What Is A Nature Preschool?

Is it important to you that your children respect and appreciate nature? If the answer is yes, you might want to consider a forest or nature school preschool for your child.

Finding a True Nature-Based Preschool

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There’s no official licensing or registration process for forest or nature-based schools. The New York Times reports most forest- and nature-based programs are attached to existing schools or nature centers. Only the states of Oregon and Washington have systems in place to license a forest- or nature-based school. As a result, experts warn against facilities that label themselves as nature-based without embracing the full philosophy of the method.

Schools That Fit Requirements

So how can you tell if your local “nature school” meets the requirements? Dr. Patti Bailie and Ken Finch, authors of the study “Nature Preschools: Putting Nature at the Heart of Early Childhood Education,” say a true nature school meets the following criteria:

  • Nature is the central organizing concept of the program.

This means rather than being a secondary theme, nature informs every aspect of classes. According to Bailie and Finch, “nature is not just one topic or activity center among many, but rather is the integrating thread that intentionally ties together the preschool’s philosophy, methodologies, classroom design, outdoor spaces, and public identity.”

Classes are spent mostly or entirely outside regardless of the weather — students are encouraged to dress appropriately. Where a traditional preschool might learn about colors, shapes and patterns from classroom materials, nature-based preschools allow students to identify these concepts within nature.

  • It’s based on high-quality practices of both early childhood education and environmental education.

Forest schools are not taught by amateurs or hobbyists, but by professionals with experience and knowledge in traditional early childhood care. A forest school instructor also has a background in environmental education, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls “a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving, and take action to improve the environment.”

  • It uses nature to support both child development and conservation values.

Nature schools aim to improve the same developmental skills a traditional preschool would, while also instilling in students a healthy respect for the environment. In an ideal nature- or forest-based school, neither value comes at the expense of the other.

Teaching Independence and Conservationism

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Fussy parents should be warned — forest and nature schools place a heavy emphasis on risky play. This could include high climbing, using tools like knives, or rough-and-tumble play. Research has shown “children who engage in risk-taking tend to reap many benefits, including improved motor function, risk assessment, problem solving and resilience,” said the Times.

Forest or nature-based preschool may not be the best fit for every family. However, for those raising future conservationists, this alternative method of childcare might be worth a look.

Nature School Preschool — Sources

“Children’s Risky Play in Early Childhood Education and Care”
Natural Start Alliance
“Nature Preschools: Putting Nature at the Heart of Early Childhood Education”
New York Times
United States Environmental Protection Agency

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