Imagine a preschool with no curriculum, worksheets, word walls, or behavior charts, but instead a preschool where all learning happens organically through play. Whether they’re called Forest Schools, Nature-Based Preschools, or Outdoor Preschool Programs, all focus on the idea of learning as a result of being outside in nature. This outdoor classroom idea has stemmed from European and Scandinavian countries and has lead to over 250 similar programs developing in the United States. Having an outdoor classroom evolves from the real needs of children, offers activities that are personally meaningful to them, and fully embraces developmentally appropriate practices in early care.
These Outdoor Preschool Programs have grown across the United States due to the range of benefits that it can provide. Conor Williams, author of ‘The Perks of a Play-in-the-Mud Educational Philosophy‘ wrote, “They learn creativity as they explore and engage with complex ecological systems—and imagine the world on their own. Freed from playground guardrails that constrain (even though they protect), kids build strength, develop self-confidence, and learn to manage risks as they trip, stumble, fall, and hurt themselves. Research shows that the freedom of unstructured time in open space helps kids learn to focus. It also just feels good: nature reduces stress.”
Greeting songs, days of the week, and weather are still used as a way to begin the day, but just simply done outside. Afterward, children are instructed to follow their own areas of interest. Teachers will guide the students to count, measure, examine and explore the items that they are interested in. Each day children easily discover something new from puddles, tracks, mushrooms, even bird sightings. Every new discovery leads to opportunities for learning.
Programs follow inclement weather protocols to ensure the safety of all students. Most Nature-Based Preschools spend up to 80% of their time outdoors. Some outdoor preschool programs balance their time outdoors and indoors, other programs are mainly spent outdoors. By adding any amount of routine outside playtime into your preschool curriculum, children will gain a new set of skills, curiosities, and love for nature.
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