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 Portage Creek.
At Nature’s Way Preschool, we provide a caring and positive atmosphere for young learners to thrive. Students spend the majority of their school day outdoors, allowing them to make deep connections with the natural world. Based on the knowledge that children learn through play, classroom routines encourage active involvement, meaningful experimentation, and the joy of discovery. 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 allow each individual to work at their own pace without pressure. Each school day is a multi-sensory adventure.
Our play-based activities encourage discovery and exploration. Students participate in sensory rich experiences that develop the whole child, while building cognitive, social-emotional, and physical competencies. Thematic units follow the seasons, allowing our students to help determine our topics of study based on the changing world around them. We immerse ourselves in nature, and let the life in our woods guide our studies.
Preschool children are motivated to play in risky ways. They are good at knowing their own capabilities and avoiding risks they are not yet ready to take. The Nature’s Way Preschool staff are experienced in knowing how to encourage and support students who are ready to engage in 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. Examples of risky play seen at Nature’s Way Preschool include: climbing trees, playing with sticks, running games, sledding, or playing on a steep hill.
We value the involvement and support of the families in our program. The connections that we make with each family member are important links in creating our vibrant school community. Teachers send weekly emails that include photos and an in-depth review of the week. Family activities are planned throughout the school year to encourage family and school connections. Nature’s Way Preschool welcomes all families with love and respect.