Ring necked ducks on the pond at Gilbert Water Ranch

Ring necked ducks on the pond at Gilbert Water Ranch

I helped out at a Maricopa Project NICE Nature Day Camp for early childhood educators this week. Twenty two educators came for the three day camp, taking part in a wide range of activities designed to spark ideas on how to get kids engaged with the outdoors. Most teach at preschools, spending their days with children from 2-5 years old. NICE stands for Nature Inspired Childhood Education and is under the umbrella of U of A’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The NICE theory is that early childhood is the optimal time to create a life long connection to nature and that being outdoors is integral to a child’s growth and development.
Early on the first day camp participants inspected insects in plastic containers, potential classroom “pets”, such as crickets, millipedes and an impressive family of Madagascar cockroaches. A few teachers allowed the bugs to creep across their hands while NICE coordinator Nikki Julien discussed the natural history and care of the animals.
Bill Kurtz, local architect and Boy Scout dad, spoke to the group about basic architectural terms and rope tying, inspiring a fort building activity. Teachers teamed up outside to make forts from old sheets, cardboard and palm fronds. Next, Pam Justice from Project WET talked about The Incredible Journey of a water molecule. We again went outside for a game that had us all moving from oceans to clouds, to rivers and lakes and through the soil and bodies of plants and animals as water molecules, earning colorful beads along the way.
On Tuesday Terry Doolan from the Arizona Department of Education’s Early Childhood Education gave a great talk on the importance of outdoor play. She explained how “big body play” builds motor and social skills and refines cognitive structure. The teachers shared their favorite items to bring to outdoor classrooms to engage children with the nature world and physical play.
Under the early spring sunshine in the County Extension’s demonstrations gardens we talked about soils, plants and compost, and the teachers potted up some seeds. Later Phoenix Herpetological brought a gopher snake by and talked about the fascinating reptiles of the Southwest. On Wednesday out at Gilbert Water Ranch the teachers visited stations located around the park that featured birds, soils, insects and healthy risk taking.
I remember when my kids were toddlers. It was rewarding and exhausting keeping up with their activity and endless questions. I’m happy these teachers are able to receive training and support. And how wonderful that people recognize that the littlest kids especially need to get outdoors and experience the natural world.


One response to “NICE

  1. Thank you, Gail, for your help with the Project NICE Nature Camp–we had a wonderful time–just as you described! I really appreciated your help and the teachers appreciated your presence and expertise!

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