Nature School is an outdoor-based preschool program at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park that supports child development and conservation values. For children ages 4-6, it provides the freedom to explore and play in nature, fostering a lifelong connection to the natural world and promoting the development of our next generation of environmental stewards!
How To Register
The 2021-2022 program is full. To join the waitlist, please register online or call 763-559-6700.
Class, Schedule & Tuition Information
Mixed-age class for children 4-6 years old. To enroll for the 2021-2022 school year, children must be 4 or 5 years old (not yet 6) by Sept. 14, 2021 and fully potty trained.
Class Size and Ratios
Maximum of 15 students with 2-3 teachers. Maximum class size may be temporarily lowered in response to COVID-19.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9–11:30 AM
Sept. 14–May 17
No class on Nov. 23 and 25; Dec. 21, 23, 28 and 30; and March 15 and 17.
See the daily schedule.
The majority of each class will be spent outdoors in all seasons, rain or shine. We may spend time inside the Mississippi Gateway Visitor Center for specific activities such as meeting live animals or journaling. Classes may be adjusted when conditions are unsuitable for a full session of outdoor learning. See the Frequently Asked Questions to learn more.
Total tuition for September-May is $1,152. Monthly payments are calculated based on the number of classes and range from $90-$144. Tuition is billed in advance on the 15th of each month and due on the 1st of the month. An initial deposit of $108 is due upon registration and will be applied as the September tuition.
Financial assistance is available through Three Rivers Rec Pass Plus program.
Nature School is an inquiry- and place-based education program. With the outdoors as their classroom, children use natural materials to practice skills identified within the Minnesota Department of Education Early Learning Standards. These include:
- Social and Emotional Development: trust and emotional security, self-awareness, self-control and relationships
- Language, Literacy and Communication: speaking, listening, emergent reading and writing
- Scientific Thinking: discovery, predictions, formulating questions, integrating new information and problem-solving
- Physical and Movement Development: large motor coordination, manipulating small objects, putting on clothing and health and well-being
- Approaches to Learning: curiosity, risk-taking, inventiveness, engagement and persistence
- Mathematics: number knowledge, measurement, patterns, shapes and data analysis
- The Arts: using the arts to express ideas and emotions, and combining artistic elements
- Social Systems: identity, community, change over time and environment
As an outdoor preschool program, Nature School is not licensed. MN Statues Sec 245.03 Subdivision 2a(11).
Nature School teaching staff have professional experience in both early childhood and environmental education. All staff are certified in CPR and First Aid and have completed a background check.
Meet the Nature School Staff
Hello friends! My name is Megan. I have a degree in biology, with a minor in music. I began working at Three Rivers Park District in 2008. Since then I have specialized in teaching early childhood programming throughout the park system, with topics ranging from environmental education to outdoor recreation and cultural history. I also have previous experience working at a nature-based preschool, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a zoo, and several Minnesota-based nature centers. My favorite part of Nature School is witnessing the growth of confidence, curiosity, and creativity in each child throughout the school year. I also love the creative challenge of melding together children’s interest with both environmental and academic concepts! Outside of work, I enjoy gardening, paddling, home improvement projects, and spending time with my husband and two young children.
Hi Nature School families! My name is Anders. I majored in biology and environmental studies and minored in secondary education with the goal of becoming a classroom teacher and coach, but I have since been drawn to experiential and environmental education roles due to my love of the outdoors. I have been with Three Rivers Park District since 2012 and a member of the Mississippi Gateway team since 2017. In the past I have worked at traditional preschools in downtown Minneapolis and small-town Iowa, taught at a nature-based preschool, and facilitated nature-based preschool programs at a variety of nature centers in the metro. I live in Northeast Minneapolis with my wife, Katie, and our cat, Finn. In my free time, I like to ride bikes, see live music, travel, camp and ski. I am thrilled to spend time learning and exploring together. I cannot wait to see what our curious and adventurous Nature School crew discovers at Mississippi Gateway.
Hi! I'm Paula. I have worked for Three Rivers Park District as a naturalist since 2012, working with school and preschool groups as well as the rafting program. I like to explore and be creative. I am willing to try just about anything and find joy in attempting it! When I am not at work, you can find me in the woods or on the river. Just look for the flash of my favorite color: pink!
