Staff Insights: Notes from the Early Childhood Education Field

Everything is bigger in Texas! This week, I'm in Dallas to attend the annual conference for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and, let me tell you, this conference is huge! There are thousands of professionals here who are anxious to connect and learn about how to best meet the needs of young children and their families. Naturally, I've had the LEAP program on my mind quite a bit during this conference, so I'd like to connect you to some of the big ideas my colleagues and I are discussing...After all, we're here talking about YOU and your children!

Sometimes you have to travel hundreds of miles to learn about something in your own backyard. During the first conference session I attended, I was excited to learn about The Alliance for Early Childhood, a community organization located right on the North Shore of Chicago that supports parents and professionals who are committed to the growth and development of young children. Be sure to check out their website where you can find parent resources and a calendar of upcoming early childhood events. I was thrilled to hear that many of their family events are nature-based or take place outdoors!

Nature play is here to stay. Beyond just being a trend, it is clear that incorporating nature play and environmental education into early childhood programming is critical for child development and learning. I have attended a number of sessions and had many conversations with others about all the wonderful benefits of nature play and ways we can incorporate it into early childhood education programs like LEAP. Organizations like Natural Start Alliance, Project Learning Tree, and Nature Explore are here to advocate for early childhood environmental education and share great ideas for school activities and family events that connect young children to nature.

What's next? In the coming years, I expect nature play and environmental education to continue to be a very hot topic in early childhood education. Already, nature preschools are popping up around the world, unique outdoor classrooms are being built at zoos, nature centers, and schools, and many educators are embracing technology as a tool that can help young learners explore the outdoors. It's very exciting to see so many people and organizations committed to providing meaningful experiences for young children to connect to nature and to pushing this field forward.

-Jaclyn Peterson