Inclusion and innovation are central to Frazer Center’s culture, and that is precisely why Frazer was invited to present at a conference known as the largest national gathering of nature-based early education professionals, hosted virtually by the Natural Start Alliance.
In 2020, the Natural Start Alliance asked Frazer Center to become part of a cohort to help ensure their guidelines for nature-based preschool professional practices were not only safe and effective but inclusive of all children.
As Frazer’s Child Development Program team continues to develop and implement our new nature-based curriculum, a challenge has presented itself—how to effectively measure and evaluate the outcomes from this new curriculum.
Early childhood programs are mandated to be licensed and to meet other stringent regulatory and accrediting criteria. Since there are currently no widely accepted national or state standards for nature-based early learning, these programs tend to be small, with limited operating hours. This may allow them to be exempt from licensing, but it keeps them from being a practical choice for working families, or qualifying for public investment that makes it possible to serve children from families with limited income. De facto, nature-based learning becomes accessible only to those who can afford it.
Enter Dr. Gary Bingham, Director of Georgia State University’s Urban Child Study Center. Dr. Bingham and a group of graduate students are working with the Frazer Center to create, use, and test a tool for measuring the impact of the new nature-based curriculum on children’s developmental milestones.
This measurement tool is key to creating regulatory standards and accreditation for nature-based preschool programs, thereby making them accessible to families with low income.
Until that time comes, Frazer hopes to create a positive impact in our wider community by crafting a program to share with other early learning centers in the metro area that serve families with low incomes. This field-trip program will provide free access to Frazer Forest and the newly developed nature-based curriculum, as well as training sessions for teachers.
At the recent Natural Start Alliance virtual conference, Dr. Bingham and Frazer Pre-K Lead Teacher Caitlin Pittard presented on the development and implementation of the evaluation tool, and Susie Riddick, Frazer Center Director of the Child Development Program, presented on inclusion inside the classroom and outdoors in nature-based settings.
Based on feedback from the conference attendees, the Frazer Center inclusive nature-based model is serving as an inspiration for other early childhood educators across the country.