Children learn from unique science lessons at Educare Milwaukee

Skating on a frozen pond, harvesting sap from sugar maple trees and exploring the banks of Lake Michigan are a few of the activities that Educare Milwaukee preschoolers can enjoy thanks to a partnership with the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

A few years ago, Educare teachers noticed that many children were scared of the animals and insects they would see outside. So the school, which is located in an urban community, partnered with the nature center in 2011 to offer the children experiences with nature in a safe environment. Educare Milwaukee is part of Next Door, a prominent early childhood education provider in Milwaukee.

“Now our kids are so much more comfortable and they love the outdoors,” said Sandy Gadzichowski, education manager at Educare Milwaukee. “They think about it, they talk about it and they enjoy it. They are curious about nature and they learn.”
Four-year-olds from Educare visit the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center twice a month, and learn from a nature preschool teacher about the animals and plants surrounding them. The teacher also comes to the school twice a month with live animals, artifacts and books that 3- and 4-year-old children can engage with.

“My biggest goal for these children is to understand that an experience in the natural world can be safe, exciting and wonderful all at the same time,” said Julia Weinberg, the nature preschool teacher. “Although bugs and animals are different from us, we can explore with them and learn about them as well as from them.”

For example, Weinberg and her colleagues brought tree frogs, raptors and salamanders to the school. The children were attentive and excited to learn about the animals, Gadzichowski said. They weren’t even scared when a peregrine falcon opened its wings, she added.

Children also learn social-emotional skills

In addition to learning science concepts such as migration and hibernation, increasing their vocabulary and practicing counting, the children are also learning social-emotional skills.

“By understanding how to take care of nature, pets and animals, the children are learning about empathy and care giving,” Gadzichowski said. “The children know that creatures need our care and respect. And that translates to their peers as well.”

During the classroom visits, sometimes a child may be hesitant to touch an animal. Gadzichowski said she’s seen other children empathize with their classmate and offer to help. They’ll offer to touch the animal and suggest that the hesitant child can touch their hand first before touching the animal.

The partnership has also inspired children to take more of an interest in nature around Educare Milwaukee. To build on this curiosity, teachers have installed bird feeders and plants that attract butterflies on the school grounds.

“The children are able to relate what I am teaching them to their everyday lives,” Weinberg said. “I had a child tell me they heard the chickadee call outside their school. I enjoy seeing the changes that take place from the beginning of the year to the end and all the growth that is accomplished.”