Can you imagine a preschool with no walls or technology, where children play and learn in the great outdoors all day long? NBC's Sam Brock visited Tiny Trees preschool in Seattle to find out more about this new movement that's letting kids learn and play outside.
It's an idea that has many parents and educators excited — a preschool classroom where kids are taught different subjects while totally immersed in nature. Washington is now the first state to license outdoor preschools and Tiny Trees is the fifth program to get certified.
At Tiny Trees, the students are not outside part of the time but in the great outdoors all of the time. "We like to say that there's no such thing as bad weather, there's only bad clothing," Kellie Morrill, executive director of Tiny Trees said.
The Pacific Northwest has proved to be a great environment for learning, even with the infamous rain. "There were some people who thought we were a little crazy, for putting our kid outside every single day, no matter the weather," said Caitlin Capistron, a parent of a Tiny Trees student. "But we've been thrilled!"
Morrill said the idea for outdoor preschools was born out of the need for affordable childcare.
"There's a crisis of childcare. There's so many families that can't afford childcare," said Morrill. "When you eliminate the cost of having a brick-and-mortar facility, you can invest the majority of your budget into great staff and supporting children."
Having a natural classroom offers kids many benefits. Researches believe kids who attend outdoor preschool will end up healthier.
Amber Fyfe-Johnson, ND, PhD, an Assistant Research Professor at the Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) at Washington State University is studying the effects of outdoor learning on kids and believes this type of schooling will lead to better physical and emotional health.
"This is the first one to look at kids that are outside all the time," said Fyfe-Johnson.
She's using technology to track the kids' movements and thinks that she will find that they experience positive effects in everything from sleep quality to digestive health.
"We have our entire lives to spend indoors and to be in front of a screen and kids don't really need it," said Capistron.
And the kids are learning about more than just the natural environment around them — they get lessons in science, math and literacy, all in their outdoor classroom.
It's a way to create new space for preschools where options are limited, and families receiving financial assistance can use that for the outdoor programs. The hope is that this type of learning will be exported to other states.
Kids "learn by interacting with one another, by having fantastic teachers," said Capistron. "By being exposed to mud and sticks and slime."