“An animal has been here! Look, look! I see the tracks!” Venturing through the snow in search of clues, one student deciphered the squirrel tracks and the nearby hole. “That must be how he gets his food!” Another then chimed in, saying “Oh, I have seen squirrels burying their nuts!” Reflecting on their observations, students shared about a squirrel’s need to remember where it hid its acorns, lest it forget where it stashed some of its food.
For three years, West Side Christian School has partnered with Blandford Nature Centerto help create more opportunities to take student learning outdoors. In the above instance, preschool students were exploring the beauty of winter while discovering a few secrets of how animals survive during the cold season. Next year, this partnership will expand to include a nature-based preschool option that is offered in addition to the school’s existing programs.
The new nature-based preschool will utilize outdoor spaces located at both West Side Christian School and Blandford Nature Center. In fact, students will spend 25-50% of their time in daily outdoor play. When indoors, nature-based discovery will form the backbone of the curriculum and drive classroom activities.
Such outdoor learning experiences will meet early childhood learning standards while simultaneously meeting children’s need to connect to the natural world. The preschool’s model was influenced by research that demonstrates just how powerful nature can be in shaping a child’s development.
It’s exciting for Blandford to serve as a source to help create more unique play and learning experiences that spontaneously ignite curiosity, imaginations and wonder.
“We’re excited that this new nature-based preschool, which will complement and extend our outdoor education partnership with Blandford Nature Center, allowing us to more fully utilize the nature preserve and garden already onsite.” Tom Aldrich, principal, knows that tremendous learning opportunities exist in the outdoor spaces and the school is eager to offer this preschool option to preschool families next year!
A special thanks goes out to Rachel Larimore, Director of Education at the Chippewa Nature Center, and Heather Parker, Early Education Director at the Kalamazoo Nature Center for sharing your insights and inspiration.
About the Author: Janet Staal didn’t want to contain student learning to the confines of a desk, so she broke down the walls and began teaching outside. Equipped with a teaching certification in elementary education (Science and Math emphasis), she began her adventures as an educator. She now works at Blandford Nature Center as an Environmental Education Consultant – growing more opportunities to take student learning outside!