Given the active interest in developing nature-based learning opportunities (e.g., nature schools), it would be beneficial to know how it is understood and practiced within the profession. A review of the relevant literature indicates the knowledge base and conceptual framework tend to differ by country, region, school, and teacher. It is unknown how teachers are impacted by the eclecticism associated with these professional features. This study employs a Qual (semi-structured interview of experts) – qual (survey of practitioners) mixed method approach to explore the knowledge base and conceptual framework informing the practice of nature-based experiential education in North America. Experts (N = 6) were purposefully selected based on experience, expertise, research, significant contributions, and novel program development. Survey respondents (N = 103; self-identified nature-based, experiential educators) were targeted through organizational affiliation, listserv, and social media networks. The results show that personal experience is a highly valued source of knowledge among interviewees and respondents. Interviewees also emphasized developmental theory and theories associated with the benefits of nature contact as important features of ‘nature pedagogy.’ Respondents identified the works of Louv, Montessori, Piaget, Sobel, and Dewey as supplementing their knowledge base. The conceptual framework defining what teachers should know and be able to do in this context is eclectic, and fragmented. Overall, these findings indicate that this profession tends to be guided more by personal experience, not by a well-established professional framework, with the notable exception of the U.K. Forest School Association.
Joshua Meyer, Montana State University, United States