Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Nature Preschool at Chippewa Nature Center

In mid-December, I was able to visit the Nature Preschool at Chippewa Nature Center. I've been involved in nature preschool programs and natural playscapes for the last year, so it was fun for me to see what they are doing in their area!

The preschool building is situated near the visitor center at Chippewa Nature Center, which makes it easy for families to hike the trails or visit the interpretive center after preschool. There is a shared parking lot and families take a short walk to get back to the building. Just those few minutes of walking outside can do a wonder for the soul!

I was on a tour with other members of ANCA, the Association of Nature Center Administrators. The building is LEED certified. Rachel Larimore, administrator of the nature preschool, led the tour. She is also the author of a book, Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool. She shared a brief history of the center and the journey to where they are today.

I love seeing other outdoor spaces, how they are set up, and what elements they include. I liked this storage area, which makes it nice to look up the outside toys and tools, yet is also easy to access and safe. 

I actually really enjoyed seeing all of this in winter as it shows how the children are using it in more inclement weather. They do have a weather policy where they stay inside under a certain temperature. I was disappointed to hear that my son's new preschool just doesn't go outside all winter as it "takes too much time to get children ready" for outdoor play. Granted he only goes for 2 hours and 15 minutes, but that would have been a part of the decision process if it was shared.

Here there is a mound with a slide, stumps and logs, a hammock, etc.

This little "cubby" offers some privacy, but is also still easily monitored by the educators. I liked the burlap weaving on the side! 

There were straw bales, places to sit, rocks, and more. 

I loved this flat-bottomed boat! There is great opportunity for child play here. 

This gathering area provided some shared, a workspace (or multi-use space), and the daily schedule of activities. 

There was plenty of seating for the children. 

In the music area, there were options for making music and noise. I'm sure there was more to play with inside the storage area. 

The alphabet as on display, reinforcing literacy skills. 

This wall could be designed in many different ways to experiment with water flow. 

There was an art easel outside, a garden area, places to sit, and places to work. 

Inside there was a waiting room and plenty of extra gear. Each family provided their own gear and extra clothing, yet the staff had extra on hand so that all children could have appropriate clothing to spend time outside. 

Student work was displayed throughout the learning area. Here is a book review and investigation activity where children recorded observations. Pictures of the children exploring the outdoors were on the walls.

The hallway was organized with cubbies for each child, sufficiently large to hold all the needed cold weather gear. There were windows above the cubbies to allow natural light and observation of the classrooms. I loved the transparency pictures hung on the window that allow the light to pass. 


The children were the stars of framed pictures decorated with natural elements. 

Clipboards made it easier to record ornithologist's observational notes.

In this art area, color was explored. Natural elements were part of the room, with wooden furniture, flannel boards, pictures, objects, etc.

This reading area had many of my favorite books! 

Puppets, Audubon birds, field guides, blocks with natural elements, tools, etc. were easily accessible. 

Plants, tree cookies, magnifiers, and animal skin studies were out to touch and feel. 

Sticky art with natural elements were up on the windows. There was good natural light in the building, with great views of the outside.

In a traditional preschool, the bins might be filled with plastic teddy bear counters and other items. These bins were filled with bug boxes, tree parts, shells, bark, pinecones, rocks, animals, and other natural objects. 

These were neat literacy cubes with pictures of what the children have been doing and studying.

There was a dress up areas, climbing area, play kitchen, work tables, working kitchen in the classroom, bathrooms, and more. I felt a little cramped with the space as there were so many cool spaces to explore; however, I am much larger than a preschooler. They are probably right at home in this space. 

In the back area, the lower case letters were along the fence. 

There were more climbing areas, another storage area, and plenty of snow! 

This area looked like a place to make forts!

Bird feeders were right out the classroom windows with many visitors while we were there. I suspect the children help in taking care of these. 

It was great to see a successful nature preschool in action! They started with what they had and then built the beautiful building as the demand increased. I'd love to see more preschool options like this in our area!