Outdoor Immersion Preschool


I have always been drawn to the outdoors, perhaps because I spent so much of my own childhood among the trees and meadows.  That is why I am always thrilled to hear of another innovative early childhood program that embraces the outdoors as the classroom and allows young children to explore and learn surrounded by nature.

The Mother Earth School in Portland, Oregon is an outdoor immersion program offering classes for preschoolers to second graders.  The preschool program is located on a 7-acre permaculture farm, situated just ten minutes outside of urban Portland.  All of the EC teachers are Waldorf trained.  Although the program does not advertise itself as a Waldorf school, the philosophies regarding nature and a reverence for childhood are obvious and the curriculum has a “Waldorf” feel.  The preschool programs are for half-day only and the teacher-child ratio is enviable at 1:6.

This is from their website, describing the preschool experience:

 The preschool and kindergarten are welcomed each day with seasonal activities and a warm snack cooked over the fire. Circle time, gardening, gathering tea leaves, forest walks, free play and visiting the farm animals fill the children’s morning with enchantment as they journey across the land. A picnic lunch and story time in the warming hut end the day with a cozy sense of togetherness. Our early childhood programs lay the foundation for academic learning through movement and games designed to support healthy brain and sensory development.

Reviewing their website was a treat for me.  I felt inspired as I read about another creative learning experience available for families who understand the importance of play, the need to cherish childhood, and the value of connecting children to nature.

Boy and Girl Running in Tall Grass

Outdoor immersion programs seem to be on the rise.  I think this is an encouraging trend.  A question that came to mind as I reviewed this program was: What prevents our public schools from incorporating nature into the curriculum?  It seems unfair that these innovative outdoor programs are usually only accessible to families who can afford them—not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time.  What prevents a public preschool from offering at least a half-day outdoor immersion program within a full day schedule geared to providing childcare for working parents?  Don’t all children deserve the opportunity to learn in a program that values “enchantment”?  It seems doable to me.  Have you any thoughts on the topic?








Should “Challenging” Preschoolers be Expelled?

I came across this blog (http://notjustcute.com) with an intriguing post about the rise in preschool expulsions due to challenging/dangerous behavior.  According to the blog, preschoolers are being expelled at “three times the rate of students K-12”.  The writer of the blog maintains that “pushed-down” curriculum is the primary cause of young children being expelled, because “Feeling the pressure to perform, many schools don’t feel they have time to teach about social skills, or to take time to model problem-solving.”  

I am a vocal opponent of pushed-down curricula and I can see where academic pressure might contribute challenging behavior, but I think there is more to the picture.  As I read some of the blog comments, I noticed that many agreed with the blogger, and several criticized the teaching staff as being unqualified and/or not willing to work with challenging children.  I had to think about this for a bit.  One commenter did step out and say that lack of staff (especially trained SPED staff) was a contributing factor, and that made sense to me.

In an effort to find varying perspectives, I brought this topic to two of my co-workers.  We had a lively discussion.  One co-worker maintained that our main objective should be the safety of all the children and if one child was a threat to the others—beyond the “expected” developmental transgressions (like a toddler biting in frustration) then letting that child go should be considered.  The other co-worker said that we should consider the fact that “this is the other children’s preschool experience too” and we should not allow one child to continually disrupt the day.  

Hearing these perspectives opened my eyes.  My teaching philosophy has always been to take children where (and who) they are and help them get where they need to be.  However, I can understand the perspectives of my co-workers. 

What do you think?  Should preschoolers ever be “expelled” for “dangerous” behavior?  What should teachers do to accommodate children with challenging behavior if staff levels are low?  What do you see as contributing factors to the rise in preschool expulsions?  I think this is an interesting issue and I am eager to hear what you have to say. 





Greetings to all!

In this first “official” posting, I would like to welcome you to my blog and I look forward to sharing information and insights with all of you.

I am Julia (or Julie).  I am a mother of four and I live on our family farm in New England.  I am a preschool teacher and a “homeschooling mom”.  I am a volunteer 4-H leader with my sons’ 4-H sheep club and I love to accompany them to various fairs and livestock shows throughout the warmer months. 

