How will they be ready for kindergarten if they just spend their days outdoors playing?”

As educators we are often asked about kindergarten readiness by nervous parents, looking to give their children the best in an early childhood program. It is important that parents understand the vast amount of learning that is available when children are connected to nature. Young children learn primarily through their senses. The natural world, with its constantly changing and stimulating elements, provides the ultimate sensory learning environment.

Nature provides the ultimate sensory learning experiences.

When children use their senses as they explore their world through sensory play, they are actively building nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which is crucial to brain development. And, when we slow down, we can also see all the learning and social skills that are being developed through play in nature.

The warm spring sun shines down on Elizabeth as she buries her nose in the fresh dandelions that surround her. James our sky watching investigator, points out the moving clouds and the moon that is visible this morning. Suddenly a flock of honking geese flies overhead, which instigates a group of children to run honking around the play yard flapping their arms.

Creating environments that give our youngest learners the time, space, and opportunities to explore and investigate will provide meaningful learning experiences. We can create engaging and wonder-filled environments that promote learning through all eight of their senses—auditory, gustatory, visual, olfactory, tactile, vestibular, proprioception, and interoception.


“Listen! I hear a woodpecker!” calls Hudson, and the outdoor classroom quickly becomes calm as the children try to follow the sound of the pecking.

When children listen for and locate sounds in nature, it helps them understand that space is three dimensional. Birds call from high in the trees, the buzzing and humming of insects near plants on the ground attracts the attention of infants on their tummies. The children in our program often hear the horns of trains from across town or the steeple chimes from the college nearby, barking dogs in the neighborhood or the elementary students at recess down the block. These sounds force our children to slow down and follow the direction from which they came. By including bells, chimes, and your classroom musical instruments; you can add to the variety of sounds in your outdoor play space.


“We’re having a picnic!” shouts three year old Evelyn.

Food always tastes better outside. Eating outside strips away distractions and connects us to the flavors, the juiciness, and the aromas of our food and to nature. Sharing time outdoors with food also creates a sense of community between teachers and friends. There is something special about eating outdoors, even the exact same lunch. There is no rush, there are more stories, and more laughing. We spend longer periods of time around the table when we eat our meals outdoors. It’s magical. If lunch is an obstacle, start with a snack. If you don’t have a table, a good old fashion tablecloth or blanket on the ground will suffice.

Connect taste with nature by growing edibles from seeds or seedlings. Talk with your children about all the parts of a plant as you plant, nurture, harvest, and eat from your own garden. We started do a lot of container gardening once we realized our sunshine in the summer was different than when we planted it in the spring. This also gives you a chance to send your plants home over breaks if necessary. When our strawberry plants didn’t provide quite as many strawberries as we had hoped, strawberries from our local farmers market “may” have been added to the pickings on Strawberry Day. The same thing happened with our pumpkin patch, one year! We always want these to be enjoyable, successful adventures where everyone can join in the gathering.


I look over and notice our usually busy, James lying still on his tummy. A closer look, I see him watching a trail of ants carrying food.

Children who spend time outside in nature are less likely to suffer from myopia (nearsightedness) than their peers who spend more time looking at screens. Nature calls on us to look carefully and to focus at different distances. By providing magnifying glasses for close-up examination of bugs and leaves, children slow down and take observation much more seriously. Binoculars will bring faraway objects close, and kaleidoscopes and fish-eye lenses fuel a sense of wonder. By adding visually stimulating motion and color, with the use of banners, parachutes, and flags that flap and billow in the wind, we can capture the attention of little eyes to focus on wind patterns.


Two year old Eleanor is busy cooking up mint soup for the birds and squirrels. Always our concoction driven chef, Eleanor, is quick to make use of different plants to create the colors and smells she is sure will arouse the creatures of the neighborhood.

By incorporating plants whose blooms have distinctive, pleasing scents, we create places of beauty and wonder. Place gardenia and viburnum at key spots along pathways, jasmine near the front door, and lilacs outside of windows. We have herb gardens at our entrances that children and parents are invited to pick anytime. Catching a whiff of basil from a young friend is not at all unusual during our summer months! Include native plants that have unique qualities in fragrance, color, and texture. Check with your local city for possible rain garden grants that may help you finance pollinator or native plant gardens for young children. Our program was able to create a dry creek rain garden area, full of pollinating, native plants that brought butterflies and hummingbirds to our play space. Many cities are giving away rain barrels which will give you access to water for plants and water play.


“Come feel how soft this flower is!” invites three year old Evelyn to her friends nearby.

Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies, making touch a vital source of stimulation. Tactile engagement is crucial, especially for babies. Connecting with plants and soil can begin early. Babies soak up sensory experiences in and near the garden. Hands and bare feet need to experience different characteristics and temperatures. Nature is rich in texture and tactile variety— bark on trees and shrubs can be rough, smooth, bumpy or thorny. Leaves can be sticky, fuzzy, delicate, or veiny. Stones can be smooth, round or jagged. Providing our young learners with these spellbinding opportunities, creates strong nerve connections that are hard to duplicate indoors.


“Watch me fly! I am a superhero!” Three year old James is pushing off with his feet and swinging high on his belly.

The vestibular sense, based in the inner ear, is related to balance. A well-developed vestibular sense helps us to understand where our body is in space. We are huge proponents of swings and belly swinging. Children with a poorly functioning vestibular sense may consistently run into things, trip a lot, and frequently fall. Experiences that develop the vestibular sense include swinging, swaying, bouncing, rocking, and rolling. The vestibular system helps with spatial awareness, attention, visual skills such as reading and writing, and emotional regulation. By including bench swings, hammocks, rope swings, tire swings, and baby swings, you will be strengthening the vestibular sense that makes paying attention and sitting still for short periods of time a possibility for our busy young friends.


The sense of proprioception informs us of our body’s position in space. The receptors for this system are found in our muscles and joints and they send information to our brain about where our body is and how much force we are using. This is the sense we need to understand how to gently hold a friend’s hand, play tag without tagging too hard, pet an animal, or make a light or dark mark on the paper. When children use their muscles and the force of their bodies to push, dig, roll or lift heavy things, they become aware of their own bodies’ capabilities.

Benjamin pushed me down!” a sobbing four-year-old, reports as tears run down her cheeks. I look over to see four-year-old Benjamin crying just as hard, if not harder.

Proprioception is important in building body awareness and achieving motor milestones. This is why tummy time is so very important for infants. Shoveling in the sandbox, moving stones to make a fort, or carrying buckets of water will all benefit our children. When we use our muscles it creates strength, and resistance is put on those proprioceptive receptors in the joints and muscles.


“I am so thirsty!” exclaims five year old, Lauren, as she rushes to the pitcher of water to fill a cup.

Just as there are receptors in your muscles and joints that make up our proprioceptive system, there are also receptors inside your organs, including your skin. These neurons send information about the inside of your body to your brain. Are you hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold? Do you need to use the bathroom? Is your heart racing or at a normal pace? The calmness in outdoors may help children recognize these signals and learn to listen to their bodies. We encourage our young learners to slow down and listen to their bodies.

In a natural environment, sensory learning happens naturally.

Outdoors is the perfect environment to observe and understand the senses that make up our young learners. By taking a minute to look at your outdoor environment and assess what it offers, you can address the changes that might be beneficial—even if it’s planting some herbs, adding a chime, or providing binoculars. Let’s celebrate and embrace the power of outdoor learning for young minds by designing simple, wonder-filled gardens of opportunities.


Article courtesy of Community Playthings

Loose parts are materials that can be used in a variety of ways.  It is very likely that you have things that can be used for loose parts play already around, such as bottle caps, rocks, pinecones, etc.  This handout was created collaboratively between Town Square and the Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute as a resource for the Oak Park Collaboration for Early Childhood Symposium.

Creating Challenges with Loose Parts Handout


New film by Debbie LeeKeenan and John Nimmo available  to stream for free!

Wonderful resources and opportunity to reflect on anti-bias education

Reflecting on Anti-bias Education in Action: The Early Years features vignettes of anti-bias strategies in early childhood classrooms interspersed with teachers reflecting on their practice.  Debbie and John partnered with filmmaker Filiz Efe McKinney of Brave Sprout Productions to create a film that shifts the focus away from the talking heads of experts and on to the voices of teachers committed to equity on a daily basis. By taking viewers into diverse early childhood classrooms, the film seeks to demonstrate the importance of teacher reflection on identity, context, and practice in anti-bias education and provides a much-needed resource for teacher education and professional development.




Las declaraciones de Town Square Research to Practice ofrecen información de la teoría y la investigación con ejemplos y sugerencias de lo que significa en su trabajo con los niños. Esta RtoP se centra en la importancia de un entorno hogareño para los niños.


Los beneficios de un entorno hogareño



One of the most important tasks for young children is developing self-regulation, and the support of caregivers is critical in this process. This Town Square created handout offers information on what is involved in self-regulation, why it is important, and how responsive caregiving can support it.

