Nature Preschool Curriculum FAQs

Curriculum and Benefits of Nature-Based Programs 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 the benefits of nature-based programs vs more traditional preschool programs.

I hear the terms “kindergarten readiness” and “school readiness.” Tell me more. 

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recently announced that the MDE Early Learning Services division is shifting its language from “Kindergarten Readiness” and “School Readiness” to “Supporting Successful Learners.” Hartley Nature Preschool is adopting this new language and framework to align with MDE and with current research.

According to MDE, “Eligibility for kindergarten is based on age, not ability, knowledge or skill. Children arrive in classrooms with a wide range of skills, knowledge and unique experiences from a variety of settings. Children are always learning and all age-eligible children are ready to begin school.”

  • “The Successful Learner Equation reminds us that it is not the responsibility of the child to be “ready” for school. It is the responsibility of adults, programs and systems to be ready to support each child.” Learn more:
  • How can my family talk about the kindergarten transition with our child and our child’s teachers using this new framework?

Yes, but will my child be ready for kindergarten after attending a nature-based program?

We know this is a very common concern for families of young children and for families who are considering a nature preschool program. The short answer is, yes, the research shows that children who attend nature preschool programs will be as prepared to be successful learners as as their peers who attend other high quality early learning programs. According to MDE, “when children are healthy, valued, and thriving, they are set up for successful learning in school and beyond.”

I’m trying to decide when to send my child to kindergarten. 

Caregivers, preschool teachers, and healthcare providers help support your child’s development, but in
the end the decision to start kindergarten is a family’s choice. As a partner in your child’s early learning experience we are here to support your family, your decisions, and your child.

    • FAQs for families about enrolling in kindergarten from MDE
    • The Ready Family from MDE
    • Early Childhood Screening: Completing an early childhood screening will give you important information about how your child is developing, and may lead to referrals for other resources and supports for you and/or your child. The results will not impact your child’s ability to enroll in kindergarten. Families in Duluth can schedule a free early childhood screening through ISD 709:  Phone: 218-336-8816 or Email

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 dive deeper into the benefits of play? Check out these resources on the power and importance of play:

What are the benefits of a nature-based program?

According to the MN Department of Education (MDE): “The benefits of outdoor experiences for children are well documented. When children spend time outside they explore science topics using curiosity, creativity and wondering, becoming better problem solvers and critical thinkers. When children are outside, they take turns, talk to each other about what they see and interact with their peers in cooperative ways. Being outside leads to more time being physically active and developing small and large motor skills.

Children get excited and interested in learning new content when they use natural materials in natural spaces. Some studies show outdoor learning can increase feelings of well-being, sustained attention and concentration. This particularly benefit children who may have experienced trauma or other life stressors. Children who spend time interacting with nature develop a sense of responsibility and respect for nature, living things and the world around them. This ensures a future with people who will advocate for the natural world and natural spaces that benefit everyone.”

Here is some of the research about the benefits of participating in a nature preschool program:

We believe that everything we do at HNP helps support children to become successful learners. Here are some Hartley examples:

  • 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 support them to become a successful learner in school and beyond.

Tell me more about 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