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South Burlington private preschool to offer outdoor curriculum

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The pandemic forced schools to find safe and effective ways to educate children, outdoor learning included. Now, a new South Burlington preschool aims to instill that same appreciation and respect for nature in young Vermonters year-round.

Like most four-and-a-half-year-olds, Aidan Winter is a rambunctious child and feels most at home in the mud rather than on a carpet.

“Watching Aidan play outside and realizing how much he enjoys his time outside -- he can run off that energy really well -- and he’s so much calmer when he’s outdoors versus indoors,” said Aisha Mueller, Aidan’s mother.

Mueller says her philosophy of learning through play is the best way and that when searching for preschools for her son, she kept that -- and the pandemic -- in mind. “Having so much time outdoors felt healthier and safer,” she said.

The Shelburne mother says a nature-based program seemed like the perfect fit. After touring the brand new Old School of South Burlington, she was confident Aidan would thrive at the school, where spending at least half the day in the dirt is the policy.

“If it’s light, misty rain, or even a mild rain during the day, we’ll be outside. If it’s 15 degrees, we’ll be outside. That’s just part of living in Vermont,” said Brandon Diaz, the Old School of South Burlington’s founder and program director:

Diaz is passionate about focusing early childhood education on exploration and discovery. He says his program offers a hands-on, engaging curriculum to three to five-year-olds. “Finding bugs, picking wildflowers, or working in the garden,” he said.

And he says the three-acre space he’s renting at Ascension Lutheran Church in South Burlington makes that mission possible. A short walk in the woods away is the forest classroom, where students will spend most of their time. As part of the tuition, the school will provide outdoor gear, though Diaz admits parents will have a lot more laundry to do. “And that’s a trade-off for having a happy and well-energy-spent child at the end of the day,” he said.

Diaz hopes to expand the program next year to meet the demand for infant and toddler care, but for now, he’s directing his attention to kids like Aidan.

“He’ll be taken care of and he’ll have a good education,” Mueller said.

Diaz is hiring a lead teacher to run the 12-person classroom for a salary of $35,000 plus health insurance. The program’s schedule will parallel the South Burlington School District, so it opens on August 24th.

Contact Diaz with enrollment questions at b.oldschool.vt@gmail.com.

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