interested families that have come together to form a nature school in the Victoria/Saanich area. Myself and another Mother/Educator are organizing this effort. We will be providing an update this week, along with an invitation to meet again. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our facebook page to comment, leave a message or ask any questions. Also, I do know that the Sangster Kindergarten program does spend 1/2 day outdoors and 1/2 day indoors. We are hoping to model their program to implement a nature preschool and associated kindergarten. Cheers!

  11. Hi,

    I’m a student at UBC. I’m doing a paper on how nature schools might be beneficial for students with special needs. However, I’m having problems finding any research to support this . Do you know of any studies or research to support this.


    1. Hi Monique,
      Please contact Dr. Enid Elliot at with this request.
      Best, Frances

    2. You might email Dr. Enid Elliot directly – – as she will likely be able to suggest some research for you to review.

  12. Hello!
    I found out about this today while having tea with a few friends, and I am absolutely in love with the idea! I am all for experiential education and it’s wonderful to see that kindergarten students are already having this experience, where I felt that I was limited into teaching grades 9-12. I would love to see how the program works!
    Keep up the fantastic work!

  13. Hi there, Would you be able to share the recipe for the hand wash the children for washing up when outside ?
    thanks so much.

  14. hi. i am currently in college (alberta) in general studies and considering either early childhood education or university transfer (education degree). if i choose early childhood education i would love to do my field placement at your school at some point if possible. (i have heard there is a school similar to yours in red deer, alberta – would you happen to know about it?)
    I would also love to have any advice you would have re: education towards a career like this. thanks.

  15. I am so excited to see this happening in Canada! Our daughter attended a “Waldkindergarten” for 3 years in Germany and I HIGHLY recommend it to all families! It was the best experience and I have a lot to say about how it made her in to the amazing person and student she is today. If you ever need a real life success story about what a Nature kindergarten can do, please feel free to contact us. Nairee would love to share her experience and advice to other families who are still considering but not sure what choice to make.

  16. I see your HP and be interested in your kindergarten.I’d like to know your kindergarten place.Aiso be interested in Children’s Activities,especially,Music,art,body movement,extra lessons…

    With a respect,
    in peace.

    Thank you.

  17. I agree with your points, and I also think that school’s environment can be seriously miserable for several teenagers.

    Oftentimes they may become so frustrated that they can become disinterested in activities
    that they would once get pleasure from.

    I truly wish it was a lot easier for teenagers
    to choose to avoid attending school, instead of simply being forced to attend.
    Instead of being compelled to keep on participating, they should be able to decide to stop.

    It is actually honestly awful – and If only more families
    could fully grasp it!

  18. I am a Early Childhood Educator Assistant and have work with children of all walks of life in many Vancouver school settings as well as home and preschool settings. I am finishing my last two courses this spring 2016 and am considering my final work placement practicum this fall. I am passionate about the outdoors and children learning in nature. I welcome any opportunity to host a gathering in our beautiful East Kootenay location in BC. I am a strong advocate and look forward to a nature preschool in our area. Please consider a preschool pilot proposal in our area

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