Parents and caregivers often have many questions about Nature Preschool, including what it is and what it means to attend a nature preschool. Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions are below. If you don’t see your question answered, please email our Nature Preschool Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. WHAT IS NATURE PRESCHOOL?
To be considered a nature-based preschool, nature must be at the heart of the program. While nature preschools have the same child development goals as any other high-quality preschool, the curriculum and educators achieve these developmental goals through nature-based experiences. At our nature-based preschool this means that children are spending a majority of their time outside every day, experiencing and connecting with the natural world around them, learning through hands-on experiences and activities that provide daily opportunities for personal growth and achievement. We say that our children learn with nature, through nature, and in nature.
Q. WHY NATURE PRESCHOOL?
Nature is an essential part of life, providing us with food, water, and other necessary resources; we are dependent on the sustaining properties that the natural world provides. Beyond this basis for life, if we allow ourselves to feel the connection to nature that we are all born with, we feel better. It is satisfying to be in touch with the world around us. Furthermore, we reap benefits from nature that far exceed simple necessities, such as overall well-being, improved mental and physical health, and an inner sense of peace. Specifically, studies have shown that spending time outside can increase concentration, observation, problem solving, and social skills, and instill a sense of calm. Time outdoors can result in healthy, happy, creative members of society. In other words, nature is good for the soul, mind, and body.
Q. WILL THERE BE ACADEMICS? WILL NATURE PRESCHOOL PREPARE MY CHILD FOR KINDERGARTEN?
At ALNP we follow an emergent curriculum that is based on the seasons and incorporates significant time outside. Our learning experiences are designed to address each child’s emotional, cognitive, physical, and social needs, while encouraging curiosity, fostering love of the natural world, and developing the whole child. Teachers serve as educational guides using a child-centered approach, while also maintaining process-oriented teaching objectives that include both content and developmental goals. For example, every class has a Morning Meeting where they greet each other by name, share something about themselves, and learn about the day ahead. Routines such as these help preschoolers learn to sustain attention, ask questions, and learn about themselves and others, skills they will need in kindergarten and beyond.
We do not have explicit academic lessons; rather, teachers provide experiences that foster learning about math, literacy, science, and critical thinking through authentic experiences. One guiding premise of ALNP is that young children learn best through play. Play is vital to the healthy growth and development of a child, and is the primary way in which children learn about the world and themselves. We provide meaningful opportunities for your child to experience learning through play inside and outside, and to develop problem solving, social, and language skills.
When you visit ALNP, you will see children engaged in many different kinds of nature play. While they may seem to be “just” playing, they are actually learning vital skills as they do so. For example:
- A child making cakes in the mud kitchen is utilizing imaginative play skills and scientific tools.
- A child climbing logs is building large and fine motor skills as well as analyzing risk.
- A group of children building a fort or a dam are experimenting with materials, gravity, balance, communication, and collaboration.
Our curriculum aligns with Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards (WMELS) Performance Standards in all areas and also incorporates elements of A Mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum for Preschoolers (developed by Center for Healthy Minds, UW Madison, and Healthy Minds Innovations, Inc). The Kindness Curriculum uses attention, breath, and caring (ABCs) as foundations for improving social and emotional skills and attitudes as well as resilience and general well-being.
Q. WHAT HAPPENS ON A RAINY OR SNOWY DAY?
For young children, rain and snow can be as much fun as a sunny day, as long as they are dressed appropriately. ALNP will engage in learning outdoors on rainy and snowy days, so please make sure to always pack a waterproof layer for your child. We follow the Child Care Weather Watch guidelines and in the event of lightning or extreme weather, classes will move indoors.
ALNP provides Oaki one-piece rainsuits for each child that will be kept at school and “checked out” all year. These are designed to be worn over children’s outerwear, to keep them dry and warm. We will also provide waterproof outer mittens that will fit over snug, warm mittens. Here are links to clothing provided by ALNP:
Q. WILL MY CHILD COME HOME WET AND MUDDY?
Yes! Children love to experience whatever elements exist in nature, whether it’s a snowy hill, a mud puddle, or a quiet meadow. ALNP teachers allow children to play and learn through experiencing nature first-hand, which often leaves kids wet and muddy. We ask parents to dress children appropriately for the weather and keep a second set of clothes in your child’s backpack.
