Preschool aged children in Seattle, Washington are trading traditional classroom preschool for a chance to spend time outdoors! Tiny Trees Preschool in partnership with the Seattle Parks and Recreational department will teach young kids in 9 city parks beginning in September 2016.
According to the preschool’s founder Andrew Jay, anything that children can learn and do indoors they can do in a park. Plus there are much more opportunities for learning out in the natural world. Jay has developed an awesome set of outdoor teaching skills from his work with high school and middle school children in the Outward Bound program.
His new goal is to make outdoor learning much more mainstream!
“When I heard about outdoor preschools, how they can make it much more affordable for families and provide a rich, vibrant program for kids, I was really inspired,” Jay told the Good News Network.
The children will have access to the park’s bathroom facilities and be able to nap on mats inside of park shelters. When it rains they will be able to sit at picnic tables under the pavilions. Since there is a lot of rain in Seattle each child will receive an “award-winning Oakiwear rain suits” to keep them dry all year long.
Similar to a Montessori school each outdoor classroom will have different learning stations where children can explore various aspects of this incredible world. For example, Jay says that the science station might involve making mud pies where the children can learn about surface adhesion or identify bug using a magnifying glass. The art stations would allow them to make sculptures out of leaves and sticks from nature. They would also have lots of books for story time.
Year around preschool in Seattle typically will run you around $12,000 but because the Tiny Trees group won’t have the overhead cost of buildings it will only be around $7,000 a year. The money will be spent on supplies and really good quality teachers.
The original idea for the project came two years ago at the University of Washington Fiddleheads Nature School where they tested the program idea to see if it would work in Seattle. The test was very successful for the students and the teachers.
The teachers loved how nature demonstrated lessons on the spot such as seeing bald eagles mating, a praying mantis hunting, or young owlets fledging.It was highly successful, with teachers thrilled by sightings of bald eagles mating, young owlets fledging and praying mantids hunting.
The original idea was inspired by Sweden and Denmark in the 1950s. These guys were way ahead of their time and the idea has since spread to Germany where they have around 1,000 outdoor preschools. Right now there are schools operating in San Francisco, Georgia and Maine.
The Tiny Trees program references the video below from the UK’s Forest School Association as the model they plan to use in Seattle.
“Teaching preschool is pretty magical,” Jay said. “Instead of being a teacher pouring knowledge by the cupful into each student, you are helping each child collect raindrops of knowledge.”
Jay says that the name “Tiny Trees” was picked because preschool age is when children “create their first memories and develop roots in their community that last a lifetime.” The school has a sprouting acorn for its logo and it is hoping that the idea will spread and they will be able to run 20 outdoor schools in the area by 2020.
Check out this awesome video about outdoor schools from the UK’s Forest School Association.
Photos by Heaton Johnson, CC; Forest School Association, video