Early Childhood Program Heads Back to School, Bringing Nature-Based STEM Learning to Pre-K Students

Most area school districts begin classes this month. Alongside all of the students and teachers, those heading back to the classroom include members of the FWBG | BRIT early childhood education team. They will spend the school year helping some of the youngest learners in our area explore the outdoors.

“Our goal is to help teachers incorporate nature into learning for three-year-old pre-k students,” says Early Childhood Program Manager Cheryl Potemkin. “It’s a really powerful program that brings so much both to students and teachers.”

Bella the Begonia and Carlos Cactus puppets
Bella the Begonia, the education team’s puppet mascot, leads outdoor adventures along with friends such as Carlos Cactus.

The Bella Outreach program began in 2017 with FWBG | BRIT educators serving seven classrooms spread across four campuses in Fort Worth ISD. By last year, it had expanded to eight campuses and 11 classrooms. In the 2022-23 school year, the program will reach 20 new classrooms in three new school districts: Castleberry, Lake Worth and White Settlement.

The program has several components. One critical element is placing nature-focused books in classrooms for teachers to read to their students. Another is providing teachers with professional development courses and nature-based curriculum.

The third factor is a monthly classroom visit by FWBG | BRIT early childhood experts. They bring along Bella the Begonia for an outdoor exploration with the students. “We go out and explore their campus. If they’ve read about grasses that month, we go find grasses. If we’re talking about wildflowers, we hunt for dandelions,” says Potemkin. The goal is to get students outside and interacting with the plants they see everyday, even in an urban environment.

Students love it, says Potemkin. “I have so many stories,” she says. “One boy was very shy about speaking in class, and he barely said a word. By the end of the program, he was talking to us about butterflies, using the proper terminology and speaking extensively. His teacher said he only talks when Bella comes. Those lessons really connected with that student. That sort of thing happens all of the time.”

Teachers also gain confidence in using their campus as a classroom. “Before they might have only gone outside to the playground. Now they’re looking for wildflowers with their students. It really expands their horizons,” says Potemkin.

The education team seeks to share its experience with teachers beyond the Bella Outreach program. Early childhood educators are invited to join the Early Childhood Impact Series, a professional development program that invites teachers to work with their peers and FWBG | BRIT experts over four sessions during the school year. Teachers gain a greater understanding of how to connect literacy and science, gain experience exploring the outdoors with young students and learn best practices for creating and using outdoor learning environments. Enrollment is open through Sept. 12 for the 2022-23 Impact Series.

“Students today have very little access to nature,” says Potemkin. “We’re excited to help these students learn the joy exploring the outdoors.”

Related Articles

Lightscape 2022 Lit up tree
Engage

Lightscape Dazzles Fort Worth and Delights Guests

The much-anticipated Lightscape, presented by Bank of America, has been open for about three weeks—and has established its place in the hearts of area residents. Guests are taking to social media to describe their reaction to the immersive experience that takes its guests through a twinkling field of bluebonnets, a blazing fire garden and a cathedral of light, with stops along the way for hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows. Learn more and buy your tickets today.

Read More »
Learn

Craft a Unique Gift at Upcoming Botanical Jewelry Class

The beauty of nature is extraordinary—but temporary. Botanical jewelry offers a chance to preserve the beauty of nature forever. A golden leaf or blooming flower can be crafted into pendants or earrings that can be worn and treasured for a lifetime. You can learn how to make your own botanical jewelry at a Dec. 10 workshop by nature artist Becky Nelson. At the end of the class, you’ll have a unique piece to give as a gift or wear yourself as well as the skills to explore this craft at home.

Read More »
Ornamental cabbage
Garden

Look to Cabbage for Winter Color—and a Touch of Horticultural Magic

In stories of wizards and witches, transfiguration is described as the magic of turning one object into another. With the wave of a wand, a magician can turn a teacup into a hedgehog, a rabbit into a hat, or a human into a cat. Here in the real world, transfiguration remains impossible—mostly. One plant species seems to have the ability to magically transform into a bewildering variety of forms and shapes. You may have enjoyed one of these forms for dinner last night. You may be growing another in your flowerbeds. Brassica oleracea isn’t magic, but it may be as close as we muggles can get.

Read More »
Newsletter

Welcome Winter with Festive Snow Globes while Learning about Renewable Energy

Snow globes are so simple but so mesmerizing. Most children love shaking the globes and watching sudden blizzards engulf whatever tiny worlds exist inside. This December, your family can build their own custom snow globes that will not only serve as cheerful outdoor decorations but also introduce the fundamentals of renewable energy.

Read More »
Learn

Explore the Garden After Dark at Lightscape and the Night Hike

Garden guests have multiple opportunities this year to experience the Garden in a new way: After dark. Usually the gates close before sunset, and guests to evening events such as After Hours or Concerts at the Garden are restricted to well-lit, defined areas. This autumn, both Lightscape and the Night Hike will take guests on magical treks that will give them a new perspective on this well-known place.

Read More »
"My Father Is the Gardener" book cover
Newsletter

Meet the Author of the New BRIT Press Book “My Father Is the Gardener”

Many gardeners find the work of tilling the ground, planting seeds and caring for plants deeply meaningful. Author Shelley S. Cramm and illustrator Layla Luna have explored gardening as a spiritual practice and linked this experience to the plants and gardens of the Bible in their new book My Father Is the Gardener: Devotions in Botany and Gardening of the Bible, now available from BRIT Press.

Read More »