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Nature-based preschool: Creekside Forest School

Nature-based preschool: Creekside Forest School

Indian Creek Nature Center is launching a new nature-based preschool: Creekside Forest School. The preschool will be one of very few of its kind in our region, giving parents of 3- and 4-year-old children in Eastern Iowa a unique opportunity to enroll their children in a preschool program with nature at the core of the curriculum.

This special type of preschool has children outdoors 30-70% of the school day (depending on weather, lesson plans, student interest and other variables), learning in the context of nature. Teachers will implement high-quality early childhood practices and facilitate inquiry-based learning through play and hands-on discovery. The curriculum is based on children’s interests and rooted in the seasonal happenings of the natural world. Like all preschools, one of the goals is kindergarten readiness, but the approach looks and feels very different. For example, teachers carefully observe students to understand their interests and craft lessons accordingly, loosening the structure of the traditional classroom and supporting children’s natural curiosities while achieving similar academic goals.

“As a leader in quality environmental education, we feel it is our duty to offer an alternative model of early childhood education: one that gets children off a screen and into fresh air. Where learning looks like play, children have the power of choice and the teachers are facilitators of learning, not directors,” said ICNC Director of Education Kelli Kennon-Lane. “Our preschool program develops the whole child — physical, social, emotional and cognitive — and prioritizes the child’s emotional and social development equally with academics.”

Research shows children reap incredible benefits from learning, exploring and playing outdoors in all weather. For example, a recent study from University of Minnesota Duluth Professor Julie Ernst found:

· There was significant growth in nature preschoolers’ initiative and self-regulation ability in both the preschool and home setting.

· Nature preschools contribute to the child’s social and academic success in kindergarten and beyond, as well as positive peer play behaviors salient to childhood.

· Nature preschools help children transition to kindergarten, providing key "learning to learn" skills that increase success in future school experiences and beyond.

· Nature preschools and exploration in nature early in life can play a significant role in the development of valuable skills in young children and toward the development of citizens who are prepared to creatively address environmental and sustainability issues.

Enrollment for Creekside Forest School at Indian Creek Nature Center is open. Two half-day sessions are offered, morning or afternoon. School starts in September. Class is held five days a week and additional supervised time will also be offered as needed. Space is limited to a total of 26 children. Virtual and in-person open houses begin in February, however private tours may be scheduled for families unable to attend an open house. More information can be found on our website.

“For years ICNC has served the community as a place for quality outdoor, conservation, and environmental education. We are honored to expand our mission in this capacity and welcome families who have a similar dream in their hearts for the children in their care,” Kennon-Lane said. 

About Indian Creek Nature Center:

Located in Cedar Rapids, Indian Creek Nature Center is Iowa’s first and only privately owned and operated non-profit nature center. With 500 acres of land under its management, the Nature Center hosts thousands of visitors each year for nature-based programs and activities. ICNC’s mission is to promote a sustainable future by nurturing individuals through environmental education, providing leadership in land protection and restoration, and encouraging responsible interaction with nature.

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