Young Children’s Preferences: What Stimulates Children’s Cognitive Play in Outdoor Preschools?


A number of studies have identified childcare environments as significant resources for children’s development, learning through play, and contact with nature. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how, from a child’s perspective, specific outdoor physical environments in preschools stimulate children’s cognitive play.

Emphasizing on the value of listening to children, this study reports the perspectives of twenty-two 4- to 5-year-olds. The study context was an outdoor preschool with natural, mixed, and manufactured settings. A combination of photo preferences and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate children’s perception of preferred settings and cognitive plays.

The results identified that children mainly enjoyed functional and dramatic play. They mostly preferred mixed behavior settings that incorporated ranges of natural and manufactured elements. Compared to other settings, children found mixed settings provided the most opportunities for functional, constructive, dramatic, and game with rules play. The outcomes of this study have implications for the design of outdoor preschools, suggesting a balanced integration of nature with manufactured play features to enhance cognitive play experiences.

To read the full article, click here. 


Can Urban Forest Settings Positively Influence Children with Autism?

In late July, autism_greenspaceUSDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the four recipients of the 2016 USDA Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grants. One of the recipients, Georgia State University (GSU) and several partners, will investigate the impact of natural environments such as urban and community forests on symptom expression in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Brian Barger, research assistant professor at GSU, is principal investigator for the grant, with collaborators from other universities, nongovernmental agencies, and the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS). Cassandra Johnson Gaither, project leader of the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit based in Athens, Georgia, and Annie Hermansen-Baez, SRS science delivery and Kids in the Wood coordinator in the same unit, will provide their expertise in assessment and science delivery.

“Research results showing the positive effects of managed natural environments such as urban parks and forests on human general and mental health have grown exponentially over the last decade,” said Barger. “Yet no studies to date have explored the effects of these environments on the expression of core and associated symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders.”

To read the full article in SRS’s CompassLive, click here.

Green Schools National Conference to be held in Virginia Beach, March 4-7, 2015

GSNC2015The Green Schools National Conference brings together experts and stakeholders to influence sustainability throughout K-12 schools and school districts.  Colleagues who share their passion and offer their own green schools experiences are put together in a true collaborative event with thought leaders and early adopters of green school best practices.   Attendees are passionate about transforming schools and the way they operate.  The annual conference is designed to allow attendees to learn about creative strategies for success and to take home real-life tools that can transform schools.

The 2015 conference will take place in Virginia Beach, VA, March 4-7, 2015. To learn more about and register for this conference visit:

Connecting Kids to the Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, Florida

mary__kids_in_woodsInterfaceSouth and local partners, including the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Alachua County School District, the Gainesville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, and Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, received funding through this year’s Forest Service More Kids in the Woods (MKIW) cost share funding opportunity. The MKIW program supports activities and programs designed to spark curiosity about nature and promote learning through applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles.

Project partners will collaborate with Westwood middle school science teachers to conduct outdoor science learning activities and service learning projects within the nearby Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, FL. Partners will also organize a school camp out, participate in career day events and science fairs, and conduct a train-the-teacher workshop on outdoor learning concepts and techniques. Project successes, materials and information will be shared locally, regionally and nationally through our combined partner networks.

To learn more about the Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program and 2013 cost share funding recipients visit:



Green Strides Webinar Series

The Green Strides Webinar Series acquaints school communities with the tools to reduce their schools’ environmental impact and costs; improve health and wellness; and teach effective environmental literacy, including STEM, green careers, and civic engagement.

May 1, 2013, 4-5 p.m. Bringing Climate Change Home (USFS/PLT)

May 8, 2013, 1-2 p.m. School Sting: Impacts on Communities, Health and Environment (EPA)

May 8, 2013, 2-3 p.m. Drinking Water Best Management Practices for Schools (EPA)

May 15, 2013, 4-5 p.m. Engaging Your Community on Green Apple Day of Service

May 22, 2013, 4-5 p.m. Teacher Ranger Teacher (NPS)

May 29, 2013, 4-5 p.m. Authentic Student Voice in GreenSchools! (USFS/PLT)

June 12, 2013, 4-5 p.m. Summer Reading for Environmental Education (EDN)

Sign up for Green Strides Webinar Series email updates to receive information on future webinars. All times are given as Eastern Standard. View archived webinars here.

Let’s Zumba Outside for GreenSchools!

shapeimage_28Lantrip Elementary Environmental Science Magnet School, Jackson Middle School and Stephen F. Austin High School, all in close proximity of each other in Houston, Texas, are partnering with the the Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas – Latino Legacy and many others, to host a Zumbathon to support area students in creating a more healthy Houston through campus and community greening projects. The US Forest Service is helping sponsor the free Green Expo and Health Fair.

