Introducing Creekside Forest School, a new nature-based preschool at ICNC

By Director
of Education
Kelli Kennon-Lane


In the spring of 2017 I decided to leave my job as a teacher and induction coach in the public school system, and interviewed with ICNC Executive Director John Myers for the open director of education position. I was scared. Working as director of education for ICNC meant doing something new and different. During one of my interviews, John asked about my dream — the professional dream I had in my heart which, if given the chance, I would breathe life into. 

“I’d start a school,” I said quietly. John smiled. We talked about what the school would look and feel like, the families it would serve, and how it would change the lives of children and families.

What started as my dream became a collective one for my colleagues at ICNC and our Board of Directors. We were revising the organization’s priorities in the midst of a pandemic. It was time to act. Together we breathed life into our shared dream of starting a school. 

With that, it is with great pleasure that I introduce Creekside Forest School at Indian Creek Nature Center. 

Creekside Forest School is a nature-based, independent preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children. Two half-day sessions are offered, morning or afternoon. Class meets five days a week and additional supervised time will also be offered as needed. 

What is a nature-based preschool?

There are many terms used to describe this special type of preschool: nature-based school, forest school, and outdoor school are a few. Regardless of the exact name, this special type of preschool follows the same guiding principles: 

  • Children 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 through play and hands-on discovery. 
  • The curriculum is based on children’s interests and rooted in the seasonal happenings of the natural world. 
  • The indoor classroom looks very different from a traditional classroom and primarily serves as a shelter from inclement weather. 
  • Nature is integrated into the classroom through physical materials, but also in the selection of reading materials, topics for small group activities, and more. 
  • Like all preschools, one of the goals is kindergarten readiness, but the approach looks and feels very different. For example, teachers carefully observe students to understand their interests and craft lessons accordingly. The child’s emotional and social development is prioritized equally with academics. 

Why are we launching Creekside Forest School? Simply put: For years, research has shown for years that children reap incredible benefits from learning, exploring, and playing outdoors in all weather. Children ages 3-5 years old should be outdoors learning in the context of nature.

University of Minnesota Duluth Professor Julie Ernst investigated the impact of nature-based preschools on children from 2018 to 2020. In her research briefs, aptly named Flourishing in Nature, she notes the following findings: 

  • There was significant growth in nature preschoolers’ initiative and self-regulation ability in both the preschool and home setting.
  • Nature preschools contribute to the child’s social and academic success in kindergarten and beyond, as well as positive peer play behaviors salient to childhood.
  • Nature preschools help children transition to kindergarten, providing them with key “learning to learn” skills that increase success in future school experiences and beyond.
  • Children who attend nature preschools will be as prepared for successful school experiences as their peers, helping alleviate parents’ concerns about school readiness.
  • Nature preschools and nature-play can play a significant role in the development of valuable skills in young children and toward the development of citizens who are prepared to creatively address environmental and sustainability issues.

We feel it is our duty to offer an alternative model of early childhood education — one that gets children off a screen and into the fresh air. A curriculum where learning looks like play. A school where the children have the power of choice and the teachers are facilitators of learning, not directors. A program that develops the whole child. 

Enrollment for Creekside Forest School at Indian Creek Nature Center is open. Visit the Creekside Forest School webpage for all the details. Families interested in enrolling a child can complete an application and Registrar Rachel Bailey will be in touch with next steps.

For years ICNC has served the community as a place for quality outdoor, conservation, and environmental education. We are honored to expand our mission in this capacity and welcome families who have a similar dream in their hearts for the children in their care.

1000 hours outside, childhood development, childhood education, education, environmental education, green time, nature preschool, outdoor education, play and learn, preschool, screen time, unstructured play
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