‘It’s teaching kids to take risks:’ Spokane Valley outdoor preschool holds first day of class

One preschool in Spokane Valley is breaking barriers, as they hold class outside in the Dishman Hills Natural Area. This is part of a pilot project the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families is testing out.

“Do you see birds? Look up into the trees. Do you see birds in the trees?” One instructor asked a student.

On Wednesday, Little Woodland Adventures kicked off their first day of class in the woods.

Four-year-old Carson spent a few hours in Dishman Hills, playing with pinecones and sticks.

To him and a few other kids in the preschool, they’re playing. But, they’re also learning outside of a traditional classroom.

It took a while for the preschool to have its first day outdoors.

‘We’ve had several opening dates, but we’ve just had a hard time because parents, they’re so interested in it, but they’re so nervous what it’s actually going to be like,” explained Megan Benedict, the owner of Little Woodland Adventures.

Benedict also owns Into the Woods, a child care center, where they also spend half their day outside of the building.

“We’re giving children the opportunity to learn in nature and to engage in a natural environment where they actually learn better,” she said.

Before actually starting class in the Dishman Hills, Benedict said they had to go through risk management, where a team from the state department came out and looked at the area to make sure it was safe enough for kids.

“We see the rocks they want to climb on them, these are a little bit lower. If they trip and fall, it’s not going to be a big fall,” she continued. “If they’re on bigger rocks, we make sure there’s no other rocks kind of underneath it.”

Parents may be concerned, having their kids outside in the woods all day near hazardous things, but Benedict says kids need to take a risk, too. Regardless, she and another instructor will always be out there keeping an eye on the children.

“It’s teaching kids to take risks, is what it is. Teaching them and their body to learn what is safe and what is not safe and letting them explore that. They have to learn on their own to be able to do that in order to pursue life, to take on life, to own a business, to go out and travel,” she said. “That all starts from here and learning how to take risks out here.”

As winter weather is on the way, Benedict said they will still hold classes outside, unless it gets too cold or too windy.

However, making sure the kids are dressed for the weather is important.

“When they get hot and running around, they’re going to take their layers off and then when they’re cold, we keep an eye on them and make sure they’re not getting too cold or too hot,” she said.

Benedict says the kids love being outside, regardless of the weather.

“They don’t ever want to come in,” she said.

One question she gets from parents is about what they actually do outside all day.

Benedict brings kits for the kids to use. One kit had binoculars and a measuring tape. They even brought clay out there for the kids to create some art.

“We’re drawing in the dirt. Writing is not just pencil and paper, it’s taking a stick and drawing in the dirt. We’re stacking rocks,” she said. “It’s all fine motor and gross motor skills that we’re using out here, just in a different way, so the kids don’t get bored.”

She hopes that with this new outdoor preschool, the norm of a traditional daycare and preschool will change.

“It’s not sitting at the table, that’s what you have to do to learn. You can go out and explore and move your body and still learn your A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s,” she said. “They have no walls and they’re able to use their imagination to learn.”

To learn more about the outdoor preschool program, visit the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families website.