Beyond traditional school readiness: How nature preschools help prepare children for academic success
Nature preschools can be effective in promoting school readiness
The benefits of nature preschools on children’s physical, social, and cognitive development are well-documented. What’s not so well understood or documented, however, is the impact of nature preschools on school readiness. This study investigated the effectiveness of nature preschools on two components of school readiness: peer play interactions (a component of social-emotional learning) and learning behaviors (a component of approaches to learning).
Six preschools in northern Minnesota participated in this study: Four nature preschools and two non-nature preschools. The four nature preschools had a combined total of 84 study participants; the non-nature preschools, 24 participants. Children in the nature preschools spent most of their school day outdoors in a nature-rich environment. Children in the non-nature preschools spent most of their school day indoors and, while outdoors, played on a traditional playground. The curriculum for both groups of children emphasized child-centered, play-based learning and was implemented by experienced teachers who demonstrated caring and responsive relationships with the children. Children in both groups spent the majority of school time in play. The main differences between what the two groups experienced at school consisted of the amount of time they spent outdoors and the location of their outdoor play. Assessments of participating children’s peer play interactions and learning behaviors were conducted in October 2018 as pre-test measures and in May 2019 as post-test measures.
The nature preschoolers (children attending the nature preschools) showed significant growth from pre- to post-test in the play interaction dimension of peer play and a significant reduction of play disruption and play disconnection behaviors. They also showed significant growth in learning behaviors. The non-nature preschoolers showed significant growth in only one of the assessed areas – that being play disconnection in the home/neighborhood. “Thus, the statistically significant change in learning behaviors and peer play behaviors among the nature preschool participants is not only statistically significant, but likely also practically significant, as similar growth was not seen in the comparison group of non-nature preschoolers. . . . “
This research indicates that nature preschools can be effective in promoting positive peer play interactions and learning behaviors and thus can make important contributions to school readiness. This research also suggests that “play location may be an overlooked aspect of classroom quality that contributes to the development of both peer play and learning behaviors”. A natural setting may be more conducive for preschoolers than an indoor setting for promoting various areas of play and learning.