A nature-based preschool campus at the San Antonio zoo is teaching their students at a young age to explore without the help of a map app. Graduates of the preschool say they have seen a change in their learning habits and lifestyle.
Administrators at the Will Smith Zoo School cite a study that shows many kids spend about seven hours with screens and only seven minutes outdoors. A nature-based preschool program is working to change that habit for their students.
Instead of iPads cell phones, kids at the zoo school are picking up pinecones and balancing on a log. The outdoor focused campus serves as a playground and a classroom.
Lily and Charlotte Escamilla went to the zoo school when they were three, four and five years old. Their age and height have grown since graduation along with their love for the outdoors.
“You learn more stuff and you can tell your friends what you did,” 9-year-old Charlotte said.
Instead of the latest movie, these girls are bragging about seeing an owl.
“Now they really appreciate nature,” their grandmother Suearl McReynolds said. “A lot of their friends are afraid of bugs or afraid of snakes or afraid of walking on a log. But our kids are just they just go out and they play.”
The kids learning at the preschool now spend at least 50 percent of their day outside. Creativity, compassion and a sense of exploration are all qualities cultivated at an early age.
“We have to start at a younger age to build that confidence so that they feel safe in the outdoors,” Jennifer Bristol with Texas Parks and Wildlife said. “I tell families all the time is put nature on your calendar.”
Lily can vouch that fresh air can go a long way.
“My dad always tells us, before you do your homework go outside and play,” Lily said. “I feel like whenever I go do that, I do better on my homework.”
City leaders backing efforts by the zoo school noted they are setting aside funding for parks in the city so all families can add more nature into their lives.
The nature-based preschool program has been offered since 2004. The Will Smith Zoo school campus was debuted Wednesday with a special ceremony. The facility’s name honors a donor’s son who passed away at age eight, in a car wreck. His mother started a foundation in Will’s honor that supports non-profits for children in need.