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.

Marcy Fratzke

Preschool Specialist (she/her/hers)

Marcy Fratzke is an Iowa native with more than a decade of experience working in education. She received a degree in French from Iowa State University and spent the first part of her career teaching and traveling with high school aged students. In 2020 she made the transition to working with preschool aged children and found her passion in developing young minds.

Marcy is married with three daughters and enjoys party planning, traveling, and trying new things. She enjoys being a tourist in her own state and discovering all of the amazing things to see and do close to home.


Morning Preschool

Days Attending: Tuesday-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: Tuesday-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

Join us from 1-2pm on one of the following dates:
October 11, November 15, January 17, February 21, April 18 or May 16.

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

2022-2023 School Year

Meet the teacher night: Thursday, August 18 from 4:30-6pm
First day of school:
Tuesday, August 23
Family Night: Tuesday, October 4, 2022 from 5-7pm
Parent Teacher Conferences (no school): Monday, November 14
Thanksgiving Break: November 23, 2022 – November 25, 2022
Winter Break: December 23, 2022 – January 2
Parent Teacher Conferences (no school): Monday, February 20 from 8am-5pm
Spring Break: March 13-17
Family Night: Tuesday, April 4 from 5-7pm
Last day of school: May 31

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.

We can help you make that decision and think you should take a tour of our site, attend an open house, or meet with the Director of Education. 

First, children must be at least 3 years old and be potty independent. This means being able to articulate the need to use the restroom, pull pants up and down, getting on and off the toilet, and generally being familiar with the routine of using the restroom in a public building. Our DHS license does not allow us to use Pull Ups or diapers. Your child must be comfortable being taught and experiencing potty outside on occasion.

Our preschool is open to 3 and 4 year olds and is a mixed age classroom. We will maintain a ratio of 1 teacher for 8 children at all times. Our maximum capacity for each session is 14 children. This is one part of the magic of our preschool program. 

We find the morning session is better for younger preschoolers and the afternoon session is better for older preschoolers. Children enrolled in the afternoon session should not be napping about one to two months prior to the start of school.

For safety reasons, given the outdoor model of our school, your child must be able to stay with a group and must be able to acknowledge and respond to verbal instructions from trusted adults. 

Next, consider your family values and your child’s interests. Children that attend a nature-based preschool are outdoors 30-70% of the time learning in the context of nature. Nature is the core of the curriculum and teachers implement high quality early childhood practices and facilitate inquiry-based learning. Like all preschools, one of our goals is kindergarten readiness, but our approach looks and feels very different. If your family values align with this educational model and your child would find joy in this setting, a nature-based preschool might be a good fit.

Our daily schedule varies with the rhythms of the season, student interest, and weather conditions. Children will connect with their natural environment through activities and explorations centered on what is happening seasonally. Our approach to teaching and learning is play-based through Emergent Curriculum and Flow Learning. We will spend 30-70% of their time outdoors in all weather every day, unless the weather is dangerous. It should be assumed that the class will be outside every day. Lessons on sustainability will be prominent in the preschool curriculum. Children will actively learn about and participate in recycling and composting. When indoors, the windows will remain open if the Climate Sensor Light is on.

Sample morning spring/summer/fall daily rhythm: 
8:30-9:00  Outdoor Greeting and Arrival
9:00-9:45  Center Exploration (for example, reptiles-themed lessons with Naturalists)
9:45-10:00 Morning Circle
10:00-10:30 Bathroom, Hand Washing, Snack & Clean Up
10:30-11:30 Project Work, Center Exploration, Small Groups, or Hike (for example, a Naturalist-Guided pollinator hike)
11:45-12:15 Optional Lunch Bunch

Sample afternoon winter daily rhythm:
11:45-12:15 Optional Lunch Bunch
12:30-1:00  Outdoor Greeting and Arrival
1:00-1:45  Outdoor Large Group Activity (for example, hike and search for animal tracks and read a book on the trail)
1:45-2:00 Afternoon Circle
2:00-2:30 Bathroom, Hand Washing, Snack & Clean Up
2:30-3:30 Project Work, Center Exploration, Small Groups, or Hike (for example, tapping maple trees and checking sap buckets in March)

Teachers and families will use the messaging feature on Brightwheel to communicate electronically during the day, and the teachers can provide real-time updates and photos for each child during the day through the app as well. You’ll also have a chance to speak with the teachers at pick up and drop off. Conferences are held twice during the academic year, and free Family Nights scheduled throughout the school year (hikes, bonfire, yard games, centers, etc.) 

