Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Linda Swanson


In response to social trends whereby children are spending less time outside, school administrators have developed certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms (NEOCs) intentionally designed to support whole-child learning within a natural environment. Despite the documented benefits of nature-based education, the literature and NEOC sites report challenges in facilitating this type of space. The purpose of this study was to investigate what prevents teachers in a certified NEOC from facilitating student/teacher engagement with the natural outdoor environment. Kolb's, Piaget's, and Vygotsky's theories of constructivism served as the study's framework to explore the problem from the teachers' perspectives. A qualitative case study was used to gain insight into the potential barriers to facilitating a NEOC. Eight teachers were recruited using purposeful sampling. Participant criteria included (a) >18 years of age, (b) >3 years early childhood teaching experience, (c) >1 year experience in selected NEOC, (d) prior NEOC training, and (e) willingness to share experiences. Data collection included classroom observation, individual interviewing, and review of relevant documents. All data were analyzed using comparative and inductive analysis and coded into 5 emergent themes. Identified barriers included teacher involvement, rules and regulations, volunteers, materials, and weather. By creating a 3-day professional development program that supports the benefits of nature-based learning environments and introduces strategies to overcome identified barriers, this study may promote positive social change in nature-based education. Children, families, and communities may expand their nature-based knowledge and interaction skills to pass to future generations.