The Saplings and Cedars outdoor classroom at Squaxin Island Child Development Center in Shelton is one of 10 all weather-outdoor schools in Washington. Their little explorers start the day by putting on waterproof overalls, reflective coats, boots, and hats, and spend their morning in an “environmental classroom” until noon. The responsive curriculum focuses on all areas of healthy child development:
Children who attend an outdoor, play-based preschool often have improved confidence, social skills, communication, motivation, and concentration. They know about their environment and their families are more likely to visit nature trails and participate in other outdoor activities. The teachers engage the explorers in discussions around care for the environment and involve them in stewardship activities.
The concept of nature-based, outdoor learning started in Europe in the Forest School movement in the 1950s. The Squaxin Island Saplings and Cedars Preschool runs almost exclusively outdoors and uses nature as a venue for play and exploration in all seasons, strengthening the connection between children and the natural world. The program has been so popular, they recently opened a second classroom to accommodate more children on the waiting list.