Witnessing the role of the environment come to life right before my eyes.

In the world of Early Childhood Education, we hear this phrase: The environment is the third teacher. How many of us interpret this tends to reflect how we design our environments for children or the materials we offer.

This statement asks educators to think deeply about the spaces we create for children and families and how they can be adapted to represent the interests, development, and unique attributes of each individual in the space.

I have heard this statement for years and have used it to guide the way I create, design, and interact with the learning environment inside and outside. However, it wasn’t until today that I saw clear evidence of this impact right before my eyes. The forest we visit with the kindergarten program has a hilly, grassy space that we go to while Chelsa completes our risk assessment inside the forest. Generally, this is a space where the children run, play tag, and barrel roll down the hill.

Today…was different. We approached the space to see a field of dandelions. At first glance, I witnessed how the children’s body language completely transformed. The best word I could find at the time was: delicate. The children softly glided through the grass and delicately observed the wonders around them. The children gathered into small groups and discussed their curiosities. I overheard some exclaiming, “Did you know that these are all seeds?!” as she pointed to the individual white fluffs on the head of the flower. Another child was curious as to where these dandelions came from…he landed on the idea that it must have been, “Someone who is really kind came last night to plant them.”

I had observed the way I could impact the children by arranging the environment, but this was the first time I saw how nature herself could have such an influence on these amazing little people. It reminded me of the power of nature and how it can lift us up, slow us down, and remind us to be in awe of the magnificent gift of a single dandelion seed.

This experience has shifted me and will continue to impact me as an educator. I wanted to share it as a gift for us all. To remember that the power of learning is not about fancy, expensive materials. The most powerful learning environment is one that we can come to know and experience day after day. Where we can see and experience change. And one where we can be given the time, space, and freedom to explore its intimate details and changes.

This is the power of nature-based learning and my new understanding of the power of the environment as a third teacher.

Jessica, RECE