The founder of Early Childhood Education, Friedrich Froebel, began the first Kindergarten – literally, Children’s Garden, in the 19th Century. These Kindergartens had an individual garden for each young child as well as a communal garden where the children could play and experiment in the outdoors. Froebel believed that children should grow in harmony with nature. Thus the very basis for early childhood education was formed on the premise of learning from and through nature.
The juxtaposition to this early understanding of the importance in linking nature to early childhood development, is modern Ireland today. The Heritage Council in Ireland recently published a report on Children and the Outdoors (http://www.heritagecouncil.ie/publications/welcome/article/article/children-and-the-outdoors/). This study looked at a modern Irish child’s interaction with the outdoors and his natural environment. It examined the benefits received by children when given access to outdoor play and exploration. The report also looked at barriers preventing children from engaging with the outdoors in a modern society. The report found that the child-nature connection is under serious threat. It found that children with disabilities were especially prevented from accessing the outdoors, even though significant health and well-being benefits were to be found in outdoor play. This is especially true for children on the Autism Spectrum. Children surveyed preferred being outdoors than indoors.
Sources such as The International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, support the theory that getting the opportunity to play and explore outdoors is a significant component of early childhood mental and physical well being. The benefits for children of learning in nature have been long recognised (Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S. 1989. The experience of nature; a psychological perspective. Cambridge University Press).
Ruth Wilson wrote in 1994 how environmental education in early childhood includes the development of a sense of wonder, appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, opportunities to observe nature up close and development of a respect for other creatures. She observed that early environmental education allows for the development of problem-solving skills (Wilson, R. 1994. Environmental Education at the early childhood level. Washington, D.C. North American Association for Environmental Education).
Considerable market research was conducted for the creation of NatureCubsIreland. It found that there is no comparable weekly nature class for this age-group and their parents/minders. Of all those surveyed, 100% felt that there was a need and would love to attend, a preschool-aged nature class.