Early Education: Nature & Health
Ideas for parents and teachers to foster love of a healthy environment
Together, parents and early childhood teachers have many opportunities to create environments that nurture healthy children day in and day out. Here are some big questions, and ideas to answer them.
- How are we fostering the relationship between our children and the earth?
- How can we help them understand where our food comes from, and where we all fit in the web of life?
- How can we invite them to wonder at the world around us?
- How can we use materials that don’t damage the planet to create healthy environments?
- How can we help our children develop habits of eating and moving and being entertained that will serve them well for the rest of their lives?
Play spaces. Rusty Keeler, author of Natural Playscapes, says: “I know what you are thinking: You love natural playscapes. But you just don't have the right conditions. Don't let that stop you! It doesn't take the perfect piece of land or picture-perfect conditions to be able to make beautiful changes to your outdoor space. All it takes is some creativity and helping hands. You can do it.” Here’s a stunningly simple idea: Plant sunflowers with your children in a big square or circle, leaving an opening for a door. Water them and watch them grow. When they are big, children can crawl inside the perfect little house that they have grown to be.
Gardens. In 1904, Mrs. Fannie G. Parsons, a pioneer of school gardens working in New York City, worried that “City children are enclosed amid bricks, stone, concrete, trolleys, trucks, and automobiles; and are therefore alienated from their human birthright of trees, fields and flowers.” Sound familiar? Not only is nature our birthright, but it is full of learning opportunities. California’s Garden at Every School program, for example, links garden-based education to a variety of learning standards as well as promoting connections to the natural world.
Food. There’s a wonderful project in Quebec that links early childhood programs to nearby organic farms. The children involved are protected from toxic pesticides at the most vulnerable age, and young and old make a link between farm work and the food on their plates, and between food production and their health. Here in the Philadelphia area, Snipes Farm in Morrisville PA, for example, provides a program for preschoolers and their parents, to teach about sustainable farming while reconnecting people to the land.
Health. Good food and exercise are critical to young children’s health, and are more and more in the public consciousness. Michelle Obama’s, Let’s Move campaign gives parents support, helps children be more physically active, and makes healthy, affordable food more available in schools and throughout the country. Also critical to children’s health are homes and child care centers that are committed to reducing exposure to toxins and other environmental health hazards—in pesticides, cleaning products, furniture and carpets, art supplies, plastics and toys, and treated playground equipment.
Pamela Haines is a parent and long-time staff member at the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC.)