Center News, Nature Preschool

Nature Preschool Named a 2019 Green Ribbon School

We are happy to share that Schlitz Audubon’s Nature Preschool was named a 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. This prestigious award is judged on three pillars of environmental educational achievement: reducing environmental impacts and costs, improving health and wellness, and increasing environmental literacy. We are honored that our work in these areas has been recognized.

Reducing Environmental Impacts

Our Nature Preschool is housed in the Center’s Gold LEED certified building, which has a number of features that contribute to its low environmental impact. The building is powered by a combination of Geothermal, Photovoltaic/Solar Electric, and Active Solar Thermal providing 50% of the building’s total energy use. It is built from sustainable woods, including wood harvested from the property.

Our nature-inspired classrooms bring the outdoors in. Floor to ceiling windows fill the rooms with light and overlook natural landscapes. The rooms are outfitted mostly with wood rather than plastic. Our blocks, art, and dramatic play areas incorporate elements from nature such as pinecones, sticks, and rocks.

In our classrooms we promote sustainability. Teachers emphasize reducing, reusing, and recycling materials. The award also recognized our Ash-to-Art project in which children and families created art on a large cross-section of wood from ash trees taken down on the property.

Improving Health and Wellness

Children in our Nature Preschool spend a lot of time outdoors, and we teach them how to dress for all kinds of weather. We explore the Center’s varied habitats, including the Lake Michigan shoreline, prairies, woodland, oak savanna and ponds. Our three outdoor preschool play spaces contain natural climbing structures, digging areas, a mud kitchen, water play, log cabins, and garden beds.

We serve a healthy, family-style snack in the classroom, adapting to students dietary needs. We often use organic food from local sources, including our own garden. In the fall, we cook with the children using our own tomatoes, tomatillos, and basil.

Increasing Environmental Literacy

Our curriculum is play-and-nature based. It’s built around the premise that children ages 3-5 need to interact with nature in a way that is mostly unstructured and inquiry-based. Our mission is to help children develop a lifelong environmental ethic through positive interactions with nature. These interactions include teacher-led experiences, such as ponding, maple sugaring, etc. as well as healthy daily doses of self-directed exploration and play. We also emphasize creating relationships – relationships between children and their peers, teachers, and nature.

We follow best practices for both early childhood education and environmental education.  Each classroom has two teachers, one with an environmental background and one with an early childhood background. Our storytimes feature books from our nature-themed library, and they occasionally include a visit from a bird of prey from the Center’s Raptor program.

To be eligible for the award, the school first had to achieve the highest level of recognition — “Sugar Maple” status — in Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin. Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin is a partnership of the Wisconsin departments of Public Instruction and Natural Resources, along with the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education. Schools in the program receive support to reduce environmental impacts and costs, improve health and wellness, and prepare students to address sustainability issues.

There are four levels of school achievement: Sprout, Seedling, Sapling, and Sugar Maple, with Sprout being an entry-level school. To be a Seedling, a school must meet one of the program’s focus areas, whereas a Sapling must meet five. Sugar Maple level schools must meet all focus areas. We are the only preschool in Wisconsin to receive the highest level.

Through fostering a positive relationship with the natural world, we are developing our preschool children’s interest in the environment so it will continue well after they leave the program. Our hope is that children who have participated in our curriculum will one day become stewards of the earth.