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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.  Continue reading

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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

Natural paintbrush painting at Naturepalooza.

Nature Preschool loves Earth Day

Children Need NatureBy Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

At Nature Preschool, our children are immersed in outdoor experiences daily, connecting them to their surroundings and the Schuylkill Center in a meaningful way.  At events like Naturepalooza, the children show their expanding knowledge and the bonds created through open-ended exploration.  Learning through play and touching, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing is what these children do best and it brings joy and happiness in many ways.  Just look at the smiles!  Below, some highlights from Earth Day and Naturepalooza with our preschool.

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Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

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Open-ended learning in nature

childrenneednature-01By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Crack, splash, plop, and snap – followed by sounds of children laughing as they explore the melting ice at Polliwog Pond.  “Look at this piece, I can see through it!” Next up, “I’m selling ice. Who wants a piece?” as an ice display is quickly assembled. A group of nearby preschoolers responds, “I do.  I do.” Then, the adventures begin as the children carefully select the perfectly shaped piece of ice for their next escapade. A natural material provides inspiration and imagination amongst the children. Continue reading

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Winterfest with Nature Preschool: Winter, Stars, & Nature Crafts

childrenneednature-01By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Stars are a practical and magical symbol for children and adults alike. They are a mystery of the sky, full of gas, providing us with light, and are still something that we don’t yet fully understand. They are a symbol of hope, something to wish upon, or a picture to represent many holiday celebrations this time of year. With the dawn of the winter season upon us and the upcoming winter solstice, Schuylkill Center just held its annual Winterfest, a star themed family event welcoming Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool families and community members alike to join together in discussion, crafts and night hikes.

After spending the first part of the year getting to know one another, the Sweet Gums and Sycamores now are more comfortable at Schuylkill Center with their families, teachers, and friends. They now feel connected to the Center and acknowledge their roles as learners, planners, and leaders in their environmental interaction. We decided to share our experiences, and give the public a chance to get a sneak-peek at Nature Preschool by offering a special craft activity at Winterfest.

In preparation for Winterfest, the preschoolers began the week talking about the event, this special occasion to celebrate the changing of seasons. This prompted them to take the lead in sharing ideas for crafts and what we could do on that day. We shared the theme of stars with the children and invited them to tell us what they know about stars. The children immediately began saying things like, “They are big!”, “They are hot”, “Some are yellow and some are not!” Their curiosity was piqued as they began asking questions such as “How many stars are there?” Continue reading

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Weaving Art into Nature

By Ezra Tischler, Public Relations and Environmental Art Intern

LandLab resident artists Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya Levy, of WE THE WEEDS, have been busy collecting invasive plants like oriental bittersweet, mile-a-minute, wisteria, Japanese stiltgrass, and bush honeysuckle at the Schuylkill Center. These gathered vines are then woven together using hand-built looms, creating beautiful tapestries of varying color and texture. Be sure to check out their guest blog post detailing the process and progress of their botanical weaving project.

Zya, taking full advantage of her resident artist title, recently spent some time exploring the Schuylkill Center’s property. Her exploration resulted in some impromptu land art capturing the transitory nature of autumn. Dried grasses and fallen vines clumped together in mounds may not catch the eye of most meadow visitors. Zya, however, saw the mounds as an opportunity to create temporary nests. Here is a gallery of some of the nests, but they won’t last long and are certainly worth seeing in person:

Zya also met with visiting groups from Nature Preschool, inviting the children to try their hand at botanical weaving:

 

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All About Apples

childrenneednature-01By Shannon Dryden, Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

The beginning of the year at preschool means apples!  For most preschools, this is also the case, but at Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool, an interest in apples developed from enjoying apples snacks to the preschoolers’ observations along the trails.  Playing and exploring outside led to a deeper association with apples.

10.1 RD6As both classes walked along various trails (getting to know our outdoor community), they started classifying the types of trees with their teachers’ help, by looking at the shape of the leaves, the bark, and branches.  Inspired by the changing colors and fall, the children have also been talking about activities like apple picking, visiting a farm, and going on nature hikes with their families.  We noticed children bringing in apples at lunch, which sparked conversations about where apples come from.  This gave the class an idea – let’s visit the orchard.  What you may not know is that the Schuylkill Center property includes a small intimate crab apple orchard that blossoms with color and fruit this time of year.

We asked the children what an orchard was and they shared many ideas including, “it’s a group of trees” or “I’ve been to an orchard.  There are apples there!” We continued to guide the children in critical thinking by asking, “Where do apples come from?”  Using this new interest in apples, we led the children through a special cooking activity for Back to School Night.  We followed a recipe and enjoyed measuring, scooping, pouring, and mixing the ingredients.  Each class used an apple peeler and corer and combined cinnamon and apples in a crock pot to create applesauce. Continue reading

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Nature Preschool, Community-Building, and Responsibility Rocks!

By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Lead Teacher

childrenneednature-01The first few weeks of Nature Preschool have started off with a busy buzz and hum as the two classrooms, Sweet Gum and Sycamore, have filled with children, conversations, artwork, lunch boxes, water bottles, and more.  It may seem silly but every September I am reminded how the beginning of the year reinvigorates teachers and classrooms as new personalities come together to build a community. It is loud (as it should be), it is busy (many moving bodies), it is messy (children’s hands at work), it is full of questions, thoughts, and ideas as the pieces of the classroom puzzle are beginning to fit together. Continue reading