Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood
Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood is a nonprofit conservation organization focused on “bringing children and nature back together” as a crucial step in raising a new generation of conservation-minded adults.1 Their work is based on research that shows frequent, unstructured childhood play in natural settings to be the most common influence on adult conservation values, while it also supports the healthy social, emotional, intellectual, creative, and physical development of children.
Unfortunately, dramatic changes in modern childhood have made this kind of “nature play” far less common than ever before in human history. To help counteract this trend and advance its mission “to restore and strengthen the bonds between children and nature,”2 Green Hearts promotes active, informal nature explorations and self-directed outdoor play. Working nationally and internationally, Green Hearts focuses its messages on parents, educators, and conservationists, and employs three primary strategies: educational advocacy, consulting assistance, and the promotion of nature preschools.
Green Hearts uses conference keynote addresses, workshops, podcasts, college lectures, newsletters, and other writings to advocate for the value of nature play and how it can be restored to childhood. Among Green Hearts’ publications are A Parents' Guide to Nature Play and Design Principles for Nature Play Spaces in Nature Centers and Other Natural Areas, as well as nature play resources for early childhood centers.
Green Hearts also provides nonprofit consulting services and assistance to other organizations that are interested in incorporating more nature play into their programs and sites. The primary emphases of this consulting work are:
- Conceptual design for children’s play spaces that emphasize authentic interactions with natural habitats and materials; and
- Business planning and design assistance for nature preschools, which are licensed early childhood centers where the enrolled children enjoy daily play and explorations in natural settings.
Green Hearts also helps organizations establish policies and procedures for nature play and related safety concerns.
Green Hearts has a long-term goal to develop and operate its own network of nature preschools, starting near their home base in Omaha, Nebraska. These nature preschools will serve as the core program within small “children’s nature centers” that are entirely designed around the interests and needs of children -- an approach common in children's museums but missing in nature centers. Green Hearts envisions child-scaled landscapes that allow “collecting, running, digging, climbing, and hiding, as well as more quiet pretend play.”3 Combining a “whole child” approach to early childhood education with frequent submersion in the natural world, these preschools will nurture life-long bonds with nature while simultaneously enhancing the healthy development of children, including “the curiosity and joy that should pervade all education.”4
Green Hearts’ efforts utilize best practices in environmental education, child development, naturalistic landscaping, and conservation design – all with the primary aim of fostering more positive societal values about the environment. Their ultimate goal is to “find ways to put nature back into children's hearts, not just into their brains. Nature play is the key to this challenge.”5
Most of Green Hearts’ services are delivered by veteran environmental educator Ken Finch, who founded Green Hearts in November of 2005. Ken’s background includes a master’s degree in environmental education, a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology, and more than 35 years of management and teaching experience with nature centers, children's museums, and nature preschools. He is a past president of the Association of Nature Center Administrators, and continues to work closely with the nature center profession.
- 1. “Welcome to Green Hearts!” Green Hearts Inc. < http://www.greenheartsinc.org/ > 21 March 2012.
- 2. “Media Information.” Green Hearts Inc. < http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Media_Information.html > 21 March 2012.
- 3. Finch, Kenneth H. “Creation of a Play-Focused Children's Nature Center.” US Play Coalition. < http://usplaycoalition.clemson.edu/resources/articles/Play_Summit_Abstracts.pdf > 21 March 2012.
- 4. “Nature Preschools.” Green Hearts Inc. < http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Nature_Preschools.html > 21 March 2012.
- 5. “What is Nature Play?” Green Heats Inc. < http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Nature_Play.html > 27 May 2012.