Nature Preschool / K4
Nature has always been our classroom. We have been teaching outdoors since our preschool was founded in 2003. We now divide our days between our four outdoor classrooms and the beautiful surrounding nature trails. During a year at Nature Preschool, a child might watch a monarch butterfly begin its migration to Mexico, catch a frog at Mystery Lake, and learn to tap a maple tree.
Founded in 2003, the preschool was the first of its kind in Wisconsin and is nationally recognized. Housed in the Center’s Gold LEED-certified building, the preschool’s uniqueness stems from our strong commitment to both environmental education and inquiry-based learning. We are a 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.
At the Nature School, we spend the majority of our class time outside exploring throughout all of the seasons. With proper seasonal attire, our students learn to embrace the rain, snow, and sunshine alike, as well as any other weather Wisconsin has to offer. Students begin to develop a sense of place and an understanding of the natural world that surrounds us all. Our students learn by doing in nature – they climb on logs, search for insects, dig for worms, hike the trails, splash in puddles, play in the snow. They also get to know the Center’s resident raptors and other animal ambassadors.
Nature-based play continues in Nature Preschool, where children in our Chickadee, Cardinal, Goldfinch, and Nuthatch classrooms grow through increased social engagement. Nature Preschool children begin to learn interpersonal skills and independence, developing a sense of community that includes the natural world. Our students have time to explore and follow their own ideas. They use the magic of unstructured play to work through conflict, work as a group, build community, spark curiosity and self-exploration. The children tackle tasks and learning when they are developmentally ready and begin to develop the building blocks for success in the future. Some of these abilities include curiosity, asking questions, and knowing empathy for plants, animals, and each other.
We provide social and emotional learning that you cannot get sitting at a desk, which prepares them for a future life of learning. The students 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.
By K4, our 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. All this creates a strong foundation that connects each program to the next. Children are prepared for the future by gaining skills of the fundamentals through practice and by accomplishing appropriate tasks in the real world. These skills are gained within a safe community, which in itself is an accomplishment of our students’ own initiative, achieved in concert with their supportive teachers.
Our Learning Environment
We are a fully-licensed, nine-month preschool & K4 school offering morning or afternoon classes. The students are co-taught by professionally trained and motivated teachers who offer years of early childhood and environmental education teaching experience. They also enjoy special programs taught by Center naturalists. With 16 children in each of our four outdoor classrooms, there is a maximum ratio of one teacher for every eight children. These ratios and our training requirements exceed the requirements of the State of Wisconsin and meet the accreditation criteria set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Our preschool is part of Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin and a member of Natural Start Alliance, which is part of the North American Association for Environmental Education.