My undergraduate degree is in music (I used to be a coloratura soprano and taught voice, violin, and recorder for many years) and I have a Masters degree in early childhood.  I am currently working toward my EdD in early childhood. 

I am passionate about childhood and I like to think of myself as a self-appointed guardian of childhood.  I believe that every child has a right to a real childhood unhampered by things from the adult world.  I am drawn to the Waldorf method of education and I believe that children learn by imitation and that unstructured play in childhood is vital to healthy development.  One of my favorite quotes is from Rudolf Steiner.  When speaking to a group of teachers he said, “Do nothing that is not worthy of imitation”.  I try to live by those words with my own children and with those I teach. 

 One concern I have in relation to my work as an early childhood professional, is something that I see every day in my classroom:  too much media in the lives of young children.  Even in my rural area, there are preschoolers who rarely go outside when they are at home.  The television and the computer screen are poor substitutes for free play and fresh air, yet “being connected” and media-led has become an accepted part of our society and these practices seem to have replaced good, wholesome play–even in early childhood.  It breaks my heart to see children who are so influenced by media that it rules their young lives.  

In my work as a preschool teacher, I am dedicated to creating a warm, nurturing environment full of imagination, play, and a strong connection to the seasons and the outdoors for every child in my care.  I aspire to be a researcher and writer in the field of early childhood,  committed to educating parents, teachers, policy-makers, and community members on the importance of play and the pitfalls of too much media exposure and “pushed down curriculum” in early childhood.  I also hope to teach and mentor new, aspiring EC teachers as a college professor in a community college.  Big dreams!—but the journey is underway.

My Childhood and Play

My most vivid childhood memories are of playing in the woods with my sisters and neighborhood children.  I recall giant leaf piles in the fall, hunting for pollywogs in the spring, staying out late on a summer night to count the fireflies, and hiking through the woods to the frozen pond for a daylong skating party.  My childhood was blessedly spent outdoors and, because we had the biggest yard, the neighborhood kids always came to our house to play.  I remember my mother making doughnuts and cookies for the crowd and how she always smiled when we gobbled them down.  It was a joyous childhood and I believe that my passion for childhood stems from memories of my own. 

As a scholar/practitioner in the field of early childhood, I can see how the abundance of outdoor play I enjoyed as a child influenced my own development.  As the youngest of five children, I learned quickly how to navigate through multi-age play.  I was included in the “big kid” games, most times, and I learned to listen and follow rules, to negotiate, and to problem-solve.  I learned empathy and resilience and I learned how to speak up for myself and for others.  Much of our play was imaginary—raking out “rooms” in a pine grove for a house, or a hospital, or a museum—or looking for fairies and pixies in the “magic forest”.  I know that my love of language and make-believe were nourished in those early years and they have become the foundation of who I am today.  My physical development was also enhanced during childhood play.  We were always outside—playing kick-ball, or tag, or hide-and-seek, or baseball, or skating all day until it was too dark to see the birds—that was our signal to come home.  I remember running home breathless and rosy-cheeked—just in time for supper. 



This photo of me was taken when I was (probably) five.  The “big” kids in the background are two of my sisters and a neighborhood friend.  The swing I am on is hanging from a magnificent oak tree that was a major part of my childhood.  We played on it, in it, and swung from its branches in a succession of different swings my father built for us.  That oak tree heard all my childhood dreams and quietly absorbed my teenage tears.  I hid behind it to avoid a scolding; I leaned against it to do my homework, or to write in my diary.  As a feisty seven-year-old, I defended that tree from the neighborhood bully when I saw him hammering nails into its trunk–he gave me a punch that banished him from our yard for several months. Our oak was a huge tree—a century or more old during my childhood.  As the years went by, all of us children grew up and moved away, but the tree stayed long enough to see both of my parents pass away. Then, it too died—the end of an era.   

Let’s Share Our Childhood Memories

I would love to hear from my colleagues about their own childhood memories.  Childhood, to me, is when the foundation for who we are as adults is formed.  I see a clear connection in who I am today and who I was in early childhood.  I am curious to hear different perspectives on childhood.  Thank you for reading my blog!