A Nature-Based Preschool in the Desert?! You Bet!

By AAEE Member & Volunteer: Diona Williams

I am a full-time Early Childhood Education Professor a few days out of the week at a Tribal Community College called Tohono O’odham.  However, I have worked with children birth to age 8 for the last 17 plus years in many different capacities. My career has allowed me to work as an Infant/Toddler Mental Health Clinician II (behavioral health), Arizona Early Intervention Program, and CHILD Find Team/Public Educator as an Early Childhood Special Teacher.

What inspired me to open Out Back Learning LLC is truly my desire to grow my knowledge in the profession in Early Childhood Education and discover new and innovative ways to work with young children. I had an opportunity to attend a conference a year and a half ago at Prescott College, where I was able to learn about Nature-based Place and Play in Early Childhood Education. I was so inspired by the movement that I implemented the ideas and knowledge with my students the following school year, which led to gardening and outdoor lessons. I decided to leave public education to pursue higher education and to start this Nature-based Preschool Program. I love teaching college students about Early Childhood Education, but I absolutely love working with young children and families. The program is a passion project, but I have witnessed first hand how children can benefit from outdoor nature-based preschools.

Offering a Nature-Based preschool in the desert is unique from the typical nature-based and forest schools in the northwest, northeast, and midwest programs, because the desert environment is so different. In the desert we have everything from giant mesquite trees, prickly pear cactus & their fruit, to the scorpions & poisonous spiders.

So, how do the Out Backers survive the desert?

 

In Out Back Learning I have discovered the beauty of nature in a different way with my students, also known as the Out Backers.  For instance, one day the Out Backers discovered the Mexican Bird of Paradise plant has seed pods, and they could create, count, snap, build, and grow seeds. However, this plant has led to many other discussions beyond that. One example would be, when Leo asked, “Why do we not water this plant, but we water the jalapeno plant?” Or, when Isaac wondered, “Why does this plant have so many seed pods?”. This plant has led to even more conversations about pollinators, the importance of bees, and why butterflies hang out by the Mexican Bird of Paradise plant.

Life in Out Back Learning also gives the Out Backers an opportunity to take nature walks daily, even in the desert! I remember the first time the Out Backers took a nature walk, and we learned the importance of signs, landmarks, and directions. Now, the nature walks take twice as long because the Out Backers have discovered the wonders of every part of nature such as the pine needles, different rock varieties, flowers, leaves, cacti, etc.

Out Back Learning LLC also offers gardening opportunities for the Out Backers in the fall and spring, another easy way to connect with nature in the desert. Our fall garden currently has corn, herbs, cabbage, strawberries, jalapeno, cucumber, tomatoes, and sunflowers.

Every Monday the Out Backers get to harvest any item from the garden that they like to eat, take home, or cook. There are so many ways for young learners to safely play in and with nature in a desert environment. Knowing there are so many benefits to spending time in nature and nature-based learning & play, it’s important that we give all learners these opportunities, no matter what environment they’re growing up in!

You can follow the Out Backers’ adventures on their Facebook page and their Instagram @outbacklearning2019

 

 

Do you want your program featured in AAEE’s newsletter, on our website, & on our social media platforms? Contact us on our Facebook page, Instagram @EEinArizona, or comment on this article!

Towards Inclusive & Equitable Environmental Education

Environmental Education organizations across America are coming to terms with a history of practice that has often been, and continues to be, exclusionary of many groups. This was a central topic at our 2019 #WEareEE Conference, and we want to keep the conversation going. We’re also writing this short piece 1) to clarify some of the key terms, 2) to take a deeper look at reality of inequity in ‘green’ organizations, and 3) to share some valuable resources that we love that can help programs better serve the diverse communities here in Arizona. Down the road, we’re going to continue with blogs diving deeper into these topics and will be featuring some model inclusive EE organizations & efforts here in Arizona.

