Outdoor Preschool Shows Wild Side of Learning


"I have a very different philosophy about what preschoolers need," Kenny said. "I think in America we believe preschools need to learn letters and numbers to get a jump-start on their education when they enter public school. However the studies in Germany show just the opposite that the children perform better on standardized tests when they enter the public school system."

Kenny has never prepared a lesson plan and said her school's philosophy is "interest-led."

"If children are allowed to sort of move at their own pace and they are the ones that are spotting things that peak their curiosity and allowed to explore them in a hands-on way, they can become very focused," she said.

'Kids Are Going to Get Dirty No Matter What'

While at Cedarsong, the children do not go inside for anything, not even to eat lunch or use the bathroom.

"A lot of the kids actually choose to go to the bathroom outdoors," she said. "We do also have a composting toilet that the kids can use if they want to."

Despite their chilly damp surroundings, Kenny boasted that children at an outdoor preschool were actually healthier than those at an indoor one, where kids share toys in the same small room.

"When you're outdoors, first of all, there's more room and space for the kids when they're coughing and sneezing," she said. "Second of all, they're grabbing and holding different things because we have five acres and they can climb on all kinds of different branches and that kind of thing."

To those critics who may think this all sounds a little too alternative, Kenny responded by simply saying it's just a very "indoor culture here in America."

"If the kids are dry and warm, they will stay immersed in nature for many, many hours," she said.

Every student enrolled in the school gets free outdoor gear. Bogs Footwear provides their boots, and Columbia Sportswear supplies everything else, such as hats and coats.

Even the parents get into the great outdoors excitement, as one mother made a loud "ka kaw ka kaw" from the forest edge when she came to pick up her child.

"If there's a giant mud puddle, she's covered in mud," said Alison Kennedy Taylor, the mother of one of the students, Beulah Ellison-Taylor, 3. "Yesterday, she got a mud shampoo from another kid…with her permission."

Taylor said she expects her daughter to come home filthy from being outdoors.

"Beulah's gone to other preschools where she's come back with paint halfway up her arm or chalk all over her shoes," she said. "It's really no different than going to any other preschool. Kids are going to get dirty no matter what."

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