2021-2022 School Year 


  • To nurture children and their families in a learning environment grounded in a healthy connection to the natural world.
  • To foster creativity, collaboration and critical thinking through child directed learning.
  • To address the needs of the whole child and help each individual reach their full potential.

Guiding Principles

    • Like the forest and nature-based preschool movements, we believe that nature is the best possible classroom for children. The preschool takes full advantage of the Zoo's 90-acre campus and the beautiful park surrounding it. Research shows that children reflect improvements in social, emotional and cognitive well-being when they spend time exploring the outdoors.
    • We spend at least 50 percent of our time outside every day and not just for “recess.” The 4- and 5-year-old class spends all day outside on Forest Fridays exploring the various habitats around the park. All areas of the curriculum benefit from fresh air — from practicing our observation skills with the prairie dogs to writing poetry inspired by the paddlefish. Our indoor classroom space was designed using biophilic principles and sustainably sourced materials to reflect the natural world all around us.

    • The preschool is uniquely integrated into a community that cares deeply about animals and their futures. Students will learn to think of themselves as scientists and as part of a scientific community. They will develop relationships with Zoo staff and use them as resources in their projects. Likewise, the children will have an amazing diversity of animals to study and observe. These unique relationships and experiences will lay the foundation for becoming scientifically and environmentally literate citizens in the future.


    • Our teacher teams will be there to support the children as they learn and discover. Teachers intentionally create and prepare the learning environment to inspire exploration — then the children direct the exploration. This allows children to construct their own knowledge, with guidance from their teachers, creating a more meaningful learning experience. In the classroom, children explore various centers, such as literacy, science or art. Teachers are observing, documenting students’ work, spending one-on-one time with students or leading small group activities.
    • Project Construct, described above, is one of only four early childhood curriculums approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
    • Children will be members of a community of fellow students and teachers that work and learn together. They will learn the value of collaboration and how to support their fellow members in a positive way. They also will learn to view mistakes as learning opportunities and to communicate honestly with one another. Each member will be treated with respect and given time to reflect on his or her own learning journey.
    • The preschool is guided by play- and project-based learning and the Reggio Emilia Approach
    • Teachers observe students and follow their interests. In our child-directed, Reggio Emilia-inspired program, children’s play is their work. Teachers “seed” the environment with engaging, authentic materials and “provocations,” inviting students to try new things and gauge their interests. Topics that are of interest to the group can develop into projects. Students research and work as a team to develop projects based on their learning. These are long-term projects that take an in-depth look at different subjects. Projects like this encourage collaboration, allow children to highlight their own unique talents and abilities, and incorporate all of the state Early Learning Standards. Students are able to build developmentally-appropriate skills in a naturally integrated way rather than practicing them in isolation.
    • Play- and project-based learning and the Reggio Emilia Approach, as described above, are considered the current best practices in early childhood education.

School Schedule

The preschool operates on a traditional school year schedule, September to May, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The 3- to 4-year-old class meets on Tuesday and Thursday, and the 4- and 5-year-old class meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

***Full day options will hopefully be available for the 2022-2023 school year, with classes meeting from 8:30 to 4:00.


The Zoo's early childhood team has a combined 50+ years of experience in early childhood and environmental education. Each team member also has a minimum of a bachelor's degree in early childhood or a related education or science degree. The Zoo's program exceeds the required staff to child ratios of 1:6, allowing for more individualized time with each child.

Fee Structure

Ages 3 to 4 Years

  • Two-day program (Tuesday and Thursday)
    Half-day (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
    $400 per month
  • Students must be able to use the restroom independently by September 1 of the school year you are applying for.

Ages 4 to 5 Years

  • Three-day program (Monday, Wednesday and Friday)
    Half-day (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.)
    $600 per month


  1. To apply, please complete the online application form and submit it with the $25 application fee.
  2. The $25 application fee is non-refundable. 
  3. Interviews of primary caregivers, with students in attendance to observe play, are required for admission and will be set by appointment for qualified applicants.
  4. Acceptance notifications are emailed.
  5. Placement is confirmed when $250 non-refundable deposit is received.

Based on the applications and interviews, 24 students will be selected, 12 in each age group, to accommodate for social distancing.

Financial Aid

  • To make this program available to families with a range of incomes, the Zoo offers scholarships. Financial aid applications are processed by an independent agency, and need is assessed based on that information. Tuition discounts will generally range from 10 to 50 percent of full tuition, based on need and the availability of funds. Full tuition assistance is unfortunately not available at this time.
  • Financial aid application MUST be complete at the time of application to be considered. Fill out the application here

Request More Information

For more information, call (314) 646-4544 or fill out the form at the end of this page.

Request Form

For more information, please fill out the form and someone from our preschool will contact you.