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Q&A with nature and play-based MEADOW PRESCHOOL, now enrolling for Fall 2017

[This is a sponsored post. Photos provided by Meadow Preschool]

Last week, I attended an open house for the brand-new preschool in Santa Monica: MEADOW PRESCHOOL. Located on 26th street, this learning center is play-based and nature-based, for children between the ages of 2 years and 9 months through 6 years old. Co-owned by best friends since preschool Bridget Cook and Lisa Baskin, these Santa Monica natives returned to their roots and founded MEADOW PRESCHOOL, which opens this Fall.

Below is my interview with co-owner of Meadow Preschool, Bridget Cook

Tell me what it means to be a “nature based” school

A nature-based school is a school that uses the outdoors, nature, and natural materials in as many activities as possible. The children spend a large part of their days outside and/or using materials that can be found in nature or are naturally derived from nature. Nature-based schools also tend to be developmental schools that believe children learn best through play. Most, as we do, tend to have an environmental component often practicing and teaching environmentally friendly behaviors (i.e. recycling, composting, eating organic, trash-free lunches, etc.)

How did you decide on this type of preschool and is the philosophy something you share with your own children?

Meadow Preschool and its philosophy hatched from a variety of sources. As you know, I have been teaching preschool for over 16 years in a wide variety of schools and places: Hawaii, Oregon, and different locations in California. For Meadow Preschool, I took ideas that I liked from all these schools as well as all the schools that I have taken educator tours from over the years. It was also important for me to leave out the things I didn’t like. For example, I love the feel of Reggio-inspired schools and I knew I wanted to incorporate many things from this educational approach, but I really didn’t like the excess (in my opinion) documentation and almost laboratory feeling I got seeing the children constantly filmed. Also, Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods (as well as his others), really spoke to me. I believe children, especially us city folk, have been losing out on just being in nature, getting dirty, and exploring like the generations in the past did. Do me a favor and think back to your childhood for a moment, now think of one or two favorite memories you have as a child. When I do this with a group of adults 90% of their favorite memories involve them being outside and or exploring in nature and often unsupervised. We crave nature! I also believe that all the behavioral problems that seem to be on the rise today are just a result of limited access to the outside. The creators of the Outdoor Classroom Project have more statistics about this, but you would be amazed. They literally have had dozens of children sent to them from other schools labeled with behavioral problems, but once they are in their program with ample outdoor time the behavior issues disappear. I could go on and on about this, but you get the idea!

I was looking out the window at all the beautiful meadows hidden within the trees. I thought to myself, “That is what I want my school to feel like.” So, of course that is where I got the name.

One day many years ago I was driving with my husband in the Sequoia National Forrest on a camping trip thinking about the concept of my future school. I was looking out the window at all the beautiful meadows hidden within the trees. I thought to myself, “That is what I want my school to feel like.” So, of course that is where I got the name.

Having my own children in preschools, I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. I was lucky to have both a teacher perspective and a parent perspective as I was developing our philosophy. I knew my children didn’t get enough exposure to positivity and kindness so I wanted that to be very apparent in our educational approach as well. I feel like I could talk forever about why I developed this education model, but I think I’ve talked enough about that!

And YES, I try to get my kids outside and in nature as much as possible. I want them to develop a LOVE of nature! I wish we lived on a big farm or something, but we are in L.A. so I do as much as I can including: hiking, camping, and exposing them to permaculture residential communities.

Since it is a mixed age school, will you make sure to have close to equal representation of ages?

Yes, it is our goal to have all the mixed ages represented. Of course, this being our first year we can’t be quite so picky! Luckily, as of now we have had a balance of ages sign up for the school so it is sorting itself out. In the following years we will take our pool of applicants and pick our next classes by trying to balance ages and gender. We will also be seeking diversity as much as we can. Lastly, being that we are an environmentally conscious school, priority enrollment will be given to families that live within walking distance to Meadow Preschool.

How easily will children who attend your school transition to traditional school?

If you ask ANY of the elementary schools (traditional or progressive) what kindergarten readiness looks like to them, they all basically answer the same way. They expect children to be able to function in a group setting, and master basic skills like holding a pencil. Meadow Preschool students will not only learn to function in a group setting, but will hopefully master problem solving and conflict resolution without adult assistance. We focus on the whole child – meaning that social, emotional, cognitive, creative, and physical development are all equally important to us. We know that because a child is not writing their name yet, it doesn’t mean that it is a cognitive obstacle, but instead could be merely a fine motor issue or vice versa. For example, the teachers might have children sign-in in the sand for a week rather than the sign-in sheet which helps improve large motor development while also allowing teachers to decipher who is still finding their name difficult to “write,” a cognitive issue. Or maybe they “write” them with pebbles one week? By being flexible and deliberate with our curriculum we will create kindergarten ready graduates. Our approach allows us to help the children develop at their own pace while building high self-esteem by focusing on children’s successes.

Do you interview parents to make sure they follow similar philosophies at home or do you hope to impact their current methods if they aren’t exactly on par?

We do not interview the parents. We feel that we provide a pretty thorough tour that touches upon our beliefs and educational style. It is our hope that only parents that agree with our style will be compelled to apply. On our application we also ask why they want to go to Meadow and we do pay very close attention to their answers.

What benefits would you say children at your school will have over other preschools?

The number one benefit is the abundant access to the outdoors. I have not visited a school yet on the Westside that provides this amount of free-flow indoor/outdoor time (and I’ve visited LOTS of schools!). There are also only a handful that do mixed age play and group times. I think there are a lot of benefits to this type of grouping. Anyone who has worked with, or has children knows that they learn so much from their friends and older siblings. The older children get to be the leaders while the younger ones benefit from their “elders” experience. Often children can come to school with different levels of development in different areas that doesn’t necessarily match their chronological age. For example, you could have an early talker that is ready and eager to converse with friends. If that child is younger than 3 and put in a 2 1⁄2 -3 year old group, then there is a good chance that very few children in the group talk. Then your child loses out on continuing to develop his or her advance verbal skills while at school. Lastly, I think an important benefit to our school is that we offer a blended educational approach. This allows flexibility within our curriculum. Every child is unique and comes with a variety of learning styles so we are not pigeon holed into one type of teaching, but instead can bend to fit the child’s needs.

Current Promotion

We are offering a Grand Opening Special.  The first 15 families that sign up for the 2017-2018 school year will receive three months free tuition! 

Meadow Preschool

For more information, visit the website:

meadowpreschool.com

Meadow Preschool is located at:

1249 26th St. Santa Monica CA 90404