Don’t you just want to play outdoors all day? Well, this preschool in Seattle is doing just that, mixing playing with learning outside the confines of a typical classroom.
Tiny Trees Preschool is part of a new educational movement that has enthralled parents and educators alike – education without walls or technology, where children learn about different subjects while totally immersed in nature.
At Tiny Trees, the students don’t spend their classes outside part of the time – they have their lessons outdoors all the time! According to Kellie Morrill, executive director of Tiny Trees, “We like to say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only bad clothing.”
And despite the Pacific Northwest’s penchant for rain, the area has proved to be a great site for learning! Caitlin Capistron, a parent of a Tiny Trees student, said, “There were some people who thought we were a little crazy, for putting our kid outside every single day, no matter the weather. But we’ve been thrilled!”
Morrill stated that the idea for Tiny Trees actually came from the need for affordable childcare. “There’s a crisis of childcare. There’s so many families that can’t afford childcare,” she said. “When you eliminate the cost of having a brick-and-mortar facility, you can invest the majority of your budget into great staff and supporting children.”
Communing with nature has many benefits, and having a natural outdoor classroom is particularly good for children. It provides space for lessons in science, math, and literacy while learning about the natural environment. In this digital age, it also allows students to stay unplugged, and away from phones and screens.
Capistron added, “We have our entire lives to spend indoors and to be in front of a screen and kids don’t really need it. Kids learn by interacting with one another, by having fantastic teachers, and by being exposed to mud and sticks and slime.”
Tiny Trees Preschool aims to use outdoor classrooms to provide quality, accessible education, and give children a joyful, nature-rich childhood. Learning is anchored on play, exploration, and wonder, which will also help children develop the necessary social, emotional, and academic skills to thrive in school and life.
This type of learning is particularly important to a generation that is inheriting a host of environmental challenges. Tiny Trees believes that daily, intimate interaction with nature by children during their most formative years will develop capable, intelligent, and creative conservation leaders.
The preschool also offers an equitable approach to financial assistance, so families with limited options can use their resources to send their young children to quality educational programs.
Tiny Trees Preschool started in October 2014 when it won Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch competition for best non-profit start up. In September 2016, Tiny Trees opened preschools in four city parks in low-income neighborhoods across Seattle, followed by three more schools in September 2017.
Now, these year-round outdoor classrooms accommodate more than 300 children who take lessons in all kinds of weather – sunny, rainy, and even snowy – while learning in a playful, adventurous, and wholly natural environment.
With the program gaining credibility and increasing in popularity, Washington has become the first state in the country to license outdoor preschools, with Tiny Trees as the fifth program to get certified. It is hoped that this model of learning will gain a foothold in other states.