Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Type

Capstone - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Advisor

Dan Sarofian-Butin


Nature Schools are places in which achievement, curiosity, development, and inspiration transpire in natural environments. In the early 60’s, Nature Schools began to appear around the country. Since then, many such schools have appeared; today there are over two hundred nature schools throughout the US. Yet although a substantial amount of research has been done on nature schools, there exists no baseline or census exploring these programs’ strengths and weaknesses. This capstone research project investigated these schools’ policies, procedures, and curriculum through a multi-phase mixed-methods research design. Specifically, a national survey was distributed to the directors of approximately 140 U.S. Nature Schools and such data triangulated through several phone interviews. The conceptual framework and subsequent data collection and analysis is driven by two key literature strands: (a) that Nature Schools have three key characteristics in common: learning is a recurring, long-term process that takes place regularly in nature; learning is sensory, experiential, and kinesthetic; and learning happens in a democratic and holistic nature (O’Brien & Murray, 2007; Bentsen, Jensen, Mygind, & Randrup, 2010; Ridgers, Knowles, & Sayers, 2012); and (b) that small businesses, such as early childhood education programs, go through five phases of growth that leaders should be aware of and able to work through: inception, survival, growth, expansion, and maturity (Scott and Bruce, 1987). Through this research I discovered three key themes throughout the data; the power of an emergent curriculum, the value that is placed on the commitment, community, exclusivity, and curriculum of Nature Schools, and challenges within Nature Schools as business. These findings provide a look into the inner workings of Nature Schools and offer a basis for future research to delve deeper into the sustainability of Nature Schools within the U.S.