Children playing in a stream

The Importance of Learning in Nature

By Guest contributor Debra Deacon, M.Ed., Lead Teacher at Kinder Academy

Children and nature go hand in hand, or at least it should. Research has shown how important it is to introduce children to nature especially in the early years. Children today, especially our inner city children have a very limited opportunity to connect with nature. How can we teach our children the importance of our environment if they have a disconnect with nature?

This became our goal when we introduced the children in the Butterfly classroom at Kinder Academy to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s Nature Preschool. Nature Preschool is a fabulous program where children can learn about nature as well as learn about themselves as they investigate and make new discoveries. We wanted our children to be able to experience nature first hand, and learn from children in their own age group. Continue reading

Children Need Nature: Cultivating Connections at Nature Preschool

Children Need NatureBy Shannon Wise, Nature Preschool Manager

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

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. Continue reading

Playing in nature playscape

Do I have your attention?

By Gail Farmer, Director of Education

My son is in first grade and he is struggling. Struggling to sit still, struggling to be quiet, and struggling to give his teacher the long periods of undivided attention the schools are asking of our young children.  His teacher has employed several positive strategies to try and help him meet the school district’s needs:  he has a “wiggly seat” on his chair that helps him to stay in his seat, she has star charts for attending to the teacher, and most recently, a star chart to reward being “calm and quiet.” While I appreciate his teacher’s efforts to address her expectations of him in a positive way, I am dismayed that the school fails to understand their role in his struggles.

In a typical kindergarten or first grade classroom, the children are almost constantly attending – paying attention during morning meeting, to a book being read, to a worksheet to be completed, to the lesson being taught, to the reading and phonics activities, to the art projects.  The ability to direct our attention to a chosen focal point (called “directed attention”) is an incredibly important neurological capacity.  Directed attention is under voluntary control, which means that we can choose to focus our attention and resist our impulses when needed.  These abilities allow us to be perceptive and observant, behave in socially appropriate ways, to be reflective before taking action (i.e. not acting out on every emotion), to sit still, pay attention, and concentrate. Directed attention is hugely important to learning and school success. 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.  Continue reading

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

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