Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of



Julia C. Torquati

Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Young Children (November 2015), pp. 62–71.


Copyright © 2015 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.


An early childhood teacher nurtures children’s perspective taking and respect for another living thing. These interactions happen daily at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (SANC) Preschool in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Experiences like this promote children’s development of prosocial behavior, consistent with the Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence (NAAEE 2010). This article examines the research question, How can teachers nurture the development of prosocial behavior for preschool-aged children through nature-based play and activities? To address this question, five researchers (including the second author) conducted 74 running record observations of children’s behavior and social interactions over the course of two years. Of the children observed— many of whom attended the preschool during both years of the study—50 were also interviewed about their thoughts and feelings about nature. The following sections provide an overview of the program in which the observations were conducted, review literature on the development of prosocial behavior through peer interactions and play, and present descriptions of seven themes of prosocial behavior demonstrated by children that emerged from analysis of the observational data: (1) respecting nature; (2) respecting people; (3) sharing, helping, and taking turns; (4) building friendships and expressing unity; (5) cooperating and working together as a team; (6) demonstrating empathy; and (7) expressing gratitude. Examples of practices the SANC Preschool teachers used to support each of these prosocial behaviors are presented along with suggestions for practices that educators can use in early childhood programs regardless of their setting. Additionally, examples for children with disabilities are presented in some themes.