Frazer Center recently hosted a group of Pre-K students and their teachers from Our House in Decatur, a nonprofit early education center that provides “a pathway to stability and independence for families experiencing homelessness.”
Frazer invited the Our House students and teachers to go on a field trip to Frazer Forest to experience the new inclusion nature-based curriculum that we have developed. This outreach component is the next phase of the curriculum development that has been three years in the making.
In 2019, this nature-based curriculum initiative was already in the works, but Frazer put it on a fast track as outdoor learning became a safer choice during the pandemic. Many of Frazer’s teachers were already taking advantage of outdoor learning in the forest, but they had no formal lesson plans.
As we first began looking for a nature-based curriculum to adopt, it became apparent that the vast majority of nature-based curricula treated children with disabilities as an afterthought. Lessons could be “retrofitted” for those children. So Frazer decided to create a new nature-based curriculum to ensure that principles and practices of inclusion informed every part of it.
Nature-based early learning has existed in Europe for more than fifty years, but establishing this approach in the United States has been difficult. A lack of licensure regulations means most nature-based preschools in the U.S. are unlicensed, putting them out of reach for low-income families who must rely on a childcare voucher for services. But as the world grows increasingly digital, parents and educators in the U.S. are pushing for more outdoor learning for young children.
Frazer Center made a commitment to overcome the obstacles to nature-based learning for both children with disabilities and children from low-income families. To that end, our leadership entered a collaboration with Dr. Gary Bingham, Director of the Georgia State University Urban Child Learning Center. Dr. Bingham put together a team to help Frazer Center create formal inclusion nature-based lessons and develop appropriate evaluation tools to gauge the effectiveness of the curriculum.
Frazer Center classroom teachers and inclusion staff helped Dr. Bingham’s team determine the most practical and effective ways to implement nature learning using an inclusion model. Together, GSU and Frazer have developed 77 inclusion nature-based learning units. Now that Frazer’s teachers are implementing these units, the outreach phase of the program has begun.
The vision has always been to offer the training and curriculum—at no cost—to educators at early learning centers that serve under-resourced communities in the metro area. Frazer Center and GSU developed a training manual for the curriculum, and Frazer is now making the forest available to these centers for field trips.
Frazer’s collaboration with Our House is proving successful. This summer, our staff first visited an Our House classroom and led a nature-based learning experience in their own outdoor area. In September, the same children from Our House ventured out for a morning in Frazer Forest with the Frazer staff and GSU team. The children participated in a scavenger hunt in the forest, then returned to the sensory garden to discuss what they observed. Afterwards, they enjoyed a sack lunch al fresco. And in the spirit of inclusion, a Frazer classroom invited the Our House children to join them on the playground before they headed home.
Frazer hopes that Our House is just the first of many centers to take advantage of the abundant opportunities for learning, fun, and growth that Frazer Forest and the new inclusion nature-based curriculum provide.
If you would like more information about Frazer's inclusion nature-based curriculum and field trip program, contact Vice President of Programming Pam McClure at email@example.com.