Resources and Research

When an appropriate pedagogy of nature-based early childhood education (NbECE) is implemented, there are myriad health and cognitive benefits for children’s development. Their learning experience becomes deep, authentic and lasting.

Merry Lea is a resource to area districts and educators in NbECE to incorporate nature-based experiences into the classroom for furthering children’s learning.

You can find upcoming professional development and observation opportunities on our webpage here:

In addition to providing professional development opportunities, we support teachers and administrators on their own journey of discovery and implementation in the following ways:

  1. Written program resources
  2. Program design and implementation
  3. A curated list of research

Written Program Resources

Kinderforest: Connections to Indiana Academic Standards

How does Kinderforest connect to academic standards? Although meeting academic standards is not the intent behind nature-based early childhood education, they are inevitably supported within well-designed and high-quality Forest Kindergartens. Learn about how this can be accomplished in our white paper:

General Safety and Behavior Guidelines

This document captures the overall guidelines that educators may consider or implement in their own nature-based activities. Some of these guidelines include facilitating risky play, encouraging respectful behavior and adjusting to weather.

A Guide on Creating Kinderforest Lesson Plans

Using Kinderforest’s pedagogical approach to connect nature-based activities with classroom curriculum can be challenging. To help with this, these guidelines describe best practices when developing facilitated activities for a Kinderforest day. They can be used as a guide when choosing activities, writing lesson plans and preparing accompanying materials.

Sit Spot Pedagogy and Academic Alignments

Research shows that sit spot time is an opportunity for self-exploration, to develop a sense of self-awareness and an appreciation for a student’s own space. Each student has a journal to record their thoughts, their observations of what they hear, smell and see, pose questions or share their feelings.

Program Design and Implementation

We work with schools to adapt, create and implement nature-based practices or programs that get their students learning outside. Recognizing that each school’s needs and settings are unique, our partnership models are flexible and individualized. We provide varying degrees of implementation, from a 3-year track model to a consultation model.

We encourage schools we work with to consider:

  1. How families and the community can be involved as critical stakeholders. Families and community partners can be engaged in supporting student success through regular updates, engagement as active participants and many other contributions.
  2. How their NbECE program should be structured to meet its stated goals. This may influence the location of the program, its frequency or program elements.

No matter the type of partnership, we want to support educators in adapting and designing NbECE into their settings. We are a resource for training, philosophy development, classroom connections and other support as needed.

Reach out to Marcos Stoltzfus at to learn more about partnering with us.

Regional and National Research on NbECE programs

Research and Resources: Nature-based Education

What is a Nature Preschool? How do Forest Kindergartens support students’ growth? What are the benefits of a nature-based education program?

This resource is a collection of pedagogies, philosophies and cited benefits associated with nature schools that are back by research. These cited sources are hyperlinked and made available for further reading to: aid educators in incorporating nature-based practices into their classrooms, provide justification for administrators or parents, or simply inform interested parties.


Contact Us

Marcos Stoltzfus

Director of Environmental Education Outreach

Assistant Executive Director

Office: Learning Center Building at Merry Lea

Marcos joined the Merry Lea team in 2016, and brings more than 10 years of experience in informal and environmental education settings. He graduated from Goshen College with majors in Biology and Environmental Studies, and has worked at nature centers and museums in Colorado, New York, and Minnesota. He completed a Masters in Nonprofit Management, where his thesis focused on nonprofits engaging in urban farming practices. Marcos oversees the Public & PreK-12 Environmental Education programs at Merry Lea, and works with MAEE students in their practicum experience. Read more »