Introduction What is it that makes nature so appealing to young
children? Children are drawn to the natural world for
many reasons. They are intrigued by being in a place where
there are animals’ homes, a place that is not created by
adults. Nature offers a limitless variety of sounds, smells,
textures, and things to be curious about. Nature offers
children a glimpse into a special world where they feel rev-
erence and awe. Nature offers children the opportunity to
explore, to move freely, and to test the limits of one’s own
body through climbing, jumping, and moving over uneven
terrain. For the young child, this challenge is invigorating
and empowering. In recent years, those who work with
young children have recognized the value in providing
children with nature-based opportunities to learn, play,
relax, and just be. More and more programs, schools, and
even home-based care settings embrace the natural world
and strive to create opportunities for children to spend
Nature is appealing for many reasons.

time outside, exploring and playing, as children do best.

The number of nature-based preschools has increased dramatically in recent
years, and this growth shows no signs of slowing. I celebrate this evolution.

Hidden within children’s adventures and investigations outdoors are count-
less moments when they are engaging in some of the fundamental practices
associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
learning. These are practices like asking questions, making predictions, creat-
ing solutions to problems through building and making things, seeking pat-
terns, sorting and organizing materials, communicating their ideas, and more.

I believe this is why nature is such a perfect context for teaching STEM: it’s a

context in which children feel more freedom, and in their unstructured play and
investigation, their natural tendencies and thinking patterns emerge readily.

Nature also offers limitless diversity in terms of sensory input and opportuni-
ties to investigate questions. It also offers a variety of textures, sounds, colors,
shapes, and spaces in which to play. It’s always changing, which means that
children are constantly inspired to ask questions, explore, and learn through
nature’s many provocations.

Furthermore, with all the research that has come out in recent years
(explored more deeply in chapter 2), we know that being in nature is good for
children’s health and well-being. It provides children with opportunities to exer-
cise their bodies, their minds, and, yes, even their spirits. Nature offers a place
for children to be challenged and tested, a place to explore and question, a place
where they can be loud or quiet, solitary or among friends. For this reason, it’s
a great equalizer: children of all backgrounds, learning styles, and abilities can
benefit from time outdoors.

Nature play and exploration are valuable and important experiences in their
own right. Many of today’s teachers are aware of the benefits to young children
and are eager to implement more nature-based learning. It’s clear to most edu-
cators that young children feel deep joy, freedom, curiosity, reverence, and awe
in natural settings. My hope in writing this book is to help connect those feel-
ings to science, technology, engineering, and math practices, because children
engage in these practices when in nature play, often without realizing it. There
are so many opportunities to capital-
ize on children’s interest in science,
technology, engineering, and math, as
well as their curiosity and excitement
about nature. And the ways that chil-
dren engage in natural learning about
STEM parallels the way they play out-
doors: with curiosity, persistence, a
spirit of inquiry, and a collaborative
nature. Since nature is a source of pos-
itive feelings and a constant source of
inspiration and questions for children,
it’s a perfect context in which to teach
STEM. Teaching in nature can connect
STEM learning to a sense of joy and
Nature can inspire feelings of joy and awe.

wonder. 2 Introduction