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Children Need Nature: Teaching Peace

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Classroom Lead Teacher

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

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

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. Continue reading

Carole William-Green 2016 Meigs Award Winner

Introducing Carole Williams-Green

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

On November 17, the Schuylkill Center presents the 11th annual Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award, given to leaders who reflect the spirit and vision of Schuylkill Center founder Henry Meigs.

CCCEEC ribbon cuttingThis year, we honor Carole Williams-Green, the dynamic founder of the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center in West Philadelphia.  A former public school teacher and administrator, she has led a successful multi-decade effort to rehabilitate the historic but abandoned Fairmount Park Police stables in Fairmount Park’s Cobbs Creek section, creating a center to bring environmental education to under-served neighborhoods like her own West Philadelphia.  Founded in 1991, the center opened its doors in 2001.

After being presented the award, Williams-Green will join a panel discussing environmental education and under-served audiences.  As we go to press, panelists include Jerome Shabazz, founder and executive director of the Overbrook Environmental Center, and Lamar Gore, refuge manager of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Tarsha Scovens, founder of Let’s Go Outdoors, and Karen Young of the Fairmount Water Works. Continue reading

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Children Need Nature: What is a Nature Preschooler?

Children Need NatureBy Nicole Brin, Sycamore Classroom Lead Teacher

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

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 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

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Education, climate change, and the “fierce urgency of now”

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

When a child graduates high school, the environmental education movement strives to make sure that student is environmentally literate—she understands how the world works, maybe even takes actions to improve environmental systems.

As the climate quickly changes, those graduates need to know about global warming.  Martin Luther King, Jr., in a completely different context, referred to “the fierce urgency of now,” and environmental educators feel that urgency, as weather is warming, seasons are shifting, oceans are rising, glaciers are shrinking, the icecaps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species are disappearing at rates faster than many models once predicted.

But hold on. 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!


SCH Academy Kindergarten partners with the Schuylkill Center

By guest contributor Caitlin Sweeney, Kindergarten Teacher, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy offers a variety of unique programs and student opportunities through The Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL). CEL teaches entrepreneurial skills to prepare students for the ever-changing world ahead of them. Entrepreneurial skills are developed by channeling a child’s natural desire to learn by doing. Children are asked to look both locally and globally to solve problems by applying design thinking, collaboration, and financial literacy skills, as well as new media technologies.

1949f3f1-35a2-48f1-896d-eea0ee4f0dbcKindergarten’s CEL project this year was paired with our annual Animals in Winter unit. For this unit, each girl becomes the expert on a local wild animal, researching her animal and eventually teaching the class all she knows. Looking locally, we were thrilled to partner with the Schuylkill Center, one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country.  Working with a community partner helps the girls develop empathy by solving a problem based on another person’s needs, or in this case, perhaps an animal’s needs. Kindergarten brainstormed a list of questions we wanted to ask the Schuylkill Center, questions that would help us learn more about the Center’s work and its potential needs. We asked our questions, via Skype, to Michele, a rehabber at the center. This interview session generated terrific information and served as a guide for our projects. Following the interview, kindergarten identified three areas in which we might assist the Schuylkill Center:

  1. Help calm and provide stimuli to the hurt animals.
  2. Help the staff stay clean while working at the center.
  3. Help the Center educate the community about their mission.

50cef060-c0d4-452d-ac5b-a6f0933aef74A few girls decided to design toys and made blankets and pillows for injured animals. Girls also painted wallpaper for the cages, to bring a sense of the outdoors inside. A team of girls designed a retractable sponge to help the staff clean cages. Another group made an easy to dispose of basket to assist in animal cleanup. One group of girls also thought of a new way to drop off animals at the Center at nighttime. And finally, in order to help the Schuylkill Center educate the community about their work, a group created T-shirts with instructions for taking a wild animal to the Center and set up a collection site here at school for donations of food, towels, and blankets. This group made announcements at our assemblies and hung up posters to make our SCH community aware of the good work being done by the Schuylkill Center.

Our work with the Schuylkill Center became part of our everyday lives in kindergarten. The girls acted out the roles of rehabbers in the dramatic play area and built their own version of the Schuylkill Center in the block area. When learning becomes synonymous with play in kindergarten, you know a meaningful connection has been made. When our students have opportunities to connect to the real world, solving real problems, it enriches the learning experience, creating purposeful and reflective learners. As teachers, we emphasized the process of this project over the final product, posing guiding questions of “why” and “how” and “what next?” For the girls, the opportunity to return again and again to their work over an extended period of time encouraged reflection and the idea of pushing forward in the face of failure. Upon reflection, girls said, “I liked this project because it was fun to make things for animals.” “It feels good when people help you so I liked helping the Schuylkill Center.”

The kindergarten team would like to offer a huge thank you to the Schuylkill Center for partnering with us and enhancing our curriculum.

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) is an independent school in Chestnut Hill with a unique model distinguished by single-sex education for the lower grades (Pre-K through 8) followed by a coed Upper School.  

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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