PUEBLO — As school districts continue to figure out ways to keep students safely in the classroom, parents are continuing to look for alternate learning options that better fit their child.
The Earthkeeper Nature School in Pueblo County, one of the few nature and forest schools in the state, is gaining popularity during the pandemic. Prompting some parents to make the switch from traditional schools.
"It's been a blessing, I can't tell you the change that I've seen in my child," said Angela Calderon, Earthkeeper Nature School parent.
Calderon enrolled her daughter this spring after realizing traditional school wasn't the best fit.
"She was getting too isolated from kids and missing friends," said Calderon.
Since joining the Earthkeeper Nature School, Calderon says she's seen a huge difference in her daughter's education.
"She's had a happy face every time she comes from the school. She has so many stories to tell about nature, about all of the things she's learned about animals, rocks, trees, and grass," said Calderon.
She chose the school for not only the outdoor learning environment, but the curriculum which focuses on the emotional, social, physical, and academic development of the child. As part of the curriculum, they use nature integrated with science, music, math, reading, and the arts.
"We nurture the whole child so their ability to interact with their peers, interact with the space around them, it builds the physical development, it promotes their physical and emotional development," said Tami Montoya, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Earthkeeper Nature School.
She says science is one of their main focuses at the school.
"We had been talking about soil and how it happens, where does it come from, and how we get to play in the dirt. Then we were talking about dinosaurs so we had them decorate the letter "D" in the dirt so they know a little bit about the dirt and connected a letter with an anemic awareness component to that. It's all connected," said Montoya.
She says the school ensures children have the necessary sensory and interactive experiences to develop and expand their minds.
"Kids do better when they have interaction with nature. They have sensory experiences in show, mud, and all types of weather. We're able to provide them with the enrichment and ability to learn through their own interests and we all know when you're interested in something it's going to stick," said Montoya. "They enjoy their discoveries and adventures and we support them as they're making those discoveries," said Montoya.
Dave Van Manen, Founder and longtime Executive Director of the Mountain Park Environmental Center, says they're trying to improve early childhood education by getting away from "indooraforcation."
"Experimental education, moving, all of that is the best way to learn. We want to get these kids started off right, and the natural world is this perfect plethora to think of exploration, discovery, resilience, self-confidence, and problem-solving. All of that is perfectly accessed in the natural world," said Van Manen.
That hands-on learning experience changing the way they see the world.
"Every time we go for a walk, she's looking at different rocks. That curiosity and that love for learning is unbelievable," said Calderon.
For more information on the program, contact Tami Montonya via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website.