This month Twirl has the pleasure of presenting a workshop for the New Mexico Association for the Education of Young Children (NMAEYC) Conference in Albuquerque, the largest early childhood education conference in New Mexico. It offers professional development opportunities for early childhood educators all across the Land of Enchantment. This year, the conference is a hybrid model providing unique outdoor COVID-safe nature-based learning for the pre-conference Friday, March 5th, and virtual presentations on Saturday, March 6.

Twirl will be offering an in-person nature-based program called: "Arts Integration in the Outdoor Classroom." This workshop aims to show educators how instinctively the performing arts and the natural world go hand in hand. Twirl educators, myself (Amber Thomas) and Kendra Peralta, will introduce participants to how they can promote standards-aligned learning through movement, dance and other performing arts activities while teaching in an outdoor setting.

Why is integrated learning successful?

Performing arts for early childhood learners develops important language and story-building skills that will be imperative for a future of successful learning down the road. By weaving together the performing arts, the outdoors and learning themes, students are able to view things from a variety of perspectives. For example: "What do you like about going into the forest? What would the forest feel like if you were a mushroom?"

Also, when students integrate learning with the performing arts, they are asked to make choices and decisions based on their own interests. They are asked to be inventive, take risks and promote collaboration. This helps them create an experience that in turn gives them a personal understanding of a subject based on their own experiences.

Bringing the classroom outside

An outdoor classroom is definitely out of the box (no pun intended) for most teachers. Teachers are used to taking a class outside as recreation and fun, but connecting students, especially young children, to nature is essential for a child's well-being. It sparks wonder and curiosity as well as builds a child's true understanding of how they can interact with the world around them.

Twirl's "Arts Integration in the Outdoor Classroom" workshop encourages participants to bring children outside, not only observe the natural world around them, but also to respond to it through creative means. It will encourage artistic exploration, and most importantly, ask participants to reflect and share their own experiences.

The NMAEYC Annual Conference is an incredible platform to share Twirl's unique experience with New Mexico educators. Supporting the growth and potential of children through learning, creating and playing is Twirl's mission. And what better way to fulfill that mission than to promote a conversation within the community of early childhood educators that is inspiring, unique and insightful.

How can you as a parent include the performing arts into outdoor adventures?

You may be feeling intimidated by the thought of trying to dance, act or sing, if you feel that being theatrical feels awkward. But children often naturally create these opportunities on their own, so make these moments special and appeal to a child's natural inclination to have fun. Doing creative things together builds bonds, helps children feel confident, loved and understood. And you may learn something new in the process. Suggestions include:

Move your bodies like animals (turtles, snakes, grasshoppers, birds)

Move your bodies to represent natural processes (rain/water cycle, snowflakes, twirling fall leaves)

Dance in the wind using twig ribbon wands

Practice yoga poses and meditation/breathing techniques

Invent movement to respond to natural sounds or music

Make props that can be used in dramatic play (leaf crowns or capes)

Write or tell stories about nature and act them out

Respond to nature with our own sounds (mimic a rainstorm with your bodies as instruments)

Experiment with sounds by finding natural/recycled objects that can be transformed into instruments

Identify patterns in sound (woodpeckers tapping or frogs calling)

Listen to outdoor sounds and try to identify them

Observe nature and draw observations in nature journals

Use leaves, sticks or other natural materials to paint with

Make observations about nature and use art language (line, color, shape, texture, space)

Record trail experiences through artistic exploration (lines that indicate how a bird or squirrel moves across the path, making tree bark rubbings)

Learn about artists and artwork that focus on nature subjects

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