Nature preschools have been around in the U.S. since the 1960s, but their popularity has grown exponentially in the last five years. The Natural Start Alliance sums up nature preschools pretty excellently,
“a school must put nature at the heart of the program, it must be based on high-quality early childhood education and environmental education practices, and it must also help lay a foundation for environmental literacy.”
So this isn’t the typical preschool experience that most children receive. Although preschools and kindergartens often focus on the natural world, this is a different kind of education that focuses on caring for the environment and conservation education. Many nature preschools will spend their entire school day outdoors, even in the winter.
But what do the kids learn? Public and private preschools and kindergartens have increasingly focused on structured curriculum that preps young kids for reading and math. Will they be equally prepared for later grades?
The Natural Learning Initiative and North Carolina State University put together a nice fact sheet that explains in depth the benefits of children who experience outdoor learning environments (OLEs). Just a few of their findings:
Supports creativity and problem solving
Improves academic performance
Reduces Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms
Improves social relations
Now I won’t go into the science behind all that, although if you want to do your own investigations, there are plenty of peer reviewed articles available on the Natural Learning Initiative website.
And I’ll admit, I’m a little bit of a hippie so this sounds pretty spectacular to me. I remember being a kid not so long ago and how awesome it was when we went to the nearby nature preserve. So I wonder, what if that experience was continued throughout all of preschool instead of one day a year?
If you’re curious about finding a nature preschool near you, checkout the list of nature preschools in the Natural Start Alliance. Or, find a local affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education. For Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education.
Now, Wisconsin only has a few preschools that are in the Natural Start Alliance. And I’m sorry to say none of them are in the Fox Valley. I’ve provided a list below of nature preschools in the Natural Start Alliance, as well as other environment focused education opportunities in Wisconsin. I’ll keep the list updated as I discover more. Happy exploring!
Wisconsin Nature Preschools in the Natural Start Alliance
Other Wisconsin Environmental Education Opportunities
Appleton Public Montessori (Appleton Area School District Charter School)
Fox River Academy (Appleton Area School District Charter School)