The bleating of goats can be heard, and piglets can be seen devouring food while driving up the Swainston Homestead driveway in Lakebay.
Dozens of crops and farm animals occupy the territory, creating a non-traditional learning environment for its incoming students.
The Swainston Homestead is an outdoor preschool, more commonly known as a “forest school,” that will open Sept. 5.
Forest schools date back to the 19th century in Scandinavia.The first forest school in America is known as Cedarsong, and was established in 2006.
Matthew Swainston, founder of Swainston Homestead, heard about this outdoor schooling and wanted to replicate it.
“I love the idea of being able to be outside in nature all the time instead of forcing the kids into a classroom,” he said.
Swainston has a little more than 13 years of experience in child education, and he currently works at Educare, a traditional preschool located in West Seattle.
Swainston, his wife, and their two children live on the premises; all tend to the animals. Swainston has previous experience in schooling on his property, running a childcare center from his home.
“The recession kicked in,” he said. “Five hundred dollars from two families after one month of work wasn’t enough so I had to shut down.”
He came up with the idea to create an outdoor learning environment approximately six months ago. The decision to create this forest school came to Swainston after a co-worker placed his child in an outdoor preschool in Seattle. His colleague described how he would love to have his child at the farm, but it was too far away.
“I put polls up on Facebook (about an outdoor preschool) and got positive feedback so I went ahead,” said Swainston. “I thought, ‘I can do this, this could work.’”
Swainston Homestead has a variety of farm animals and crops such as pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, turkey, tomatoes, berries (wild and planted), and root vegetables such as turnips and carrots. Swainston’s educational plan includes the children’s care for both the animals and the crops.
The children will help feed the animals, brush the goats, socialize the piglets, and handle the animals. They will also help plant and grow the crops, and pick them once they ripen.
Students journal every day based on what they have learned and seen out in nature. They will also focus on color (example: of the leaves) as seasons change. Pictures will be taken to show the differences in nature. For mathematics, children will measure food for different sized animals, and measure their height and weight as they grow.
The opinion Swainston holds on traditional preschools is a positive one; he believes that traditional preschools offer great opportunities for the children.
“They’re going to learn, but not in as a concrete way as being out in nature,” he said.
Several similarities between this forest school and a traditional preschool will be the inclusion of reading, writing, and mathematics.
“We’re not ignoring writing, reading, or math; we’re adding to it,” said Swainston.
Swainston will be the only teacher at the Swainston Homestead preschool. There will be two sessions per day that are three hours each. There will also be a maximum of six students per session.
“The classes are much smaller so I can focus on the kids and what they’re learning and what they want to learn,” Swainston said. “You can’t take advantage of emerging opportunities.”
The outdoor style of learning prepares the children for kindergarten and elementary school because it is extremely hands-on, he said.
“They will be much more prepared, for the majority of children, much more engaged, understand concepts quicker instead of repeating exercises,” said Swainston.
For more information on the school, visit swainstonhomestead.com or call 253-884-9973.