Self Regulation PDF

Nature Play as an Everyday Joy of Childhood

    For Kids, Frequency Requires Proximity

Most of us who enjoyed nature play in our childhoods realize that it didn’t matter if we had a pristine patch of forest to play in or just a couple of vacant city lots. Either way, there were endless things to find, explore, capture, imagine, and play with. But what was important is that these places were right there, within our walking/running/biking distance. No car, no parent, and no schedule were needed to get outside and play in nature.

The children and nature movement is fostering wonderful new ways for kids to play outdoors, such as designed natural playspaces, family nature clubs, and naturalized schoolyards. These and other similar efforts are valuable steps — not only for the kids, but for parents who are re-considering their children’s indoor, nature-deprived lives. Yet most of these new approaches are challenged in one vital dimension: frequency.

When Dr. Louise Chawla (University of Colorado) researched influential childhood experiences in nature, she found that, “The special places that stood out in memory, where people formed a first bond with the natural world, were always a part of the regular rhythm of life.”1 Those powerful experiences didn’t typically come from annual family camping trips, but rather from day-after-day, week-after-week events in children’s lives. Actually, no special research is needed to realize that frequent childhood activities have more lasting impact than ephemeral ones. For instance, practicing the violin once a month is not a very effective strategy! Is it better than nothing? Perhaps — but only if you set your sights very low.

The same equation applies to nature play. If we want it to have maximum impact, then it needs to be “part of the regular rhythm of life.” It seems unlikely that we can achieve this solely through monthly meet-ups or widely scattered playspaces — strategies that require parents, cars, and calendars, and thus compete for time within families’ hectic schedules. Are these approaches valuable? Absolutely! Are they sufficient? Unlikely.

If we really want to power-up nature-based play, it needs to be available where children can enjoy it almost any day, without adult involvement or confining schedules. For most kids this means either home yards or neighborhood parks — and (sadly) only the former is likely to alleviate the fears of 21st-century American parents. Can a typical quarter-acre suburban yard actually support nature play? Or a city lot half that size? Or an apartment courtyard? The answer is yes, especially for kids of about two to eight years old. Younger children’s worlds are much smaller than those of adults. They don’t need sprawling spaces or eye-popping vistas. Their attention naturally focuses on tiny and manipulable pleasures: on dandelions rather than rose gardens; on earthworms rather than herds of bison; on a patch of dirt to dig in rather than a yawning cave to explore.

Unfortunately, the typical American yard is no haven for nature play. Good nature play requires “rich” settings — that is, a diversity of plants, animals, and landforms that create endless opportunities for discovery and engagement. Turf grass lawns, solitary shade trees, and a few neatly trimmed shrubs do not meet these criteria. However, even the sparest yard can be augmented for good nature play with a little thought, a dose of elbow grease, and much less money than what those elaborate backyard play sets cost.

The key is to create yards with a “density of diversity:” a collection of micro-habitats that will harbor lots of natural discoveries and delights throughout the seasons. These micro-habitats might include a shrub thicket, a wildflower garden, a jumbled pile of boulders, a tiny garden pond, a butterfly garden, a berry patch, a mass of tall native grasses, or even a space allowed to just grow into whatever comes up! Once you’ve established a few of these tiny worlds in your yard, you can enhance them with a digging pit or a giant dirt pile, a couple of large logs, bird and toad houses, a bench or hammock in a quiet nook, and plenty of “loose parts” to nurture creative and constructive play. These loose parts can be branches, driftwood, cattails, bamboo poles, boards, tree cookies (log slices), tarps, seed pods, pine cones, large boxes, hay bales, and whatever else you can readily scrounge up.

By focusing your primary efforts on creating multiple micro-habitats, you will ensure authentic nature play: interactions with real nature, in all of its beauty, wonder, unpredictability, and adventure. Manufactured outdoor play components — like the plastic play equipment designed to look natural — do not create the same connections to the natural world. Kids can’t peel the bark off a plastic log to find rolly-pollies, and they won’t find monarch caterpillars feeding on fiberglass leaves. In fact, one big, over-grown wildflower bed — or a patch of flowering shrubs laced with tiny paths — will bring more lasting and real nature play to your kids than will any human-made product!

Note, though, that nature playscapes are more “messy” than most home landscaping, so you may want to keep much of your nature play zone in the backyard where it won’t generate hostility from neighbors who think front yards should look like golf greens. However, certain nature play features are usually “dressy” enough to bring into front yards, like butterfly gardens, boulders, and herb gardens. And by highlighting street-side nature play, you may encourage other local parents to think more about “kid-scaping” their own yards. Nature play zones get better and better when more of your neighbors imitate and add to your own efforts!

