Recently, we have seen local excitement regarding the emergence of nature preschools, outdoor learning labs, and adding items from nature into early childhood classrooms. We are delighted to see other programs embrace nature-based practices into their curriculum. Providing children with nature-based learning opportunities has been an intentional component of our preschool program for over 12 years. When we give children opportunities to learn about trees and why they change colors, to understand insects and why they’re helpful, and to observe plant life through nature hikes and our garden, we are supporting their sense of wonder. We see children challenge their motor skills as they roll down the berm or duck under the branches of the bushes and trees. Nature is a place where children share their discoveries with one another, make choices about how they want to spend their time, and gain a greater sense of independence trying new things.

Our natural playspace incorporates loose parts that children can manipulate and move around from one area to another. A few tools we use for open-ended play include tree cookies, logs for building, acorns, a portable slide, and shells. In one day our busy mud kitchen can be home base for making cakes, bad guy soup, sushi, or a place to access water for the flowers or sandpit. Providing a one-acre playspace where children can climb trees, observe birds flying overhead, catch the occasional frog in the sandpit, or simply roll down a hill are opportunities that we hope will inspire a connection to nature and our planet. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, says it best: “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on movements and skinned knees.” 

Our natural playground continues to evolve and grow, and we hope to inspire others in the community to embrace outdoor play in nature. Several years ago, our friends at Keystone Academy spent a crisp autumn morning playing with our preschoolers on our natural playground. The teachers and children left excited to create a similar space in their program. You can read more about Keystone Academy’s natural playground journey here. Our hope is to reconnect adults with their own memories of playing outdoors and to rekindle a connection to nature and the joy of play.