Nature as Classroom
Like the forest and nature-based preschool movements, we believe that nature is the best possible classroom for children. The preschool will take full advantage of the Zoo's 90-acre campus, and the beautiful park surrounding it. Research tells us that children show improvements in social, emotional, and cognitive well-being when they spend time exploring the outdoors. We will spend time outside each and every day, and not just for “recess.” All areas of the curriculum will 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.
A unique aspect of a preschool at the Zoo, is that it will be 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 are there to support the children as they learn and discover. Teachers create and prepare the learning environment intentionally, to inspire exploration — then the children direct the exploration. This allows children to construct their own knowledge, with the guidance from their teachers, creating a more meaningful learning experience. In the classroom, children may be exploring various centers, such as literacy, science, or art. Teachers may be 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, or DESE.
A Community of Learners
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 will also 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.
Project Based Learning
The children will also select topics as a group — researching and working as a team to create a project based on their learning. These are long-term projects that take an in-depth look at the subject at hand. Projects like this encourage collaboration, allow children to highlight their own unique talents and abilities, and incorporate all of the state Early Learning Standards.
Project based learning and the Reggio Emilia approach, as described above, are considered best practices in early childhood education today.