Hi everyone, I’m Alan. I have a degree in biology and taught high school for several years before moving into outdoor recreation. I’ve been with Three Rivers since 2009 and have loved the chance to explore the natural world with people of all ages. When I’m not at work I enjoy working in my garden, biking and playing with my kids, and using my hands to make projects of all sorts. I’ve been involved in preschool programming throughout my career at Three Rivers, and I love the creativity and joy of this age, as well as guiding them in overcoming their own challenges. I’m excited to spend time with your children as we learn and grow together.
Greetings Nature School families. My name is Coleman and I am so excited to have a chance to learn with your child. I have a degree in biology and two in elementary education. After spending 25 years as a classroom teacher, I felt it was time for a transition to the great outdoors! While on a bike ride with my wife in 2017 we visited the nature center, and I became fascinated with the concept of outdoor education. I was hired on a part-time basis, and every day since has been a new learning experience. From birds in the Mexican rainforest to spiders on the plains of Northfield to forestry in northern Minnesota to outdoor education on the banks of the Mississippi, my life’s journey has been one of wonder and exploration. The students keep me young with their insightful discoveries and creative observations. I love exploring with them, gently probing and supporting as they construct and remodel their world views. When I’m not at the Gateway, you may find me on the golf course, on a bike ride with my wife, or at a dog show, always looking for life’s next adventure.
What Happens in Bad Weather?
We embrace the idea that there is no such thing as bad weather! We appreciate that changing weather helps children develop resiliency. We find when children are dressed appropriately for the weather, they enjoy rain, snow, and mud just as much as sunshine.
When weather does not support a full session of outdoor learning, we may modify class in the following ways:
- Significant Cold: In significant cold, we follow a sliding scale of wind and temperature developed by the National Weather Service to determine the appropriate amount of time to spend outdoors. Some winter days may result in a few short outdoor visits to help balance safety and fun.
- Storms: In the event of a thunderstorm, our class will remain inside the visitor center for 30 minutes after the last lightning strike or boom of thunder. Time spent inside may include a story, journaling, nature investigation, snack time, or free play.
Should My Child Bring Anything to Class?
Students should bring a backpack with a hearty snack, a filled water bottle and a full change of clothes each day.
What Should My Child Wear to Class?
Your child should wear weather-appropriate clothes. See our recommended gear list.
What If I Need to Cancel My Child's Registration?
Cancellations made less than 30 days before the first of the month are not refundable.
Will My Child Be Ready for Kindergarten?
We prepare the foundation of your child’s school career by instilling an early love of learning. Through inquiry-led and hands-on approaches, children find success, motivation and joy in the learning process.
We emphasize curiosity and guide students in finding answers to their own questions. Nature School staff are knowledgeable of the Minnesota Early Learning Standards and incorporate opportunities for children to engage in these skills throughout the day.
Our outdoor classroom includes nature-inspired exploration of music, art, science, math, literacy and dramatic play, as well as opportunities to practice both fine- and large-motor skills.
Hikes through various habitats promote development in observation, self-regulation, and risk assessment. Daily nature journaling allows for practice in reflection, writing, and drawing.
How Will I Know What My Child Is Learning?
Teachers will share your child’s learning journey through weekly photos and communication within a parent/teacher app. Aside from our nature journals, there will be little paper evidence of our learning to send home in backpacks. In contrast, your child’s backpack will likely include wet socks and an occasional rock or pinecone!
Knock-your-socks-off good. Incredibly caring naturalists (3 for 15 kids) empower kids and facilitate social emotional learning alongside environmental exploration and stewardship.
We are so grateful for Nature School! Our child has really opened up and thrived in the year-round outdoor classroom environment. The teachers are phenomenal and bring gentle encouragement to problem solving, team building, and the social skills needed at this age. We love the pictures and questions that are sent to us after every class to further learn about our child’s day from their perspective! We highly recommend this class!
– JoAnna & Robert
Nature School has been an exceptional experience that exceeded our expectations! We love that the children spent time outdoors no matter the weather. Our son loved exploring the park and learning through play. The teachers encourage imagination and creativity using nature as the playground. It was a unique experience that we highly recommend!
– Sarah & Zach
Resources & Research
Learning By Doing: How Outdoor Play Prepares Kids for Achievement in STEM
by Gwen Dewar, PhD
How Learning to Put on Rain Boots Leads to Academic Success
by Katherine Coons Hubbard
A Parent's Guide to Nature Play
by Ken Finch
Related Blog Posts
By: Megan Kelzenberg
The growing list of benefits from learning in outdoor environments suggests a need for looking at early childhood education through a new lens. Learn all about Nature School and the benefits of taking the preschool classroom outside, and how to incorporate more outdoor time in your preschooler's life.