When children are immersed in nature, they gain self confidence, grit, and problem solving skills that they can use to thrive in all areas of their lives. At Wasatch Nature School our goal is to help each child plant seeds of the wonder that will sprout into a lifelong connection to nature and learning.Kristy Nuttall, Marketing Director/Head Nature Teacher
KiDS NEWS & REViEWS: Thank you Kristy for taking the time to share your amazing program with us today. As an outdoor program, what are you doing differently during Covid?
KRISTY: You are welcome. We are thrilled to be chosen to be featured with Kids News & Reviews! During the choppy waters of this pandemic, many of us feel like tiny boats tossed in a turbulent sea–there is so much out of our control. As parents and caregivers, one of our deepest desires is to keep our children safe, happy, and engaged in learning. Children have a built-in drive to play outside and to be with other children. They also have an insatiable curiosity about the world around them. None of these needs and desires change with the pandemic—in fact, they are even more compelling, which is why we are striving to provide meaningful outdoor learning opportunities for young learners at our Wasatch Nature School locations in Vineyard and Provo, Utah. As far as adapting our programs during Covid-19, we encourage parents to pre-screen their children at home by watching carefully for any signs of illness and keeping sick children home. Once students arrive at school, one of our teachers greets the family with smiles, kind words, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer to do a temperature check.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: How do you practice social distancing?
KRISTY: We also help children understand the importance of having a safety bubble of space around us to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. We use sit-spots placed in circles outside that are spaced out from one another. Through age-appropriate and playful poems and games, we encourage the children to pretend to be eagles and stretch out their eagle wings so that they can stay “eagle wings” apart from other children. If children move in too close, a gentle reminder of “eagle wings apart!” is usually enough to help them remember to move a safe distance apart. A lobster is another animal we highlight, and we encourage students to do lobster crawl backwards as necessary. Frequent hand washing and sanitizing are two of our most powerful strategies for helping to keep our students safe from the Corona or any other communicable disease. We use a catchy hand washing song that goes to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. The children love lathering up their hands and making bubbles that scrub the germs away.
“This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands. This is the way we wash our hands at Wasatch Nature School. . . ”Staff of Wasatch Nature School
KRISTY CONT’D: In addition, every student brings their own individual supplies that are not meant to be shared. Occasionally, if students handle shared supplies such as buckets, clipboards, sit spots, and magnifying glasses, those items are sanitized between uses. Bathrooms are also sanitized between each use. Snacks are brought by each individual student, and now we do not have communal snacks. Hands are also washed/ sanitized right before and right after eating. Another change that we have made this year in response to Covid-19 is that our indoor academic classroom has been moved outside, so that all classes can be outdoors and help limit the spread of germs. Staff members use face coverings as needed and students are encouraged to have a face mask on a simple lanyard and use the mask when in close proximity to staff or other students.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: What are the advantages of registering your children in an outdoor program?
KRISTY: During a pandemic, being outdoors vs. indoors has obvious advantages. Germs circulate easily in an indoor setting, but in the outdoors, there is much better circulation as well as having more room to social distance. The New York Times cites a recent study done in Japan of 100 cases, and the results showed that Coronavirus was 20 times more likely to be transmitted indoors than outdoors because indoors there is an increased concentration of viral droplets that stay in the air. William Schaffner, who is the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases notes, “the risk out of doors is lower than it is when we’re in enclosed spaces.” In other words, the more time that we spend outdoors, the less likely we are to be exposed to the virus. But perhaps the biggest outdoor advantage is a mental one. Many studies have shown that being around nature is calming for children and helps reduce anxiety and depression. According to Harvard Health expert Dr. Strauss, “it appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.” Experts have also highlighted that children who spend time in nature have diminished symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and they are able to demonstrate increased focus.
The very presence of leaves, trees, grass, dirt, flowers, and sky becomes a natural quilt that wraps around children like a gentle security blanket.
–Kristy Nutall, Head Nature Teacher
KRISTY CONT’D: Moreover, the outdoors provides a rich sensory stimulus and children can develop gross motor skills and healthy levels of physical activity. For example, children can hear the plop of pumpkin on the ground, plant a pumpkin seed in the dirt and wonder about how it will grow, see the bright orange of a pumpkin, smell pumpkins, imagine tasting pumpkin flavors, touch the curvy lines of a pumpkin, hide pumpkins for a game of hide and seek, and then roll down a hill pretending to be a runaway pumpkin. The full array of these active sensory rich learning opportunities in the outdoors would be difficult to recreate in an indoor setting.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: This all sounds so relaxing and healing! Can you break down what programs you are currently offering?