None of these steps towards home-based nature play require great knowledge, training, or expense. They can be implemented bit by bit, and your plans can be in constant flux as you discover what your kids and their friends most enjoy. The ultimate goal is to create enough nature play “critical mass” so that your kids are excited to play in their own yards — day after day, and whenever they wish. Then nature play will be a regular joy for your children; then it will achieve the frequency needed to influence and benefit them for decades to come!

Article courtesy of Community Playthings

Why Observe Children?

Commonly heard responses are that early care and education (ECE) professionals observe children to monitor progress, to complete required assessments and screenings, and to identify learning or behavior challenges.

Observation is a core piece of the assessment process and continuous quality improvement (CQI) planning. ECE professionals use observation to document a child’s learning and to inform teaching practices. But another reason for observation is to spark learning and development.

Interactions come first

Research shows that young children’s learning occurs best within relationships and with rich interactions. Children need stimulating and focused interactions to learn. Researchers find that boosting children’s thinking skills through quality interactions is critical to children’s learning.

“Children benefit most when teachers engage in stimulating interactions that support learning and are emotionally supportive. Interactions that help children acquire new knowledge and skills provide input to children, elicit verbal responses and reactions from them, and foster engagement in and enjoyment of learning.” (Yoshikawa et al. 2013)

Quality interactions happen when a teacher intentionally plans and carefully thinks about how she approaches and responds to children. Emotionally supportive interactions help children develop a strong sense of well-being and security. Responsive interactions are responses and communication with children that meet their needs in the moment.

Most interactions with children offer ECE professionals the opportunity to engage, interact, instruct, and exchange information that supports healthy development and learning. Relationships between children and teachers grow stronger during everyday interactions. As children gain new information and ideas, ECE professionals can encourage them to share what they think and learn. Deeper thinking and learning engage children in the joy of learning and help to prepare children for new experiences and challenges.

Observation nurtures relationships and learning

Observation helps ECE professionals look at their interactions with children, and discover how important interactions are as they get to know and support children. Observation is a way to connect with children, to discover their connections to others and to their environment. Children who feel cared for, safe, and secure interact with others and engage in their world to learn. They are more likely to gain skills, and to do better as they enter school.

Use observation for an objective view of a child. When you really see the child, you get to know her and see more of her abilities, interests, and personal characteristics. Knowing each child helps you to plan individualized and developmentally informed activities. Look at what the child does and says without evaluating or labeling.

Find ways to build each child’s self-confidence. Reinforce success and effort. He may not be successful in all things but he can learn from failure as well as success. Encourage persistence, curiosity, taking on challenges, and trying new things.

Strengthen relationships as you learn more about the child. Talk to her about what she likes, and discuss shared interests to connect with her. Take her moods and approaches to situations into consideration, and let her know that you understand her perspective.

Observe to engage a child with you, other children, and the learning environment. Set up the environment with activities and materials that appeal to him, address his individual needs, and support his development.

Reflect on observations to assess each child’s progress, understand her needs and personality, improve teaching practices, and plan curriculum. Put ideas into practice to enhance learning and relationships.

Verify questions and concerns about a child. Talk to families and staff about him. Follow up if development or behavior is not typical.

Be aware of the quality of interactions with each child. Step back and consider how and why you and other staff interact with her. Do all interactions nurture relationships and learning?

Make tweaks, or small changes, while observing and afterwards. If something doesn’t work, try another approach or activity instead of “pushing through” with plans. Reflect on why something didn’t work, brainstorm ways to improve activities, and think of new activities to try.

Use information from observations to inform program practices and policies. Take a broad look at how the program supports all children and learning. Use the information for CQI plans.

Make observation an ongoing practice, a part of all interactions and activities, and watch for small changes and individual traits. Ongoing observation offers a chance to be proactive, to prevent problems.

Take notes, either during activities or shortly afterwards. It is easy to forget the quick “aha” moments when you are busy with teaching and care tasks, not to mention all the unplanned interruptions that pop up! Notes also make it easier to identify patterns and growth.

Interaction, relationships, and connections offer the deepest support to learning. Observation connects many pieces of information to give ECE professionals a better picture of each child. Observation is an ongoing, integral part of a quality ECE program, and professionals play an important part.


Emergent curriculum resource guide written by Elizabeth Jones​ adapted by Town Square for Family Child Care Providers

Emergent Curriculum


This Town Square created guide can be a helpful tool when planning activities for multiple ages and  different learning domains.

