Good Morning and Welcome! What a glorious day --- we are so happy each of you is here this morning, and we’re enthusiastic about spending the day together!
My name is Elyssa Nelson, and I have the privilege of serving as the Executive Director of the Child Educational Center. The Outdoor Classroom Project is a central and mission-specific initiative of this organization. This is our 20th conference, and interest in the outdoor classroom principles and practices across the ECE field has grown exponentially in the 14 years since we began the Project. In fact, the outdoor classroom movement has not only gained great momentum, but it has matured and has truly begun to change the larger landscape of early childhood education.
By virtue of your presence and active engagement today, you are part of this growing educational community committed to connecting children to the natural world and your presence is highly valued and needed. You each have a critical contribution to make, and many of you are already leaders in this movement. We have some wonderful presenters and workshops here today to stimulate, provoke reflection, and support you in your professional journey.
Some of you have been part of this journey with the Outdoor Classroom Project since 2003, and many of you are joining us here for the first time. Today, we stand on the strength of accomplishment that many have contributed over this period of time. We are fueled and inspired by the growth and expansion that has taken place here in California, all over the United States, and the world.
This year, we have chosen to focus on the Whole Child. This includes the social, emotional, creative, cognitive, and physical aspects of development, and also the spirit of the child and synergistic force that flows through and connects all these aspects in a further, unique way.
Maria Montessori said, “Free the child’s potential and you will transform him into the world.”
I believe the best way to free the child’s potential is through a holistic approach that recognizes and honors all aspects of development and their synergistic connection. This includes plenty of time in nature-based outdoor classrooms which naturally promote the experience of inter- and inner-connectedness and, with highly engaged teachers, naturally support Whole Child development in all domains.
Currently, there is much focus on STEM and STEAM in early childhood. This is great since these are important areas of knowledge. At the same time, there is an increasing concern about the increased pressure on children in education and their subsequent psychological well-being. A whole-child perspective addresses the STEM, STEAM, and the full range of developmental and educational needs of children while also recognizing and honoring the greater connection and synergy of all these facets of human expression.
Current holistic leaders draw heavily on the work of Maria Montessori, Frederic Froebel, Rudolf Steiner, and others. Despite differences in terminology, emphasis, and educational technique, these educators asserted that the developing person unfolds from within, guided by an internal creative force. For them, education meant what its Latin root suggests: a leading out or drawing forth of life energies and personal potentials that exist within the individual.
The purpose of education, according to the holistic thinkers, is to nourish the growth of every person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, and spiritual potentials. It does not focus on determining which facts or skills adults should teach children, but on creating a learning environment that will stimulate the growing person’s creative and inquisitive engagement in the world.
In order to thrive, human beings need to act from an inner sense of wholeness; the natural world is the perfect environment for learning to cultivate this capacity. In a very personal way, the time in nature can reveal deeper connections within ourselves and bring a profound experience of peace, calm, and strength. Take a moment to think about an experience you’ve had. Perhaps it was recently or long ago when you were outdoors in nature and experiencing the sky and clouds, or maybe a beautiful flower, the changing colors and characteristics of the seasons, the breeze in the trees or on your face, weeding in your garden, observing intricate patterns on a leaf, observing the behavior of a bug, taking in a vista. The rest of the world just melts away for those moments, and they restore your natural balance and sense of wholeness!
This year, over half of our participants come from LA County. Our total attendance represents:
- 61 centers and 7 agencies
- 13 counties across California
13 of our 70 Demonstration Site Network centers are represented by 51 people. I hope for and encourage a tremendous amount of meaningful sharing and learning in the workshops from each of you.
In our gathering together and collaboration, sharing and learning, and reaching out to each other in heartfelt ways, we find our greatest strength, expanding capacity, our own authentic selves and our wholeness. In claiming our wholeness, we have it to offer children.
Your presence, action, and the continuing expansion of interest in the outdoor classroom movement give us great optimism that an increasing number of children will have the opportunity to grow up healthy and with a deep sense of well-being, wholeness, and identification with the natural world.