Nature Preschools and Nature-based Preschools are currently a fast growing trend in the United States. That is not to say that there haven’t always been nature-based preschools, but parents and teachers are certainly expanding the opportunities for outdoor learning across the country. What do the schools have in common? Outdoor preschools are almost always play-based and inquiry-based. (We’ll learn more about these terms in an upcoming post.) They may or may not follow a specific curriculum. I know several Nature Preschools that use the Reggio approach for inquiry and documentation. Some schools borrow their pedagogy from the German forest schools or Waldkindergartens. Forest preschools and kindergartens are very popular in many countries. Generally the entire day is spent outside. As more and more children and adults spent less time in nature, these programs cover all the preschool basics while immersed in the great outdoors. Children learn to appreciate and enjoy the world around them.
It is important for children to feel comfortable in outside and have an understanding and comfort level in the great outdoors wherever they live. But the exciting thing about having nature as your classroom is that it is never the same, not even two days in a row! There is always something new to see, discover, explore, and learn about.
So what happens in an outdoor classroom? More than most people realize and more than can fit in a short blog post. The curiosity of children has a whole world to explore. Physical limits are challenged. Cognitive abilities have been shown to grow with daily exposure to natural settings and ADD symptoms decrease.
Want to know more? Here is a great article from the Natural Learning Initiative and NC State University College of Design. It shows a school doesn’t have to be a Nature Preschool to bring natural settings and outdoor time into the school design.

Around cities, many nature centers have now added Nature Preschools. So if you are looking for something with more outdoor time and nature focus checking in with your local nature center is a good place to start. You can also find schools in your area contact:
The North American Association for Environmental Education, or NAAEE at

Photo Credit: Dodge Nature Preschool, West St. Paul, Minnesota