Eight Tips to Help Prepare Your Child for Nature Preschool

by BOPN Lead Preschool Teacher Julia Sappenfield


How can I best prepare my child for outdoor school? This is one of the most common questions prospective and newly enrolled families ask. Aside from tracking down the appropriate gear, reading the handbook, and perhaps scheduling a playdate or two with a fellow incoming family, how can families begin to prepare their children for this important transition?


To be clear, a family can enroll their child one day and start preschool the next, and that child can (and likely will) still be successful at BOPN. That said, for families who enroll well ahead of time, and even for families who are currently enrolled and want to reinforce their child’s learning, we thought we would offer more extensive guidance on how to prepare and work with your child at home.


We interviewed a number of our seasoned teachers at Boston Outdoor Preschool Network. Here’s what they said. (Please note that these are general guidelines and examples that can always be adapted for students requiring accommodations.)


1. Teach Practical Skills at Home


Number one on everyone’s list was to foster your child’s independence. (Many of the following tips will be an offshoot of this one.) Generally speaking, what does nurturing independence look like at home? Allow your child plenty of time to solve a problem before jumping in to solve it for them. Work toward letting your child do as much as possible on their own. As far as outdoor preschool is concerned, you can target specific skills such as:


  • dressing themselves

  • putting on their own shoes

  • eating without assistance

  • opening their own snack containers

  • putting on their backpack by themselves

  • choosing what to play

  • completing small chores

  • cleaning their nose with a tissue


To make this manageable, you can choose one skill to start, like eating unassisted. Break the skill down into steps, provide clear verbal instructions for each step, and physically demonstrate what it is you would like them to do. In the beginning, your child may fumble, make a mess, and ultimately may require a bit of assistance. Try to have patience and help them just enough to make the task challenging but not overwhelming or outside of their developmental capability. Provide support until they can execute the skill entirely on their own. By implementing this one tip, you will help your child to not only prepare for preschool, but to also begin building a foundation of independence and resilience that will serve them throughout their school years and into young adulthood!




2. Practice Observing Outdoor Boundaries


At our school we use orange cones to show our classroom boundaries. Since we don’t have walls it is very important that everyone stays within the cones and respects this agreement. One way to practice this at home is to give your child a large space to play outside and set boundaries there, for example you can say they have to stay on the playground or they can go as far as the two big trees on the field, whatever landmarks you have available.





3. Help Your Child Build Stamina and Resilience


Every day we hike to an adventure spot. To build stamina and resilience we recommend taking your child on regular hikes, long walks, or extensive visits to a playground. Think of our school as a three hour gym class with the children in constant motion! In addition, since we are out during all kinds of weather, try out your new rain gear and help your child see how much fun it is to play in puddles while it is raining.


4. Teach your Child to Open their Snack Containers & Water Bottles


Practice with your child how to open their snack containers (including fruit pouches and cheese sticks) and water bottles. This becomes really important during the colder months when we keep our mittens on. We have become big fans of the stasher bags, they are easy to open/close (even with mittens on), reusable, come in all different sizes and are easy to clean.


5. Encourage Self-Directed, Authentic Play


As parents, we often feel that we have to be a source of entertainment for our children, that we need to provide the next fun activity. Give your child the opportunity to keep themselves busy with what they enjoy doing. Let them come up with something without your help. Allow them to use open-ended materials (muffin tins, spoons, materials found in nature, and so on). It will require consistency on your part, but over time you will be amazed to see what your child can do when given the opportunity.





6. Teach your Child to Ask for Help


Model to your child the language they need to ask for help when they need it. Usually children will just say “I can’t” when asked to do something or don’t use their words and express frustration in other ways. For very young children the phrase can be as simple as “help please” and for older ones “Can you help me with (fill in the blank) please.”


7. Do Regular Drop off Drills


Practice drop offs, so the separation on the first day of school goes a little more smoothly. You could arrange for a drop off playdate with another child, or get a babysitter, or drop your child off at a grandparent or friend’s house. Talk in advance about your expectations, for example “when we go to Grandma’s house today, I am going to give you a big hug and a kiss and then say goodbye. I will pick you up after lunch.” The key here is to follow through and actually leave and be back before lunch, so your child learns to trust your words. Do these routinely leading up to the time that your child is about to begin school.


8. Teach your Child the Three Kindness Agreements


We have three agreements about kindness at BOPN. Be kind to yourself, be kind to each other and be kind to the environment. The environment includes our bodies, plants, animals, our tools, books, other children’s belongings and so on. Teach your child these agreements and model them at home.




There you have it! Here are the nine tips again:


1. Teach Practical Skills at Home

2. Practice Observing Outdoor Boundaries

3. Help Your Child Build Stamina and Resilience

4. Teach your Child to Open their Snack Containers & Water Bottles

5. Encourage Self-Directed, Authentic Play

6. Teach your Child to Ask for Help

7. Do Regular Drop off Drills

8. Teach your Child the Three Kindness Agreements


Families, if you begin to implement these at home, let us know how it's going! We're always happy to speak with you about your child's individual strengths and needs and how we can best support them, both in the (outdoor) classroom and at home.






137 views0 comments