The “Let’s Zumba Outside for GreenSchools!” event will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013, from 9 am – 1 pm at Stephen F. Austin High School, located at 1700 Dumble, Houston TX.

Primary components of the event will center upon getting children and their families outside, campus and community greening, site planning for outdoor spaces, and promoting the important connection between health and nature.

To learn more about this family friendly event visit


Kids in the Woods

Picture 2_kid fishingChildren today spend twice as much time indoors than their parents did at their age, a troubling statistic considering the many physical and mental health benefits of time outdoors. The US Forest Service More Kids in the Woods initiative seeks to address this growing disconnect between children and nature.

The “Kids in the Woods” section of the InterfaceSouth website has online resources about children and nature and the importance of outside playtime, including weblinks, handouts, articles and other publications.To view these resources and learn more about our efforts to encourage kids to get outdoors click here.


TREEmendously Fun Outdoors

DSCN4442Annie leading Zumbatomic session

Annie Hermansen-Báez and Wayne Zipperer of the Southern Research Station (SRS-4952 Centers for Urban and Interface Forestry) collaborated with Littlewood Elementary teacher Mrs. Ashley Whitehead and University of Florida graduate student John Lagrosa to lead a tree club for students from Littlewood Elementary’s multiage program in Gainesville, FL, March-April 2013. Each session began with a Zumbatomic®1 or yoga warm up outside, emphasizing the importance of outdoor activity and the need to engage in exercise to stay healthy. Students were then asked to “adopt” a schoolyard tree, each picking a different species of tree to learn about. Over the four-session club, students learned about their particular tree and kept a nature journal to record different characteristics of their tree. Students were given an official “Adopt a Tree” Certificate and made tree identification signs that will be displayed near their adopted trees for other students and teachers to learn about trees located around their school.

1Zumbatomic® classes are designed specifically for kids ages 4-12 and include specially choreographed, kid-friendly Zumba® routines to music that kids love, like hip-hop, reggaeton, cumbia and more.


PLT GreenSchools! April 10 Webinar: Green Jobs and Careers in Natural Resources

Project Learning Tree is proud to be a part of the U.S. Department of Education 2013 Green Strides Webinar Series in conjunction with our national partner, the U.S. Forest Service. The Green Strides Webinar Series provides school communities the tools to reduce their schools’ environmental impact and costs; improve health and wellness; and teach effective environmental education. 

Join PLT’s April 10 webinar on “Green Jobs and Careers in Natural Resources”

Green jobs and clean energy careers have been growing at a phenomenal pace and analysts project the trend will continue.  In our first webinar this year, to be held on April 10 from 4:00-5:00 pm EST, Green Team students who aspire to embrace green jobs as a career pursuit will share how greening their schools is helping prepare them for college and careers in natural resources.

 The webinar will feature:

  • Meryl Harrell, Acting Special Assistant/Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary, USDA. She will provide insight into USDA green jobs and how students can prepare for green careers.
  • Mike Maresca, Science and Sustainable Energy Teacher at Bloomfield Vocational Technical School in Bloomfield, NJ. This Blue Ribbon school prepares students for careers in the green energy field by offering students a Green Energy Academy as one of four “career clusters.” As part of their regular studies, Green Energy Academy students study the environmental, economic, political, and social impacts of current energy usage, think about alternatives to current energy models, and design and implement innovative, energy-saving projects. 
  • Isamar Cortes, High School Senior and Green Energy Academy Student Leader at Bloomfield Tech, and Gesny Val, Freshman and Engineering Student at Rutgers University in Newark, NJ. These dynamic students will share how they are prepared and encouraged to pursue career opportunities arising in the green energy field.
  • Victoria Arthur, USDA Forest Service Conservation Education Specialist will highlight the USDA’s Job Corps program and a series of green education modules. The module Green Jobs introduces students to the concepts of both the “green” economy and how developing “green” skills can benefit them in the workplace, both in increased wages and long-term career advancement.
  • National Project Learning Tree staff. We will discuss the growing and compelling state of green jobs in America in 2013 and beyond.

Students and teachers are invited to participate in this informative webinar. Register on the Project Learning Tree website.

Issue 13, November 2012 Leaves of Change Bulletin

In this issue of the Leaves of Change bulletin you will learn about a collaborative project taking place in DeSoto County, an urbanizing county south of Memphis, TN, in which i-Tree software is being utilized to better understand the environmental and monetary benefits received from the county’s forests.You will also learn about the Centers’ recent training and outreach activities, recommended resources, and upcoming events related to urban and interface forestry.

To view this issue click here.