The Joy of Nature

Submitted by Tanya Kuhn, Nature Preschool Teacher

I have worked with children with special needs for over fifteen years. I have worked in traditional classrooms, Reggio Emilia classrooms, in the schools from kindergarten to grade twelve, and in daycare. Five years ago, The Cridge Centre for the Family’s Preschool program transitioned from a traditional indoor program to a nature-based one. I will admit that I was skeptical regarding what this transition would mean for the children with diverse abilities that I work with.

This is what I have discovered. In Nature Preschool we have taken the idea of play-based learning to the extreme. We believe in long periods of free and uninterrupted exploration. It allows the children with diverse abilities take the time they need to work on the skills that they find difficult while engaging with their friends and enjoying the play. I had one student that was working diligently on his fine motor skills. In his intervention program, he would be working with a crayon and paper but very much disliked the activity. In Nature Preschool, he sought out opportunities to colour and paint on vertical surfaces, namely the sides of rocks and decorating trees. Same skill — a different level of enjoyment. Another child worked with his physiotherapist to learn how to walk up and down the stairs, whereas at Nature Preschool this child developed core muscle strength by regularly walking up and down large rocks.

Lastly, I believe the most important things that happen in Nature Preschool are the friendships. When children are enjoying fresh air and sunshine, exploring the world in a way that is meeting their individual needs their social interactions are effortless. Kids talk more when they are moving. They cooperate when they have to accomplish difficult tasks. I see so many more friendships develop while working in Nature Preschool compared to any other class I have worked in before. The children treat each other as equals. Differences in abilities disappear. It is heart-warming!

To learn more about The Cridge Nature Preschool