Lauryn Smith Demyanovich
Sunshine, fog, ocean mist, soaring raptors, colorful sand, coastal scrub, and curious preschool students all find a place near the Golden Gate. Fostering environmental literacy to sustain our planet is the NatureBridge mission, and our preschool programs are the first step on a pathway of opportunities for participants to engage with the natural world.
My teaching background blends years of outdoor environmental education as well as experience in preschool classrooms. This combination helps me coordinate and implement preschool programming at the Golden Gate Campus of NatureBridge. I love being a part of children’s first experiences in nature, and I find it so inspiring when preschool students, who are just beginning to understand their connection to the world around them, begin to take action to care for it.
All of our preschool programs focus on child-centered learning and the inquiry process that arises from a young child's inherent curiosity about the natural world. NatureBridge is unique as we operate within National Parks, so participants get to explore a place that truly belongs to them.
At NatureBridge, I have been able to create and deliver different programs using a nature-based preschool model. In summer 2012 we launched a 10-week Kinder Camp day camp for 4-5 year old campers. Each week celebrates a different nature-based theme and campers delve into insect exploration, ocean life, the world of birds, as well as wild animals and plants. These are full-day immersions in the natural world with lots of time for exploration and play in the National Park. We paint our faces to look like animals and play camouflage among the trees, we build nests (and get in them,) we muck around in the pond to see what macroinvertebrates can be found. Every day we learn, have fun, and respect nature.
During the school year, our preschool education programs are thematic educational experiences where local preschool students visit monthly to discover the unique ecosystems in the park. Past themes have included ocean ecology, native plants, rocks, soil, and sand. It is incredible to witness students’ expanded ecoliteracy over time as they visit their National Park every month.
Working with The Bay Area Discovery Museum, we collaboratively offer programming to preschoolers and their families, utilizing the museum, as well as outdoor spaces in the park, to explore biotic and abiotic elements. This partnership utilizes strengths from both organizations to help children and their families connect with the natural world and encourages further exploration at home and in their community.
A teacher who attends with his preschool class from San Francisco told parents, “Words cannot express the joy I feel when I see [your] children engaged at NatureBridge … we are preparing our children to be the next stewards of our community.” Students, teachers, and parents all feel the boundless joy that comes with learning outside, engaging in new experiences, discoveries, and fun. Through this, we are all connected, inspired, and changed by our time in nature.