My name is Katelyn VerWoert and I am the current Little Sprouts Childcare director and Young 5s teacher, having been at West Side Christian School since the fall of 2014 (and I'm an alumni too!). I'm excited to be leading the new nature-based preschool class starting next fall, and wanted to take the opportunity to share with the school community what I'm learning about as I prepare to launch this new class.
Working with the Little Sprouts and with the Young 5s opened my eyes to the tremendous opportunities outdoor education provides our students. Janet Staal, Blandford's Environmental Education Consultant, worked with the Little Sprouts last summer and with her assistance we introduced the Little Sprouts to the West Side Christian School garden, where they grew and harvested their morning snack! This summer, be on the lookout for the Little Sprouts Farm Stand Tuesdays!
I've spent a lot of time outdoors with my Young 5s students and have seen how the outdoors captivates their attention. Learning about shapes and senses – bumpy, rough, smooth – lends itself to outdoor learning where God provides all of these textures in their natural environments. And when students learn in such a sensory-rich environment outdoors full of sound, sight, smell, and touch, they can recall those experiences vividly when talking about those concepts indoors afterwards, like when we made their letters out of sticks. Research confirms that learning outdoors engages students and improves their problem-solving abilities. More importantly, the outdoors piques students’ natural curiosity and introduces them to the Creator through His creation!
Because I’ve seen and experienced these amazing learning opportunities outdoors with the Little Sprouts and Young 5s, I’m excited about several features of the new preschool class:
Structure of the class – We’ll be starting our days with discovery and instructional time outdoors, followed by workshop back in the classroom. 25-50% of our instructional time will be outdoors.
Partnership with Blandford Nature Center – Their expertise has already contributed greatly to the plans for this class, and I look forward to continued collaboration with them here onsite at West Side Christian School as well as at their facility.
Playscape – We’re just starting the planning process for what the new playscape will look like and what learning tools we can create and construct in the natural environment. We’d love to have you join us at our brainstorming and planning meeting on February 25th!
This is a brand-new opportunity for West Side Christian School, and as the first teacher in this new program, I'm going to be spending a lot of time in coming months learning more about developing a quality nature-based preschool program:
Site visit – I will be spending several days at Chippewa Nature Based Preschool to learn more about implementing nature-based teaching into their gross motor and fine motor lessons, as well as integrating social and emotional development intentionally into outdoor-themed instruction.
Setting up a nature-themed indoor classroom – I’ll be collaborating with Blandford Nature Center to design our nature-based curriculum that extends the outdoor learning into classroom activities. We’ve got some exciting plans for incorporating natural elements into the classroom itself!
Scripture and God’s creation – The Bible provides rich descriptions of God’s created world, and I’m looking forward to connecting preschoolers to God’s word and God’s world!