Shaping the future now – the Nature Park Schools and Kindergartens
Association of Austrian Nature Parks
Region & country
To optimally embed a sustainable environmental education in nature parks over the long term, the Austrian Association of Nature Parks (VNÖ) has developed the model of “Austrian Nature Park Schools”. For this purpose, Austrian-wide valid criteria have been established. A significant goal of the certified Nature Park Schools is the intensive collaboration between nature park and school.
The Nature Park Kindergartens is based on the concept of and the experience with Nature Park Schools and were developed with nature park experts and kindergarten pedagogues. In 2014, the first Nature Park Kindergarten has been certified.
Photo: Naturpark Pöllauer Tal
Background of the project
The closer cooperation between nature parks and schools started more or less at the same time in several Austrian provinces. The request for a more intensive and structured collaboration became more frequent. Some schools already called themselves Nature Park Schools, but haven’t had any universally valid criteria to follow.
Several parties contacted the VNÖ concerning cooperation between schools and nature parks. The questions: “when a school can be called Nature Park School” and “what kind of criteria had to be fulfilled” appeared. Thus, clearly formulated criteria had to be developed.
Schools wanted to carry the message to the public and set a visible sign for the cooperation.
An evaluation was needed to monitor the implementation of the criteria.
The exchange of know-how had to be enabled between schools.
Solution and actions taken
Development of Austria-wide valid criteria for Nature Park Schools and Nature Park Kindergartens taking all stakeholders into account.
Evaluation after a certain time through experts; development of a manual to support these experts
Production of a certificate that is handed over to the certified schools as a visual sign for their collaboration with the nature park. Usually, a festive event takes place to do so.
Regular events (Workshops, conferences, …) to exchange experiences
Workshops to develop the criteria for schools and kindergartens with representatives of the nature park provinces, teachers and nature park representatives
- A decision on the criteria during the general assembly of the Association of Austrian Nature Parks
- Revision of the criteria after 2 years – adjustment towards the school operation
- Design of certificates
- Establishment of website area
- Organization of workshops and conferences
- Further development of the model, development of education materials…
Other institutions or parties involved
- Austrian nature parks
- Provincial nature park organizations of Styria and Burgenland
- Provincial Governments – Departments of Nature Conservation and Education
- Environmental Education Center Styria
- Teachers of interested schools
Currently, there are 117 Nature Park Schools in 35 nature parks and 47 Nature Park Kindergartens in 15 nature parks, which care for over 9,000 children (status: March 2019). The model of the Austrian Nature Park Schools has been used in other countries too, e.g. Germany.
The interest of schools that are not located in a nature park, to work with a nature park has increased – the project of Nature Park Partner Schools and the training course “Learning Space Nature” is currently being created.
The main challenge was encountered during the development process of the criteria because it was tricky to combine the needs of schools and kindergartens with the needs of the nature parks. Furthermore, the additional effort for schools should not be too much to reduce a dissuasive effect.
Financing the further development has also been a challenge.
- Teachers, nature parks and children have shown great commitment
- The Nature Park Schools and Kindergartens are a very efficient instrument to fulfil the educational function
- The Nature Park Schools and Kindergartens receive a high recognition at the nature park level
- The teachers learn a lot about protected areas and the natural composition on site
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