Creekside Forest School: Year 2

A look back at the 2022-2023 school year by Director of Education Kelli Kennon-Lane.

I found myself with some free time one Friday afternoon in May, so naturally I wandered to find the Creekside Forest School students. They were just starting their day in Hazelnut Hideaway and Preschool Specialist Marcy Fratzke was facilitating an art center. A handful of students were feeling curious about the art materials Marcy laid out, and because the art center is (and always was) my favorite I sat down and joined the fun. 

Sunshine on my shoulders, breeze on my face, fresh markers in hand, I asked my art center buddies what they were excited for this weekend. When a student asked me the same question in return I said that I was running a trail race on a course I’ve never run before, and I was both excited for it and pretty nervous. That same student stopped her artwork, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I am going to a new school next year for kindergarten and I am nervous about it too. I will be walking to school with a neighbor, and she knows how to cross streets. It is going to be really new for me.” 

She was intentional about making a connection with me over this shared emotion of nervousness. She had done the work of processing her nervousness, with the guidance of her family, and was providing a high level of support to me in return. What a moment! 

This is the core foundation of early childhood education. These are the social, emotional and critical thinking skills students need when they enroll in kindergarten. 

Marcy, being the brilliant educator that she is, picked up on this straight away and facilitated a conversation about worry and nervousness. She helped the handful of students present process this strange new feeling and helped them recognize it as valid. Those students felt seen and heard. I did too. 

Creekside Forest School teachers
Creekside Forest School teachers Morgan Bryant and Nicole Upchurch using puppets to teach social and emotional skills.

In brief moments like this, which happen multiple times every day at CFS, I am affirmed in my belief that learning looks like play and the outdoors provides the perfect immersive environment for early childhood education. There have been countless moments in the 2022-2023 school year where Marcy, Lead Teacher Nicole Upchurch and Assistant Teacher Morgan Bryant have facilitated an environment for learning, and fed an interest or curiosity presented by their students. In every season and in all weather they’ve developed lessons guided by what nature provided – like studying spring flora, foraging for violets, making a violet simple syrup, then turning that syrup into violet lemonade and popsicles to enjoy on a warm spring day. Our staff, our board of directors, and CFS families recognize the deep need for outdoor, inquiry-based learning and are defenders of childhood. 

This year we’ve collected anecdotal evidence of student growth as well as collected observation data to document growth via progress reports. Our learning goals align with the Iowa Early Learning Standards and are evidence based and developmentally appropriate for children ages 3 to 5. We solicit feedback from families several times a year and actually use that feedback to improve our program.

In our second year we’ve been able to implement many changes. Some were subtle, like sending morning messages with tips for daily attire. Some were significant, like moving to a 4-day school week. All changes were made with our students, families, and staff top of mind. 

As we look ahead to the 2023-2024 school year I am eager to lead this team deeper into an emergent curriculum and how to be intentional facilitators of an environment for learning. I am excited and nervous. Thanks to a special student, I know I have the tools to overcome my worry and I know my feelings are valid. 

2022-2023 AM Session
2022-2023 PM Session
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