The Chilean quest for introducing outdoor learning and play in early childhood education

With this week’s post, we are excited to announce the official launch of our new Early Childhood Outdoors Vimeo channel!  Over the coming year, we hope to add visual material so that we have a lively companion for this more word-oriented blog, for celebrating, sharing and motivating across the ECO meshwork.  We are especially looking forward to being able to provide virtual tours of ECO Pioneering Centres of Inspiration, so that everyone can see some of what takes place at early years settings which are pushing the boundaries in working with (and for) the outdoors.

Josefina Prieto is a nature-based outdoor play champion in Chile, who over several years developed a wonderful project with early childhood centres in Santiago – a large and very urban city – called Naturalizar Educativamente.  With great thanks to Francisca Reutter and Javiera Silva at Fundación Ilumina, we are able to host the short film they made about the project and its impacts for children and adults alike.

Menna and I had the great fortune to meet Josefina at the EECERA conference in Crete in 2014, where we bonded over a love of soil, amongst many other things.  During Naturalizar’s multi-year programme, Josefina translated the Making a Mud Kitchen booklet into Spanish (available as a free download on Muddy Faces’ Outdoor Hub), using it to inspire and support developments in the participating early childhood centres.  She says the creation of mud kitchens at every participating centre:

“proved to be an outstanding source of magical learning experiences which has benefited the wellbeing of children as well as staff members (not to mention learning and developmental improvements)”.

This post provides an introduction into this innovative and highly successful Outdoor Learning Early Childhood Programme – the first of its kind in Chile, and very much leading the way.  Josefina published a full description and critique of the programme in The Sage Handbook of Outdoor Play and Learning (edited by Tim Waller et al (2017 Sage Publications) Chapter 32: 511-529 “Naturalizar Educativamente”: The Chilean Quest for Introducing Outdoor Learning and Play in Early Childhood Education).

Do watch out for Josefina’s next post later this year, where she will describe in more detail the concept and thinking behind the Naturaliza model.

The Chilean quest for introducing outdoor learning and play in early childhood education by Josefina Prieto

Naturalizar is a Chilean outdoor learning program designed and implemented since 2011 for urban early childhood centers located in undeserved areas, where there is little or no access to nature.

Its aim is to improve children’s opportunities in terms of wellbeing, learning and development through daily sessions of outdoor play and learning, connected to natural elements.

“A whole staff training process begins, a deep sense of nature as a pedagogical tool, becoming part of their daily professional life.”

The program consists of:

  • 1) training whole staff,
  • 2) coaching their pedagogical work with nature for two years and
  • 3) creating five outdoor learning spaces, planted with more than a hundred plants (each one of them selected because of their ecological benefit (native, attracting birds or butterflies), its sensorial appeal (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight)… all of which result in pedagogical outputs.

Gradually, nature transforms children into agents of change who deeply love and embrace nature.  At the Early Childhood Educational Centres that embrace Naturalizar, and therefore nature, children produce vermicompost, leaf mold, seedlings, seeds, fruits, vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, and edible flowers.  They cook with them as well as with mud (thanks to my favourite mudologist for inspiring us on that path).

“So what we are looking for, is that nature really reigns in kindergartens.”

After nine years, I can say that something that started as a dream back in 2011, today is reality at 115 nurseries.  The ripples are enormous, with many yet to be discovered.  The main one from my perspective has been educators’ and technicians’ re-enchantment with their career and vocation.  The second one, learning outside has become joyful and awesome for children.  Thirdly, many members of the ECEC´s staff feel proud, committed and bonded with their colleagues, making true the impossible dream: teaching and learning with nature in the middle of the city.

Video and photographs are all copyright Fundación Ilumina and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.




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