STEM learning through nature play in early childhood settings

HomeEarly childhood education resourcesCurriculum design in early childhood educationSTEM learning through nature play in early childhood settings

STEM learning through nature play in early childhood settings

HomeEarly childhood education resourcesCurriculum design in early childhood educationSTEM learning through nature play in early childhood settings

In this webinar, Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles and Dr Maia Osborn from Southern Cross University, Australia share findings from their research into teaching and learning science and STEM concepts through play-based pedagogies, and in particular, through nature play. The webinar examines ideas around play-based pedagogies, as well as definitions of nature play and STEM, enriching these explorations with practical examples from multiple research projects. Amy and Maia also wish to acknowledge and pay respect to the ancestors and descendants of the Yugambeh people on whose Lands they work, meet, research, and learn. They wish to acknowledge that within and without the buildings, the Land always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.

To help you navigate the webinar easily, a list of the key topics covered in the session is shared below, including the time each was discussed. The key ideas discussed in this webinar are also shared in a short insight article.

Topics discussed in this webinar

Times shown in minutes and seconds from the start of the video

3.10 What is STEM?
4.06What is STEM play
16.33 What is nature play?
29.36 Intentional teaching strategies for enhancing nature play and STEM
39.15 Common concepts learned through nature play
43.12 How to develop deep sustained interest and inquiry
46.02 Nature play and STEM with infants and toddlers
52.50 Concluding comments: where to start

Questions for exploring the key ideas from this webinar

How do you perceive nature?

What are family and community beliefs about children’s engagements with nature? Are there some aspects that might be challenging for families and children (rain/mud/bugs)? How might you create discussion about values and beliefs in relation to nature and nature play?

What opportunities are there for children to engage with and as nature in your setting? Are these opportunities reminiscent of a ‘nature-for-our-use’ perspective, or of an ‘our-entanglement-with-nature’ perspective? How might you shift practices towards the latter?

How might you embrace nature as co-teacher (in both immediate and more slow and sustained ways)?

How might you nurture children’s innate awe and fascination with/as nature?

What extended and repeated opportunities are there for children to develop sustained interest in an aspect of the natural world?

What questions, resources, learning environments, and excursions might you provide to encourage STEM exploration through children’s current nature play interests?

Further reading

Amy’s slides can be accessed by here.

Visit, which includes resources that outline specific examples of STEM nature play from Australian early learning settings, such as:

The Research Handbook on Childhoodnature: Assemblages of Childhood and Nature Research Edited by Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Karen Malone and Elisabeth Barrat Hacking

Upcoming publications:

  • Nature Play and the Learning of Scientific Concepts in Early Childhood: A Scoping Review
  • ‘Nature play enlivens children’s curiosity for learning’: Possibilities for STEM learning through nature play in early childhood

The following resources explore the nature play STEM nexus, and also illuminate opportunities to embrace children’s entanglement with/as nature:

Brindal, E. (2023) Learning with place: exploring nature connection practices on the Earth Kids programme. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 1-15.

Jickling, B., Blenkinsop, S., Morse, M., & Jensen, A. (2018). Wild Pedagogies: Six Initial Touchstones for Early Childhood Environmental Educators. Australian Journal of Environmental Education. 1-13.

Speldewinde, C. & Campbell, C. (2021). Bush kinders: enabling girls’ STEM identities in early childhood. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

Wiedel-Lubinski, M. (2020). STEM in outdoor learning: Rooted in Nature. In L. E Cohen & S. Waite-Stupiansky (Eds). STEM in Early Childhood Education. How science, technology, engineering, and mathematics strengthen learning. Routledge. pp. 182–205

Ward, J. (2017). Back to basics: How Bush Kindy is encouraging Australia’s smallest scientists. Wildlife Australia, 54(3), 38–39.

The main projects discussed in the webinar include:

Mapping Scientific Concepts through Nature Play in Early Childhood Education: Achieving Excellence in STEM through Evidence-Based Pedagogies. Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, Professor Alexandra Lasczik, Professor Karen Malone, Associate Professor Linda Knight and  Dr Maia Osborn.

Examining play-based approaches to teaching and learning in early childhood education and care. Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie and Professor Suzy Edwards.

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