On a cloudy day, April Charlie explores the forests of Camp Long for the first time. Through her three-year-old eyes it is a wonderland – full of towering conifers, big rocks and colorful animals. It’s a perfect place to ramble, burrow and play. The best part is Charlie will get to enjoy an education full of healthy, active play in a sensory rich world where she will build both the social and emotional skills needed for a productive life and the academic skills needed for success in school.
In an outdoor classroom, lessons have a natural magic: instead of counting marbles, children collect and count acorns; to learn colors, geometry and fine motor control, children use paintbrushes to spread pollen between flowers and record the color, shape and number of petals to share with the class; and with a pile of leaves and twigs, they build sculptures and art that reflect the wilds of their imagination.
In an innovative partnership, Seattle Parks and Recreation is providing space for Tiny Trees Preschool to operate, on a pilot basis, 11 affordable, nature-rich outdoor preschool classes, helping 180 children a day at four Seattle Parks.
Affordability was a major reason April Charlie’s parents chose Tiny Trees. “Shortly after Charlie was born, we added her to a number of wait lists for various preschools,” said Annie McGlynn-Wright. “Some cost more than $19,000 a year, far more than what students pay now in tuition at the University of Washington and just not possible for a working family like us.”
At Tiny Trees, 52% of the incoming class receives financial assistance. At Carkeek Park, families who make less than $72,000 a year receive free tuition through the Seattle Preschool Program Pathways. “We’re committed to creating a school where every child is welcome,” said Andrew Jay, CEO of Tiny Trees Preschool. “Making tuition affordable and investing in teachers who reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods our schools are a part of, are key to that success.”
Tiny Trees Preschool keeps costs low by eliminating the cost of building, renovating and maintaining a child care facility. Instead of spending a huge amount on bricks and mortar the school spends it on hiring and supporting great teachers. The result is a preschool that costs 80% less to start and tuition prices that are 10 or 40% below market rate. Beginning September 12, 2016, Tiny Trees will operate schools at Camp Long in West Seattle, Carkeek Park in Northwest Seattle, John C. Little Park in the Rainier Valley and Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill.
The pilot agreement illustrates Seattle Parks and Recreation’s support for the city’s Preschool Program, approved by Seattle voters in 2014 to make preschool opportunities available for all Seattle 3- and 4-year-old children.
“This unique outdoor preschool program helps children to learn and develop while experiencing the wonder of the natural world,” said Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesús Aguirre. “Supporting families in connecting their children to the natural world at an early age supports our efforts to build life-long advocates for the preservation of outdoor space and environmental stewardship.”
The Seattle Preschool Program aims to provide high quality early childhood education programs for 1,600 children a year by 2018. Tiny Trees Preschool is a provider for the Seattle Preschool Program – Pathways at Carkeek Park, and has two years to meet the quality standards for the Seattle Preschool Program.
Outdoor preschool is a concept that started in Norway, Germany and Denmark, three countries where the weather can get really cold. The model has been tested in the Northwest by Cedarsong Nature School, which has been offering year-round outdoor preschool on Vashon Island since 2006.
To make sure families are prepared for a Seattle winter, Tiny Trees provides every child a free one-piece rain suit and boots from the Vancouver, WA based company Oakiwear. Children also use picnic shelters in heavy rain and there is an emergency shelter designated at each site in case of severe weather or emergency. Tiny Trees follows the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) calendar and is closed on SPS snow days.
For more information, please visit TinyTrees.org.