Outdoor preschool screenshot Forest School UK

Three and four-year-olds in Seattle, Washington are trading preschool classrooms for the great outdoors.

In a new partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation, Tiny Trees Preschool will foster learning in nine city parks beginning in September of 2016.

Andrew Jay, one of the school’s founders, maintains that anything kids can do indoors, they can do at a city park—plus, there are so many added opportunities in the natural world for discovery. Using a skill set Jay developed at Outward Bound working with middle and high school students, he is ready to bring outdoor learning into the mainstream.

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“When I heard about outdoor preschools, how they can make it much more affordable for families and provide a rich, vibrant program for kids, I was really inspired,” Jay told Good News Network.

Children will use park bathrooms, nap on mats inside park shelters, and take their lessons under picnic pavilions when it rains. And, because Seattle gets a lot of precipitation each year, the kids will each be issued “award-winning Oakiwear rain suits” to keep for the whole year.

The outdoor classroom will have different stations, similar to a Montessori school, where students can explore different layers of the woods. Jay says a science station might involve making a mud pie to learn about surface adhesion or using a magnifying glass to identify bugs, and an art station might use piles of sticks and leaves to make sculptures. Traditional story time, with lots of books will be standard, too.

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Without the overhead cost of buildings, Tiny Trees can make year-round preschool more affordable, and spend more money on quality teachers — it will cost about $7,000 a year, compared to $12,000, which is the average cost in Seattle.

The inspiration for Andrew is a school for fifty families begun two years ago at the University of Washington. Fiddleheads Nature School is a successful outdoor model for Seattle, with teachers saying they are thrilled by classroom sightings of bald eagles mating, young owlets fledging, and praying mantids hunting.

The concept was developed in Denmark and Sweden in the 1950s, before it spread to other European countries, including Germany, where currently 1,000 outdoor preschools operate. In the U.S. there are schools operating in Maine, San Francisco, and Georgia.

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Tiny Trees points to the UK’s Forest School Association, featuring the video below, as a model of what they plan to create in Washington.

“Teaching preschool is pretty magical,” Jay said. “Instead of being a teacher pouring knowledge by the cupful into each student, you are helping each child collect raindrops of knowledge.”

True to that natural analogy, Jay said the name “Tiny Trees” was chosen because preschool age is when kids “create their first memories and develop roots in their community that last a lifetime.” The school chose a sprouting acorn as it’s logo, and hopes that a total of 20 outdoor schools will sprout up locally  by the year 2020.

(WATCH the video below) — Photos by  Heaton Johnson, CC; Forest School Association, video


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