“We care for the earth,” students at Evergreen Preschool proclaimed as they showed me around their outdoor space. “We plant seeds and give water to plants,” they elaborated. Children were sprinkled around the swings, the sandbox, multiple kitchen areas, and the fire pit, as they began their outdoor play. But when the back gate was opened to the wild wetland landscape, they all rushed through. The children reached up with sticks to tickle the last leaves on trees. Later, they made a campfire out of wooden blocks, created dramatic play games of stick horses and birds with leaf nests, and used stick forts to “pretend.” Another student calmly squished moist soil in their hands.

Teacher Amanda Anderson sees the benefits of “being an empathetic person when you’re outside. You’re being thoughtful to the plants that you’re around, and your environment – how we take care of where we live and the bugs. That’s a big thing every year for a lot of kids, having to learn how to take care of those things instead of smoosh them – making them a new habitat, building them a home. Where do they like to live? And you can’t do that inside, you can read books, but it’s not the same or as impactful as when you’re getting messy and wet.” “And holding that worm!” adds teacher Kim Crawford.

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