Bright Ideas

Nature Preschools 101

Natural Start Staff

Photo by: Juniper Hill School


Want to know more about the growing movement of nature-based preschools and forest kindergartens in the U.S.? Maybe you are looking for a nature-based program for your child or perhaps you're even considering starting your own nature-based preschool program. Either way, you've come to the right place! 

We've gathered our best introductory content on nature and forest preschools, below:




Article: What Is a Nature Preschool?

What sets a nature-based preschool apart from other early childhood programs? Dr. Patti Bailie, a pioneer of research on the nature preschool movement and professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, and Ken Finch, Founding Director of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood, offer three main criteria to distinguish nature preschools.



Video: The Benefits of Nature-Based Early Learning

Children in nature-based early learning programs learn their letters and numbers, like in any early childhood education program. But by spending time outside every day, they’re also growing more confident, more independent, and developing a relationship with the natural world. In this video, Natural Start director, Emilian Geczi, shares the many benefits of early childhood environmental education and ends with a call to action. When we infuse children’s learning with joyful moments of wonder and nature-based play, we support lifelong learners and good decision makers for the future.















Feature Story: Education in Context: The Role of Place in Nature-Based Early Childhood Education

Nature-based education is, by definition, place-based education. And no matter where we are, when we enter into a classroom, we bring our place, and the history of that place, with us. In this article, Fiddleheads Forest School founder, Kit Harrington, shares the significance of acknowledging the history of the land, humbly recognizing the people that have walked it before you, and understanding how this impacts who you are and how you teach. Kit calls for deep self-reflection as a step toward creating a more equitable and inclusive movement that embraces the idea that all children deserve access to the magic and wonder nature has to offer. 



Map: Nature Preschools

Nature preschools are a growing trend in education, and Natural Start is happy to support the role they play in developing happy, healthy children. Our nature preschool map will show you all the nature and forest preschools that have registered with Natural Start Alliance. If you are a nature preschool or want to help support the work they do, join our Alliance to help this movement grow.



Report: Nature Preschools and Kindergartens at Record Numbers in U.S.

A 2017 national survey of nature-based early childhood educators found that the number of nature preschools and forest kindergartens operating in the U.S. was at an all-time high. The study, conducted by four associations serving early childhood professionals, identified more than 250 nature preschools and kindergartens across the country – a 66% increase over the previous year’s tally of 150. In 2019, we estimate that number is closer to 400.


Feature Stories: Developing a Business Plan for Your Nature-Based Preschool & Program Considerations for Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool 

Business planning consultants David Catlin and Rachel A. Larimore share what it takes to establish a nature-based preschool, from developing a successful business plan to thinking through the programmatic, marketing, and financial decisions you will need to make. 


Our annual conference was created to support nature preschools and to connect nature-based early learning professionals from around the country and beyond. To learn more, visit: