By 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
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:
By 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.
As 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
By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Lead Teacher
The 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
By Shannon Dryden, Preschool Manager and Lead Teacher
“Look, Miss Shannon, when I turn it over, I found green. What do you think that is?”
“This piece is shiny, it must be polished.”
“I can see the sparkles…it’s the schist!”
As the Preschool Summer Campers dispersed among tables filled with rocks, minerals, magnifying glasses, dishes, paintbrushes, and water, they immediately began to inquire and connected their questioning and observations with the visit from a preschool science expert on rocks. One little boy brushed both sides of his rock and was amazed as he turned it over to see the split rock and the imprint and colors become more clear. He exclaimed, “Look, it’s the crystal, the geode!” The Preschool Nature Ramblers have been engaged in activities enriching their outdoor connections and building upon those extended periods of exploration and play since the very beginning of the summer. Continue reading
By Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager
At the end of our first year of Nature Preschool, the teachers, Shannon, Rebecca, and Nicole asked the children to share why they loved nature. The result? This delightful video:
Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.
By Shannon Dryden, Preschool Manager and Lead Teacher
When people think of school and what children learn, it’s important to remember it’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic. Particularly in preschool, building social skills is key. At the Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool, the children have demonstrated how much they have learned about kindness, cooperation, relationships, and compassion. Throughout the year, we have built a community of trust and love between children, adults, and nature. This week, we celebrated all the kind acts of our children with a kindness week. Continue reading
By Rebecca Dhondt, Preschool Teacher
Last week Nature Preschool went camping right in our Tall Trees Playscape. We talked about camping, read about camping, sang about camping and probably dreamed about camping on our rest mats. Activities included playing in tents, snuggling in sleeping bags, hiking, using mess kits, learning about building fires and ‘roasting’ marshmallows.
After reading a camping story, the Nature Preschoolers were excited about creating their own camping story. We took the opportunity to teach about the parts of a story: beginning, middle and end; problem and solution; and characters and setting. After brainstorming we created this tale called Nature Preschool and the Tent of Terror.
Once upon a time, Nature Preschool went to a campsite in Delaware. Continue reading
By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager & Lead Teacher
As the preschool manager and teacher at the Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool, it is so exciting to see the benefits of children spending time outdoors unfolding right before my eyes. The children have gained endurance and stamina since the beginning of the year. We now venture to ponds and places that are farther away on our trails and the children enjoy these excursions. For example after describing Wind Dance Pond, the children immediately began asking “Can we go there?” Nature Preschool took on the challenge and showed a tremendous amount of pride and sense of self exclaiming, “We made it to Wind Dance Pond!”
This year, I have had the joy of experiencing the seasons, animals, and plants with the children. Together, we have embarked on a journey of questioning, discovery, and increasing curiosity.
Wanting to share all of the wonderful activities and ways our children were forming relationships with our natural world, we jumped at the opportunity to present at the 2014 DVAEYC Conference which focuses on current topics, ideas, and discussions going on in the early childhood world. The theme of the conference was Take a Walk on the Wild Side! Connecting Children with Nature. After presenting and being a participant this spring, I was reminded of the possibilities the outdoors offer, and the ways that a young child’s development can be supported simply by engaging in unstructured outdoor play. Great discussions, networking, conversations, and sharing of lessons and activities culminated into a reaffirmation of the work that we do.
The first edition of Children Need Nature, a monthly message from our Nature Preschool. Read more posts here.
Photography as Art
A Nature Preschool Exploration
With the advent of the Frost exhibit here at the Schuylkill Center, we have been delving deeper into art. In particular, we are exploring the many ways that art can be expressed – through sculpture, painting, print, fabric, and even photography. We visited the exhibit as a group and looked in particular at the photographs. The children were able to describe the photos and express the emotions they felt when looking at them. They ran the gamut from happy, to sad, to angry to cold. We talked about how different people can find different things when looking at a work of art.
Later, we went outside and gave the children the opportunity to take their own photographs. Naturally they took dozens. We printed them out to show the class. Then we were able to explore how artists create many pieces that may not make it to the gallery. They have to pick the one that means the most to them. Nature Preschoolers were eager to select one photo they had taken that expressed something they wanted to share with the world. It is wonderful to see how they are able to connect emotion to their photos. Hooray for our budding photographers.
This photo is of a green leaf. All the other colors are brown and dry. Looking at this makes me feel good and happy because spring is coming at last.
This is sawdust on the ground. Looking at this makes me happy. The sawdust smells good and I know I can go on the trails again. Mr. Mark and Mr. Sean made them safe for us.
This is my feet in the mud. It makes me happy to see this picture because mud is fun. Some people might feel ‘yuck!’ but I don’t mind being dirty. Mommy just washes me.
In this picture Jackie is walking towards the tree with lots of my friends in it. It makes me feel happy because it looks like they are going to have fun and I want my friends to have fun. Other people will be happy too because kids should play a lot.
This is snow. Snow is cold. I took this picture to make people happy. They can imagine playing in snow – like building a snowman!
I took a picture of a plant just growing new. When I smell them they smell like dirt and good. It makes me happy because things are growing.
These are two pictures. One is of the lichen on the log. It is white and cold like the snow. It reminds you of winter. The second one is of the new moss. It makes you feel mossy and soft. It reminds you of growing things because it is green like the spring. Winter is leaving and spring is coming.
Winter – lichen on a log.
This is my friend. Seeing people that I love makes me happy and I think that other people will be happy to see it because she is smiling and in nature which is a good thing.
This is a fence that is in the forest. It makes me feel happy and other people will be happy too because they will know they are safe.