Creekside Forest School

Creekside Forest School is a nature-based preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children at Indian Creek Nature Center. We are creating Champions of Nature in an outdoor learning environment that educates the whole child through play-based learning.

About our Curriculum

At Creekside Forest School, we use an Emergent Curriculum and the Flow Learning Sequence as our approach to teaching and learning, which ensures a balance between learning, skill-building, social development, and play. These two complementary methods serve children’s social, emotional, and physical needs while providing them with essential kindergarten readiness skills. Here is a great feature on how Flow Learning and Emergent Curriculum intersect at a nature-based preschool.

For example, in a classroom using an emergent curriculum, the students may show great delight at catching a bullfrog in the wetland with an ICNC Naturalist. That event may lead to studying the life cycle of amphibians back in the classroom with the preschool teachers, making frog sounds with everyday objects, and exploring books about amphibians while resting in the shade on a hike. They may even capture a tadpole to watch the life cycle in action from an aquarium in the classroom over several weeks in a classroom aquarium, releasing, with their classmates, the critter back into the wetland. The children’s collective interest in the wetland extended into other areas of learning with the support of the teacher.

We believe:

      • In immersive outdoor learning.
      • Learning looks like play.
      • Curricula can be guided by the seasons and take place in all weather.
      • Teaching and learning start with inquiry and occur cyclically.
      • In being environmental stewards and living lightly on the earth.
      • Early childhood education fosters critical lifelong skills.
      • In celebrating the diversity of life.

Meet the Preschool Team

Nicole Upchurch

Lead Preschool Teacher (she/her/hers)

Nicole Upchurch began her path as an educator in 2001 in Idaho. She has experience instructing K-6 Spanish, Songwriting/Ukulele and Outdoor Education. After moving to Iowa with her family, she found her way into nature-based Early Childhood Education in 2009 while working with Taproot & Prairie Green School. She is a graduate of the Iowa Master Naturalist program. In addition, Nicole is a singer/songwriter, performing regularly with Awful Purdies and The Feralings. She lives in Tiffin with her husband, Benj and their three children Harper, Béla and Waelyn. Together they enjoy spending time outdoors with their Australian shepherd, Copper.

Morgan Bryant

Asssitant Preschool Teacher (she/her/hers)

Morgan Bryant graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. She worked as a Recreation Specialist at UnityPoint St. Luke’s hospital in the youth behavioral health unit and as the Program Director of the Parent Education Consortium at Iowa State Extension and Outreach Linn County. She is passionate about supporting families in building healthy foundations for their children and will continue that work as the Assistant Teacher at Creekside Forest School. In her free time, Morgan enjoys reading historical fiction, spending time with family, practicing yoga, gardening, and going on walks in the mountains or woods.

Betsy Bostian

Preschool Specialist (she/her/hers)

Betsy Bostian is passionate about all things nature and has been working at the Nature Center since 2019 as a Guest Services Associate. Betsy has taken on an additional role as the Preschool Specialist for Creekside Forest School and is looking forward to sharing her outdoor knowledge with the students and staff.  In her free time she enjoys gardening, canning, fermenting, and changing her lawn into a native landscape. Betsy is an Iowa native and received her B.A. from Loras College.


Morning Preschool

Days Attending: Monday-Friday

Drop off: 8:30-8:45 AM

Class in session: 8:30-11:30 AM

Pick up: 11:15-11:30 AM

Afternoon Preschool

Days Attending: Monday-Friday

Drop off: 12:30-12:45 PM

Class in session: 12:30-3:30 PM

Pick up: 3:15-3:30 PM

Lunch Bunch

When staffing permits, Lunch Bunch is available for children from 11:30 AM-12:30 PM. This is a supervised lunch period where children can eat their packed lunch with staff. Depending on weather, lunch will be outdoors on the patio or in the preschool classroom. Families should pack the child’s lunch in an insulated cooler with ice packs.

School Calendar & Important Dates

Preschool Open Houses

Tuesday, January 4, 2022 from 10-11 AM and 1-2 PM

Tuesday, February 1, 2022 from 10-11 AM and 4-5 PM

Tuesday, March 1, 2022 from 1-2 PM and 5-6 PM

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 from 1-2 PM

Registration is recommended for all open house dates. Click the button below to tell us you’re coming!

Private in-person or virtual tours can be scheduled with the director of education for families who are not able to attend an open house. Tour will include Amazing Space and immediate surrounding grounds with plenty of time to ask questions. 

Important Dates

2021-2022 School Year

Winter Student-Led Conferences: Tuesday, February 15, 2022 from 4-8pm
No School (teacher comp day): Friday, February 18, 2022
Spring Break: March 14 – 18, 2022
Family Night: Tuesday, April 5, 2022 from 5-7pm
No School (staff development): Monday, May 2, 2022
Last day of school: May 27, 2022

2022-2023 School Year

First day of school: September 6, 2022
Family Night: Tuesday, October 4, 2022 from 5-7pm
No School (staff development): Monday, November 7, 2022
Fall Conferences: Tuesday, November 15, 2022 from 4-8pm
No School (teacher comp day): Friday, November 18, 2022
Thanksgiving Break: November 22, 2022 – November 25, 2022
No School (Nature’s Noel preparations): Friday, December 2, 2022
Winter Break: December 21, 2022 – January 2, 2023
No School (MLK Day): Monday, January 16, 2023
Family Night: Tuesday, January 24, 2023 from 5-7pm
No School (staff development): Monday, February 6, 2023
Winter Conferences: Tuesday, February 21, 2023 from 4-8pm
No School (teacher comp day): Friday, February 24, 2023
Spring Break: March 20-24, 2023
No School (Maple Syrup Festival tear down): Monday, March 27, 2023
Family Night: Tuesday, April 4, 2023 from 5-7pm
No School (staff development): Monday, May 1, 2023
Last day of school: May 26, 2023

Ready to learn more and apply?
Follow these steps:

  • When ready to complete enrollment, the Registrar will send families enrollment paperwork to complete electronically and an invoice for a 50% monthly tuition deposit to secure a place in class. This deposit will be applied to the first month’s tuition. If the class is full, families remain on the waitlist (no 50% tuition deposit required).
  • Enrollment remains open if class size is not at capacity. In the event that a spot opens mid-year, families will be contacted in order from the waitlist.