An experimental UNL program that takes youth naptime outdoors has been highlighted in an international publication for early childhood professionals and a new book.
The Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory on East Campus has offered “nature naps” during summer daycare sessions since 2008. The program is an extension of the lab’s principle of connecting children with nature.
“We started to build on the theory of using the outdoor environment as a classroom,” said Jenny Leeper Miller, a master teacher in the lab and lecturer with Child, Youth and Family Studies. “That included eating outside, literacy experiences outside — basically, bringing the inside outdoors. So, we thought we’d try napping too.”
On average, Leeper Miller said about 50 percent of children in the daycare program did not fall asleep during indoor naptime. When the naps moved outside, many of the students used natural materials — such as bark and reeds — to soothe themselves to sleep.
Leeper Miller said all the children who did not sleep inside fell asleep during the outdoor naptime.
“The real surprise was from student teachers,” Leeper Miller said. “They thought it would never work, that it would be too distracting. They were very surprised and noticed how relaxed the children were. Sounds that were typically distracting inside, like crying, weren’t as distracting outside.”
The teachers also benefited from the outdoor time, reporting that that felt more relaxed in the natural setting and less anxious that children who were not sleeping would disturb others.
Leeper Miller, fellow master teacher Erin Hammel and associate professor Julia Torquati presented the concept of bringing the inside outdoors at the North American Association for Environmental Education’s national conference in October in Baltimore.
On Dec. 4, ExchangeEveryDay, an electronic communication of Exchange Magazine, highlighted the program and its inclusion in the new book “Growing with Nature: Supporting Whole-Child Learning in Outdoor Classrooms.”
Exchange Magazine is distributed to thousands of early childhood professionals globally.
The Ruth Staples Child Development Laboratory was founded in 1928 as the first facility west of the Mississippi dedicated to the study of child development. It is accredited by National Association for the Education of Young Children. Fewer than 9 percent of facilities nationwide earn that distinction. Ruth Staples serves children 18 months to 5 years and is as a teacher training facility where UNL students take an active role in the classrooms by planning, implementing and evaluating activities with the children, under the supervision of faculty. The program is housed in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies in the College of Education and Human Sciences.