Our first month of Nature School has come to an end.
If you've been following along, I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting our first monthly update!
Oak Ridge Nature School officially opened its doors June 6th, 2022 and excitedly welcomed its first 8 preschool-aged children. Prior to this, we were previously located in Cold Spring MN as Creekside Kids, a nature-inspired daycare.
Our history and full story will have its own article someday, but for now, let's move on to our first month open and running!
Reflecting back on the month of June, I feel very pleased. Pleased with how well our group got along despite never being in a program like this before, pleased with our accomplishments, and overall pleased with the decision to reopen after a big move.
There's a lot involved in owning and operating a nature program and keeping it fun, safe and engaging for preschool-aged children. There's having the proper gear (for yourself and the kids), planning the daily activities, meal prep, cleaning, record-keeping, paperwork, adaptability and flexibility, and a lot of late night Amazon purchases to help our program run smootly.
Oak Ridge Nature School set some important goals for the month of June. We wanted to focus on building relationships, establishing trust, allowing time to learn expectations, and adapt to a new daily routine. It was also very important that the children felt safe and secure in their new environment, their home away from home.
I do believe that we not only hit those goals, but we exceeded them!
We all learned a lot this month.
The kids learned about each other, their new environment, a new routine, and they learned a lot about themselves.
They learned how to safely navigate our daily nature walks, identify landmarks such as the power line, the yellow sign, or Fern Valley.
They learned how to ride balance bikes and use their imagination to turn them into tractors, ambulances, police cars, and tow trucks.
They learned how to sequence events through play.
They learned how to climb, slide, jump, and balance.
They learned song and dance, rhythm and movement.
They learned how to build friendships, resolve conflicts, share, help each other out, and encourage each other.
There are few sweeter things than hearing a 3 year old tell a 2 year old "Wow! Great job, you did it!" or "Here, let me help you"
As a teacher/provider, I learned how each of my children prefers to receive my attention and guidance. I learned how each child likes to play, when they are tired, what makes them unique, and how to connect with them individually.
As a nature program owner, I learned how important it is to be flexible and make proper adjustments to our daily routine as I get to know my group.
I learned that 7 hours outside is just a bit too much, but 6 hours is the sweet spot.
I learned that nature walks are for our feet only, and not the balance bikes.
I learned that if 8 kids want to swing all at the same time, to just enjoy it and take that time to have fun conversations with them while they are focused and engaged. Plus we have the ability to swing 8 kids at once, so why not?
I learned how much easier it is to run a successful program when you have the right set up.
I remembered how much I truly enjoy doing what I do.
So what did our first month look like?
Well, to start, we are a nature program. This means we spend the majority of our day outside, in all safe weather conditions.
For the month of June 2022, Oak Ridge Nature School was open a total of 16 days, or 4 4-day weeks. We were open Monday through Thursday from 7:30am to 4:30pm.
We spent a total of 92 hours outside during this time frame.
92 hours over 16 days seems like a lot for 8 kids between the ages of 1 and 5, but it was surprisingly easy, enjoyable, and beneficial.
Nobody struggled with boredom, restlessness, or behaviorally. Best of all, nobody got sick and there was very little, if any, germ/illness risks.
Here's how we did it...
During our first month, we made adjustments and allowed flexibility to our (updated) daily routine, shown below.
Our routine didn't change too much from what we started with, but the adjustments made were necessary and beneficial.
Morning drop offs are relaxed, kids come in and are greeted at the gate. We apply bug spray, place our water bottles on the boards and usually head towards the swings. Some of our kids have a rough time with morning transition, which is why we don't have any set activities scheduled. This gives everyone time to adjust to the transition from home to school.
After breakfast, the kids are ready to continue their outside activities from the morning and are ready for gross motor movement. This is when a lot of bikes and push mowers come out.
Each day, around 10am, we begin our Tinkergarten activities. This summer is focused on creativity. We start with sharing facts about our featured creature (FC) (butterfly, bower bird, honey bee, etc) and the kids all take guesses at what it could be. Once we share our FC, the kids grab their buckets and use their creative thinking skills to come up with activities our FC might participate in, such as make honey, drink nectar, or building nests.
Tinkergarten hour can last anywhere from 30 minutes to the full hour. This is a great time to develop social skills and to just talk with the kids. Asking questions about their creative ideas, why they might be doing something, how they think it will work, and giving them the space they need to build on their ideas and invite others to join in. It also gives them excellent mental stimulation, fine motor development and slows down the pace a little before we move on to our nature walk.
Our nature walks are always exciting. They are full of adventure and surprises. Each day, we load our youngest students and water bottles into the wagon and we all meet at the big tree at the end of the concrete driveway. We walk 3/4 of a mile total and include plenty of water breaks and stops for various activities (such as throwing rocks into the pond or watching the tractors go by).
By the time we return to the outdoor classroom again, everyone has great big appetites and is ready for a hot lunch. We head indoors, wash up and use the restroom and find our seats in the classroom. Meal times include music, circle time, and child-led conversations about whatever they are excited to share.
Once we've finished lunch, cleaned up and set up our cots, the kids all snuggle in for a nap. We play "meditation music" on our Alexa and each child is asleep within 15-20 minutes.
This is when I work on record keeping, parent updates, maybe mop the classroom, and recharge myself to be fully present for my group for the remainder of the day.
Our group all seems to wake up within minutes of each other, so while the kids do bathroom and handwashing breaks, I put all the cots away and gather our snack items.
Lately, the kids have been enjoying their afternoon snack outside, under the big shade tree.
Our final hour and a half of the day this month has mostly been plenty of water play, bikes and swinging. We like to set up our pool before nap so the sun has time to warm it up in the afternoon. The kids use this time to get all of their energy out and talk about all the fun things they did and learned that day.
Parents start to trickle in between 4:10 and 4:25 for pickup as I start to clean up the outdoor toys. I've found that it's very important to keep toys in their specific places because I've noticed that the children really depend on it and enjoy being able to find what they want, when they want it the next morning.
Once we say goodbye to our last student, I head in, do a deep clean in the classroom and kitchenette/food prep area, prep the next day's meals and enjoy the evening with my own family.
As of now, the plan is to write monthly blog updates similar to what you've just read here. If you'd like to stay current with our program, please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list.
I'll leave you with one request as we wrap up this article. I'd love to hear from you, as a parent or if you're a fellow provider, or even if youre a first time visitor to our site, please comment below if you have any questions you'd like answered in a future article, or just let us know how you found us and what you like to do outside with your kids!