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Outdoor Learning at St. Andrew Preschool

Outdoor Learning at St. Andrew Preschool

Many preschools in our area provide learning opportunities outdoors, but only one of them has earned national certification as a Nature Explore Classroom from the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation. No matter the weather, every school day at St. Andrew Preschool consists of at least 45 minutes of outdoors time. Both figuratively and literally, they “plant the seeds for lifelong learning by building a safe and supportive early learning community,” explains director Kimbree Brown. “Children are viewed as capable, full of knowledge, and curious about their world.”

St. Andrew Preschool was founded in 1984 with a commitment to the “spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and social growth of young children,” says Brown. As a non-denominational Christian school, one of the core philosophies of their curriculum is to help children “learn about God’s love and to share that love with one another,” and the natural play area is truly a natural place to feel God’s love.

St. Andrew’s outdoor classroom and playground is specifically designed to encourage children’s curiosity and help them to develop both gross and fine motor skills—and it’s over an acre in size! Students watch plants grow and play with water, leaves and sand as they observe the seasons slowly change throughout the year. This type of learning during early childhood has been proven to “enhance concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, relieve stress and improve skills in many areas of development,” according to the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. The teachers enjoy being outside, too. “I went to preschool at St. Andrew as a child and have wonderful memories of it,” says teacher Bethany Emerson. “Being able to teach here and encourage an early love of learning through art, play, and explorations is really wonderful.”

At school, children learn to be part of a community and share in the classroom. They also learn how they are part of a larger community in their neighborhoods. St. Andrew Preschool is partnered with St. Andrew Lutheran Church and helps to provide meal baskets to families of Orchards Elementary school throughout the year. “We also contribute clothing, food, and other items to a shelter for homeless women and children. We enjoy modeling and teaching young children the value of supporting others in our community,” says Brown.

A low student-to-teacher ratio maintains the high quality of the school. Each classroom consists of two lead teachers as well as a teacher’s aide. St. Andrew preschool has been recognized by Evergreen Public Schools as a an early-learning partner, but students from St. Andrew have gone on to attend all the school districts in Clark County, private schools and even homeschool options. “We work hard to ensure children have the skills needed for a successful kindergarten transition and beyond. We are passionate about serving families from all backgrounds to make sure our community is diverse and equitable,” Brown told me. “Also, we have a lot of fun here!”

Sarah Mortensen recently completed her degree in marriage and family studies and works for Vancouver Public Schools as a paraeducator in addition to her role as associate editor of Vancouver Family Magazine. When Sarah is not reading to her kids or students, she is probably in her backyard taking care of her garden. She also enjoys hiking, hot chocolate, and dressing up for Halloween. She lives in Vancouver with her husband, son and daughter.

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