Among the trends in early childhood education in the United States, perhaps the most surprising is the rising popularity of outdoor preschools. Whether you are already a preschool owner or a person starting a preschool for the first time, launching an outdoor preschool is a path worth considering.
Outdoor preschools, also known as nature preschools or forest schools, were introduced in Denmark in 1950 and spread steadily across Europe. Most articles on the subject agree that the first program in the United States was Cedarsong Nature School near Seattle. Founded in 1996, Cedarsong is still very much alive and serves as a model for the U.S. outdoor school community.
Although they had a slow start in the United States, nature schools have exploded in the last decade due to growing concerns about the amount of time children spend indoors staring at screens. According to an article from the Natural Start Alliance - an organization for outdoor school professionals - the number of such programs rose 66% between 2016 and 2017, from 150 to 250. There are also many weekly enrichment nature programs for children, such as Tinkergarten and Nature Explore.
Though most of the available programs are in more affluent areas and don’t have high enrollment among children of color, The Atlantic reports that owners have successfully introduced outdoor programs to a broader base of students through strategies such as mindfully selecting their location and setting their price points, or even by gaining charter status. This suggests that there is unlimited opportunity for entrepreneurial educators to introduce nature-based early childhood programs to underserved or culturally diverse communities.
One thing to keep in mind when considering an outdoor school is the licensing requirements of your state. In many states, you must have a physical building in order to be fully licensed, though some states are beginning to reconsider that requirement as interest in nature school grows.
To learn more about training as an outdoor preschool educator or starting your own program, visit Natural Start Alliance or The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers. If you decide to dive into nature, you will also need to decide how to best run an efficient, professional, environmentally-conscious school. Without an office and a computer, a cloud-based administrative solution that can be accessed on any tablet or smartphone, and Curacubby is proud to partner with nature schools such as:
Wise Forest Preschool
Northeast LA Forest School
Berkeley Forest School
Tender Tracks and Trails
Big Sur Park School