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Impact of Outdoor Nature Based (ONB) Preschools and Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity. Reflections on HOW and WHY.

Updated: 5 days ago

One of our founding teacher owners, preschool guide and Home School Enrichment director, Byrd Boukman, said during our design stage "re-connecting humans to nature is like asking a fish to re-connect with water".

Reflecting on our previous blog post Part 2 of 2 in Diversity Equals Health we are continuing to ask ourselves and our community some important questions put forth in the introduction to The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy by Jon Cree and Marina Rob:

Teacher at Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity.

  • "How do we deal with uncertainty in the face of an out-come based education system still firmly embedded in economic growth and a fixed mindset?"

  • "How do we work within an 'industrial-based' education to shift our own practice and influence those around us to be more empathic and 'community-based' in order to stimulate our inherent creativity and innovation?" 

Our Diversity equals health Part 1 of 2 blog post connected how nature preschools and forest schools boost immunity, an example of how diversity equals health.  

We are continuing to connect this diversity equals health principle with the concept of Triple WellBeing® in the emerging field of regenerative learning ecologies.  This concept combines three core skills of thinking, feeling and connecting with three core practices of self-care, people-care and earth care.  This framework generates 9 different competencies 

  • self awareness; social awareness; environmental awareness 

  • self compassion; compassion for others; compassion for nature [or more than human]

  • resilience and agency; citizenship and belonging; rewilding and regeneration

How and why should we create Outdoor Nature Based Preschools or Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity?

Roots connecting trees to symbolize Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity.

HOW: One way to begin is through relationships in a community and to continually reflect on how we are following the culture and protocols found within Integrated Schools

Another way is to create a Pay What You Can Culture where the community is reflecting beyond the literal concept of pay-what-you-can, using instruments designed for individual and organizational self-reflection, to illuminate true understanding of generational history and wealth, financial health and multiple forms of capital. We are working with leadership and practitioners from the Nature Connection Network to co-design these protocols and instruments. Ultimately, each family carefully considers their ability to pay and the invitation to be part of something more impactful than a fee-for-service model.

A third way is through creating alternative systems and licensing Outdoor Nature Based (ONB) Preschools to make the model more replicable but maintaining autonomy and creativity of unique site based context. This will also help with our pay what you can culture because it will help us access public money to subsidize tuition. Over the last 18 months we have co-founded the Colorado Collective for Nature Based Early Education (CCNBEE) and partnered with dozens of ONB practitioners on state legislation with Colorado Senate Bill SB24-078 that will create a licensing option for our types of schools that spend 75%-100% of time outdoors, often without access to a building. Senator Janice Marchman has been the prime sponsor along with her colleague Senator Kevin Priola and House Representatives Junie Joseph and Barbara McClachlan.

rainbow scarab beetle at forest school

Last week we saw our first goslings along the Cherry Creek and South Platte in our watershed and beetle larvae have completed metamorphosis.

Canada goose and goslings at outdoor nature based preschool

As the late spring of 2024 on the Gregorian calendar emerges, we wanted to publicly share our Mission Vision and Summary in order to get feedback and iterations from our community so that we can be held accountable to these commitments and steps we are taking to get there.

Mission Statement:

Nature School Cooperative’s mission is to foster meaningful engagement with the natural world by providing accessible, immersive, nature-based learning experiences for all young people and their families.


Learning in our community results in regenerative futures and a culture of rewilding centered around the Triple Well Being Framework:


Nature School Cooperative is a worker-owned cooperative outdoor preschool, forest school for older grades and Home School Enrichment program for ages 6-11. We are a registered Public Benefit Company. We are creating more equitable access to high quality early learning for our diverse community in the Aurora and Denver Metro Area, and we are committed to cultivating a culture of Regenerative Learning Ecology.

Reflecting on Byrd's comment "re-connecting humans to nature is like asking a fish to connect with water", we all inherently know that outdoor nature based learning is good for all humans. However, most existing outdoor preschools and other forest schools for older grades are only accessible to high income families because of tuition costs and identity associations with “Forest Schools”.

There are many in the Forest School community globally and across North America that are disrupting these patterns. Gather Forest School in Georgia and Forest Schooled in Ottowa Canada are two bright lights that help give us hope and guidance to new patterns and new systems.

