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.

art supplies from Sassafras roomOur art materials are thoughtfully arranged using wooden bowls or naturally colored containers.  We separate everything by color in order to help the children find just what they need. Natural materials such as grasses, seeds, leaves and sticks are placed next to the glue rather than the sequins or glitter you might find in a more traditional classroom.

At Nature Preschool, our projects often are inspired by the things we find in the environment.  One classroom made collages using giant Paulownia leaves they collected on a walk.  The children requested glitter to attract the fairies.   This was a challenge until we saw how sparkly our local Wissahickon schist is.  Preschoolers were thrilled to smash up this rock and soon our collages were sparkly with nature’s glitter – mica!

Making art, gogglesOther times our projects are inspired by the environmental art we are lucky enough to find both inside our own gallery and out on the trails.  One of the great benefits of our location here at the Schuylkill Center is the ability for the children to be exposed to a variety of environmental art.  Christina Catanese, our Director of Environmental Art, is always willing to both teach us about art and show us around the gallery exhibits.

Sassafras leavesSometimes even the leftovers of former environmental art projects can provide inspiration for our three to five-year-olds.  One classroom took vine circles left behind by  LandLab resident artists WE THE WEEDS and wove with them, creating beautiful dream catchers. They also brought the circles outside and used them to spark imaginary play including throwing objects through a target!

Environmental Art at Nature Preschool

Other times we just interact with environmental art.  The property of the Schuylkill Center is dotted with art installations. Preschoolers love to interact with the art including climbing through the Bird/Seed Shelter  by XLXS near Jubilee Grove and checking for new mushrooms at Jake Beckman’s evolving Future Non-Object #1 along the Widener trail.

Responding to Hackensack DreamingMost recently, a class of preschoolers was fascinated by the current show in our gallery: Hackensack Dreaming.  They were able to watch the show being installed, meet the artist Nancy Cohan, and even received some leftover paper and paper pulp from the show.  The children were eager to collaborate and make their own artistic piece.  Naturally, they did not only use the paper pulp so generously provided.  Remember, this is Nature Preschool and art and nature need to work together!  This meant the addition of flowers, colorful leaves, Wissahickon schist dust, and our own signatures.  The resulting collage is uniquely Nature Preschool and is hung proudly outside the gallery.

Nature Preschoolers see themselves as artists, and see art as integral to their own expression.  When finishing work on their interpretation of Hackensack Dreaming, teachers asked the preschoolers what their dream for the future would be. Their answer was simple. “Can we have nature and art everywhere?”  Here at Nature Preschool, each day is a chance to make that dream closer to reality.

Hackensack dreaming piece installed

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