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Connecting kids to nature through outdoor preschools and camps

Imagine a classroom where lessons have a natural magic: instead of counting marbles, children collect and count acorns; to learn colors, geometry and fine motor control, children use paintbrushes to spread pollen between flowers and record the color, shape and number of petals to share with the class; and with a pile of leaves and twigs, they build sculptures and art that reflect the wilds of their imagination.

This rich description isn’t referring to an enchanted land from a fairytale story, rather it captures the everyday happenings at Tiny Trees, a local outdoor preschool program. Through an innovative partnership, Seattle Parks and Recreation is providing space for Tiny Trees to operate, on a pilot basis, 11 affordable, nature-rich outdoor preschool classes, helping 180 children a day at four Seattle parks.

At Seattle Parks and Recreation, we know that getting children connected to nature is so important. Children who spend more time outside have proven to have higher concentration levels later on in school, to get more exercise and express greater creativity. Plus, if the sun decides to make an appearance, the Vitamin D and natural light act as mood elevators.

That’s why in addition to our partnership with Tiny Trees, we offer many other opportunities to connect children with age-appropriate, hands-on learning about the natural world. At Discovery Park, we help operate Nature Kids Preschool, where the park itself serves as a living classroom. Kids learn about the life cycle of a tree by planting seeds and walking through the forest, or gain inspiration for arts and crafts projects by exploring outdoors. And the UW’s Fiddleheads Forest School provides an ideal setting in the Washington Park Arboretum for students ages 3-5 to foster a love of science as well as social and emotional development.

At Camp Long, we’re helping to build the next generation of environmental stewards by offering a variety of environmental educational programs for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Camp Long is also helping to build strong communities. For the fifth year in a row, we’ve hosted free, overnight nature immersion campouts for High Point Seattle Housing Authority families.

At Seattle Parks and Recreation, we believe hands-on learning about the natural world is one of the best ways to inspire children to care for the environment, develop a lifelong love for the outdoors, connect with others, and develop healthy life skills that will last well into the future.