Should Your Nature Center Run a Preschool?

When I work on projects involving nature-based preschools, I team up with Rachel Larimore. Rachel is the author of Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool, and (like me) would like to see a lot more of them.

I was talking to her on the phone today, and she asked me this:

“Have we ever written a statement that explains why we think nature centers should get into the preschool business?”

Well, no, we haven’t. I guess the logic of nature centers opening and operating nature-based preschools has always seemed self-evident, at least to us. But maybe it isn’t so obvious to everyone else.

So, Rachel and I took a few minutes to spell it out. Here are the reasons we think nature centers should operate nature-based preschools:

  • If you’re serious about forging a deep connection between children and the natural world, the earlier you start, the better. Children’s emotional responses to nature—which form the foundation of their future learning and behavior—develop in the first few years of life.
  • There is no better time to engage parents (and grandparents!) as supporters of your center than when their children (and grandchildren!) are young. By the time the kids are in junior high, parents may be just dropping them off at ice-skating lessons on the way to Home Depot. At preschool age, they dote on every finger-painting. Nature-based preschools are the intake-portal for lifetime family involvement.
  • Nature-based preschools benefit from association with a nature center’s brand, and strengthen it. In West Bend, Wisconsin, the school district and the local YMCA have partnered with Riveredge Nature Center to offer a nature-based preschool. Why partner? Because Riveredge contributes “nature credibility.”
  • For nonprofit centers, nature-based preschools are one of the few activities that have the potential to be financially self-sustaining.

Am I leaving anything out?

So, we’ve said it: Nature centers belong in the nature-based preschool business. If you want help getting started, give us a call.