David Sobel’s 7 Principles for Children and Nature
Who is David Sobel and what are his 7 Design Principles for Children and Nature?
Just as Howard Gardner had identified a set of intelligence for children, David Sobel, a place-based educator, identified a set of play themes that emerge when children experience free time in nature. I highly recommend his book, Childhood, and Nature: Design Principles for Education.
Today, I invite you to use Sobel’s principles either as a guide to help plan learning experiences with children of all ages or as an assessment tool for evaluating your outdoor classroom designs. The principles are not linked to any specific developmental age but will appear differently as the child grows older.
Principle 1: Adventure
Sobel notes,” Environmental education needs to be kinesthetic, in the body. Children should stalk, balance, jump and scamper through the natural world. Activity with a physical challenge component speaks directly to children via the mon/body link.
Does your Outdoor Classroom curriculum include adventure games, balancing, jumping and/or prancing through the natural world? Are there experiences in your Outdoor Classroom that take children out of their comfort zone? To clarify, Sobel says, “Walks are for adults, adventures are for kids.”
Principle 2: Fantasy and Imagination
Sobel notes, ” Young children live in their imaginations. Stories plays, puppets show, and dreams are preferred media for early childhood. We need to structure programs like dramatic play, we need to create simulations in which students can live the challenges rather than just study them.
Does your Outdoor Classroom have a stage, boat, puppet theater and/or props?
Principle 3: Animal Allies
Sobel notes, ” If we aspire to developmentally appropriate science education, then the first talk is to become animals, to understand them from the inside out, before asking children to study them or save them.”
Does your Outdoor Classroom attract wildlife? Does your outdoor space invite children to pick up animals, care for them and/or observe wildlife? Do you have a Butterfly garden? Bird Houses and Feeders? Pond?
Principle 4: Maps and Paths
Sobel notes, ” Finding shortcuts, figuring out what’s around the next bend, following a map to a secret event. Children have an inborn desire to explore local geographies. Developing a local sense of place leads organically to a bioregional sense of place and hopefully a biospheric consciousness.”
Do you include activities that require map making? Does your Outdoor Classroom have a scavenger hunt? Home-made stepping stones? Do you have activities that have children following directions, seeking and finding, and sequencing and ordering of events?
Principle 5: Special Places
Sobe notes, ” Almost everyone remembers a fort, den, treehouse, or hidden corner in the back of a closet. Especially between ages eight and eleven, children like to find and create places where they can hideaway and retreat into their own found or constructed spaces.”
Does your Outdoor Classroom have places for children to retreat? Can children build their own dens? Is this a place where children can write quietly? Sunflower House? Tee Pee Garden? Gathering Place?
Principle 6: Small Worlds
Sobel notes,” From sandboxes to dollhouses to model train sets, children love to create miniature worlds that they can play inside of. Through creating miniature representations of ecosystems, or neighborhoods, we help children conceptually grasp the big picture. The creation of small worlds provides a concrete vehicle for understanding abstract ideas.”
Principle 7: Hunting and Gathering
Sobel notes, ” From a genetic perspective, we are still hunting and gathering organisms. Gathering and collecting anything compels us; searching for hidden treasure or the Holy Grail is as recurrent mythic form. Look at the success of ‘Where’s Waldo’. How do we design learning opportunities like treasure hunts? ”
Does your Outdoor Classroom’s box of tricks include treasure hunts, cooperative games, and hide and seek? For older children, it may include games such as Capture the Flag and Kick the Can. Much of this principle is about developing social and cooperative skills.
Now I want to hear from you. Do you have any of David Sobel’s 7 Principles for Children and Nature in your Outdoor Classroom? If so, which ones? Do you have a favorite principle? Share in the comments below and join the conversation with our Outdoor Classrooms Facebook group HERE.