It’s late afternoon on a late autumn day. The light is already fading; the temperature is 30? and dropping; there’s an ice storm on the way. Most of us were heading to our cozy homes for warm dinners and hoping that nothing would require heading out again, but not the Learning Tree Farm Nature Preschool Alumni Enrichment Group! Nothing keeps these devoted friends from their monthly get-together.
I find the alumni parents gathered around a bonfire sipping hot cocoa. The children in their puffy parkas are running in every direction: chasing one another, balancing on rocks, hugging goats. Parents and children alike are bundled in warm layers, all firm believers in one of Nature Preschool’s fundamental philosophies, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
Still, you have to wonder what it is about Learning Tree Farm that brings these families back even after a long day of kindergarten, even in the frigid weather, so I ask.
“You know.” one parent tells me, arms extended as if to embrace the farm, the fields, the forest, “It’s special. We’d keep coming here if we could–I mean, for school, for kindergarten. Actually, all the way through high school, if we could.”
Another parent explains, as we watch her daughter belly crawl down a hill, “There’s just something the kids get here that they don’t get at a regular school. They need this. They need to be able to run, well, not just run–run wherever they want.”
After the children have had some time to do exactly that, to run and explore, it’s time for a Native American story about the origin of the talking stick and the importance of listening. The parent coordinator for the day provides a little history and context and reads the story to the group with sound effects provided by her daughter.
Some of the older children read along. One boy stretches out on rocks with a copy of the story. He looks as comfortable reading there as any child at a desk or on a couch. Later, while the children make their own talking sticks, a parent asks the boy, “What did you like most about Nature Preschool?”
“Everything.” he says, “Especially being with all of you.”