It’s that time of year when parents begin making plans for kids and their Fall programming. When looking at your nature preschool options, be sure to consider the growing movement which supports a return to play-based, outdoor learning spaces in early childhood education.
For example, our local Terra Nova Nature Preschool is influenced by the Forest School movement. The teachers here believe that children can be happy and learning outside, each and every day, no matter what the weather. Proper outer wear is essential for this program because the kids spend most, if not all, of their day out of doors. We are excited to see a shift in parental priorities from structured, early academics to an understanding that play is the work of the child. And being outdoors gives children plenty of room to play!
Learning Outdoors Matters:
There is reams of research that supports learning in natural environments as preferable and beneficial to young children for improved long term social and academic outcomes. Did you know that:
- learning in natural environments encourages imaginative, open ended play
- unstructured play leads to improved outcomes in all academic areas, specifically expressive language and math reasoning as children grow into their school years.
- children who are given plenty of outdoor play time are able to focus more in non preferred tasks and see improvements in their ability to problem solve
- there is a high correlation between outdoor play and reduced anxiety and depression in children
- natural, open ended play spaces teach the brain to be flexible which leads to efficient problem solving later in life
- learning out of doors improves overall health
- learning out of doors increases opportunities for positive social interaction, communication skills, group cohesion and teamwork
School Philosophy Matters:
At the Terra Nova Nature School (TNNS), children are given ample time to play and explore, stretch their imaginations, problem-solve, and develop their social competency. Consideration is given to the environment, which is viewed as a ‘third’ teacher, and parents are an important part of the program through volunteer hours. Teachers Kate, Emily, Heidi & Tricia encourage children to become curious learners. They believe their role as educators at the Nature School is to teach children how to learn, not what to learn. The outcome is a great deal of learning, which is then carefully documented and prepared based on the principles of Reggio Emilia. TNNS does a fabulous job of using observation and documentation to communicate with parents and reflect on what the children are learning to move forward with their program planning. It is such a nice way to peek into what the children have done that day. You can read their blog here. And you can read more specifics about the Reggio Emilia pedagogy here.
Gardening, caring for the Earth, and each other is just part of their overall place-based approach to education that promotes respect for the environment, teaches ecological literacy, and develops environmental stewardship. The children at TNNS are learning about soil, how to plant, compost and harvest food which they then cook and eat to complete the food cycle!
After working in schools for almost twenty years, I can tell you that one of the most important variables in any program is the quality of the teachers. A passion for learning, an enjoyment of children and a calmness amidst the chaos of preschoolers is essential to a happy experience for your child. At TNNS the teachers have impressive resumes, but most importantly have kindness and encouraging words for each child they greet in the sharing circle. Pay attention to the teachers when you visit any school you are considering, they make all the difference in your child’s early learning experiences!
A Lack of Visual Noise Matters:
How a space is prepared to facilitate learning matters. Many educational philosophies work within specific parameters for their learning spaces. Nature Schools are heavily influenced by the Reggio approach, but both Waldorf and Montessori overlap in influence with beautiful and organized learning environments. At TNNS, the historical Edwardian Cottage that serves as the indoor space dates back to the early 1900’s and has been restored in the most magnificent way. You only have to step into the space to feel the calming influence of the natural materials used in the rooms. The focus is on creative, imaginative play with toys and decor sourced from Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emelia traditions. It really is a beautiful space.
Ask around. Who is happy with what program and why? Not every philosophy or teacher is going to be a perfect match for every child. My youngest son was fortunate to have been in the inaugural class of the Terra Nova Nature School for his last year of preschool. It was the perfect space for him and I encourage you to consider some of the features of this particular program when you are researching your own’s child’s preschool experience. If you live in the Lower Mainland, you’ve got until March 17, 2017 to pick up a lottery ticket for a spot at Thompson Community Centre. (5151 Granville Avenue in Richmond, BC). The draw will occur on March 28th at 6:00pm. Parents used to line up over night for this program and priority goes to siblings, so if this is your first go at preschool registration, don’t wait until the Fall to decide where you want to send your child!
If you are not lucky enough to live where a nature preschool is offered, then come check out my Pinterest board full of ideas on how you and your kids can go play outside!