Schlitz Audubon is a leader in hands-on nature-based education. To support early childhood educators, we launched a regional organization to serve as a resource for those in eastern Wisconsin working in nature-based education or hoping to start their own programs. To accomplish this, Catherine Koons-Hubbard, the Center’s Preschool Director, gathered together a group of early childhood educators who created the Wisconsin Nature-based Early Childhood Association, or WiNBECA.
The initial members included representatives from Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool and the Urban Ecology Center, both in Milwaukee; Woodside Elementary School in Sussex; The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County; Riveredge Nature Center in Saukville; and Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Baraboo.
WiNBECA’s Early Childhood Focus
WiNBECA’s statement of purpose details its focus area in early childhood education.
We believe that all children have the right to play and engage with natural environments. We believe that connecting with nature in childhood strengthens community, improves critical thinking, supports physical and emotional well-being, and fosters stewardship of the earth.
WiNBECA hopes to provide resources for those looking to start their own nature-based programs, as well as for those wishing to incorporate more nature into their existing curricula. We strive to meet best practices in environmental education and early-childhood education, and to promote evidence-based research in our field.
Our goal is to inspire and support educational programs that meet the developmental needs of all children, while encouraging joyful and lasting connections to nature.
What WiNBECA Offers Its Members
This group offers several services for members, including co-hosting professional development workshops for teachers, as well as getting together to exchange ideas and offer support. Some of the topics early childhood educators face when it comes to nature-based education are unique to the field. These include how to best meet licensing regulations intended for indoor programs, how to create a nature-based curriculum that is also supportive of young children’s development, and how to be a stronger voice for nature-based education in early childhood when so many schools are cutting out recess to allocate time for math and reading.
In June of 2019, WiNBECA and the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association co-hosted the annual Midwest Early Childhood Educator Symposium at the Morton Arboretum. This symposium is a one-day conference aimed at traditional early childhood educators, but which has nature-based education as its focus.
Next May, we will be co-hosting the Symposium here at Schlitz Audubon. The theme will be Get Outside Your Comfort Zone. We are hoping to attract a combination of traditional early childhood educators, as well as nature-based educators.
Even though WiNBECA is still very new, we hope to present a determined voice for the benefits of nature in early childhood. And that voice can only be stronger the more we speak it together.