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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


The Biggest Day in 50 Years

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

This piece was originally published in the Roxborough Review on Thursday, September 10 in the column Natural Selections

Saturday, September 27 might just be the biggest day in the Schuylkill Center’s storied 50-year history.  On that day, we’re offering the first bird seed sale of the year, the last native plant sale of the year, and launching the University of Nature, a full day of outdoor learning for adults.  We’re beginning the day by presenting the ninth annual Henry Meigs Award for environmental leadership to Ann Fowler Rhoads, and ending the day by unveiling a new show in our environmental art gallery.

One big day.

The University of Nature is the latest in a series of new programming thrusts the Schuylkill Center is rolling out.  We’re offering university-level expertise in a one-day outdoor setting.  Over the course of the day there are nine workshops and walks from which to choose, and you’ll leave at day’s end graduating to a higher level of environmental understanding. Continue reading

Exploring Cattail Pond

Searching, Soaring, and Sifting with Summer Camp

childrenneednature-01By 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!”

Learning about a frogAs 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

photos on wall

Why Photography Camp?

 By Elisabeth Zafiris, Manager of Public Programs

dragonfly on waterWhen you think about sending your child to a nature-based summer camp, you probably picture them frolicking among trees, worms, and birds, but do you see photography as a way to build a relationship with the natural world?

At the Schuylkill Center, we do.  Last week we offered a nature photography camp for our eight- and nine-year-olds, culminating in their very own gallery show.

Engaging with nature through art offers a unique way to connect with the natural world, using all five senses.  It’s a direct, yet play-based, experience that encourages critical thinking and reflection on one’s own relationship to the environment.

From Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art:

In environmental education, art making can be a powerful way to explore, inquire, and experience our environment, helping to develop not only environmental literacy but deeper, more emotional connections with nature.

For our campers, the experience of being in nature becomes relevant and personal through photography: that photograph of a flower, or bug, or tree is seen through their eyes, and they create a personal connection to what they observe. It’s no longer a random object that kids pass on the trail.  They are now intimately connected to that object, turning it from something removed to something personal in their individual experience.

During middle childhood, kids are building their feelings of competency.  Creating things, and getting recognition for the work they create, allows them to build confidence within themselves. Going through the creative process of photography allows them to build their feelings of competency. It allows them to get first-hand experience with a multi-step process that culminates in a finished product that is put on display for recognition by their peers and community.

The creative process itself also builds skills that are important – creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  Being able to look at the world with a creative eye challenges perceptions of the natural world; it allows one to focus observation skills and build close looking skills.

photos on wallFor the campers in the nature photography camp, going through the editing process helped kids to think critically – why pick this photo, what are we trying to communicate to the observer, what is the best way to go about that?  Creating the exhibition showed them that there is an ultimate goal for the work that they created, honoring and respecting their creativity and letting them communicate to a larger audience about their photographs and why they created took them.  The gallery show at the end of the photography camp was an opportunity for these campers to work together on a unified project that gave space and relevance to each individual’s work.

And, we all had a lot of fun taking photos, exploring the Schuylkill Center, and learning to see nature through art.

Kindness Week at Nature Preschool

childrenneednature-01By 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

Camping in Tall Trees Playscape (1)

Nature Preschool goes camping

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.

Camping in Tall Trees Playscape (1)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


Local Food Culture in Philadelphia: A look at a growing movement

By Daphne Churchill, Intern and Educator

FarmsandA bright sunny Saturday draws you out for a morning walk.  You look up the street and see the white tents with tables of fresh products: red radishes, leafy green lettuce, freshly cut flower bouquets, free-range eggs, fresh goat cheeses, liquid amber honeys.  The tables are bountiful and the tents abundant.  Neighbors chat with one another as they nibble free samples and discuss their purchases.  You overhear growers converse about sustainable practices and their business with the consumers as they debate and make their purchases.  This typical scene of a farmer’s market has become ever more common in Philadelphia during the last decade.  The local economy has seen an increase in the number of farmer’s markets and a diversification of what’s being sold.  Local goods are no longer coming only from Lancaster but from Philadelphia’s own neighborhoods.  City dwellers are increasingly advocating for the use of green space for gardening and are collaborating with a growing number of organizations for food, environmental, and health education initiatives supporting local food culture.

So what is it about local food culture that attracts so many people?  What exactly does it mean for a city like Philadelphia to be described as having a great local food culture?  Is local food viable for long-term sustainability, not just for some but for everyone?  How does growing and buying food locally change one’s relationship with food and with one’s social and economic community?  What are the benefits of growing and buying local foods? Continue reading


Learning and Growing with Nature Preschool

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.

Identifying animals  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.

Continue reading

Find Nature – Philadelphia: Guest Post from Lauren Ferri

By Lauren Ferri, posted from Finding Nature Philadelphia

Finding Nature Phildelphia

Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I had a huge yard with plenty of space to roam and explore. I remember playing outdoors for hours as a child, unearthing rocks and breaking them open hoping to find gems. I would dig through the dirt, pretending to be an archaeologist looking for lost cities and treasures. We had a garden where I would help my mother harvest lettuce, cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes. Fortunately I didn’t have to leave my property to experience the beauty and wonder of nature. These experiences left a lasting impression, and began my love and fascination with the natural world.

As an adult, I moved from New York to Florida, met my husband and had a child. Early on I could tell my son also had a love of the outdoors. When he was a baby I would bring him out to the grass behind our home with blocks, bubbles and books. I would read, sing and play with him. There was something about being outside in the sunshine that made us both relaxed and happy. He loved to crawl through the grass and would always smile when a breeze picked up and touched his face. I would carry him around and point out all the different trees, bushes and flowers. We would listen to the birds and walk in the grass. We would sit for hours, and just take it all in. I truly believe these experiences were helping my son become aware of the natural world around us. This was confirmed while playing indoors: he heard a bird-call from outside and suddenly stopped playing and began pointing to the ceiling. He was excited and wanted to investigate. I took him out on the patio to find the sound, and he happily sat watching the bird singing in the palm tree. Although he was unable to talk, I could see the curiosity that nature was inspiring in his life, and his desire to learn more. Continue reading