At AAEE we have been working hard on our organization’s mission,  culture, strategic planning, and practices to make sure that we center justice, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work. Diversity is strength, and we want our association to welcome the variety of beliefs, identities, languages, interpersonal styles, and values of all individuals in our state. Our goal is to create an association that is inclusive, respectful, and equitable, and to engage the talents of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to collectively create a sustainable future for Arizona that prioritizes social & environmental well-being. We recognize that we have a long way to go, that this is work that is never done, and we are looking forward to continuing to dig deeper & commit ourselves to positive change.

Have you heard of “DEI”? Maybe your organization wants to build a “DEI” strategy, or perhaps build a “JEDI” committee — But what does that really mean? What is meant by all these acronyms being tossed around in corporate, non-profit, and institutional circles? First of all, as we engage in this work, it’s important to remember that these words are representative concepts & actions surrounding serious issues, and to casually turn them into acronyms or just ‘another committee’ or just ‘another strategy’ can not only be ineffective, but harmful.

In the various environmental sectors: the government, non-profits, research areas, businesses, science/education/outdoor programs, and more, there is a pattern of this work being predominantly facilitated by middle to upper-class, white, and older populations. This imbalance becomes more prevalent the further up in leadership one looks. Yet, in many studies, Americans of color consistently demonstrate more concern for environmental issues that white Americans. This paradox points to a phenomena many refer to as the Green Ceiling, which Green 2.0 describes briefly as, “Despite increasing racial diversity in the United States, the racial composition in environmental organizations and agencies has not broken the 12% to 16% “green ceiling” that has been in place for decades.”

Even knowing that moving towards a more sustainable and just world takes all of us, “The leadership, boards, staff, and memberships of mainstream environmental groups continue to be largely white, upper middle-class, and older. This failure to include other segments of society is a serious limitation. It reduces the reach and impact of all groups working in conservation—from non-profit organizations to foundations to government agencies. All too often, it also means that the support of nature and conservation by people from diverse backgrounds—and the toll of environmental problems on less wealthy communities—is neglected or ignored.” (Dorceta Taylor, Green 2.0)

In order for all of us to achieve our goals we need to prioritize inclusive & equitable practices that address social & environmental injustices as the interdependent systems that they are. One of the places we can start is by building personal and organizational cultural competence. For those of us in EE who aren’t familiar with the term “cultural competence”, if you check out this great chart, you may see something surprising. (Martin & Vaughn, Cultural Competence: The Nuts & Bolts of Diversity & Inclusion) The components of cultural competence, are almost identical to the components of the objectives of EE as documented in one of the EE field’s founding documents: The Tbilisi Declaration! The same familiar elements of the EE “Awareness to Action” continuum from Tbilisi can be applied to understanding and developing cultural competence. 

With this in mind, we’re excited to share a list of resources that our colleagues and various members of our organization have shared with us. We’re looking forward to building this list and making a permanent set of resources on our page. If you see we’re missing some important resources–Let us know by commenting or messaging us on our blog, Facebook page, or Instagram

Resources:

Want to join the AAEE Team?

Hello Friends and supporters of EE!

Our annual board and committee recruitment period is underway. If you or someone you know might be interested in joining our team, please let us know!

Our team is working really hard to again make available one or more opportunities for EE practitioners to gather in person in 2020. Tucson has also been selected as the host location for the North American Association for Environmental Education’s international conference. Our NAAEE Affiliate will be co-hosting this event. If you or your organization is interested in assisting us, please let me know. We’ll be convening a planning committee very soon.

In order to accomplish our tasks in service to our strategic goals, we have a working/governing board managing several committees to share the workload. If you attended the 2019 Conference at Prescott College you saw those teams in action. We could not do it without help from folks on small tasks and people serving in leadership role.

So if you are inspired by the many EE practitioners in this state and want to work toward a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable field of practice, in service to meeting the educational needs of our diverse communities in Arizona, consider lending a hand over the next few years. I’m sure together we can accomplish fantastic things!

Here is the link to apply to join the Board of Directors. Thanks for all you do!

Yours for EE, LoriAnne Barnett

President, 2019-2020 Arizona Association for Environmental Education

2019 AAEE Conference Attendees

Shout out to businesses supporting EE!

