Four-year-old Kellan Friedman spent part of his school day out under a canopy of trees, racing his friends up and down the hill.
He’s a student at Curious By Nature School, a toddler through pre-K school that focuses on time spent outside for children. He’s learned all about birds this week, including the fact that not all birds make their homes in trees.
And there’s one thing about Curious By Nature that Kellan really likes.
“I like playing outside,” he said.
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Curious By Nature hopes to combat “nature deficit” in children by basing a majority of the curriculum around the outdoors and the natural world.
The school is run by a local nonprofit, the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. It offers classes for toddlers, preschoolers, pre-K and a Friday kindergarten class. The foundation took over the school three years ago.
The school visits Adam Tallman Nature Park every day. In their own way, they’ve become nature guides, finding their way past Bear Cave, Ant Hill and Grandfather Tree — monikers from the students.
“We’ve sort of created names as we go,” said Odette Alina, director of the school.
The clearing where they played on Thursday afternoon is right at the bottom of what they have called “Runaway Hill.”
It leads to an open canopy where preschoolers are able to run and play together under the watchful eye of teachers. For first-year teacher Deborah Toney, there is a distinct change in how the students act as they move from indoor space to outdoor space.
“Their play outside is much more complex than their play inside,” Toney said. “It just ramps up to a much higher level.”
Playing outside has enabled some normally quiet children come out of their shell, she said. She’s also seen huge strides in their use of language and their cognitive reasoning.
Students are out in nature no matter the weather; they come prepared with boots and coats. They also quickly get used to the a few bumps and scrapes that come with the territory of climbing trees and scaling hills.
“It’s really exciting for me as an educator to see how much more resilient the students are by the end of the year,” Tovey said.
While the outdoor learning naturally lends itself to a science-heavy curriculum, there’s plenty of reading, writing and arithmetic, too.
“We still work on all the components to get them ready for kindergarten,” Alina said.
There’s a wait list for some classes and Curious By Nature is fundraising for its expansion to the room across the hall at the business park on Wagner Way.
For more information on the school, call 253-858-5064 or email email@example.com.