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Outdoor preschool aims to let children learn from nature

At Coyote Trails’ new outdoor preschool, children ages 3 to 5 will spend three hours, three days a week exploring flora and fauna, experiencing the elements and roaming the landscape that surrounds the Medford nature center.

The preschool, Coyote Pups, opens in January and will aim at cultivating a child’s sense of wonder, adventure and play, said Joe Kreuzman, founder and director of the Coyote Trails School of Nature.

“Research from the Harvard School of Public Health says that the average American spends less time outside than they do inside their car — less than 5 percent of their day,” Kreuzman said.

“And 70 percent of U.S. mothers reported playing outside every day as a child while, today, only 31 percent of their children play outside every day,” he said. “So we are going back to the basics of having our brains grow and develop in the natural world and imprint on what is real.”

Science shows that youth exposed to nature are more adaptable to change, have more confidence and are able to handle stress better, Kreuzman said.

The nature center’s outdoor dome will be the staging center for the preschool, but most of the children’s day will be spent in nature — rain or shine.

The preschoolers will get to study the habitats of native creatures, including foxes, opossums, chipmunks, hawks, ducks, squirrels, mice, otters and beavers, and learn about plants, roots, bugs, and the currents in nearby Bear Creek, said one of the instructors, Shakina Drew.

They’ll also get to play in the tracking box, forage for sticks to build their own shelters, weave baskets and make cattail ducks to float down the creek, she said.

Drew and instructor Hannah Schiestel will present a new theme at the start of each day and give their young students lots of time for observation and hands-on activities.

“We’re going to follow the child’s passion,” she said. “The goal is to incorporate a child’s body, mind and spirit and have the Earth teach. We’ll be more like guides to keep the kids stay safe.”

The program will be capped at 12 children, run from January 9 to May 31 and costs about $1,800.

Parents interested in learning more about the outdoor preschool are invited to attend an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the nature center, 2931 S. Pacific Highway, located behind the Harry and David ballfield in U.S. Cellular Community Park.

The preschool is recorded with the state of Oregon Office of Child Care. To learn more, see www.coyotetrails.org or call 541-772-1390.

— Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.