Tanya Buckner


Fall 2022


Capstone Project

Degree Name



Patty Born

Content Expert

Sheila Williams Ridge


Kindergarten is becoming more academic as a result of external pressures related to educational policies (Graue, 2011). Due to increased focus on content in schools, and other societal factors such as lack of unstructured time and risk aversion, children have less time for play (Sahlberg & Doyle, 2019) and interacting with nature (Louv, 2005). This context drove the creation of this capstone project, which aims to support Minnesota teachers in meeting state standards through developmentally appropriate nature-play-based curriculum. A review of the literature showed there was a need for this type of project. Besides external pressure on schools to improve test scores, there is a false dichotomy that kindergarten is either academic or it is developmentally appropriate, though there is considerable middle ground. Additionally, the benefits of play and nature are extraordinarily well-researched, supporting the author’s focus on nature play. The project associated with this capstone is a resource kit including a sample daily kindergarten schedule; pre-planning for emergent units with menus of nature play ideas; reflection guides; a play profile—aligned with Minnesota state standards—for documenting children’s learning through play; an informational booklet with recommendations and safety considerations for nature-based programs; and informational pages for parents about nature play. The author chose to use an emergent-planning framework, more typical for early childhood educators than elementary teachers, because it was responsive to research on developmentally appropriate practice. The main implications of this capstone are that kindergarten can be both academic and developmentally appropriate, and that all schools can incorporate nature-based learning in some capacity, though the depth and quality of experiences might differ based on space and resources. Of the limitations of this capstone, the most notable are that the author has been away from the classroom for three years at the time of publication, and this capstone does not address continued and increasing pressures on teachers from administrators and educational policies. Future research and projects could include looking at the benefits of nature play specifically—not just nature exposure and experiences—long-term effects of content-focused kindergarten, and creation of professional development resources for educators about developmentally appropriate practice and nature-play-based instruction.

Project Type

Resource Kit


Developmentally Appropriate Practice, Kindergarten, Nature-Based Learning, Play-Based Learning








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