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

Our approach to teaching and learning is play-based through an emergent curriculum. Children will connect with their natural environment through activities and explorations centered on what is happening seasonally. This approach uses seasonal occurrences as the underpinnings for year-long exploration. 

For example, in a classroom using an emergent curriculum, students may show great delight at catching a leopard in the wetland with an ICNC Naturalist. That event may lead to studying the life cycle of amphibians with the preschool teachers, making frog sounds with everyday objects, and exploring books about amphibians while resting in the shade on an excursion. They may even capture a tadpole to watch the life cycle in action from an aquarium in the classroom over several weeks, releasing the critter together back into the wetland. Books, songs, manipulatives, and tools are weaved into the school day to deepen this unit of study. The children’s collective interest in the wetland extended into other areas of learning with the support of the teacher.

There is room for students and teachers to elaborate on an emergent curriculum throughout the year. We are defenders of childhood so we carefully balance unstructured learning and play with skill-building and other intentional teaching practices. As a result, we are able to meet children’s social, emotional, and physical needs while providing them with essential kindergarten readiness skills.

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

Assistant 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 and Interim Creekside Forest School Director (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

Tuesday-Friday 8:30-11:30am

Drop-off: 8:30-8:45am / Pick-up: 11:15-11:30am

Afternoon Preschool

Tuesday-Friday 12:30-3:30pm

Drop-off: 12:30-12:45pm / Pick-up: 3:15-3:30pm

School Calendar & Important Dates

Ready to learn more and apply?
Follow these steps:

  •    Email to ask questions and let us know you’re interested.
  •    Register for an Open House.
  •    Fill out an application.
  • FAQs

    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 Iowa HHS 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. Some children may even turn 5 while they are at our school. 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 and 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 Creekside Forest School are outdoors upwards of 70% of their time with us. Nature is the core of our emergent, student-driven 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 time together varies with the rhythms of the season, student interest, and weather conditions. Rather than referring to a schedule, we adopt a rhythm for our time together.

    Sample morning daily rhythm: 
    8:30 – 8:45 AM  Drop off window
    8:45 – 9:45 AM  Centers and snack
    9:45 – 10:05 AM  Circle Time
    10:05 – 11:15 AM  Excursion
    11:15 – 11:30 AM  Pick up window

    Sample afternoon daily rhythm: 
    12:30 – 12:45 PM  Drop off window
    12:45 – 1:45 PM  Centers and snack
    1:45 – 2:05 PM  Circle Time
    2:05 – 3:15 PM  Excursion
    3:15 – 3:30 AM  Pick up window

    We spend upwards of 70% of our time outdoors in all-weather every day, unless the weather is dangerous. “Dangerous” to us means thunder, lightning, blizzards, or sustained extreme temperatures.  It should be assumed that the class will be outside every day. Since we provide rain and winter gear for all students this removes a primary barrier to experiential, outdoor learning. 

    CFS uses the messaging feature on Brightwheel to communicate with families and provide real-time updates and photos. You’ll also have a chance to speak with the teachers at drop off and pick up. Conferences are held twice during the academic year, and free Family Nights scheduled throughout the school year (hikes, bonfire, guided activities, free play 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 not just welcomed, but highly encouraged.

    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!

    Tuition is $550 per month and includes everything. There are no application fees, material fees, activity fees, etc. CFS provides all materials, educational supplies, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks. We also provide every student with a complete set of rain and winter gear at absolutely no cost. The gear we provide was sourced from SOKO Outfitters and is available for free for the school year. It includes: 


    • Lacrosse rain boots
    • Patagonia rain jacket with a hood
    • Reima rain bibs
    • Reima rain mittens
    • Patagonia fleece gloves
    • Chaos winter hat
    • Outdoor Research waterproof sun hat


    • Chaos winter hat
    • Outdoor Research balaclava
    • Outdoor Research insulated mittens
    • Keen insulated snow boots
    • Patagonia or The North Face winter coat with hood
    • Patagonia or The North Face snow bibs

    All seasons: 

    • Toddler-sized backpack
    • Wool socks (loaned out as needed)

    Your child will need a few special personal items because we spend so much time outdoors. Here is what you will provide: 

    • A water bottle
    • Appropriate base layers and mid-layers in wintertime. Base layers should be silk, fleece, polyester, or wool – the key here is moisture wicking! A mid-layer could include a fleece vest or jacket. We’ll provide support with making selections.
    • Thick wool socks in wintertime (Avoid cotton. One pair of wool socks is fine as wool is antimicrobial and can be worn all week.)
    • Sunglasses, if they enjoy wearing them. 
    • Special sunscreen and bug spray, if your child has an allergy or sensitivity. 

    The safety of our families and teachers 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. In the event that weather turns dangerous while school is in session and we are forced to dismiss early, we will contact families immediately. Cancellations will be posted on our social media pages, website, and on KCRG. Canceled classes will not be made up. We encourage your family to safely enjoy the winter weather together!

    Creekside Forest School is certified as a Level 2 center on the Iowa Quality 4 Kids rating program. We meet Iowa HHS requirements for a Licensed Childcare Center in Iowa, and our teaching is aligned with the Iowa Early Learning Standards. All staff have current CPR, AED, EpiPen and First Aid certification. Several are certified in Wilderness First Aid. All CFS teachers complete six hours of annual professional development at a minimum. 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. Because our waitlist is oftentimes long, we recommend completing an application as soon as possible. There are no strings attached!