Cold. Uncomfortable. Rugged. Rustic. Miserable.
Those are the words that I would’ve used to describe a Swedish outdoor preschool before I knew any better.
Preschools in Sweden are for children ages 1-6 (the year they turn 6, they head off to “big school” so some kids leave when they are still 5), which in many people’s perceptions, is too “young” to be exposed to the elements all day.
Does outdoor preschool = miserable?
Especially Swedish elements that are cold, dark, and snowy/rainy most of the school year. I imagined that the kids’ fingers were freezing, toes numb, ears frostbitten, and noses all red and runny.
Also, how does potty training work in the winter when you have to peel off all of those heavy layers?
I really thought that only Viking-tough Swedish families aimed to send their children to outdoor preschools.
The kids nap outside (not an uncommon practice and we did that too), eat outside (ok…we do picnic sometimes), and learn about nature, the alphabet, and create art outside (we definitely don’t do that all of the time).
While part of me wants to be the nature-loving adopted-Swede that I dream of becoming, another part of me always thought it would be a miserable experience.
All of those beliefs held true until I visited an outdoor preschool and saw the set-up for myself.
My son was invited to a birthday party hosted by a parent who teaches at one of our local outdoor preschools. As a teacher, she had backstage access to the preschool on a Saturday.
It was the ideal set-up for a kids’ birthday party. (They should really consider renting it out to parents on weekends because it was awesome and they could make some side cash).
If you’re going to be outdoors all of the time, the space should be amazing
The playground itself was impressive with tons of places for kids to climb, balance, swing, and play.
Picnic tables and sitting areas around grills were placed at various points on the property—most likely to maximize exposure to the sun in the winter time or to shady areas in the spring/summer.
The preschool itself had a covered porch where the kids’ sleeping areas were arranged and each kid had a cupboard overflowing with cozy warm sleeping bags.
There were toilets inside for the kids, a kitchen, and long tables for indoor learning areas.
Situated on the property was a stand-alone building with sliding glass doors where they held their art supplies.
Not that different
After perusing the preschool and reading the rules, I saw that it was a preschool like any other.
They had policies and procedures for safety, First Aid kits were placed near the doors and bathroom, and the kitchen was high-quality and efficiently organized.
I found a schedule tacked to one of the walls and it described how the kids were divided into groups and each group leader/teacher would take them in, manage their outdoor clothing, and begin an activity indoors while the other kids remained outside.
It all seemed quite reasonable and orderly.
The pictures of the students around the school showed happy kids learning and playing. Just like in my kids’ preschool.
So, the outdoor preschool isn’t exactly 100% outdoors.
They did have a building with facilities but they also had provisions for staying outdoors if they wanted.
“In any weather” preschool
In reality, the “outdoor” preschool wasn’t so much outdoors as it was “any weather” preschool meaning they didn’t allow the weather to affect their activities.
Pretty cool, in my opinion, and something we all could use a bit more of because we can’t control the weather, so why should we allow it to dictate what we do?
As I left the outdoor preschool, I no longer saw it as a miserable, cold, and dreary experience for kids but my words instead were:
Fun. Creative. Natural. Play-oriented. Adventurous.
What are your thoughts?
Would you enroll your kids in an “any weather” preschool?
My latest children’s book is all about the love of the outdoors and is perfect for your little adventurer (perfect for kids ages 3-6).
Click here to buy the book and download the song so you can sing through the forest.