At Nature School Cooperative we are supporting a community that represents the diversity from SW Aurora and SE Denver we follow an Integrated Schools approach using a ⅓ equity model with ⅓ tuition free, ⅓ tuition adjusted and ⅓ full tuition. Outdoor Nature Based (ONB) Schools operate on the foundation of research which supports that students who have meaningful engagement with play-based learning outdoors see marked improvements in their mental health, skills readiness, engagements, focused attention, cooperation & social skills, communication and more.

Ice sculpture to represent Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity.

We know that currently the benefits of outdoor education are not accessible to all students and families “ Only 3% of outdoor preschoolers are Black or African American and only 7% are Hispanic or Latino, according to Natural Start Alliance’s 2017 survey of 121 nature-based programs in the United States” (High Country News 2021)

It is a priority of ours to plan diverse ways to support our integrated school model, which increases our capacity to offer sliding scale (“Pay What You Can”) & tuition-free preschool.  We are founding members of the Colorado Collective for Nature-Based Early Education which is partnering with Senator Janice Marchman along with her colleague Senator Priola and House Representative Junie Joseph and her colleague Representative McClachlan to create a new preschool license type that supports the growing field of Outdoor Nature-Based Preschools in Colorado.  This collaboration will increase our ability to access state funding such as the Universal Preschool Program and quality improvement initiatives.  Within 5-7 years we believe there will be enough public funding through UPK to replace our start-up philanthropic partnerships that facilitate our Pay-What-You-Can culture.

Our commitment to living wages and striving for parity with public school teaching salaries in the area is one way we are committed to engaging, supporting, and retaining qualified staff members. We are also intentionally structured as a worker-owned cooperative (See COOP Values at the bottom of this page), developing staff into collaborative owners of their school, increasing engagement, skill building in & beyond the classroom, and ensuring members have a strong democratic voice in the everyday decision making of our organization.

We are invested in our community of children, parents, families, and educators.  We maintain a low teacher/guide to student ratios of 1:6 with our own staff.  We also partner with the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work and The ROCK Center to support the entire family system.  Nature School Cooperative leverages community partnerships to provide expansive services that meet the whole family and create deeper impact and family support. In this first year, our partnership with the ROCK Center will enable us to deepen our values-aligned work to strengthen relationships with communities that have been marginalized and impacted by poverty, offer parenting classes, professional development, as well as shared circle practices in our communities of young learners and their families. 

Below are links to research that our staff and community are reading as we develop a Pay What You Can culture to honor the unfair history of our economic system and create an Integrated School community that goes beyond “exposure” to diverse families and perspectives (which history has shown to be harmful to some involved).  We seek to mindfully and responsively build relationships and friendships that are mutually beneficial across race, ethnic, gender and class divisions.  In the essence of Lila Watson aboriginal activist and community organizer “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Lila Watson quote about liberation and working together instead of the savior complex in Forest Schools with race, class, ethnic, and gender diversity.

WHY: Please dabble and reflect with us on these resources linked below and the Perceptual Reciprocity practices below by adding comments on this blog or emailing us directly.  In this way we seek to co-create a community of praxis on Regenerative Learning Ecologies that centers Holisitic Indigenous Liberatory learning through multigenerational and multilingual communities that surround and support our youngest learners.  (When commenting or emailing PLEASE REFERENCE SPECIFIC TEXT OR AUDIO NOT SIMPLY YOUR OWN OPINION ON THE TITLE/TOPIC initial opinions/reactions without citing material linked below may be too Volatile 😉 at this time- we can engage in that escalated volatility once we have a deeper long lasting relationship) 

  • How we show up; Our intention is to promote integration, however those of us who have been educated in and existed in predominantly White spaces bring assumptions that are steeped in Whitness.  These resources expand our awareness of how those norms impact how we show up in integrating schools, help us examine our cultural assumptions and give us a framework for becoming, with continual practice, better parents and caregivers -

Kids playing by creekside "classroom" in outdoor nature based preschool

Our blog posts are written for a diverse audience of families, guardians, parents, practitioners, graduate students and other adults with topics covering a “Tangled Bank” (one of Darwin’s most enduring metaphors) of interests, initiatives, and networks. Through Outdoor Nature Based Preschools (ONB Preschools), Forest School for older grades K-8 and Emergent Strategy Bushcraft Workshops for Adults, we explore the perception, observation, interpretation and reciprocity of senses from human and non humans’ perspective. Central to the topics for all age groups is the concept that Early Childhood is “Not just cute, but powerful and incredibly important”.

Find out more about our Outdoor Preschool here.

Stay tuned to our blog posts for adult learning workshops both online and in person in 2024.

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