Families may visit their children any time during the school day, join in on an activity or snack, or participate in an outdoor adventure. Classroom volunteering for family members of an enrolled child is also an option. A Family Handbook will be provided to each family during open houses, tours, and upon registration which is a great resource for families. 

A waitlist will be kept in the event that all available spots are full. Families will be placed on the waitlist in chronological order based on the date and time of their application. The form is timestamped. If a spot opens in the class, families will be contacted by phone to begin the application process. There’s no telling when a spot will open up!

Cost of all materials, educational supplies, and snacks is included in the tuition. Snacks will be prepared in part by the children, under the supervision of the preschool staff. There is no materials fee, activity fee, or school supply list to worry about. We are proud to offer a unique scholarship program that addresses barriers for children who statistically have the least access to this type of nature-based, immersive outdoor experience. The scholarship program is donor-funded and dollars are awarded as funds are available for full tuition, partial tuition, and/or gear. Our goal is to diversify outdoor recreational spaces through greater representation, create Champions of Nature for children and their families, impact future generations, and address racist and discriminatory policies that still linger in outdoor spaces. To learn more about our scholarship program, please reach out to Director of Education Kelli Kennon-Lane or Registrar Rachel Bailey.

Your child will need their own personal items, primarily in the way of some outdoor gear and a face mask. Because we will spend so much time outdoors in all weather, your child must be properly dressed. We have a Gear Library available for all families to use.  Here is what your child will need on a seasonal basis, including what is available to check out from the Gear Library, which is marked with an asterisk (*): 


  • Rain boots*
  • Rain jacket with a hood*
  • Knit gloves*
  • Wool or fleece hat
  • Sunhat*
  • Water bottle*
  • Small backpack


  • Wool or fleece hat
  • Balaclava*
  • Insulated mittens*
  • Mitten clips
  • Knit mittens* or gloves for an extra layer of warmth
  • Thick wool socks (Avoid cotton. One pair of wool socks is fine as wool is antimicrobial and can be worn all week.)
  • Insulated snow boots*
  • Base layer: Long johns in silk, fleece, polyester, wool. Cotton is ok if you already have it.
  • Middle layer: a fleece vest or jacket. 
  • Outer layer: An insulated, water-resistant coat* and waterproof snow pants/bibs*
  • Water bottle*
  • Small backpack


  • Rain boots*
  • Rain jacket with a hood*
  • Knit gloves*
  • Wool or fleece hat
  • Sunhat*
  • Water bottle*
  • Small backpack

The safety of our families traveling to and from preschool is of great importance to us. In the event of inclement weather, we may need to cancel class due to hazardous travel. Our preschool follows Cedar Rapids Community School District cancellations, so if CRCSD is closed, our preschool will also close. Due to our preschool half-day program, should there be a late start in CRCSD, the morning session will also be cancelled. In the event that weather turns dangerous while school is in session and we are forced to dismiss early, we will contact parents immediately. Cancellations will be posted on our social media pages, website, and on KCRG. Cancelled classes will not be made up. We encourage your family to safely enjoy the winter weather together!

The preschool will adhere to guidelines set forth by the Iowa Quality Rating System (QRS) and Child Care Resource and Referral will support ICNC with the process. We will meet DHS requirements for a Licensed Childcare Center in Iowa. All ICNC staff, including preschool staff, will have current CPR, AED, EpiPen and First Aid certification. We are also members of the Natural Start Alliance, American Forest Kindergarten Association, and Iowa AEYC (Association for the Education of Young Children). We will look into accreditation in the 2021-22 school year. We are exploring accreditation at this time.

Yes! Complete the application and note the start year in that field on the form. You can still attend an open house or schedule a tour with the Director of Education this year if you aren’t quite sure about applying or have more questions.