Our Nature Preschool recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary, having spent two decades as a local leader in early childhood nature education. Because of our age-inclusive educational programming, we are in the process of changing the name of our preschool to Schlitz Audubon Nature School, with programs facilitated by our experienced early childhood educators. The Nature School is a space for babies, toddlers, and small children to learn and play, engaging in age-appropriate education. It includes an enhanced K4 program, a true pre-kindergarten class.
We enroll families, not just students, so the entire family is involved in a shared community experience using nature as a vehicle and teaching partner. We embrace social and emotional learning at all levels, with an emergent, child-centered curriculum versus a test-driven one. Teachers provide nature-based experiences that encourage curiosity, environmental connection, and empathy toward others, while supporting each child’s specific needs and abilities.
At the beginning of our educational progression, infants aged 6 to 18 months in our Audubon Babies program are exposed to nature through the senses, by seeing, hearing, and feeling the wonders of nature up close. Introducing babies to nature with a trusted family member begins a process of developmentally appropriate learning. Playing outdoors and gaining tactile experiences by touching natural objects like feathers, fur, and rocks adds to a baby’s repertoire of sense knowledge. Using group exploration while learning about the environment with like-minded families creates a community gateway.
In our Audubon Toddlers program, children aged 2 and 3 years also experience the joy of nature-based play with a trusted adult. Learning this way enhances brain development, creating neural connections as senses expand to accommodate the stimulation children find in a natural setting. The classroom encompasses sky, towering trees, grass and dirt-covered ground, and wind. Connection is created here, along with sensory integration, and the development of large motor skills, including increased strength and balance by walking on trails.
Nature Preschool offers mixed-age classes for children aged 3 – 5 years, where children in our Chickadee, Cardinal, Goldfinch, and Nuthatch classrooms grow through increased social engagement. Nature Preschool children begin to learn independence and interpersonal skills, developing a sense of community that includes the natural world. They use the magic of unstructured play to work through conflict, work as a group, spark curiosity, and self-exploration. They also learn empathy for plants, animals, and each other. The children tackle tasks and learning when they are developmentally ready, creating building blocks for success in the future.
Students aged 4 and 5 years in our Nature K4 program have authentic learning experiences through an inquiry-based curriculum using the phenology of the seasons and the children’s own interests and wonderings. With experienced teachers as guides, the students learn how to learn and be curious about the world around them. We provide social and emotional learning that doesn’t happen sitting at a desk.
Our K4 students are connecting language, literacy, math, and science to nature-based experiences at the same time they are beginning to take steps to care for and protect the natural environment. Children gain fundamental skills through practice and by accomplishing appropriate tasks in the real world. This is done within a safe community, which in itself is an accomplishment of our students’ own initiative, achieved in concert with their supportive teachers.
Our Nature School strives to achieve all of the milestones for childhood learning and development with an established and proven system of nature education. These programs build on one another, offering an age-appropriate curriculum that takes into account the whole child. By choosing to educate babies, toddlers, and preschool children through K4, parents provide their children strong foundations that last well beyond childhood.