Nature connection in Gwynns Falls Leakin Park
Forest Preschool is a realized dream created to help young children, families, and teachers draw closer to the natural world. Children have a right to learn and play outdoors. Nature-based learning has immense benefits, which need to be available to all children regardless of where they live.
OUR HEART, OUR HOME
Baltimore City has an extensive network of parks throughout the city, just waiting to be discovered. That is why we are thrilled to offer Forest Preschool as a program of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) at Carrie Murray Nature Center (pilot launched February 2018). This innovative model provides a platform for more programs to grow to parks across the city.
The program is led by Monica French, director, and Mepi Neill, assistant director. The program offers opportunities to share our love of nature directly with families and children, as well as lend support to other educators along their journeys.
As early childhood programs feed into schools for older children, play usually vanishes. It is replaced with task-oriented activities, one after another. Class sizes grow. (In Baltimore, it is common for one kindergarten teacher to work with 24 children, though some classes are closer to 30.) And although some activities are hands-on, curriculum is dictated with predetermined outcomes. Most young children have little if any say over what or how they learn. Many traditional and public preschools have inflexible "academic" schedules where children are required to be seated indoors most of the day. Even the best teachers have an uphill climb when it comes to infusing play and outdoor learning into their days, despite research that proves these are essential to healthy child development.
In early childhood education, experiential and child-directed learning are the most meaningful modes by which young children construct ideas about themselves and the world. Content and facts are not the primary way to "teach" young children foundation concepts. Young children can shape their own learning with the guidance of compassionate, well-trained teachers who understand how to facilitate meaning experiences.
CHILDREN ARE FIRST
We honor not only the physical and cognitive needs of children, but also their social, emotional, and spiritual growth as individuals. This child-centered approach provides ample time and space for open-ended play, investigation, and creative expression. Everyone is valued and everyone learns at their own pace. All children are embraced. Where additional support is needed, we work closely with families to ensure that every child has a positive learning experience with us.
Children may extend projects for days, weeks or even months without interruption to fully explore and test their ideas. This requires innovation and determination on the part of the teachers who seek out ways to help children find their own voices and interests. Children form friendships and problem-solve together. Children create a personal relationship with nature that kindles appreciation and respect for themselves, one another, and the natural world.