In the bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to put off decisions about preschool next fall, but mark your calendar for a special date: On Monday, Dec. 7, online registration begins for the new Chicago Botanic Garden Nature Preschool. Spots are expected to fill up quickly, especially after the first open house on Jan. 14; a second open house takes place April 7, 2016.
The Nature Preschool will have the same kindergarten-readiness focus as a traditional preschool, but the curriculum — which will include all the basics, such as reading, writing, and science — will be tied to nature. Much of the class time will be spent outdoors.
In the United States, nature preschools have only recently taken off, says Ann Halley, the Garden’s new coordinator of early childhood programs. Nationwide, there are about 120 nature-based schools, according to the Natural Start Alliance, a coalition of educators and others who help connect young children with nature.
Studies have shown that children who regularly spend time outdoors become better critical thinkers and problem solvers, says Halley, who is vice president of the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association. For instance, in a nature preschool, children might jump over logs in the woods and stack wobbly rocks on an uneven ground; in a traditional preschool, children might climb evenly spaced rungs on a playground ladder and stack plastic blocks on a classroom floor. At the Garden’s preschool, for a lesson on colors, Halley plans to show the children three shades of yellow roses; in another preschool, she might have shown them a yellow LEGO.
The Nature Preschool will be part of the Education Center on the seven-acre Regenstein Learning Campus, which opens in September 2016. The Campus will be a center of inspiration, education and training for nature-lovers and the next generation of plant scientists, educators and land stewards. It will be a gathering space, with a new garden that invites nature play, the new ITW Kitchen Classroom, and classes for all ages such as yoga and botanical arts.
Drop by often with your little ones to watch the Nature Preschool take shape on the under-construction Campus. Read more about how a nature preschool is different from a traditional preschool, and don’t forget to sign up early before classes fill up.