Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Roberto Ventura

Second Advisor

Kristin Carleton

Third Advisor

Timothy Hamnett


Sustainability is a global issue that requires collaborative efforts. Environmental values and attitudes are shaped in adults by early exposure to nature. During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning increased the attention to nature-based learning from families and the press (Prochner, 2021).

Although many early childhood education approaches for the age group of 3-5 years recognize the importance of holistic development and focus on tailoring the learning experience to the developmental stage of young children, few emphasize the importance of integrating nature as one of the learning tools. Nature-deficit disorder in children means that children spend less time outdoors and in nature than in the past, leading to many behavioral problems (Louv, 2008). Studies have shown the importance of biophilic design on humans, which can be applied to educational centers. The term Biophilic design is inspired by Wilson’s “Biophilia Hypothesis,” in which he suggests that humans are genetically attracted to nature and need a connection with it in order to survive and enhance their emotional and physical well-being (Ungar, 2005).

Therefore, designing an early childhood education space that emphasizes nature can benefit children and the local community by raising awareness of environmental issues among children, allowing them to interact with nature indoors and outdoors throughout the day, and focusing on enhancing their emotional and physical well-being.

I am an interior designer and a mother of a six-year-old son who loves nature; like many parents, it is necessary for me to find the best education methods that resonate with our family's values and foster a deep connection with nature. By researching current early childhood education approaches that emphasize connecting children to nature I will explore the impacts of designing a nature-based preschool on children’s physical and psychological well-being.

This research will address the following question: How can we design a preschool that encourages children to engage deeply with natural environments through year-round outdoor and indoor activities, fostering experiential learning and environmental education?

Studies have found that children attending preschools which occurs in natural settings are more prepared to learn when they reach formal school age than children from conventional schools. For example, In Denmark, about 10% of children attend outdoor forest schools where children spend five days a week and 8 hours a day outdoors. When formal school starts at seven, teachers in local public schools found that forest school children are more socially skilled and prepared to learn (Sobel, 2015).

A literature review has been conducted to investigate and compare some examples of successful early childhood practices worldwide that incorporate nature in their education philosophy to identify commonalities between the two approaches: the Waldorf education approach and nature-based education. In addition, several precedent studies of schools incorporating biophilic principles will be examined. Moreover, two teachers teaching in a school implementing a developmentally appropriate curriculum for the age group (3-5) will be interviewed.

In conclusion, spending time outdoors and in nature in education settings has a range of long-term physical and psychological benefits for children. Furthermore, studies have proven many other benefits of nature elements and designing with nature elements indoors on children’s physical and psychological well-being. Research has shown that stress reduction, improved mental health, better cognitive function, and lower obesity rates are a few examples of the benefits. Furthermore, Waldorf’s approach and nature-based education in early childhood both emphasize the use of natural environments and outdoor settings as a key aspect of learning and development.

The research will support the exploration of designing a preschool for the age group of 3-5 years that combines some elements from two nature-focused pedagogies practiced today, the Waldorf approach and the nature-based schools, to create an education environment that emphasizes sustainability.


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