The face of early child care is changing, with forest schools, nature-based preschools, and outdoor child care centers becoming more popular. The reasons are sound — children that spend a lot of time in nature tend to be healthier, happier, and better rounded. The following tips can help your family adjust to a nature-based child care center.
1. Make Time for the Initiation Period
Many outdoor and nature-based child care centers require a parent or guardian initiation period before the child can be left at the center all day. This period usually takes place over the first week. The first day, you may be required to stay at the school with your child, observing, for the entire session. This time is gradually reduced. This initiation period services two purposes. First, it allows your child to adjust to the care center without trauma. Second, it helps you as the parent understand how the child care center works.
2. Provide All Weather Clothing
Many outdoor-based child care centers operate off the simple phrase, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." Although alternatives will be provided in dangerous weather conditions such as a blizzard or hail, snow, rain, and standard winter cold are not considered good reasons to stay inside. The school will provide every family with a list of required clothing and outerwear. Make sure your child is sent in with all the proper gear, or procure extras that can stay at the center.
3. Send In Plenty of Extras
Proper outerwear usually isn't enough, especially with young children that pay no mind to the state of their clothing. Make sure to send your child in with at least one complete change of clothing every day. It's also a good idea to include a few changes of socks and at least one extra pair of shoes, especially in wet weather. The extra laundry is well worth it when looking at the benefits of spending the day out in nature.
4. Avoid Negative Food Talk
Many outdoor child care centers integrate healthy eating into their daily structure. This usually means vegetable- and fruit-heavy snacks, often prepared in part by the children themselves. Some centers even have small gardens that the children help tend and harvest their snacks from. Often, even picky eaters will begin to expand their food repertoire when they are preparing and growing their own snacks. Take care to be enthusiastic when your child shares information on snacks with you, even if it is a food item that isn't a usual favorite in your household.
5. Integrate Down Time In the Evening
A surprising thing about outdoor child care programs is that children often come home energetic and in high spirits, compared to the tired, crankiness that is the norm in many indoor or classroom-based early childhood centers. Although your child may seem full of energy, make no mistake that they are likely tired. Make time for some low-key family activities in the evening to help your child wind down. A slow stroll through the neighborhood, reading a book, playing a board game, and a quiet bath will help calm your child down so that they sleep soundly and rest well.
Contact a child care center to learn more.