Nature Preschool: The Next Big Thing.by Elizabeth MacDonald
My friends and I span all walks of the education spectrum. While I am homeschooling my tribe through co-ops and at home, some of my nearest and dearest send their little ones to public, private, motessori, and waldorf schools. Some even -gasp- unschool their children. A few of us were chatting about our almost 3 year olds and the outrageous expectations placed on them in our current education system. One friend told us that she was signing her son up this year for a ‘Nature Preschool.’ The rest of us thought she was talking about a fancy new preschool in the city that may have a more elaborate nature-inspired playground. And then she pulled up this fabulous website. And then our jaws dropped. I am here to tell you that Nature Preschool is going to be the next big thing. There will be waiting lists - mark my words. It does not matter what you feel is the ‘best’ education path for your family, Nature Preschool works for just about everyone. And the research – oh the research – that proves what an amazing idea this was… You’ll be googling to find a Nature Preschool near you, at least to find out more.
Ok, so did I build this up enough? Let me start with the research There have been multiple studies and published articles linking children who are exposed to the natural world with their brain development, social, emotional, and physical health.
The following is just a summary of the benefits regular play in nature has for children: https://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/benefits.shtml
- Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature.
- Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores.
- Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often.
- When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills.
- Exposure to natural environments improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills.
- Nature buffers the impact of life's stresses on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits.
- Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying.
- Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world.
- Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder. Wonder is an important motivator for life-long learning.
- Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
- Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children.
- Outdoor environments are important to children's development of independence and autonomy.
- Play in outdoor environments stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments.
- An affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of regular contact with and play in the natural world during early childhood. Children's loss of regular contact with the natural world can result in a biophobic future generation not interested in preserving nature and its diversity.
How can children care about nature if they are only ever exposed to plastic play grounds and brief camping trips?We are at a turning point with our earth, and it is time to bring the next generation back to their roots. It’s time to remember dirt and the life-cycles that embody that dirt. It’s time to grow food and appreciate our land. It’s also time for us to focus on our children.
What is a Nature Preschool?
Sensory Gardens, Tree Playscapes, Woods, Fields, and nature in general – that is what awaits your child at a Nature Preschool. There is an indoor classroom, but most of the day is structured around each individual child’s desires – whether that be inside or outside. There is singing, stories, discussions, but mainly exploration. So much exploration. Hiking, group teaching, guided experimental learning, and one-on-one education. Lessons are not pre-planned and themes and studies are based on the interests of the children. Teachers are research partners; working to answer questions together and supporting them to ask more questions and delve deeper into a certain topic. The goal being to build internal motivation and long-term love of learning. Children should ask questions and learn critical thinking skills. There is still an assessment of development and an easy transition into kindergarten, if that is your desire. These Nature Preschools are for children ages 3-5, and encourage much parental involvement. They also encourage you to support ‘Wild Play,’ in which your child is your guide. Each school is different. You may find one that includes chickens, goats, and pigs – or another that focuses on nature walks through the woods. There will always be a teacher within close proximity, but he or she is there for guidance, not to lead the day. I’m telling you that after my research, I am drooling over a school like this. What an experience. I dream of the next generation being more connected with our earth, but how will it happen unless we provide the opportunity to do so?
If you are local to us - in Delaware - check out "Forest School For All."
More information on why children should be immersed in our natural world: http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/connecting-young-children-with-nature http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/teaching/eecd/nature-based-learning/Research/childrens-contact-w-outdoors.pdf http://dev.thelittleschool.net/PDF/new%20brain%20development%20research.pdf http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3162362/\ http://www.explorenature.org/nature-preschool/nature-preschool-conference/ http://www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2012/a-nature-preschool-enhances-early https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2013/10/05/nature-preschools-and-kindergartens-getting-kids-moving-and-learning/Vmy0nPeCoeVhxV4xzncPAO/story.html http://www.greenheartsinc.org/Nature_Preschools.html