Best practices in action

Use Nature to Nurture

These strategies use nature and/or natural elements (the use of green space, gardening areas, outdoor unstructured play, natural areas, natural shade, and fixed features) to support children’s ability to explore and experiment. Use nature to develop self-regulation skills, family and peer relationships, self-esteem, communication and coping skills, experience mastery and challenge, and engage in appropriate risk taking.


  • Support joint-use agreements with public and private green spaces (parks, playgrounds, undeveloped land, etc.).
  • Encourage local efforts to provide or improve natural spaces in the community.
  • Include a parent/guardian-teacher-staff communication plan emphasizing the importance of using nature/natural elements.
  • Include information about maintaining and caring for plants, trees and natural elements.
  • Encourage using plants that are child friendly, native to the local area, and promote interaction with local/native wildlife (e.g., birds, insects, etc.).


  • Activities include outdoor programs and healthy eating practices.
  • Schedule time outside on a regular basis.
  • Activities are supported by guides/materials (listening guides, handouts, etc.) with suggestions for how to best use them and different ways to connect to the environment.
  • Activities include opportunities to learn about and/or model environmental stewardship and sustainability practices.
  • Practices encourage using and sharing of food grown on-site.
  • Activities enhance caregiver comfort in interacting with nature/natural elements.

Physical Characteristics

  • Space design includes the use of structures, or plants and trees that provide shade.
  • Space design includes the use of plants to delineate areas of active and restorative play.
  • Interior spaces provide views of green spaces through windows to bring the outdoors inside.
  • Interior spaces use varied physical elements to create small areas of nature or natural elements within the space (e.g., planting seedlings, container gardens, water features, etc.).
  • The space incorporates water and sand features or areas of water exploration.
  • The space incorporates winding, curvy paths to support circulation and wheeled-toy use within the space.
  • In outdoor spaces, grassy areas are available for games, activities, and events.
  • Within the space, there are a variety of loose natural materials (e.g., loose soil, fallen leaves, sticks, rounded stones, flowers, etc.).
  • Space design incorporates strategic, natural light features.
  • Space design includes natural features such as logs and rocks that promote open-ended play.
  • Graphic and written signage within the space highlights particular natural elements and describes options for engagement.


  • There are continuing education opportunities for staff/volunteers are available regarding the benefits of nature for children’s social and emotional development, as well as how to use natural elements within the space.
  • Organizations actively seek out and engage local experts to provide training and support that optimizes use of natural elements within the space.