The more opportunities that children have to be outdoors when they are young, the more they will fall in love with the earth and want to protect it.
That was one of the core themes behind the In Bloom events that were sponsored by Antioch University Santa Barbara and on three other Antioch campuses and locations across the United States throughout 2020, said Dr. Marianne D’Emidio-Caston, former head of Antioch’s education department. The series of outdoor workshops, activities, and speakers, are also designed to create awareness of the university’s Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate and Master’s Degree program, which is a unique feature of Antioch Santa Barbara’s education training.
“The idea behind the Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate program and Master’s Degree is to stimulate a love of the earth and reestablish children’s experiences outside in the world, in creeks and parks and ‘places of wild character,’” said D’Emidio-Caston.
Nature-based early childhood education programs began in Scandinavia in the 1960s, then spread throughout Europe and Asia. These are particularly significant to Antioch University because of its social justice and ecological literacy orientation. Santa Barbara has another tie to ecological awareness as the city that inspired the first Earth Day in 1970.
Educators explored this idea of bringing ecological awareness into their curricula at the daylong In Bloom conference. They learned about Nature-based early childhood education for children up to age eight, and its benefits, while supporting a global purpose to change how children, and eventually adults, live in the world and are committed to saving the planet.
One of the keynote speakers was Gopal Krishnamurthy, an Antioch University faculty member who discussed “re-wilding learning” — re-thinking learning that will awaken minds, bodies, hearts, and ecological awareness. Workshops during the event included “Seed saving and seed play,” “Native Plants,” and “Amazing Honeybees.” There was also a musical performance by Peddler’s Theatre, instrument making, and a storytelling theatre.
Antioch’s Nature-Based Early Childhood Education certificate program is a professional development option for early childhood education professionals. During 13 months, it offers academic credits, or continuing education units, which can be transferred to the Masters of Arts in Education Program within five years, for students who want to pursue a master’s degree with an experiential nature-based learning focus.
“Outdoor experiential learning fills your lungs with air, it inspires curiosity and problem solving, it inspires play that builds confidence as children overcome developmentally appropriate risk,” said D’Emidio-Caston. “We’ve gotten away from learning in natural settings and these nature-based early childhood programs are a way of getting back to it. We are reaching people who want to make a difference and really inspire young people to love this planet and take care of it.”