It’s been more than a month since AAEE’s first conference in over a decade and we have not stopped thinking about it! Your professional development committee and board of directors are hard at work sorting through the feedback to shape future professional gatherings and the general organization to meet the diverse needs of our state. At the same time, we’re still basking in all the love from the businesses and organizations that helped make the conference possible. We thought it a good time to give them another shout out and encourage our members and friends to give them some love in return.

So, read on to learn a little bit more about these supporters of EE!

 

 

Founded in 1966, Prescott College offers four-year undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees and Ph.D. programs utilizing an experiential, self-directed model that attracts students motivated to make a difference in the world.A significant partner for us during the conference was the Center for Nature and Place-Based Early Childhood Education which was established to support and expand training for early childhood educators, pre-service teachers, administrators, and program directors in developmentally appropriate nature and place-based pedagogy.

The Center focuses on designing innovative nature and place focused college course curricula for Prescott College students in the Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education undergraduate and graduate programs. It also offers residential professional development institutes and outreach workshops that provide training and experiential learning opportunities for early childhood educators across Arizona and beyond, including the Summer Institute for Nature and Place-Based Early Childhood Education.

The Center provides opportunities and support for student research on the effectiveness of nature and place-based early childhood teacher education and outdoor learning activities in order to add to current professional knowledge in the field. The center actively seeks opportunities to collaborate with other higher education institutions, schools, and organizations in implementing nature and place-based teacher training initiatives and related research projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce exists to inspire, motivate and empower so that profit and planet exist in harmony now and for the future. We are on a mission to advance Arizona’s economy where eco-businesses thrive.

Our values are:
Higher Purpose: Live and work in ways that create a sustainable world.
Visionary / Innovative / Entrepreneurial: Apply disruptive innovation and forward thinking in support of sustainability.
Collaboration: Network to help each other be more successful.
Passionate: Dedicated to advancing sustainability.
Advocate: Promote the ecosystem of sustainable business.

Our member community brings like-minded individuals and businesses together to networking events like monthly lunch and learns and green drinks. We share our experiences and advocate for each other and our businesses through our like mindedness. Our passionate community provides several collaborative resources such as: Advocacy, Calendar of events, Member discounts, Newsletters, Social media connections, Website listing, Business services, Educational and special events, Group volunteer opportunities in community activities, networking, Passionate volunteer committee opportunities, Sponsorship opportunities to promote your business. Join the movement at our website or on Facebook!

 

 

The Natural History Institute provides leadership and resources for a revitalized practice of natural history that integrates art, science, and humanities to promote the health and well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world.

THE NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE IS A CATALYST AND “THOUGHT LEADER”
…convening national and regional gatherings and working groups of interested, concerned people to delve deeply into specific topics, to address particular problems, and find solutions and map strategies.  Learn more!

 

 

Nature Play Learning
Nature Play Learning offers concept design and educational services to all ages for nature play places from concept to installation to pedagogy and use.​

I believe Nature Play will save the world.
Learn more about services and philosophy.

 

 

Who are we?
As Technicians for Sustainability, we are a Tucson based, locally owned, mission-driven company specializing in renewable energy and sustainable technologies for residential and commercial settings, since 2003. The systems we install include solar electric and solar hot water systems. We are located just north of downtown Tucson in the historic West University neighborhood, at 612 N 7th Ave.

Our Mission:
Our mission is to help you translate your environmental values into a practical reality. Based in Tucson, we install high-quality, clean, solar electric and solar hot water systems that are built to last. Our goal is to ensure that Southern Arizona’s natural resources are used efficiently and with respect for present and future needs. Committed to practicing what we preach, we live with the systems we install, make fuel-efficient transportation choices, and whenever possible, do business with companies that hold values, standards, and ethics comparable with ours.

Learn more!

 

The USA-NPN brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States.

 

MISSION
The USA-NPN collects, organizes, and shares phenological data and information to aid decision-making, scientific discovery, and a broader understanding of phenology from a diversity of perspectives.

NATURE’S NOTEBOOK
Nature’s Notebook is a national phenology program in which professional and volunteer scientists record long-term observations of plant and animal life stages.
Learn More!