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Early Childhood Education Training
Certificate Coursework and Practicum

Outdoor learning offers long term and lasting impact to the educational system, students served, and the preservation of local ecology. Learning in nature is especially important for young children, who benefit from the sensory and infinite learning opportunities in an outdoor classroom. It also boosts children’s immune systems by providing opportunities for them to play in natural, healthy soils with native plant biodiversity. Recent studies conclude that children’s IQs are boosted and behavioral issues are lessened when they have access to nature, regardless of their family’s socio-economic status. This program will specifically address the needs of early childhood educators and their students.

Through our year-long certification program, teachers will learn the 26 physical and pedagogical components of an ELSEE (The Environmental Lab for Sustainability and Ecological Education)- and USGBC-certified outdoor classroom; they will learn to build, maintain, and teach 50 “Playing with Intent: Nature Immersion + Food” lesson plans in an ELSEE-certified outdoor classroom, and will learn how to attract community volunteers and funding to help create and maintain their teaching garden. Teachers who complete the certification will have the skills to design, create, maintain, and teach in an ELSEE-certified outdoor classroom.

1)   Students will learn elements of California Ecology, including a range of our local ecosystems (including grasslands, coastal, desert, chaparral, mixed evergreen forest, and redwood) which are showcased in our flagship ELSEE garden. By showcasing our local ecology, each ELSEE garden teaches children how to love, restore and protect our natural environment.

2) Students will learn how to use Regenerative Organic Agriculture methods to teach children how to grow their own food in an ELSEE garden, and how to restore soil with compost, no-till agriculture, and native plants.

3)  Students will learn how to design, create, and maintain an ELSEE-certified teaching garden. Students will learn 26 components of ELSEE-certified gardens.

Pedagogical elements include:

  • indigenous edibles
  • familiar comfort foods
  • a children’s herb garden including herbs especially good for children, such as lemonbalm, mint, lavender, chamomile, yerba buena, and cultural herbs, based on the demographics of the school
  • pollinator and insectary plants distributed through plant communities
  • paths where children can run around, and ROA food mounds where they know to look for food
  • secret and wild areas for observation and study
  • areas where children can climb, hide, and make-believe, made of natural and/or reused materials (such as climbing trees, stump hops, log balance beans, sand pits, and water-play areas)
  • maker areas with protection from the sun (including tables, scrap wood, age-appropriate tools, supplies for painting and crafts, kept in secure, waterproof area); found objects (such as old boats,cars, trailers, etc) for climbing and pretend play. Toxic paints, etc, must be removed.
  • Edibles at height where children can tend to them. Dangerous (poisonous or prickly) plants must be clearly labeled, and in a special area, or avoided, depending on population.
  • Fences built of reused pallets or other repurposed materials
  • Areas for water play and washing and preparing food
  • Areas where children can play in the mud or sand
  • Rope bridges
  • Shaded areas with seating for projects or storytelling, performances
  • Vertical gardens (food towers, or aquaponics garden, living roofs, tool shed, found objects that are repurposed
  • Community events: “barn raising,” workshops, food distribution
  • A “stage” for dancing, storytelling, and performance
  • Play kitchen area (made with real cooking tools)
  • Greenhouse and propagating area
  • Greywater system
  • Rainwater storage tanks
  • Original art
  • Plastic free zone

Depending on the site, each teaching garden will include ecological elements, such as:

  • insectary plants
  • local native plant communities
  • sustainable methods of irrigation
  • reuse, cleansing and storage of rainfall and large storm events
  • different kinds of soils
  • aquaponics
  • re-use of materials(renew, reuse and repurpose)
  • ROA (regenerative organic agriculture) mounds

4)  Students will learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare native and sustainable food plants, and will learn how to provide complete nutrition with locally grown foods. Students will learn how to share this knowledge with their classrooms, integrate food harvesting and preparation into their curriculum, and introduce new and appealing recipes to children and their families.

5)  Students will learn a variety of Native American stories, how and why to tell them, and the relationship of indigenous storytelling to native species of plants and animals.

6)  Students will study the history, theory, and practice of outdoor education. They will study issues of inclusion and safety in outdoor education; the health benefits to learning and playing outdoors, and how we can shift our educational paradigms towards outdoor learning for all ages.

7)  Teachers will learn how to introduce gardening to young children; specific methods for instilling curiosity and confidence about how we grow our own food using ROA methods, and how to share our love of nature, biological diversity, and how to be better stewards of our planet with a variety of hands-on activities that can be adapted for all ages.

8)  Students will have access to over 50 ELSEE lesson plans designed to introduce young children to the relationships between native plants and animals, using a combination of Indigenous storytelling, music and movement, art, gardening, and cooking in an ELSEE garden, and will learn how to adapt or create their own lesson plans based on this model.

9)  Students will learn how to raise funds through grants and community organizations, and volunteer labor to help create and sustain their teaching gardens.

Course Descriptions

Course One: Introduction to California Ecology

This class will introduce students to the main ecosystems of our region. Students will learn about native plant and animal communities, with a focus on ecosystems of our region. This will provide California educators with a foundation for understanding and teaching about the complex systems that sustain the natural world around us. Some field trips required.

Course Two: Introduction to Designing, Growing and Maintaining an ELSEE-certified teaching garden

Students will learn how to propagate, grow, and harvest native food plants in an urban, regenerative garden.They will have opportunities to compare, design, and build a variety of native gardens. They will learn which plants attract beneficial insects, which plants should be planted together, and also learn when plants are best propagated and harvested. They will be introduced to sustainable irrigation, aquaponics, different kinds of soil, and the theory and practice of regenerative organic methods of agriculture and gardening in our urban landscape.Students will also learn how to find and apply for small grants to help fund their gardens, and how to find community volunteers to help maintain their gardens in the long term.

Course Three: Eating California: Introduction to Regional Plant-based Cuisine

Students will learn how to grow, harvest, cook, and design appealing menus based on native and sustainable food plants. We will introduce CNGF’s 21st Century Food Pyramid, they will also learn how to provide complete nutrition using foods we can grow locally, with regenerative agriculture.

Course Four: Indigenous Storytelling and Native California Species: Theory and Practice

Students will read a variety of essays about the relation of indigenous storytelling to our local ecosystem, based on the reciprocal relationship of indigenous peoples to the land. We will have opportunities to hear and tell stories, both new and traditional, both with and without props. We will discuss sensitivity to cultural differences, particularly when telling stories from traditions and cultures that are not our own, and discuss how to properly tell and attribute traditional stories, even as a storyteller, in some way, makes each story their own. Selections from:
Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Course Five: The Wild Child: Theories and Practice of Nature Immersion in Early Childhood Education

We will study a variety of theories and case studies of nature immersion education both regionally, and abroad. We will learn how to teach a variety of subjects in and around nature, and learn about the benefits of teaching outdoors. We will discuss issues of safety and inclusion in the outdoor classroom. This class will also explore cutting-edge research into soil science, the human microbiome, and the relation between the two. We will learn how exposure to healthy soil can help to build physical and emotional resilience in youth. Some field trips required.

Course Six: From Compost to Harvest: Teaching Regenerative Gardening Methods to Children

Student-teachers will learn how to grow a teaching garden with children, focusing on a variety of native plants and their relationships to animals, other plants, and the ecosystem. We will focus on how to use hands-on activities to instill, in children, tools for how to grow their own food, a love of nature, and an understanding how to be better stewards of our planet.

Nature Immersion Teaching Practicum

Each semester, students will be enrolled in garden and/or teaching practicums.

For more information about this program, please contact us.