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The Philosophy of Nature's Way Preschool

Preschoolers having a snack at the creekAt Nature’s Way Preschool, we foster a caring and positive atmosphere in which children can learn.  As we bridge the gap from home to school, we offer opportunities for children to connect with nature while developing the needs of the whole child. Through exploration and hands-on activities that are both child-centered and teacher-directed, we introduce social, emotional and physical skills as well as language and math competencies. Theme- related activities emphasize the process rather than the product and foster a sense of accomplishment. 

Based on the theory that children learn through play, classroom routines encourage active involvement, meaningful experimentation, and reinforcement through repetition. Schedules are designed to balance structure and free choice as well as active and quiet times. We recognize that children advance through developmental stages and we treat each student as an individual who works through each stage at their own pace. Through the love of learning, we allow children to experience their own stage of development and help them to feel success without pressure. 

We value the involvement and support of our families in the program. The connections that we make with each family member are important links in creating shared experiences which ultimately foster the development of our school community. By respecting the individuality of the students and their families and by celebrating diversity, we develop a nurturing community which thrives on its successes and contributes to the development of the whole child.

Children in small group workNature's Way Preschool History

Since 1982, the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s offsite preschool program, Nature’s Way Preschool, has been connecting young children and families with nature.  Originally housed in a one room log cabin, Nature’s Way Preschool is one of the longest running environmental preschool programs in the nation.  In 2011, the Kalamazoo Nature Center built our new facility, expanding our enrollment to 128 students.  The stone fireplace from the cabin remains on the property as a reminder of our original school.  Current families enjoy school campfire nights around the fireplace.  Students enjoy daily hikes on 30 wooded acres, including a beautiful wetland area along the west fork of the Portage Creek.

Michigan Early Childhood Standards of Quality for Prekindergarten

Standards for Prekindergarten Standards information

The Importance of Risky Play

Sitting on the Tree

What is Risky Play?

Risky play is a situation or activity that is exciting, challenging, and includes a possibility of failure, such as falls, minor scrapes, or the inability to complete a desired task. 

ClimbingRisk vs. Hazard

  • Risk is present when a child is able to see an activity, assess the potential consequences, and make their own choice about whether or not they want to participate in the activity.
  • A hazard is when there is an unsafe situation that the child can’t see or assess, and therefore don’t have a choice about whether or not they want to participate. 
  • In our play, we will ensure that children have the choice of whether or not they want to engage in risky play, but they will not be exposed to hazards.

Examples of Risky Play

There are several categories of risky play defined in the research, including play from great heights and play with high speed.  Examples of risky play that we see at NWP include: climbing trees, playing with sticks, running games, sledding, or playing on a steep hill.

Benefits of Risky Play

Studies have shown that children who participate in risky play when they are young have better motor skills, social skills, conflict resolution skills, physical health, mental health, cognitive function, attention span, and risk assessment in their teens and young adulthood.

Additional Resources

· https://ellenbeatehansensandseter.com/: This is the blog of the leading risky play researcher.

· https://www.backwoodsmama.com/2018/02/stop-telling-kids-be-careful-and-what-to-say-instead.html: The document on the left came from this source. 

· http://childnature.ca/when-you-want-to-say-be-careful/

· https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201404/risky-play-why-children-love-it-and-need-it: This article has great information about the research illustrating the benefits of risky play.

· https://www.theriskykids.com/2013/11/baby-steps-to-risky-play-for-parents-and-caregivers/: Nervous about risky play? This article has ideas for beginners. 

References

Brussoni, M., Gibbons, R., Gray, C., Ishikawa, T., Sandseter, E.B.H., Bienenstock, A., Chabot, G., Fuselli, P., Herrington, S., Janssen, I., Pickett, W., Power, M., Stanger, N., Sampson, M., & Tremblay, M. (2015). What is the relationship between risky outdoor play and health in children? A systematic review. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, Vol 12, Iss 6, Pp 6423-6454 (2015), (6), 6423. doi:10.3390/ijerph120606423

Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5(1), 68-80. doi: 10.2304/ciec.2004.5.1.10

Kemple, K., Oh, J., Kenney, E., & Smith-Bonahue, T. (2016). The power of outdoor play and play in natural environments. Childhood education. 92(6), 446-454. doi:10.1080/00094056.2016.1251793

McFarland, L. & Laird, S. (2017). Parents’ and early childhood educators’ attitudes and practices in relation to children’s outdoor risky play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-10. doi:10.1007/s10643-017-0856-8

Sandseter, E. B. H. (2007). Categorizing risky play—How can we identify risk-taking in children’s play? European Early Child Education Research Journal, 15(2), 237–252. doi: 10.1080/ 13502930701321733 .

Sandseter, E. (2009). Affordances for risky play in preschool: The importance of features in the play environment. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5), 439-446.