Nature School is an outdoor-based preschool program at Coon Rapids Dam 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
Registration for Nature School is currently open! Register online or by calling 763.559.6700.
Class, Schedule & Tuition Information
Mixed-age class for children 4-6 years old. Children must be potty-trained.
Class Size and Ratios
Maximum of 15 students with 2-3 teachers.
Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:00–11:30 AM
- Fall Season: September 9–November 25 (no class on October 2)
- Winter Season: December 2–February 26 (no class on December 23, 25 and 30 and January 1)
- Spring Season: March 2–May 20 (no class March 16 and 18)
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 Coon Rapids Dam 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.
$275 per season. Includes 22 classes with one offsite field trip. Families must provide appropriate outdoor gear (coat, boots, etc.)
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, 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
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 Coon Rapids Dam 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 Coon Rapids Dam.
Hi! I'm Paula. I have worked for Three Rivers Park District for seven years as a naturalist, 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!
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:
- Cool to Cold Temperatures: During cool months, our outdoor classroom includes a pop-up shelter with a heater to give children a cozy retreat or to serve as a space for less active activities such as story and snack.
- 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 20 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 water bottle and a full change of clothes each day. Nature School will offer a warm, non-caffeinated herbal tea on chilly days.
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 at least 30 days before the season's start date are 80 percent refundable. Cancellations made less than 30 days before the season's start date 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 pine cone!
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 and 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