The goal of our nature based program is to foster development of the whole child by tapping into their inherent connection to the natural environment. In his book Wild Play. David Sobel writes “young children have an intuition of inclusivity, of we’re all-in-this-together, trees and people and air and animals”. We don’t need to deluge them with facts and environmental problems, he writes; we just need to encourage their natural connectedness by giving them time and space to play outdoors. Our teachers encourage students to be curious, ask questions, gather information and construct their own theories of how the world works.
Both the Messy Monday and Outdoor Preschool classes use Nature as the foundation for a curriculum which is inquiry-based and child directed. Teachers act as responsive facilitators who promote active hands-on exploration of the environment. Ohio Early Learning Content Standards and developmentally appropriate practices are integrated within all areas.
In her book Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Hanscom states “learning outside provides more opportunities for risk-taking, problem solving, moving the whole body, using the imagination, overcoming fears, engaging in teamwork and tolerating and integrating new sensory experience”. Regulating behavior, persisting with tasks, using logic to solve increasingly complex problems, engaging in high interest activities and sharing them with others are the executive functioning skills that lay the foundation for a positive approach towards lifelong learning.
Emergent writing appears when a student wants to convey meaning through a sign to keep their fairy house safe. New vocabulary is introduced as we learn the difference between lichen, moss and fungi. Number sense is demonstrated as a student recreates a recipe for autumn soup and counts the number of pinecones and acorns and leaves to add to the bowl. Visual discrimination skills are practiced as children hunt for a variety of colors in the garden. The ability to create and expand rhythmic patterns occurs while interacting with the music wall. Small motor skills are refined through the manipulation of a vegetable peeler on a carrot.
Messy Monday and the Outdoor Preschool programs are multi-age groupings of 3-5 year olds. Students must be toilet trained and able to comfortably separate from their caregiver. Children will experience the outdoors in all-weather with the exception of severe conditions such as heavy rains, high winds, thunderstorms and extreme temperatures. Their clothes will get dirty and wet and they should be provided with the following: rain and/or snow pants, jackets, good mud boots, mittens and hats and multiple layers.