How to find the right nature-based preschool…

What is a nature-based preschool?  Well, each nature-based program can differ quite significantly.  Some programs hold classes outside all day with little to no indoor space.  Some programs bring outdoor elements into their existing classroom and add some nature themes to their existing curriculum as well as extend the outdoor time and perhaps utilize a nature-play space.  Curriculum can range from play-based to emergent to project to planned inquiry units to prepackaged.  There are many programs that fall in between this spectrum.  Each program has value.  Finding the right fit for your family is a personal choice.  That is why we at NINPA have included an interactive map for finding nature-based programs in your area.  Check them out and see what what works best for you.  Here are some things to look for or some questions to ask while on your tour:

  1.  What is the educational philosophy of the school?
  2. What is the educational background of the staff?  What is their rate of turnover?
  3. Look at teacher-student interactions.  Are they positive?
  4. What does the daily schedule look like?
  5. Can you picture your child thriving here? Will this school engage your child’s interests?  Will your child’s learning style be suited well at this program?
  6. Do the students appear happy?  Busy?  Interacting positively?
  7. Do the teachers appear happy?  Ask them what they like about working there.
  8. How large are the classes and what is the student/teacher ratio?
  9. Does the school feel warm and inviting?
  10. What is on the walls of the classroom?  Is it eye level for a child?  Is it developmentally appropriate?  Does it feel overwhelming or does it reflect student artwork?  Is it for the parent or for the child?
  11. Is everyone doing the same project or activity at the same time?  How are individual interests accommodated?  Are the children engaged?
  12. How much play is involved?  How does the program encourage learning skills that will be needed during the child’s scholastic career?  What does “learning” look like at this program?  How is it documented or communicated?
  13. How does the school address social-emotional issues?  What are the discipline policies?
  14. How can parents become involved in the program?

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