Outdoor preschool education benefits children and the environment
CUMMAQUID – The preschool classroom inside the main building at Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary is warm and cozy – and generally empty.
The truth Preschool Nature Explorers the class is outside, in an open space surrounded by trees and bushes, where stumps replace classroom chairs, a “mud” kitchen invites students to fill pots and pans with soil and child-sized animal costumes hang from a rustic wooden door.
“We’re out all year round,” said Diana Stinson, a veteran preschool teacher who co-founded the Nature Explorers Preschool.
Now in its fourth year – after two years as a pilot project and one year of obtaining a full bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care – the Nature Explorers Preschool is part of a wave of educational programs focused on the outdoors.
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Ten years ago, there were less than two dozen outdoor preschools in the United States, according to the Natural Start Alliance, a nature-based preschool advocacy group.
Recent growth has been exponential, with the alliance reporting that the number of outdoor preschools more than doubled from 2017 to 2020, to 585 programs, with at least one outdoor preschool in each state.
The alliance has a long list of what it sees as the low-cost benefits of outdoor preschools, from improving brain development and reducing ADHD symptoms to decreasing stress and reducing stress. promotion of physical activity at a time when even very young children are often tied to electronic devices.
“Kids really connect with nature. They have a natural curiosity,” said Elizabeth Packard, who co-founded the Nature Explorers Preschool with Stinson, and whose own 4.5-year-old daughter frequents two days a week.
Having children educated outside during the COVID-19 pandemic also relieves stress for parents, Packard said. “It is a relief.”
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Outdoor, nature-based preschools do more than benefit children – they help the environment, advocates say, by creating environmental stewards who will be invested in protecting natural resources.
“We recognize that we need the next generation to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the environment,” Packard said. “It will help protect our planet, to be honest.”
The Nature Explorers Kindergarten at Long Pasture is one of half a dozen nature-based kindergartens run by Mass Audubon.
The flora and fauna provide courses that lead to reading, writing
Other programs are located in Mattapan, Lincoln, Wenham and Edgartown. The Arcadia Nature Preschool of Mass Audubon in Easthampton and Northampton was founded in 1976 and is considered one of the first nature-based preschools in the country.
The Long Pasture program is an immersive outdoor experience, said Stinson, who is the preschool principal.
She said she only remembered a few days last year when preschoolers were eating lunch or snacking inside.
“We’re really out there all the time. We know this is a trend that is really gaining momentum.
Placing children in an outdoor nursery school means learning to layer their clothes. Stinson said the school sends a lot of information home with parents on what to expect and what kind of clothing to provide.
Yellow puddle pants are a staple – keeping kids safe from moisture, rain, and insects, including the dreaded deer ticks that thrive on Cape Cod.
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The children, Stinson and teacher Mantie Pilzer also wear masks as a precaution.
Preschoolers’ equipment is stored in a teepee-shaped canvas tent in the outdoor classroom.
On cold winter days, they are given washable cotton gloves to use for lunch, Stinson said.
“We hope to instill a true love of nature,” she said.
Teachers use nature, including Cape Cod flora and fauna, to prepare preschoolers for reading and writing.
On Thursday, Pilzer taught 10 4-year-olds sitting on tree stumps the parts of a spider by holding a puppet in the air and counting its legs, eyes and body segments.
The young people retreated to nearby rustic wooden tables to recreate the spider’s body from two leaves, legs from eight sticks, and eyes from an assortment of seeds and acorns.
To a child who only gave his spider four legs, Pilzer said, “I like that you have body parts and eyes. Do you need legs? Count a few sticks for your legs.
She photographed the children’s creations for posterity and freed the preschoolers for a free recess, during which they put soil in pots in the earthen kitchen and took turns wearing costumes skunk, bat and owl that covered them from head to toe.
Gabi, 4, told a reporter that she liked kindergarten “because I learn a lot”.
And in winter, when it’s cold? “We do snowball fights,” Gabi said.
Packard said when she picked up her daughter, Charlotte, from the two-day-a-week program, the preschooler was all smiles.
Her standard response about her day is, “It was just great,” Packard said.
“She thrives on the outside. A lot of kids do. This release of energy comes so naturally to them.”
“No bad weather, just bad clothes. “
Even the rainy and windy weather this week doesn’t dampen morale, Packard said.
“I know how well protected they are,” said Packard, a naturalist from Mass Audubon who taught kindergarten during the pilot phase. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
Either way, “It’s just a quick getaway to get in and out of bad weather,” Packard said. “We teach (that) animals also seek shelter.”
Using animal behavior to teach lessons in how to get along and absorb instruction is integral to the program, Stinson said.
Preschoolers learn that a school of fish sticks together – just like kids should when they hike the trails of Long Pasture, which is located on 101 acres on Barnstable Harbor.
They hear that the Silent Coyote is a model for the silence required when listening to instructions.
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While being outside can benefit young children who might have more difficulty inside a classroom, it’s not a scrimmage, Stinson said. “There are still expectations and guidelines. “
The Nature Explorers Preschool also instills the same preparation skills in reading and math as other preschools, Stinson said.
Preschool is divided into two two-day sessions, one for 3 year olds and the other for 4 to 5 year olds.
Stinson said the preschool is able to award scholarships thanks to the contributions made to Mass Audubon.
Outdoor schools thrive on Cape Cod
While outdoor nature schools may seem like a natural solution for Cape Town’s rural environment, they are starting in more urban areas as well.
Shela Sinelien, who grew up in Haiti and co-founded the Boston Outdoor Preschool Network, told the Christian Science Monitor that she wanted to bridge the nature divide for communities of color.
Nature-based education permeates private and public education at all levels.
Cape Cod Academy, a private school in Osterville, launched Forest Fridays for kindergarten children during the 2019-2020 school year. Students spend the day outdoors with their teacher and their science teacher.
Instilling love and respect for nature is a goal for every child, said Stinson.
“It will make them the stewards of the future.”
Contact Cynthia McCormick at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.