NatureStart Network: Building nature play partnerships for urban children and families (Final Evaluation Report)
NatureStart Network brought together early childhood educators and environmental educators to support nature play, exploration, and inquiry for young children and their families within urban environments. Project partners included the Forest Preserves of Cook County and two established Head Start programs in the Chicago area, Mary Crane Center and El Valor. The foundation of the project was a series of three two-day professional learning sessions that took place over an eighteen month period. Through hands-on, collaborative learning and reflection activities, the participating educators expanded their understanding of the role nature can play in child development and their skills to introduce young children to nature in classroom, neighborhood, and forest preserve settings. The Chicago Zoological Society Audience Research Department evaluated NatureStart Network using a mixed methods strategy to gather information from program staff, advisors, participants, and families. Through participant evaluation forms; reports from facilitators, advisors, and families; and learning session observations we saw growth in individual knowledge and attitudes, implementation of new skills, and changes in organizational approaches to young audiences. Individual participants indicated that NatureStart was helping them to better understand and appreciate the impact of nature on child development, recognize the importance of engaging entire families in nature experiences, feel more confident working with young children, feel personally more connected with nature, and recognize more opportunities to explore outdoors with young children.
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