Nature-Centered Learning

Faith-based nature preschools

by Mary Boland
Todd Ruth

More and more of today’s children spend their time indoors. They play indoors, go to school indoors, and go with their parents from door to door. Richard Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder to name this phenomenon of children spending more time in front of a television or computer screen than being physically active outdoors. Additionally, families are eating more processed, high-calorie foods that contribute to childhood obesity and other diseases. More than ever, an education that nurtures a love and knowledge of nature is invaluable.

Nature preschools have become a common sight as an alternative in early childhood education. They strive toward the same goals of a traditional education for childhood development but meet these goals through an approach that puts nature at the center of learning and aims to cultivate a sense of care and wonder for the natural world.

A number of churches, including St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington, Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, and St. John Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Illinois,  have adapted a nature-based preschool approach for their programs, drawing in the religious component of cultivating and respecting God’s creation. Church-based programs often integrate a focus on nature within a religious context to teach their preschoolers the value of being active and connected in nature. Some of these programs operate independently, while other work with an organization such as Nature Explore, a collaborative project between Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, or Natural Start. Both organizations work with preschool programming, whether in churches, schools, day care centers, or any other institution committed to children’s education, to develop a classroom that integrates nature into a traditional learning environment.


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