Nature preschoolers treat penguin doll at play clinic

Children Need Nature: An Emergent Curriculum Study

Children Need NatureBy Kristina Eaddy, Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Why do leaves change colors? What is under the frozen ice? And where do birds go during the winter? These are questions we hear every day, as Nature Preschool teachers. Young children’s minds are full of wonders and questions, trying to learn about, connect with, and understand the world they are surrounded by.

At Nature Preschool, we nurture this natural curiosity in young children by following the emergent curriculum approach. The goal of an emergent curriculum is to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion, foster inquiry-based experiences, and instill a love for learning. In contrast to a traditional, thematic-teaching approach, topics are not pre-planned in advance nor are they conducted in one- or two-week increments. Instead, a subject of study arises from the interests and developmental needs of the children in a group at any given time. A study can last anywhere from a couple of days to weeks, or even months, depending on how long the interest in the topic persists.

Continue reading

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Children Need Nature: Teaching Peace

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Classroom Lead Teacher

This time of year tends to be full of excitement and energy.  With so much baking, decorating, and visiting going on there are many stories that Nature Preschoolers are eager to share.  Children naturally begin to compare notes, trying to understand what is happening in their own homes and wondering about the ways others might celebrate teachers in the Sassafras room heard exclamations such as: “I have a Christmas tree too!”, “What is an Elf on the Shelf?” and “How do you play dreidel?”

An early way to help introduce children to cultural inclusion is to build on this natural interest in holidays.  This year the Sassafras class has spent time exploring Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa.  We have welcomed visitors, read books, played games, sung songs, cooked traditional treats, and had many lively discussions.    The children love learning new things, finding similarities and differences.  After learning about the seven concepts of Kwanzaa one of the preschoolers said: “We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, but we still care about all those things!” Continue reading

Leaf storting activity

Children Need Nature: Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Leaf storting activityBy Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

Children Need NatureIf you walk along the trails with a Nature Preschool class, you might think you are just out for a breath of fresh air, to run and let go of some extra energy. Yes – it is that and so much more. You might notice children gathering leaves, counting as they go. Their teacher furthers the experience as she takes out four colored pieces of construction paper to allow the children to sort by shades of fall. Soon, the children are discussing the attributes of each leaf as they categorize these natural objects. Expanding vocabulary can be heard as each child describes the shape or what makes the leaf they are holding unique. Throughout the experience, they are navigating space, taking turns in conversation, learning to wait to place their leaf until their friend is finished – all important social skills needed for the next step in their school journey. They are all a crucial piece of that term: readiness. Readiness for kindergarten, or the step after preschool, does not just mean knowing your letters and numbers. It is so much more and the transition can seem so overwhelming.

In Philadelphia and the surrounding area, there are many options for kindergarten. From public to charter, private to progressive, the choices can seem endless. This is great but is scary for a first-time parent or even a caregiver who is unsure of what type might be best for their child. When the door is opened up to the wide range of kindergarten schools out there, there are many aspects of readiness to consider; most importantly, are all of the players involved ready: the child, the family, the school, and even the community.

For us at Nature Preschool, we prepare children for kindergarten by starting with social and emotional skills. By supporting children in becoming critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, emotional regulators, and risk-takers, we are helping them build skills that will benefit them in kindergarten (and life beyond).  However, being ready for kindergarten takes the whole family.

So how can families be prepared? Start by visiting schools, researching options and identifying what type of learning environment matches the way in which your child learns best. Local kindergartens can (and should) identify the preschools from which their children are coming to be able to meet them where they are and build upon the foundation that has already been set. As for the community, different aspects of a neighborhood such as playgrounds, libraries, and other communal areas where families can gather  as they learn more about local schools and talk with one another.

Noticing this need amongst our parents and families, we are excited to introduce our coming Kindergarten Readiness 101 event on Thursday, November 10 from 6:30 – 7:30 pm, open to anyone who wants to hear more about making this transition. A panel of local teachers will talk about preparing for kindergarten and supporting children through the change – details on that here.

We’ll also use this event as an opportunity to make a special announcement – but shh, more on that on November 10!

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Children Need Nature: What is a Nature Preschooler?

Children Need NatureBy Nicole Brin, Sycamore Classroom Lead Teacher

A Nature Preschooler is a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old child who is part of a program which uses the natural world as the primary context for learning. They develop the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical skills needed for Kindergarten while immersed in daily outdoor experiences.