You can learn more about learning domains and planning for multiple ages in the material modules



To use this document on your computer using Microsoft Word

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Will le da de comer a Maya, su hija de 8 meses. Por un momento pausa y Maya usando sus manos hace el signo de “más”. Will se ríe. “¿Quieres más? ¡Bueno, aquí viene! “. Cuando el tazón está vacío, Will señala y dice “Se acabó. Maya se comió toda la comida. Se acabó todo.” Maya lo mira y sonríe.


Los niños desarrollan conceptos y habilidades de matemáticas muy temprano en la vida. Desde el momento en que nacen, los bebés comienzan a construir ideas sobre las matemáticas a través de experiencias cotidianas y, más importante aún, a través de las interacciones con adultos de confianza.  El lenguaje – la forma en que hablamos con los bebés y los niños pequeños sobre ideas de matemáticas, por ejemplo, palabras como más, vacío y lleno – tiene gran importancia.

¡Las matemáticas existen en todas partes!

Usamos un vocabulario de matemáticas básico todo el tiempo, sin darnos cuenta. Por ejemplo, cuando separamos la ropa por color, usamos los conceptos matemáticos de clasificar. Cuando llevamos la cuenta durante un juego y determinamos cuánto se adelanta o atrasa nuestro equipo (número y operaciones), o le damos a alguien direcciones para ir de un lugar a otro (relaciones espaciales), eso es matemáticas. Constantemente usamos palabras de comparación (medición) como grande y pequeño y usamos patrones para explicar el orden de las rutinas y actividades diarias (“Nos lavamos los dientes después del desayuno”). Con nuestros niños, jugamos y cantamos canciones que usan números y cuentas (como “Uno, dos, abrocha mi zapato”).

Incluso sin el apoyo de uno, los bebés y niños pequeños usan conceptos de matemáticas para dar sentido a su mundo. Por ejemplo, los bebés como Maya señalan cuando quieren más comida. El más es uno de los primeros conceptos matemáticos que entienden los niños. Los bebés indican, a menudo de forma dramática, que saben la diferencia entre los adultos conocidos y los desconocidos (clasificando). Los niños pequeños tratan de subirse a cajas de varios tamaños (relaciones espaciales) y decir palabras y frases de cuentos o canciones familiares que utilizan la repetición (patrones).

Podemos lograr que las matemáticas que ocurren en la vida diaria sean visibles para los niños a través de la charla de matemáticas. Cada día tenemos numerosas oportunidades para ayudar a los niños a ampliar su comprensión de los conceptos matemáticos. Entre más hablemos a cerca de las matemáticas, más oportunidades tienen los niños de construir una actitud positiva hacia el aprendizaje de las matemáticas y el aprendizaje en general.

Conceptos básicos de matemáticas

Al conocer los primeros conceptos de matemáticas, uno puede ser más consciente en sus interacciones diarias con los bebés y niños pequeños. Aquí hay cinco conceptos básicos de matemáticas que pueden ser incorporados en las conversaciones diarias con bebés y niños pequeños.

1. Los números y las operaciones: comprender el concepto de números, la cantidad, el orden, las formas de representar los números, la correspondencia de uno a uno (que un objeto corresponde a un número) y el conteo.

2. Figuras geométricas y relaciones espaciales (geometría): identificar y nombrar las figuras geométricas, entender la relación física entre uno mismo y otros objetos y las relaciones entre los objetos.

3. Medidas: tamaño, peso, cantidad, volumen y tiempo.

4. Patrones, relaciones y cambios – reconocer (observar las relaciones que constituyen un patrón) y/o crear repeticiones de objetos, eventos, colores, líneas, texturas y sonidos; entender que las cosas cambian con el tiempo y que el cambio puede ser expresado con un vocabulario matemático. ¡Estos son los componentes básicos del álgebra!

5. Colectar y organizar la información – juntar, clasificar y analizar la información (datos) para ayudar a dar sentido a lo que está pasando en el medio ambiente.


Hable de las matemáticas con su hijo de forma habitual. Por ejemplo, el momento de cambiar los pañales, la hora de la comida y del baño, los paseos por el vecindario y las salidas de compras son momentos ideales para contar, identificar figuras geométricas y tamaños, hablar de patrones y describir cómo las cosas son iguales y diferentes.

Haz una lista de palabras y frases de matemáticas. Colócala en el refrigerador o en algún otro lugar a mano para recordarte que debes aprovechar las oportunidades de hablar de matemáticas.

La charla de matemáticas enriquece las experiencias de aprendizaje cotidianas de los bebés y los niños pequeños. Se sorprenderá de lo mucho que saben y pueden aprender. Su charla de matemáticas de hoy puede ayudar a sus hijos a tener éxito en las matemáticas a medida que crecen.


Original English Article – Math Talk With Infants and Toddlers