We’re finishing the first few months of school up, and thought you’d like to see what it’s like to spend a day in Nature Preschool!
The first stop for Nature Preschoolers is in our indoor classroom, where parents sign them in (which is a licensing requirement for the state of Michigan) and make sure they’re dressed for the Playscape. As soon as they’re signed in, parents walk them out to the Playscape. We encourage parents to take that opportunity to do a short “prayer walk” with their preschoolers as they begin their day.
Students then spend an hour in uninterrupted play in the Playscape. This isn’t just “free time” though. The Playscape is designed to allow students to explore and learn by experimenting and doing. For example, we always put out “loose parts” for them to use in their discovery time. Some days we’ll leave different pieces of wood or logs for kids to play with. One day they used a 2x4 piece of wood to extend the balance beam. Another day they had first created a teepee in the sandbox, but took the loose parts and added them to teepee so they have a full shelter now. The loose parts allowed them to totally transform their play and problem solve based on their discoveries!
We used pumpkins in October too!
You might wonder what we do when it rains? We head outside – and we do get muddy on those days! All of us (kids AND teachers) have rain gear and if it’s wet we just put it on and head outside. On a recent rainy day the preschoolers discovered that you go faster down the slide when it’s wet! The week after that, they added water if they wanted to go faster.
After free time, we head to our stump circle for Bible story and songs. What better a place to learn about His creation than IN creation? And there’s no better way to start our day. We did a whole unit on God’s creation and what we learned about God’s creation we also tied into learning about our 5 senses. So we went and drew in the field that we saw that God created.
After stump circle time we head out on our hike, and we hike someplace different every day. Our hike combines a lot of learning objectives: it’s a time to reinforce what we learn and know about God’s creation and just marvel at the beauty of God we see all around us, and it’s an opportunity for us to both teach and reinforce our learning objectives. Once when we went to garden we created “Matman” – an element of our “Handwriting Without Tears” curriculum that ties to early learning standards -- and took it back to the Playscape.
Typically, kids draw circles for heads and then have the legs coming out of a head at that age. We sing a song about body parts so as they’re singing they’re drawing, which helps them remember how the body parts are related and connected. The next day, we took this a step further and during free play made a scarecrow!
We’ve also hiked to the woods in our nature preserve, where once all the preschoolers found sticks and organized them from largest to smallest. Then the girls found new sticks and boys found leaves and together we created a pattern. The natural elements all around us allow preschoolers to incorporate so many of their own ideas about their surroundings into their learning, and use nature as a natural learning tool! In that woods hike we hadn’t planned on incorporating patterns into our lesson, but the preschoolers found those objects as they were looking for sticks, and it created a chance for us to have an impromptu pattern lesson!
After our hike we head to our indoor classroom and have a snack. One of the things that we do is to pray the Lord’s Prayer before our snack. This allows all students to participate in prayer at the same time (and keeps their attention on praying rather than on their snack!). And the preschoolers are SO proud learning to say the Lord’s Prayer!
Following snack is choice time, which is followed by story time at the rug. We use rug time to reinforce our outdoor learning. For instance, after our hike to the garden we read The Bugliest Bug and then played a predator/prey tag game. Because we’d been to the garden and they’d experienced what predators and prey were like in their natural habitats, they understood exactly what this meant!
Our small group time, up next, also reinforces our outdoor learning and gives students opportunities to practice their “I Can” statements. During one of our nature hikes to the garden, we harvested flower petals. During small group time, we used these petals to create shapes, patterns, and designs (and in doing so helped develop fine motor skills too!). Another day we used leaves we collected on our hike to make leaf people.
We close our day at our circle with a few “Getting to Know You” boxes, which are tissue boxes each student makes with pictures of their family and interests on 6 sides of the box, and singing our farewell song, “Go Now in Peace.”
And that’s a day in Nature Preschool!