Hamline University is the first Minnesota institution to offer a Nature-Based Early Learning Certificate, which trains educators to explore the many ways nature benefits children's development, health, well-being and learning.
The program, introduced by the School of Education and Leadership this spring, is rooted in research that shows children with consistent and meaningful outdoor experiences enjoy a variety of benefits: better academic outcomes, improved social-emotional health and executive function skills, increased empathy and pro-environmental behaviors; and enhanced creativity, resilience and well-being.
“During early childhood years, children really learn well through play and are driven by curiosity and exploration, and nature really lends itself well to that,” said Dr. Patty Born, Co-Program Director of Hamline’s Environmental Studies Department. “Also, kids are shown to learn more creatively and collaboratively when in nature-based settings.”
The certificate was developed for educators who work with children ages three to grade three, but is not limited to licensed teachers who work in a traditional school setting
“This certificate is a great fit for people who interact with children in non-formal education settings like zoos, museums, nonprofits and community organizations,” Born said. “Our population of students in the Natural Science and Environmental Education program is about 50/50 formal and non-formal education.”
In addition to its application to a variety of educational settings, the program was also developed with respect toward different geographic settings.
“Many children in America don’t live in a place that has access to huge tracts of nature, so we really think it's important at Hamline to give our students the skills they can use whether their setting is in an urban environment or a rural or forested environment, and that is something that makes this a really unique program,” Born said.
Hamline’s five-course Nature-Based Early Learning Certificate is offered fully online and can be completed in one year. The certificate can also be applied toward certain master’s degree programs offered at Hamline.