Curriculum and School Readiness Highlights and FAQs
HNP’s curriculum supports the development of the whole child and is seasonal, place-based, experiential, child-directed and developmentally appropriate for children ages 3-5. As a nature preschool, HNP’s curriculum and activities focus primarily on outdoor exploration and free play in the natural world. We get many questions from families about what children are learning when they play outdoors and about what school readiness looks like at HNP.
It looks like they are “just playing.” Are they learning when they play?
Young children learn through play. Play IS learning. Play is powerful and supports all areas of a child’s development. Want to learn more? Check out these resources on the power and importance of play:
- The Power of Play website and resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- The Power Of Play: A research summary on play and learning from the MN Children’s Museum
- Learning Through Play from UNICEF and the Lego Foundation
Will my child be ready for kindergarten after being in nature preschool?
The short answer is, yes, the research shows that children who attend nature preschool programs will be as prepared for successful school experiences as their peers. We believe that everything we do at HNP is school readiness. Our preschoolers are learning self-help skills as they learn to dress in outdoor gear, practice toileting, and open their snack containers. Children are learning about risk assessment and developing physically as they climb trees, jump in puddles, and go sledding or snowshoeing. Children are developing social-emotional skills as they separate from family members, negotiate play ideas, and settle into school routines and rules. Children are developing cognitive skills as they practice writing their name, learn about science concepts such as migration and hibernation, and experience the water cycle in a hands-on, full body manner. A preschooler is busy learning the whole time they are at school and everything they learn contributes to their school readiness.
Here is some of the research about children’s school readiness after participating in a nature preschool program:
- Since we opened in 2014 HNP has participated almost annually in research projects about the benefits of nature preschools conducted by Dr. Julie Ernst of UMD and her students. You can view the results of these research studies in the Flourishing in Nature research briefs.
- Beyond Traditional School Readiness: How Nature Preschools Help Prepare Children for Academic Success from the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education
What are the benefits of time outdoors for young children?
Thank you to the Children and Nature Network for these beautiful graphics that share benefits of time in nature for young children and their development.
Do you offer structured activities outdoors?
On some days teachers may invite children to participate in activities such as writing their name, art projects, science experiments, using science tools, and more. These activities are often offered in the free play time following outdoor drop off during months when children aren’t wearing mittens. Our teachers also follow the interests of the children throughout their outdoor time to support them in their learning. For example, a teacher may help a child write their name in the snow, create letters with sticks, or create patterns with nature items. Circle time is often taught outdoors, depending on the weather.
Do children have a daily group time?
Most days each class has a group time as part of their day. The group time may be indoors or outdoors. The group time generally includes a welcome song and a story, song, and activity about the theme of the day. Some days the class also spends time talking about the calendar, season, and weather and may even celebrate a child’s birthday during the group time.
What learning opportunities are available indoors?
The indoor classrooms have different centers with lots of play opportunities. Teachers frequently rotate centers and their supplies, which may include:
- Dramatic play center: kitchen play, babies, trucks, dollhouses, stuffed animals
- Art and writing center: markers, crayons, pencils, paper, scissors, nature journals, clipboards, name cards for practicing writing names
- Music center: musical instruments, dancing scarves, ribbon sticks
- Large motor center: rocker boards, tippy chairs, turtle shell balancing steps, sit and spin
- Math center: shape and number manipulatives, games, and activities
- Construction center: building toys and manipulatives, vehicles
- Sensory bin: small motor and sensory activities such as sand and small animal figurines
- Science center: nature artifacts, science tools, field guides, experiments
- Reading center: books, books, and more books!
- Cozy corner: a small, cozy space for a small number of children to rest, read, and take some alone time