Current Preschool Teacher, Sarah Lemcke, and Early Childhood Coordinator Libby Culver, have teamed up to bring a new innovative learning environment to the district, getting kids outdoors and amping up the learning-through-play model. Lemcke learned of the concept of “forest preschool” while in college, and had the opportunity to expand her studies and understanding of the model through an internship in Switzerland. There, Lemcke was able to observe and interact with a true forest preschool and gain a better understanding of the possibilities and the intricacies.
Of course, the U.S. has different licensing rules, so what is coming to fruition is a first-of-its-kind hybrid model of a public school forest preschool. “It was so amazing to go there and see how different the philosophy is, and how open the play is, allowing children to play, relax and engage in their learnings without pressure,” says Lemcke. Bridging together some of the best models for forest preschools with the successful district curriculum and instruction, this new preschool is unique.
This new forest preschool will have a homebase at Needham elementary, but 90-95% of their time at school will be spent outdoors exploring and learning. “As there is a need for more preschool options in the community anyway, this is a great time to offer a new program model, one that will be inclusive and will continue to follow the district’s current expectations for preschool education,” says Culver.
The outdoor learning environment, much like the indoor environment, is highly focused on imaginative play and self-directed play. However, weather and access to tools is always a consideration that indoor classrooms need to worry little about. With an inclusive model, much of the funding for the classroom will go into purchasing gear for all weather conditions, and a storage shed to make items portable for outdoor learning, such as wagons, binoculars and compasses.
“We will go out in all weather conditions, as with the right gear exploration is safe and fun and the experience is always changing depending on what the conditions are like,” added Lemcke. “What we know and believe is that anything the kids can learn indoors they can also learn outdoors.”
With this addition, the district is able to increase the number of families it can support, while still meeting educational milestones and child care rules and regulations. The classroom, launching in the 2019/20 school year, will welcome all families with students the age of 4, regardless of developmental needs or economic status. Class size is limited to a maximum of 16 children.
“We see it as the school district offering another quality educational option that supports children where they learn,” says Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
The district is hosting an information night on April 16, 2019 at Needham Elementary school starting at 5pm. To learn more about how to register for this or any of our district preschool classrooms, please visit our Early Childhood Education page on durangoschools.org.