Nature Center Preschool at South Shore Natural Science Center
The Nature Center Preschool at the South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, Massachusetts, encourages each child to learn and grow in all areas of development while gaining a love and respect for the natural world through exploration and hands-on activities. We endeavor to nurture each child’s and family's innate desire to discover their world through direct contact with nature, foster respect for the community where they live and play, and prepare them for lifelong learning.
The South Shore Natural Science Center is a South Shore YMCA organization with a reach of more than 40,000 members and participants, nearly two-thirds of whom are children and teens, in more than 100 different programs. Emphasizing the four core character development values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility, we are committed to strengthening our communities by nurturing the potential of kids, promoting healthy living, and fostering a sense of social responsibility.
Children at Nature Center Preschool regularly use the 30 acres of conservation land that comprise the Natural Science Center. This includes fields and meadows, trails, wetlands, and organic gardens. All are used for play, walks, discovery, and hands-on engagement in the outdoors. Museum exploration opportunities are another important part of our curriculum. Naturalists from the Science Center regularly visit the Preschool to provide environmental education presentations and experiences. The curriculum areas of language, mathematics, arts, science and technology, social studies, fine and gross motor skills, and social-emotional growth are included in a developmentally appropriate setting that reveals the potential of each child. Our nature-based curriculum is informed by the Common Core standards, Massachusetts Preschool Guidelines, and the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence as well as National Association for the Education of Young Children best practices for a developmentally appropriate curriculum.
Following a seasonal, placed-based approach, children directly experience connections to their backyard environment building a sense of stewardship at an early age. Nature trail exploration through the seasons heighten the senses and promote greater attention while children’s observational skills are increased as we look for mushrooms newly unfolding, tracks in the snow, or Indian pipes emerging from the leaf litter. Unstructured meadow play is a wonderful way for young children to develop their creativity, social skills, empathy, as well as communication and problem solving skills by working together to create imaginative and elaborate storylines whether they are ponies galloping through the grass and snow, animals camouflaging and hiding, or airplanes getting ready to take off into the air. The gardens offer many gross motor opportunities as children pull weeds, push garden carts, dig with shovels, lift watering cans and plant seeds. This play is purposeful work that yields results the children can observe and document for themselves with the long-awaited harvest.
All of this terrific nature play occurring at Nature Center Preschool can be summed up with the importance of what Rachel Carson called children’s “sense of wonder.” Developing a child’s sense of wonder promotes innovative thinking. A sense of wonder is what drives children to learn; it feeds the insatiable curiosity that is the hallmark of children everywhere. Unstructured play in nature makes this happen. Nature does not suggest what children should do, or think, or imagine. Instead, nature presents open choices, limitless possibilities, and opportunities to explore. This is at the heart of the Nature Center Preschool philosophy.