Nature Meets Education: University of Cincinnati Online Launches Innovative Early Childhood Degree Program with Nature-Based Learning Focus

Dr. Victoria Carr



Interviewee: Dr. Victoria Carr, Professor UC ECE Online & Developmental and Learning Sciences / Executive Director, Arlitt Center for Education, Research, & Sustainability


UC Online, an extension of the University of Cincinnati, is thrilled to unveil a groundbreaking new concentration in nature-based early learning within its highly-regarded Associate and Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education (Birth-Age 5) programs. With over two decades of experience in providing quality online education, UC was among the pioneers in the U.S. to offer online courses.

Today, UC Online continues to set itself apart with its consistently top-ranked Associate and Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education programs, recognized by And now, UC Online has taken it to the next level by becoming the first institution to offer an online Early Childhood Education degree with a nature-based early learning concentration.

With its Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Care & Education program ranked as the 2nd Best Online Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education by, and the Associate in Early Childhood Care & Education consistently rated as a Top 15 Best Online Associate in the field, UC Online continues to provide students with the best possible education and career opportunities.

The University of Cincinnati (UC) Online is dedicated to providing a world-class educational experience that provides flexibility for busy professional, lifelong learners, and students from around the world. UC Online provides high-quality, online academic programs from a premier research and higher learning institution located in the heart of Cincinnati, Ohio. All of its programs are led by nationally recognized faculty and combine innovation with freedom of intellectual inquiry to create an inclusive environment tailored towards the needs of UC Online students.

With each course, students will receive the tools, skills and education to further their skill set, expand their opportunities, and enrich their local communities.

Q. What is nature-based learning and how does integrating nature aid in achieving educational goals?

Nature-Based Learning is about immersion in outdoor settings with natural flora and fauna typically found in one’s own region. It focuses on the inquiry into natural and contextual phenomena within these settings while building playful and meaningful connections to the plants and animals they encounter. As they build relationships with nature, children learn to be responsible for their environments.

Curriculum goals are easily met in natural settings, particularly given the plethora of opportunities for authentic and integrated learning using problem-solving pedagogies, incorporating loose-part materials for conceptual development, and promoting meaningful experiences that support the dispositions that children need to be successful in educational settings. A growing body of research indicates that nature-based learning has a positive influence on academics, even suggesting that learning in nature-rich settings is more cognitively efficient than learning indoors (See Torquati, J., Schutte, A., & Kiat, J. (2017). Attentional demands of executive function tasks in indoor and outdoor settings: Behavioral and neuroelectrical evidence. Children, Youth and Environments, 27(2), 70-92).

Q. What kind of skills are most important for an educator to develop working in this kind of environment?

There are certainly dispositions nature-based educators need to adopt and embrace. First, going outdoors in ALL kinds of weather is a bit challenging for some educators. However, to fully experience the natural world, children must experience their respective climates in varying weather conditions. Learning to dress oneself for hot, cold, rainy, and snowy weather is an essential skill set.

Second, educators must develop and embrace an ecocentric and sustainable worldview and learn about the natural history of their own region. The goal is not to be an encyclopedia for children’s questions, but to act as co-investigators with children and ask questions or make comments that mitigate the development of scientific misconceptions.

Q.  What are some of the benefits of nature-based learning, especially in younger children?

Numerous studies over the past decade, including our own at the Arlitt Center, have demonstrated that children’s benefits from being in nature include heightened curiosity and opportunities to exercise executive function skills like paying attention, problem-solving, personal decision-making, emotional regulation, and flexibility in thinking. Being outdoors in nature increases mental wellness, the use of collaboration skills during free play, the development of an ethic of care for the environment, and an increase in scientific vocabulary.

Q. Can traditional schools or childcare centers integrate nature-based learning? Are the benefits worthwhile on a smaller scale?

My long-term wish is that all traditional schools and childcare centers will incorporate nature-based learning into their curriculum and settings. This could be done by ‘greening up’ outdoor playspaces or playgrounds and USING them, taking children on nature walks through neighborhoods, planting gardens in the ground or pots, or bringing natural materials into the classroom. There are many models for doing so. Nature immersion schools are wonderful, and they are growing in number, but the majority of children are unable to advantage of these opportunities, so it is imperative that educators assume responsibility for finding or creating spaces to engage children in, with, about, and for nature on a regular basis. Our research demonstrated that weekly sustained nature experiences yielded benefits, as described above.

Q. The growth of nature-based learning in early childhood education has been remarkable, despite not being a new concept. Do you think nature-based learning is a trend that will continue to grow?

Yes. I think it has to, especially since our children face an existential climate crisis with a significant loss of biodiversity. We must acknowledge that children are agentic and capable of understanding complex ideas about the relationship between humans and the natural world. Educators need to use critical transformative pedagogies to facilitate rich, developmentally appropriate and meaning-focused experiences for young children to bolster hope for the future of our planet.

birds eye view of students working at a round table with laptops and study materials
Need additional student resources?
Already an online student? UC Online has additional tips and tricks to ensure you are on the path to success. Check out our Student Resources section for what you need to maximize your learning.
Corporate Taxation professionals having a meeting
Helping You Build a Better Business Through Continuing Education
Employee recruitment and retention is crucial for the growth and profitability of an organization and should be a high priority for every business. At the University of Cincinnati Online, we want to help develop and retain your employees through our Business Partnership offering.

Sign up for updates from UC Online

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.