Getting our kids outdoors
01/08/2019 By Julie Ernst and Firdevs Burcak - Applied Human Sciences, University of Minnesota Duluth

Young Children’s Contributions to Sustainability: The Influence of Nature Play on Curiosity, Executive Function Skills, Creative Thinking, and Resilience

Abstract: Environmental education for young children has great potential for fostering the skills,
values, and dispositions that support sustainability. While North American guidelines emphasize the
importance of using the natural world for open-ended exploration, discovery, and play, this approach
has been criticized for lacking the transformative power necessary for meaningfully contributing to
sustainability issues. Four pilot studies were conducted exploring the influence of nature play in
the context of nature preschools on children’s curiosity, executive function skills, creative thinking,
and resilience. These studies used established quantitative instruments to measure growth in these
constructs among nature preschool participants, comparing this growth with participants in high
quality, play-based, non-nature preschools. The results suggest a positive contribution of nature
play, with greater levels of curiosity, creative thinking, and resilience than what was observed in the
non-nature preschool participants, and executive function skills similar to the non-nature preschool
participants and exceeding national norms. Collectively, these pilot studies suggest the potential
contribution of nature play in the context of education for sustainability.

Read Full Report