Nature Kindergarten A Parent Perspective
Imagine a school without walls, where the forest and creek are your boundaries, and the learning opportunities are endless. This year, Nature Connect Outdoor School added a nature-based kindergarten class to build upon its already-established preschool. Teachers Ms. Meg and Ms. Anna lead ten children like ducklings up and down the hill daily, in and out of the freshwater creek, and through the Montrose woods during their school day. All the while, the children learn the same academics as children do in a traditional kindergarten classroom.
“I have seen so much growth in Calvin,” said Tiffany, whose son is enrolled in kindergarten. “Academically, he started the year uninterested in even holding a pencil. Now he writes simple sentences, reads, and does math problems all day. He’s not only learning but is genuinely enjoying going to school.”
Nature Connect’s idyllic school campus may look like a fairytale to the students. Just past the picket fence, there is a barn converted into a Montessori-style classroom that is used during transitions and during inclement weather. Attached to the barn is a large screened porch with changing stalls, bathrooms, tables and chairs, and even the resident rabbit, Teddy.
Outside of the barn, a gravel path leads to a covered pole barn with picnic tables, mud kitchens, and a sandbox before it extends to the bottom of a sloping hill. Here, there are more picnic tables for outdoor lessons and trees for hide-and-seek. Draped from branch to branch along the hill’s descent are colorful triangular flags that hang over the worn path like a rainbow.
“Every morning after a hug goodbye, Carter walks inside the barn, puts up his backpack, and I watch as he runs down the hill to play outdoors,” said parent Jamie. “I am so thankful that he gets to spend his days outside! He gets to learn math outside at a picnic table, and he learns reading and language arts on the screened porch next to the pet rabbit.”
Several paths in the forest lead to the Red Gully freshwater creek, where the children can often be heard laughing and squealing as they splash with their friends. They try to catch salamanders and frogs or build dams and little boats with leaves and sticks. Many of them quickly find the red, white, and yellow clay to color anything in sight.
As they play, Nature Connect’s kindergarteners are learning everywhere they go. For math lessons, Ms. Meg and Ms. Anna teach using manipulatives, which are often rocks, sticks, flowers, and berries found underfoot. They have even used the chicken eggs from the school’s coop.
Recently, a caterpillar joined the class during their math lesson and seemed particularly interested in the number 8 on a worksheet.
During literacy lessons, the teachers also tie writing activities into the weekly nature themes. They often read stories from one of their favorite series, Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel. Then the students compare and contrast real frogs and toads to the fictional characters in the story. When discussing setting, the students talk about how different or similar the story setting is to their own natural surroundings of woods and creek. During mammal week, the kindergarteners took to pencil and paper to write an opinion piece about their favorite mammals. They also write about the characteristics of the changing seasons, which they are fully immersed in throughout their school day. What better way to write about a topic than to experience it first-hand?
The same can be said about science lessons at Nature Connect. When learning about pollination, the lesson is, quite literally, at their fingertips as bees and butterflies dip in and out of nearby flowers. If the children want to know more about snails and worms, what better way than to hunt for some in the forest?
“The staff is wonderful, the setting is dreamy, and my child gets to spend all day outside!” continued Tiffany.
Margaret’s daughter Josie has been with Nature Connect since preschool. She has seen her grow both emotionally and cognitively, and her confidence is stronger.
“She has always been happy, but now she’s confident. She understands what learning can do, that she can learn to do most anything she wants,” said Margaret, who added that Josie is excited that she has learned to read this school year.
Soon the children will graduate and continue on to public, private, or homeschool programs. “With the school year coming to an end, I’m grateful that Carter has been prepared academically and socially for first grade in the fall,” said Jamie. “And I’m very thankful that he was able to have a memorable year of kindergarten!”