At Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool, the natural world is our classroom, and the sticks, pebbles, and leaves we find become our learning tools. On a typical day in the warmer months, children look under logs to discover insects, worms, and blue-spotted salamanders. They climb our 60-foot tower, dip nets into ponds, and find fossils on the lakeshore. When winter comes, they follow turkey tracks in the snow, study snowflakes under magnifying lenses, and learn about the properties of water. In spring, they watch the world wake up. They gather maple sap, cook it into syrup, and celebrate the return of the songbirds. Our classes take place outdoors year-round. The classroom is always changing, and the learning is never ending.
We Lay the Foundation for Academics
Teachers introduce science, math, and literacy skills in ways that are hands-on and sensory-based. They regularly take art materials and books outdoors. Students learn to read maps and trail markers. They exchange postcards with chipmunks, make mud kitchen menus, and keep personal journals. They measure sunflowers, weigh pumpkins, count, subtract, and make predictions. Children learn to use observational skills to find answers to big questions. They learn about metamorphosis through the study of frogs and butterflies. They learn about gravity and the water cycle by following the flow of water down our ravines to Lake Michigan.
We Move Our Bodies!
Children in our program spend their days outdoors. Rain and snow do not hold us back. Every day, children run, jump, balance, tumble, stretch, and climb. They chase waves, climb trees, collect acorns, plant flowers, make snowmen, and boot skate across our frozen ponds. Research has shown that the more children move their bodies, the more the neurons in their brains form strong and lasting connections. Children who have time and space to move outdoors are better able to focus indoors. Outdoor movement reduces anxiety, releases energy, and promotes good health and fitness. It also encourages resilience: children learn to enjoy the outdoors no matter what the weather, in every season of the year.
We Stay Safe
At Nature Preschool, we take health and safety seriously. As long as COVID-19 remains a high concern in our community, our classes are outside. Indoors is reserved for hazardous weather, including lightning and below-zero wind chills. Children and adults wear facemasks. While we encourage free-play in our fenced-in spaces, we hike as a group when we take to the trails. Teachers spend time developing trust and communicating rules to ensure fun and safety. Our program includes outdoor campfires, boot skating on ice, climbing trees, and time at the beach. Activities like these have lasting benefits, but they also come with risk. Learning to manage risk safely and responsibly is an essential part of our program. The health and safety of our students are always our first priority.
Our Days Are Full of Fun!
At Nature Preschool, the days and weeks are full of mud pies. We jump in puddles, hang from branches, touch sticky seeds, and catch frogs. Children learn to make friends and navigate conflicts. They discover new interests and develop new confidence. We never forget that spending time in preschool should be a happy experience. Celebrating the joy of nature, and the joy of childhood is at the heart of what we do.
Although we cannot say what the upcoming school year will look like as far as COVID is concerned, we do know that we are going to offer at least two classes that are held almost entirely outdoors. These classes will use the innovative “forest classroom” model we have developed during the pandemic. We will also continue to offer our more “traditional” preschool classes that tend to make greater use the building. We are so excited by the opportunities these different options provide as we continue to grow and evolve our wonderful Nature Preschool!