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School Readiness, Forest Schools and Rainbow Scarabs - Oh My!!! ONB Preschools & Preparing for the Future.

Updated: May 5

With our first blog post we wanted to highlight some of the pedagogy behind deeper regenerative learning that we do as educators and guides at Nature School Cooperative. Adults sometimes wonder whether children will be “school ready” after attending an outdoor nature based preschool or forest school for older grades. This is a complicated question with a sophisticated answer. Research suggests that after attending a program like the Nature School Cooperative outdoor nature-based (ONB) preschool, by the time your student is in 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade and beyond, the imprinting they have in these early years will set them up for "readiness" in more important "below the tip of the iceberg" skills: Broad vocabulary, interest in language, curiosity, persistence, attentiveness, incidental learning, drive to learn, predictability, memory and self control.

The challenges and complexities of facilitating "play" while adhering to expectations of Kindergarten and school readiness is best explained in the 2022 10-year longitudinal study from Dr. Farran about preschool education. Her 10 year study and 50 years of background researching early childhood suggests we need to re-think our entire approach to typical preschools. Her research documents how "School readiness", as currently measured by typical K-12 institutions, has been shown to be short sighted and the effects diminish by the end of Kindergarten.

Dr. Farran proposes the “ICEBERG MODEL OF EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL COMPETENCIES.” When schools, programs, and communities focus solely on the letters, numbers and sounds the other deeper skills below the surface seem to be lost.

  • The tip of the iceberg skills no longer symbolizes those under the surface.

  • They are no longer the visible and measurable aspects of more important competencies.

  • Only when the deeper skills are enhanced should we expect continued progress based on early experiences.

  • A very different set of experiences likely facilitates the development of those deeper skills.

  • We have known for many years that the developmental period between four and six years is a critical one.

  • Neuroscience confirmed the importance of this period for the development of the pre-frontal cortex.

  • The pre-frontal cortex is involved in many of the skills described in the model as being below the surface.

Reflecting on the study of indoor preschools focused on outcomes of students "prepared" for kindergarten with the ability to hold a pencil and recite letters, letter sounds and numbers, she comments:

"This content focus and the teaching strategies, I argue, result in a detachment of the tip of the iceberg from the deeper skills under the surface. Thus, children can score well on school readiness skills at the end of pre-k – especially on those related to literacy – but not maintain any advantage by the end of kindergarten when all children attain these skills with or without pre-k experience."

At Nature School Cooperative and other Outdoor Nature Based (ONB) preschools, learning is inherently and explicitly on these “below the tip of the iceberg skills.” Those are the areas that produce life-long success, while the other three “school readiness” skills–letters, numbers and sounds–come along with that learning. You'll notice in our class schedule there are significant blocks of time for "play" and specifically Nature Play following dynamic and complex facilitation by trained teachers in a Nature Play Cycle.

Our staff training in dynamic and complex facilitation by trained teachers is well articulated in this video "The Ludic Process and Nature Play Cycle Webinar".

"Many nursery schools, high end childcare centers and special programs like Montessori, Waldorf and outdoor or “nature” preschools, among others, provide young children with positive, enhancing experiences.” Dr. Dale Farran 2022

At Nature School Cooperative we are constantly reflecting, learning and training with our Peer to Peer steering committee network at the Colorado Collective for Nature Based Early Education. We are leaders in developing promising practices to continue emphasizing learning on the "below the tip of the iceberg skills”.

I understand how Nature School Cooperative supports lifelong success and below the tip of the iceberg “school readiness”, BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH RAINBOW SCARABS?????

Over the next few months we will connect lots of metaphors with Regenerative Learning Ecologies including Buffalo and Rainbow Scarabs on the Short Grass Prairie ecosystem. In short, we focus on life-long health, wellness and long-term success based on current research.

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.

Other ways to see the work we do are found on our Instagram Reels and Facebook Posts and FAQ page. We will continue emphasize through this NSC Blog and social media what this Forest School and Nature Based Pedagogy "Looks Like and Sounds Like" at Nature School Cooperative.

We are always happy to talk more in person or by phone. Feel free to join one of our Community Days during a Forest School Friday session or stay tuned for a weekend Nature Play and Parenting workshop! You will find those options soon on our Programs Page.

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1 Comment

Jennifer Kollerup
Jennifer Kollerup
Sep 22, 2023

Great post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom on a topic with so much interest around it. Several of our colleagues are articulating similar thoughts, and I am excited to see the body of knowledge (and what each one of us know and hold deeply) grow.

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