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January 08, 2009

The Magic of Childhood and Nature

Sobel-childhood-nature My wife and I threw my daughter a birthday party over winter break. It was a fairy themed party designed around the idea of creating fairy houses. I decided to use some of the strategies I discovered in the book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. The book written by David Sobel, the director of Teacher Certification Programs in the Department of Education at Antioch University, is a wonderful bridge for educators to cross from standards based education to the magic and wonder of place based education. It provides guidance on how to design, implement, and evaluate highly imaginative lessons within the context of high stakes assessment in schools.

We went on a fairy scavenger hunt along a creek in our local park. We followed clues written on miniature scrolls that talked about the sun, rocks, plants, and trees. Each clue led to one of three "fairy houses" hidden in a hollow tree trunk, a rotted log, and under stacked rocks. I was really nervous because, we had a 4 year-old boy, nine 8 year-old girls, one 8 year-old boy, and a 12 year-old girl. You might think that with that broad a range someone would be bored. The beauty of the situation, though, was that everyone had a great time. The 4 year-old boy was just as excited about building a miniature home for a fairy as the 12 year-old girl.

David Sobel, the author, talks about this aspect of outdoor play as building small worlds. In the book, he describes how 8th grade students used a creek near their school to create a miniature of the town they lived in, including bridges, a mill, and houses. This book is probably the most spiritually sound book on teaching practice I have ever encountered. The practical design principals that Sobel describes include: Adventure, Fantasy & Imagination, Animal Allies, Maps & Paths, Special Places, Small Worlds, and Hunting & Gathering. In one section Sobel describes the "Ecology of Authentic Curriculum" as drawing on play, fascination, group chemistry, serendipity, teacher capitalization, and the collective unconscious.

This book can be seen as the practical companion to Richard Louv's influential book Last Child in the Woods and the bill currently moving through congress, No Child Left Inside. If NCLI becomes law this book could be the way it is implemented to support effective and compassionate teaching in our schools.

I highly recommend this book because every time I pick it up it makes me want to take my class outside to learn.


It is this natural blending of imagination, creativity, and hands-on learning that preschool excels at producing for children.  How do you incorporate the outdoors in your day?

This review and other education book reviews by teachers can be found on the Teacher Leaders Network.

Image from: booksxyz.com

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