But a Nature Preschooler is more than that…

Child looking at a caterpillarA Nature Preschooler is curious. Learning the value in discovering answers for themselves. Studying the movement of a snail up close, wondering why some leaves turn red but others yellow, or exploring the cause and effect of splashing in the stream.

 

Children playing in the rain and the mudA Nature Preschooler is resilient. Solving problems and persevering through challenges. Figuring out the best way to move a large rock, navigating the sharing of tools in the sand pit, or not giving up until they’ve finally reached the highest branch.

 

Child climbing a treeA Nature Preschooler is a risk-taker. The good kind. Trying new things and learning how to evaluate new scenarios. Enjoying opportunities to get messy in the mud kitchen, evaluating the sturdiness of a rotten log, or working up the courage to ask a new friend to play.

 

Children spelling letters with sticksA Nature Preschooler is a communicator. Growing their ability to share their thoughts, ideas, needs, and wants. Discussing the weather at morning meeting, drawing observations  of the pond in their journal, or solving conflicts as they identify the ins and outs of friendships.

Child exploring patterns in the mudA Nature Preschooler is mindful. Aware of themselves, others, and the miraculous planet we live on. Noticing the beautiful pattern carved into a branch by a beetle, thanking a visitor for sharing story, or simply taking a moment for a few deep breaths before settling in for lunch.

Children and teachers playing on logA Nature Preschooler is spirited. Free to be exactly who they are. Passionate about sharing their favorite discovery, full of energy as they run through the meadow, or enthusiastic about any adventure thrown their way!

A Nature Preschooler is a unique type of child. One who will grow up to do great things!

Nicole BrinAbout Nicole Brin
Nicole, now entering her fourth year with the Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool, is lead teacher of the Sycamore class where she explores and learns alongside her preschoolers daily.

Children Need Nature: Cultivating Connections at Nature Preschool

Children Need NatureBy Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

At Nature Preschool, the foundation of community is vital to building a positive learning experience for the children. We value the relationships among families, children, and school. We invite our families and friends (from Schuylkill Center, Kinder Academy, and neighboring schools) throughout the year to share their talents, read stories, or participate in art activities to strengthen the bond and build comfort and trust among all of us. This spring, our preschoolers enjoyed many visits to meet new brothers and sisters, explore each different family’s cultural traditions, art, music Nature Buddies, and the work with our wonderful Wildlife Clinic.  Enjoy some pictures from this spring!

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Children Need Nature: Nature Preschool Bread and Soup Night

Children Need NatureBy Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

The winter is a time when many families cozy up indoors and enjoy quality time with one another. At the Nature Preschool, of course, we still venture out onto the with the children each day, asking questions and exploring the winter environment. This winter, the children from the Sweet Gums, Sycamores, and Sassafras rooms all wondered, “What do animals do to adapt?” This has been a common topic of interest at this time of the year and we were especially excited to build off of this for our main winter family event, Bread and Soup Night.

Knowing that we all can get the winter blues, the goal was simply this: to provide an opportunity for children and families to gather during the chilly winter season and enjoy a potluck, with breads and soups from families representing family favorites, heritage, culture.  The children as the main organizers of the event needed to tackle many tasks like writing their play, practicing and rehearsing the winter song, assembling their props and costumes, and discussing the play and all its key parts. Meanwhile, the classroom activities and hikes bolstered the fascination with winter and the theme of the event as the children continued to explore the trails, find tracks in the snow, discover bare trees, and observe less and less visible wildlife. Where were the animals and what were they doing? The emergent curriculum, our emphasis on the outdoors, and the concept of community so clearly aligned in this culminating evening. Continue reading

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Day of Service and Reunion at Nature Preschool

By Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

Children Need NatureAt Nature Preschool, support the connection among parents, teachers, and the Schuylkill Center as a whole.  Preschool is often an early opportunity for parents to make connections with other families over shared values and interests.  It is our goal to strengthen and foster these relationships through families’ time at the Schuylkill Center.  In our first year running the Nature Preschool program, we hosted a day of service on Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Last year, we invited past preschool families to the Center for a reunion in the spring. Both events were great experiences but as we began reflecting on family’s availability and the idea of connections and service, we were struck by the idea of combining these two events.  Hence this year’s day of service reunion.  I am always inspired by the gathering of parents, children, and teachers for events rooted in their school experience. It strengthens the personal connections and also the identification with the Schuylkill Center as a home away from home. This year, we planned for Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service and immediately I received a great amount of feedback from parents explaining, “I am so excited to engage my child in relevant service activities to their lives that support their ability to help out”.  In addition, it seemed as though the idea of hosting this event on a school holiday allowed previous families the flexibility to come back to the Center with their children.