Q. WHAT CLOTHING WILL MY CHILD NEED?
Discovery-based learning can be messy. For this reason, it’s important that children come dressed for messy play and in clothing that does not hamper their free activity. Outdoor exploration requires freedom from restrictive clothing. This includes tight clothing, fancy dresses and costumes that get in the way during active play.
Layers of clothing for changing weather and moving from outdoors to indoors are needed for children to enjoy the variety of activities offered throughout the day. Expect your child to spend a majority of their time outside every day. Children should be appropriately dressed for outdoor play for all seasons of the year!
Clothing suggestions for each season will be sent home prior to your first day of school. If you need assistance securing any of these items for your child, please let us know! We want to make sure outdoor gear is not a barrier for any family at ALNP.
Q. WHOW MUCH TIME WILL MY CHILD SPEND OUTSIDE?
Children will spend almost the entire program time outdoors, except in the event of lightning or extreme weather, in which case we will retreat indoors to our cozy classroom. Classes also nap indoors (for our full-day students) and may eat or do projects indoors in some cases. Our teachers ask themselves, “Can this be done outdoors?” If yes, we go outside!
Q. DOES MY CHILD NEED TO BE POTTY TRAINED TO ATTEND?
Yes, children need to be toilet trained in order to attend. Because the program is almost entirely outdoors, there will not be a way to change diapers and our staff is not trained to do so. There are ample opportunities for children to use the bathroom throughout the day, and teachers give lots of reminders!
Q. HOW DO MEALS AND SNACKS WORK?
A healthy snack is provided once per day for half-day classes and twice per day for full-day classes. Snacks may include vegetables, fruit, dairy, grains, and milk, with two food groups represented at each snack period. All snacks provided by the Nature Preschool will meet or exceed the nutritional requirements set forth by the USDA Child & Adult Care Food Program. Any food allergies will be made known confidentially to enrolled families so that families and staff can maintain safe environments for all.
Q. WHAT WILL MY CHILD DO?
We value seasonal spontaneity and take advantage of the “teachable moments.” Children also benefit from knowing what will happen next. Our schedule is loose with predictable events throughout the day, such as snack or group experiences, to provide the security of structure.
Part Day Sample Schedule
The following is an example of a possible classroom schedule for a part-day program that includes a mix of plenty of play, independent and group activities, spontaneity and structure. (Order of activities varies depending on the educator and classroom.)
Class begins outside in the nature play space. The adult dropping off the child will make sure the child has used the restroom and put away his/her backpack or other belongings. The adult signs the child in for the day, then takes their child to the outdoor play area (dressed for the weather) to join the educators.
- Outdoor Play and Group Exploration
Children play for at least an hour in the outdoor play area, then take a hike on ALNC grounds. Play area activities include climbing, water play, sand play, snow play, fort building, digging, gardening, and dramatic play. Activities on ALNC grounds include hiking to and playing in the forest, prairie/fields, trails around the pond, the Sugar Bush, and the Children’s Shack.
- Group Meeting
Children take part in conversation, greet one another, engage in music and movement activities, practice mindfulness, and participate in other whole-group activities.
Snack is served either inside or outside depending on the weather. Educators and children eat together, converse, share and listen to each other’s stories. Children assist in clean-up and transition to choice time.
- Choice Time
Children have time to choose an activity among the different interest areas of the indoor or outdoor classroom. This allows children time to develop and grow in developmental areas through focus and gained competency with an activity. Children may choose activities that include but are not limited to: blocks, art, dramatic play, discovery, and sand and water.
- Small Group
Adult-directed activities occur in small groups and allow educators to focus on a particular skill set. These activities allow children to ask more questions and allow the educators to evaluate each child’s needs and progress (according to the program objectives). This is an opportunity for more concentrated learning.
- Closing Circle
Closing circle might be inside, where we gather on the rug to say goodbye before families/caregivers pick up the children. Or it could be outside, where we assemble in the gathering space close to the building, sing a song, say goodbye and await families/caregivers to pick up and sign out the children.
Q. WHAT IS THE TEACHER:CHILD RATIO?
We follow all Wisconsin Department of Children and Families regulations for Group Child Care Centers. Our ratios are 1 teacher for every 8 students, and our classes are capped at 16 students.
Q. WHAT IS THE COST?