Beyond the Walls: Conceptualizing Natural Environments as "Third Educators"

Julia Torquati, Julie A. Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


This research examined preservice early childhood educators' perceptions of outdoor settings and their intentions to use outdoor settings in their teaching practice. Students enrolled in an early childhood education program (n = 110) at a university in the Great Lakes region completed surveys that assessed perceptions of natural settings, intentions to use natural settings in future teaching, knowledge of the benefits of nature for children, and personal nature relatedness. Participants reported relatively high intentions to use natural settings in future teaching, as well as knowledge of the benefits of nature for children, but moderate levels of personal nature relatedness. Participants were more likely to select "maintained" settings such as parks for educational purposes, and more "natural" settings, especially those with water, for personal purposes. Knowledge of the benefits of nature experiences, the perceived difficulty in using natural settings, and personal levels of nature relatedness each significantly predicted intention to use natural settings in future teaching. We recommend that teacher preparation programs provide: opportunities for students to observe and/or interact with children as they engage in unstructured play in natural environments; opportunities to engage in both structured and unstructured learning experiences in natural environments; and preparing students to provide appropriate supervision in natural environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-208
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Early Childhood Teacher Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2013


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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