With the support of the teachers and Schuylkill Center Staff, we planned four different activity choices along the trails and in the classroom. The children enjoyed restoring blue bird houses, re-filling bird feeders at the Bird Blind, picking up liter, and creating chew toys for the animals at our wildlife clinic. These are meaningful experiences that allow the children and families to be affirmed in their connection with our community. It also connects them to our larger global community by taking small steps to help and support the immediate environment.

Service_SD_1-18-16 008After the energy and work on the trails, we ended the morning with a animal show highlighting two birds from our clinic: our crow, Russel, and our saw-whet owl. The auditorium seats were filled as the children listened and watched intently to find out more about these interesting animals. The awe expressed on the children’s faces shows how these experiences help to build the love of the outdoors and connection to animals.

The morning was truly a heart-felt event with smiles and an eagerness to collaborate here at the Schuylkill Center. Children teaching and engaging with one another is a great learning experience. With kindergarteners and first graders returning, they were able to experience the freedom of the outdoors. Their strength and leadership was a model for the younger children who are experiencing for the first time how to recognize their abilities in engaging outdoor. Families talked with one another and children hugged their old friends to reminisce about good times and past experiences all while creating new memories together on this special day. I continue to be motivated to foster that feeling in a variety of ways and I thank all of you for that.

In the Bird-seed Shelter

Environmental Art at Nature Preschool

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Lead Teacher

When people think of a preschool experience, art almost always comes to mind.  Children need art, not only for the development of their creativity, but as a support for growing cognitive, social, and motor abilities.

children at picnic tableAll high quality preschool programs incorporate art daily. Walking into a typical classroom, parents will see evidence of painting, gluing and sculpture.  Hopefully there will be a well-developed art center with various supplies that are easily accessible to the children.   Also, completed works of art will be clearly labeled and prominently displayed around the room and in the halls.

Our Nature Preschool is no different, except for this: from first inspiration to finished project art always involves nature. Continue reading

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Seed Counting

Children Need NatureBy Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

Seeds – the beginning of something, the signal of a cycle continuing, a start. With the season of fall upon us, the Schuylkill Center forest has been filled with seeds covering the ground and showing up amongst the trees. For me these seeds symbolize the start of a new school year, the continued pattern of growth and learning for a new set of Sycamores, Sweet Gums, and Sassafras. It is the planting of knowledge and questions for teachers and children here at Nature Preschool.

PestoGallery_RD_10-6-15 013What happens at the start of each year defines the community of teachers and children as they embark on a journey to interact in the outdoor world. Each class is named for a native tree: Sycamores, Sweet Gums, Sassafras. As the children and teachers ventured out onto the trails, they began to notice the seeds covering the forest floor. Seeds are an engaging learning tool for young children as an open ended “loose part” that can be manipulated, peeled, squeezed, and more. Continue reading

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The Start of the Year at Nature Preschool: Discovery Walls

By Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

The Discovery Wall

Children Need NatureAs you scan the walls in each Nature Preschool classroom, you will find our Discovery Wall. It is a space filled with photographs of animals, plants, or natural objects along with categorization labels. This blend of play, experience, and science tells a story much deeper than what you encounter at first sight.

Blog_SD_9.22 (1)Being outdoors and exploring in nature is the heart and soul of our Nature Preschool. Each and every day the children travel the trails, open to the possibilities of the environment. It could be a multi-colored leaf, a wiggly worm, or a tenacious toad reacting to the touch of a child as he wiggles and squirms in a tight grasp. Through these experiences, the children are making connections with a special place that is beyond their developmentally appropriate egocentric view. This widens their focus and opens up their eyes to the larger world around them often building feelings of love, compassion, kindness, and respect. All of these emotions are vital to early childhood development and learning, and natural experiences provide a teaching opportunity to help children connect with these abstract concepts of interrelationships. The Discovery Wall is a visual tool that promotes this social and cognitive growth which aligns with what we know about early childhood development and the values of outdoor play here at the Schuylkill Center. Continue reading