I Picked up my Daughter from Preschool... Filthy and Missing Her Shoes
Her clothes were dirty, the seat of her pants more tan than pink. She had a splatter of dried mud in her falling out braid and her shoes were nowhere to be seen. Was I furious? A bit annoyed?
Not at all, as this was EXACTLY what we'd signed her up for and on her face was a beaming grin.
Our four year old attends Hugging Tree Nature Preschool, a preschool located in Waterloo, Iowa with a nature-based curriculum centered around a child's natural sense of exploration and wonder. Instead of sitting for hours at desks indoors, the children are learning outdoors for as many hours as weather permits. They learn about the living things all around them, delighting in the joy of recognizing different bird songs or spotting animal tracks. They foster a sense of community and naturally learn to work together through the building of forts, preparing mud kitchen meals, and time in the sand box. Instead of simply memorizing and reciting their ABC's, they're finding sticks shaped like letters and noticing creatures found in the woods who start with their sounds.
She isn't told to sit still, as her body is meant to move.
She isn't told to curb her excitement, as discovering life all around her is something to celebrate.
She isn't told to quiet her curiosity-fueled questions or imaginings, as they are the makings of a life-long learner and world explorer.
On rainy days, she dons her bright green froggy rain suit and boots to splash in puddles and observe the consistencies of mud puddles. Snowy days are filled with sledding, fort building, and learning how to safely build a fire to keep the group warm. Every day picking up and dropping off I saw representations of Hugging Tree's mission statement in action:
The mission of Hugging Tree Nature Preschool is to meet the needs of the whole child, while nurturing a lifelong appreciation of the natural world.
When first deciding whether to send our child to preschool as a three year old, I was torn. I loved the idea of her gaining valuable social skills and had heard wonderful things about the nearby schools. But I was cast back in time to my childhood and it's most treasured moments, the vast majority of which occurring outside our home or school's four walls. My siblings and I explored the grove behind our machine shed, which appeared as wild and expansive to our young eyes as an expansive forest. We built shelters of branches, sticks and sod, and learned how to work together in completing farm chores. We played with kittens and climbed a tree to read books.
Children are already growing up too soon, with adult elements of responsibility placed on too many of our youth. Some acquire it through familial or socioeconomic situations, others through the expectations of their parents, caregivers, and peers. It may seem that standardized testing and memorizing of facts too often takes precedence... but as Albert Einstein wisely said,
"Play is the highest form of research."
And research they do! The Hugging Tree philosophy can be summed up in these six beliefs and corresponding practices.
* All children can learn.
* All children learn in their own way.
* Children grow and develop at different rates.
* Children learn best when the subject is relevant to them.
* Children need to be children. They need plenty of time to play, and plenty of practice and opportunities to work on social skills in a safe environment.
* Helping children develop a positive self image and become socially competent is the best foundation for their future.
As founder and teacher Melissa Haugo shared, "While I was running one time, the tagline 'Growing children at their own pace" popped into my head. That is what I strive to do at Hugging Tree. I want to meet the kids at their present level of being and when they're ready, I gently grow them to the next level."
As a mother, this is an extension of everything I could wish for our children... for them to be gently supported in their natural growth of body, mind, and spirit.
Hugging Tree Nature Preschool is located in Waterloo, Iowa and is currently enrolling for the 2022-2023 school year.