Natural Start Preschool at South Bellevue Community Center is one of a small but growing number of nature based preschools in the United States, and the only one of its kind on the Eastside. What makes these preschools unique is their overarching focus on introducing young children to the world of nature and incorporating age-appropriate environmental education methodologies into a traditional preschool curriculum.
Ken Finch, the founder of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, described the many benefits of nature-focused preschools in the following excerpt from his article, “What is a Nature Preschool?”
“Since they attend for at least two days per week over at least one full school year, preschool students are assured of far more direct contact time with the outdoors than students receive in nearly any other model of environmental education. In fact, each child enrolled in a nature preschool will usually enjoy hundreds of hours exploring and playing in natural settings during the course of his or her preschool experience.
This approach is more likely to generate life-changing experiences than are shorter, infrequent, cognitive-focused environmental education programs. In addition, nature preschools’ loosely-structured, daily outdoor explorations allow the time and opportunity for real discovery and play, as compared to traditional K-12 environmental education lessons that are scheduled, regulated, and confined by schools’ curriculum objectives.
The nature preschool model also provides exceptional support for the overall healthy growth and development of children. The daily explorations build valuable skills such as observation, experimentation, and sorting, while allowing for both individual experiences and group sharing. The children’s outdoor discoveries also provide great subjects for all manner of artistic and verbal expression, and the daily walks help to establish early habits of physical fitness.
Perhaps most of all, nature preschool students truly learn how to learn –developing the curiosity and joy that should pervade all education, while practicing key social skills such as sharing, waiting one's turn, and following simple directions."