KRISTY: We offer Outdoor Preschool for ages 3-5 in Vineyard and Provo, Utah. We use the “Exploring Nature with Children” curriculum for our nature studies to introduce children to the wonders of world all around them, and we use “Learning Dynamics” and “Zoophonics” for our academic studies to help children develop language, math, and comprehension skills. Our teachers and students also contribute their own ideas as we incorporate nature walks, reading, nature journaling, songs, poetry, yoga, art, and hands on experiences into both our nature and academic studies. The children are encouraged to use all of their senses to invite more inquiry and creativity. We also offer an Advanced Nature Study Class for ages 6-12 at our Provo location. In this class, students learn how to keep a nature journal, create poetry, and describe/record the beauty in nature with both written and oral communication. Books and poetry are connected to class themes and students are encouraged to create their own nature inspired literary works. Students also spend time outside in all seasons directly observing and learning about animals, plants, insects, weather, the water cycle, seeds, rocks, and minerals through scientific experiments and hands-on activities. With both of our core programs, our goal is to help children cultivate a love of the natural world at an early age in order to enhance their mental, physical, and social well-being. We invite children to explore, play, and interact with nature in a way that boosts their creativity and problem solving skills. When children are allowed to follow their own interests in a hands-on environment, children retain and process learning more readily.
KiDS NEWS & REViEWS: What does this look like in the winter?
KRISTY: The winter months bring colder temperatures, but the season is truly magical. We love making snow forts and building with snow. Our students dress in many layers and have a fantastic time. We believe there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. If temperatures drop below 22 degrees with wind chill factored in, we will close school for the day or go indoors if needed. We only closed twice last year due to the cold weather. We have so much movement during our lessons that many times our students are peeling their layers off in the middle of the winter! It’s a fantastic season to learn and play outdoors and it’s so good for our students! And if it rains? We put on our rain jackets, grab our umbrellas, and go puddle jumping and exploring in the rain. In case of severe weather where it would not be safe for us to be outside, we have secure indoor locations available.
KIDS NEWS & REVIEWS: Any final thoughts you would like to add for our followers to think about?
KRISTY: We feel that it is incredibly important to just get outside and soak in the Vitamin N (Nature) —especially during the pandemic! We need to get outside for our mental and physical health, as well as the mental and physical health of our children.
Here are some fun things that you can enjoy during the pandemic:
· FIRST THINGS FIRST – Be prepared with hand sanitizer, masks, and remember to social distance if going somewhere away from home.
· HAVE AN OUTDOOR STORY TIME – Bring a blanket out under the shade of a tree and a pile of books and take turns reading to each other or acting out stories.
· DO A CAMP IN YOUR BACKYARD – Set up a tent, build an outdoor fort, or roll your sleeping bags out under the stars!
· BUILD A SIMPLE BIRD FEEDER – Watch the local birds come and go.
· DO SOME CHALK DRAWING – Create a chalk drawing art gallery on the sidewalk in front of your home and encourage your neighbours to join in the fun to create a neighbourhood chalk art gallery.
· START NATURE JOURNALING – Go outside on a walk and stop to sit and observe with your five senses and draw a picture, write poetry, a story, or maybe a song! Pick a “sit spot.” Outdoor educator, Jon Young, advises children to find their own special sit spot in their very own nook outside and to “Know it by day; know it by night; know it in the rain and in the snow, in the depth of winter and in the heat of summer. . . know the birds that live there, know the trees they live in. Get to know these things as if they were your relatives.” When we connect to the natural world, we realize we are part of a bigger picture, and we feel less isolated.
· GO ON AN OUTDOOR SCAVENGER HUNT – Make a printout of various nature treasures to find and have a fun prize to share as a family—a big juicy watermelon or glow in the dark bands for a dance party in the dark!
· GO ON A WALK, HIKE, OR A FAMILY BIKE RIDE – Visit a new place and pretend to be explorers.
· CREATE A NATURE TREASURE COLLECTION – You can do this on your front porch to admire with cool rocks, shells, leaves, and seeds.
· HAVE AN OUTDOOR MOVIE NIGHT – Borrow a movie projector from someone and project a movie up on a wall or sheet for a special family movie night with popcorn and drinks!
· MAKE HOMEMADE BOOKMARKS – Pick and press wildflowers and make homemade bookmarks to give as gifts.
· HAVE AN OUTDOOR MUD KITCHEN DAY – Get out the pots and pans and water—read the book Stone Soup together, and then let the inspiration flow as you make your own Stone Soup and nature feast complete with mud pies.
· MAKE A MINIATURE FAIRY/ELF HOME – Use tree bark, twigs, stones, flowers, shells, and other natural materials.
· CREATE NATURE SCULPTURES – Make some nature putty and use nature treasures to jazz up your artistic creations.
Nature Putty Recipe Idea!
2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (add more if needed)
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 to 1.5 cups warm water
gel food colouring and a bit of vanilla or almond or mint extract