The University of Cincinnati will offer a first-of-its-kind online child childhood education degree with a focus on nature-based early learning, according to a July 12 announcement by the university.
The nature-based concentration for associate and bachelor's degrees will align with U of Cincinnati Online's existing early childhood education curriculum. That curriculum emphasizes play-based approaches to learning, supporting children's development, designing high-quality learning environments and using inclusive practices.
This new offering correlates to a trend toward outdoor and nature-based early childhood programs. There are 585 nature-based preschools, forest kindergartens and outdoor preschools in the U.S. — a number that has more than doubled in the past three years, according to the North American Association for Environmental Education.
The nature-based early childhood education degree program will help prospective teachers learn to guide students in building environmental knowledge and to provide lessons in formal and informal nature-based settings.
"Nature-based learning in the early childhood education (ECE) profession is growing," said Kathleen Bryan, U of Cincinnati’s program coordinator, in a statement.
"Studies show teachers need environmental knowledge and pedagogies to effectively engage children in nature-based learning that reflects best practices in the field,” Bryan said.
The laboratory child development center at UC, the Arlitt Center for Education, Research, and Sustainability, is one of the oldest in the nation and, according to Bryan, is at the forefront for demonstrating practice in nature-based early learning.