Playing in nature is a joyful activity that engages young children’s interest and curiosity. Incorporating experiences with nature into an early learning curriculum is often referred to as Early Childhood Environmental Education (ECEE), and its goal is to give little ones the opportunity to follow their natural sense of inquiry to discover the world around them. In this article, we explore environmental education in early childhood, highlighting its benefits for young children’s learning and development and the opportunities it offers to support the wellbeing of our planet.
What is Early Childhood Environmental Education (ECEE)?
ECEE refers simply to the practice of incorporating learning about nature and the environment into an early learning curriculum. In its guidelines for early childhood environmental education, the North American Association for Environmental Education provides this description of ECEE: “Environmental education in early childhood includes the development of a sense of wonder; appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the natural world; opportunities to experience the joy of closeness to nature; and respect for other creatures. It also includes the development of problem-solving skills and the development of interest and appreciation of the world around us.”
With little ones, environmental education might be as simple as climbing a tree, running on the grass in bare feet, digging in the soil to find worms, or watching birds move about in the trees. The heart of ECEE is encouraging children to explore and engage in meaningful experiences with nature that help them learn about the environment and develop a connection with our planet.
What are the Benefits of Environmental Education?
Benefits for Children
Spending time in nature has a wide range of benefits for young children’s learning, growth, and overall well-being.