Nature Schooled: Education and Child Care Options that Embrace the Outdoors

Spokane area parents have some great education and child care options that regularly offer time out in nature and outdoor recreation activities.

Pioneer School

Grades K-5, max class size of 16 students. 

Pioneer school is an accredited, non-profit educational organization with high academic standards that’s all about getting kids into the world for unique experiences. Students go biking on the Centennial Trail, roller skate, and ice skate. They cross-country ski at Mount Spokane and downhill ski at Schweitzer. They have jump rope day and hike at Dishman Hills. The school also takes annual week-long camping trips with 4th and 5th grade students and a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park every other year.

“We believe children learn and grow by being out in nature. Students who are physically active are more focused in class and ready to learn,” says Betty Burley-Wolf, founder and current director at Pioneer. “Our thematic style of learning involves field trips to places like the Gardner Caves for geology or the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge for birds. Each topic involves multiple field trips to enhance classroom learning.”

Emily Jack, parent of two Pioneer students, says that Pioneer’s learning atmosphere greatly improved her children’s education after she removed them from a stressful traditional school environment. “I love that our kids get out into the world, experiencing the community in all its diversity and beauty, and learning to be respectful of public spaces, other cultures, and the natural world.”


Windsong School

Parent-child class for ages birth-3; preschool; mixed-age kindergarten; and grades 1,2,3,5 and 6 (for 2018-2019 school year).

A Waldorf education school, Windsong works to “educate toward freedom.” Part of that freedom is outdoor time; all early childhood classes begin the day outdoors with a nature walk, and have at least one hour of outdoor time during the school day. At Windsong, outdoor time is seen as a vital component in the daily rhythm of the students. “Our culture is fast and anxious, and being in nature calms the nervous system,” says Windsong kindergarten teacher Dr. Lauren Bergstedt. “Nature also provides an endless playscape for children as it shifts through the seasons and with the weather. Rain, mud, snow, sun, and wind each provide a different opportunity for the senses and for play.”


St. George’s Outdoor Club

St. George’s is an independent, college-preparatory day school for grades K-12.

St. George’s offers a variety of outdoor experiences to various ranges of students. The outdoor club offers classroom and elective opportunities, from weekend trips to climbing the school’s indoor rock wall. Last summer, students went sea kayaking and backpacking in Alaska. Director of outdoor adventure Melanie Mildrew says she offers a new trip every summer. Two past adventures included climbing Mount Baker and covering 100 miles in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on foot and in pack rafts. Trips this summer include rock climbing at Skaha in British Columbia, camping at Steamboat Rock, and a spring break climbing trip to Smith Rocks. “Students need to get out of cell range to decompress and recharge,” says Mildrew. “The goal of the outdoor program is to educate young people so they’re equipped with the knowledge and skills to recreate…while being aware of the environment and ecology.”


West Valley Outdoor Learning Center

Connecting students of all ages to nature through experiential learning.

Programs include habitat/conservation, birds, water, and miscellaneous programs such as wilderness preparedness, fossils, and tree rings. Kids explore these concepts in tactile and interactive ways such as STEM-friendly, bird-themed scavenger hunts or creating an edible aquifer out of ice cream and candy. Monthly “Open House” opportunities are available to the public.


Harvard Park Children’s Learning Center

2.5 years and older. 

Harvard Park offers preschool and before and after school care with daily outside play time, regardless of weather. Weekly field trips and cooking projects enhance what children learn in the classroom and out on the large, park-like playground. Full and part-time summer camp programs include science experiments, weekly field trips, water play time, and activities such as chef challenges, gardening, and boat building experiments.


North Wall Schools

3 months-6th grade.

All classes have scheduled outdoor time on the school’s 2.5 acres with zones for different ages and a zip line, tree fort, organic garden, and nature trail with over 75 varieties of signed plants. There’s also a k-6 summer program with weekly field trips and regular after-school enrichment programs such as Fit for Bloomsday.


Tinkergarten Classes

Ages 18 months to 8 years old.

Students experience outdoor activity-based classes lead by local Tinkergarten Leaders at Manito Park, John A. Finch Arboretum, Dishman Hills, Mirabeau Point Park, and elsewhere.


Twin Eagles Wilderness School

Preschoolers and ages 4-6.

The Twin Eagles forest kindergarten program in the Spokane area meets one Sunday per month from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., October through May. Activities include gathering seasonal foraged foods, crafting toys from nature, and other outdoor learning. //


Feature photo: Courtesy of Twin Eagles Wilderness School

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