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HOW HELPING CHILDREN FIND NATURE HELPS US FIND OURSELVES

About the Author

Jenny Leibham is a nature preschool teacher in Milwaukee, WI. Her favorite part of her job is seeing the students find comfort and awe in nature. She was a trainer at the Natural Leaders Network Legacy Camp in 2015. Spider webs are as magical to her today as they were when she was a child.

What makes you come alive? What if you did more of that? How would the world be different? I think about these questions often when I am at a crossroads in my career or when I just feel lost.

For me, the answer to this question is nature, laughter, children, connections and learning. These feed my soul, and have led me to my career path as a nature preschool teacher, a career that lights up every part of my being and inspires me to become a better teacher and person.

Claire Warden with students and parents at her nature kindergarten in Scotland.
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Claire Warden with students and parents at her nature kindergarten in Scotland.

I always knew that I wanted to work with children. At a young age, I would come home from school and set up my teacher desk and teach my sister things that I learned that day at school.

I would give her stickers for a job well done and write happy notes on her pretend homework. When pretending to be a teacher got tiring, we would find ourselves outside with our brothers and horse or dog exploring and playing imaginatively. I felt at total peace there. I craved being outdoors. Playing, listening to birds, seeing seasonal changes and digging in the soil were just a few things that comforted me.

I have been on a journey for the past five years in search of myself. It has been a journey I wouldn’t trade and has led me to many amazing places and people. I think it’s important to remember to take risks and go after what you want. What is meant to be will just fall into place.

Since nature was and still is a huge part of my existence, I felt drawn to it when I made the decision to change my major in college from early education to recreation management. Then, after many seasonal jobs as an environmental educator, fate stepped in again. I met Claire Warden at a conference. She is a teacher in Scotland and one of the world’s leading proponents of  forest kindergartens — places where children do most of their learning outdoors. Listening to her, I felt overwhelming excitement about connecting children to nature in a preschool setting. Spending time with children outdoors immersed in nature and learning is what my intuition had been shouting at me all along!

I think about the nature preschoolers I explore with everyday and see the same wonder, excitement and solitude nature brings them that I felt as a child. We spend 75 percent or more of our time outdoors exploring nature together. The growth in health and overall development in each child is astonishing. Their imagination is encouraged. Learning through play and nature is what the program strongly supports, and this fits my core values.

I look at the children and I see kindness, courage, amazement, surprise and wonder for what nature is. I see them come alive in nature and I feel alive when I’m with them. I am inspired by sharing in their journeys as I continue on mine.

I leave my job every day feeling alive.

Still, until recently, I couldn’t say that I was confident in myself. Yes, I felt great working with children and connecting them to nature, but I never took the time to look inward. I realized that before I could make a greater difference in my community or even continue my work as an educator I needed to reflect more deeply about my life.`

My inner struggle finally came to head when I went to the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp. I met powerful, dynamic people with inspiring stories and amazing confidence. Through the friendships I’ve made and the great conversations at the Legacy Camp and with my nature preschool coworkers, I’ve realized my worth. I feel like my journey to myself is not over, but I’m finally seeing the light in myself, and that’s what I’ll continue to strive for.

So think about this question when you are feeling lost: What makes you come alive? When you come alive, others see your true self, and what you offer the world is beautiful because you are part of it. You are important and what you offer the world is important. Let your light shine bright, and feed your soul.

Attendees at C&NN's 2015 Natural Leaders Legacy Camp
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Attendees at C&NN’s 2015 Natural Leaders Legacy Camp

 Additional Reading and Resources

C&NN Essays

THE LIGHT OF NATURAL LEADERS: Young People Move the New Nature Movement

BEYOND LEGACY CAMP: What C&NN’s Natural Leaders Do When They Get Home

TIME FOR A CAMP REVIVAL: The Return of Nature Camps and the Support for Those That Never Went Away

News

Kids Go Outside and Learn at the Arboretum’s Outdoor Forest School

Forest Schools: Fires, Trees and Mud Pies

Outdoor Kids Could Soon Learn Lessons in Calgary’s First ‘Nature Kindergarten

Would You Send Your Child to Daycare in the Forest?

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