Outdoor preschool program to begin in Barnum

A fenced-in area outside of Barnum Elementary School will serve as the classroom until the class gradually branches out into the district's nearby Nature Center.

Fencing installed
Fencing is installed behind Barnum Elementary School in preparation for the Nature Preschool program this fall, which will utilize the space for its classes.
Contributed / Barnum Community Education
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BARNUM — A new outdoor preschool program in Barnum will offer 4- and 5-year-olds the opportunity to take their learning adventure outdoors in the fall at the district's nearby Nature Center.

The Nature Preschool program, taught by Alisha Bigelow, will consist of one three-hour class that runs from noon-3 p.m.

Bigelow and the Barnum Early Childhood staff were inspired to pursue an outdoor preschool program after learning about a kindergarten class in the Twin Cities that offered additional time outdoors for children.

Members of the staff later spent time visiting the Hartley Nature Preschool program in Duluth where they received, 'a wealth of information,' about outdoor preschool classrooms, Bigelow said.

The advantages of such programs are wide-ranging, according to Bigelow.


“One of the main benefits includes promoting mental health, as nature is a known stress reliever. It also gives the space for large body movements that will help with attention spans, gaining confidence in physical abilities, risky play, and supports physical health,” Bigelow shared via email.

Preparations for the outdoor classroom have taken place over the summer, with the construction of a fenced-in area housing the 50 by 50-foot playground. The playground and its new sandbox were paid for with funds raised by Early Childhood coordinator Christy Cloutier and staff.

Sandbox being constructed
Pictured is a new sandbox being built by members of the Cloutier family for the Nature Preschool program playground at Barnum Elementary School.
Contributed / Barnum Community Education

Plans for a pallet mud kitchen, DIY playhouse and other features are currently in the works as well.

The organizers' goal is to gradually move the class to the Nature Center, located to the north of Barnum Elementary School, as the students get acclimated to the boundaries marked by pink logger's tape.

“The kiddos will start inside the fence so they can learn boundaries. Once we start learning boundaries, we will venture off,” Barnum Community Education Director Roxy Olsen-Hurst explained. “The elementary school has a tiny school forest out towards the north of the school, so they’re going to use some of the outdoor space that we already have right there.”
Bigelow shared that the class will use a combination of the current preschool curriculum combined with play-based learning. Lessons will also incorporate natural surroundings and the changing seasons.

“For example, in the fall we (will) talk about apples, and we will be able to observe our apple trees next to our playground on a daily basis and use them in a variety of lessons and activities,” Bigelow said.

Registration for the class ended Tuesday, Aug. 2, with 11 students currently enrolled in the program — just short of the staff's target goal of 15 students enrolled.

Olsen-Hurst shared that, in all likelihood, the Nature Preschool program will be combined with the Leaps and Bounds class consisting of 4-year-old students, since the program offers the same class, only in an indoor classroom setting.


“If we have to combine our two classes, then my other classroom teacher will have to step in and teach with her, so then I'll have two licensed teachers in there. And then depending on what that number is, we might have to add in an assistant teacher too, so there might be three staff (members),” Olsen-Hurst said.

Creek running through woods
Pictured is a small creek that runs through the Barnum Nature Center. The area will be utilized by children in the new Nature Preschool program.
Contributed / Barnum Community Education

Like the Leaps and Bounds program, the Nature Program will include an indoor classroom setting when the weather, namely in the winter, prevents classes from being held outdoors. Olsen-Hurst said that students will utilize an app that lets them know how long they can safely be outside before having to come back in.

“So when it gets super cold out, whatever the windchill is, the app will say you can be outside for seven minutes (for example) before frostbite. So they would go outside for six minutes and then come back inside and do an activity then go back outside,” Olsen-Hurst explained. “So it’ll be a lot of inside/outside in the wintertime."

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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