Creekside Forest School: Our Core Beliefs

By Director
of Education
Kelli Kennon-Lane


Like all Iowa preschools, one of our goals at Creekside Forest School is kindergarten readiness. One difference is that our nature-based preschool prepares children for the next step in their education through learning outdoors in the context of nature. Certain parts of the traditional early childhood education system do not meet the learning needs of all children. We are here to literally be the change we want to see in teaching and learning at preschools around our state. 

The statements below succinctly describe our core beliefs when it comes to educating children of the preschool age. These are our guideposts to teaching and learning. 

We believe: 

In immersive outdoor learning.

Children flourish outside, even in weather conditions adults would find undesirable. With space to roam, fresh air to breathe, and the use of all one’s senses provides an ideal classroom environment. A child can learn (and a teacher can facilitate) everything outdoors as they can indoors. Furthermore, extended time outside at school provides a child with the opportunity to grow up in nature. 

Learning looks like play.

Watch your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew the next time they are playing independently or with another child. What are their little hands doing? What are their eyes focused on? What facial expressions are they making? Are they talking to themselves or each other or making noises? Are they totally silent? This focused, unbroken attention while they are playing is called ‘flow’ and it was first described by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. This level of complete immersion is where growth and development takes place for a child. Guess what? It occurs naturally and most often for children during play.


Curricula can be guided by the seasons and take place in all weather.

If a child is outdoors learning daily it only makes sense that the curriculum is guided by their environment. The seasons and the weather impact our moods, our motivations, our curiosities, and how we choose to engage with the world around us. Nature also provides us with a continually changing classroom environment with new things to explore every day. 

Teaching and learning start with inquiry and occur cyclically.

We use an Emergent Learning curriculum. Teachers observe children’s natural inquiries while playing and exploring different materials and environments. Teachers then take what they see and expand on it through carefully facilitated learning opportunities. Observation of each child is essential to allowing the curriculum to ‘emerge’, which is why we provide open-ended materials for an array of inquiries to develop, prioritize listening and open-ended language with children, and note recurring themes in play and interests among the class. Children determine the pace and when learning will begin and end.. The focus is on the students and this style of teaching and learning occurs over and over throughout the seasons. 

In being environmental stewards and living lightly on the earth.

At ICNC we create Champions of Nature, because children who are immersed in nature grow into adults who are called to protect it. Our 200-acre campus and Living Building Petal Certified Amazing Space building are the perfect setting for learning about and practicing environmental stewardship. Environmentalism is not a theory at ICNC or Creekside Forest School. Staff and children practice sustainability every single day. 


Early childhood education fosters critical lifelong skills.

The purpose of early childhood education is to nurture the holistic development of a child and lay groundwork that will stay with them forever. In order to build a solid foundation for lifelong wellness, we nurture the child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs. We nurture caring, capable and responsible future citizens.

In celebrating the diversity of life.

To develop children who see themselves as a part of nature means helping them see and celebrate the diversity of each ecosystem, every season, all flora and fauna, and all humans. At ICNC we strive to diversify outdoor recreational spaces through greater representation. Staff believe this has a far-reaching impact and will create champions of nature for children and their families.

Learn more about Creekside Forest School and get on the waitlist here.

You can also attend an upcoming virtual open house to learn more about the school — details can be found hereTo support Creekside Forest School, consider a donation from our wish list (password: ICNC5300), or email Director of Development and Marketing Sarah Halbrook about our scholarship program, or go here to learn about volunteering for all ICNC educational programs as a Teacher Naturalist.

1000 hours outside, creekside forest school, education, environmental education, environmentalist, learning looks like play, preschool
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