Comings and Goings, Minis

The Preschool Effect | Studying birds and bees: Honeybee Nature School

By Katherine Pioli

When students at Honeybee Nature School get dropped off in the morning, they come dressed for the weather—rain, shine or snow. For the first hour, sometimes two, these little kids won’t have a roof over their heads. Instead they’ll be jumping into free play and where that takes them is always a little different, says teacher and founder Julie deWolfe.

For instance, when a dead bird was discovered, one recent morning, deWolfe grabbed a shovel and brought the animal to the middle of the yard. “We shared everything we knew about birds,” says deWolfe. “We talked about the life cycle of birds, what would happen to it after we buried it, how we treat animals. And we decided to make it a special day for the bird. All the kids gave nature gifts to it and decorated the area around it, that took an hour; they were interested and curious.”

In a time when parents worry about everything from their child’s grit to the effects of nature deficit disorder, the students at Honeybee Nature School are getting lessons in risk assessment and body awareness by climbing trees (under supervision) and in communication and social skills by spending most of their day learning through playing and active engagement with the natural world and each other.

Julie deWolfe, who was homeschooled while growing up in rural Maine, always knew she wanted to work with kids, but her experience teaching at a private East Coast school, where every second of the day was planned and controlled, left her frustrated by the lack of creativity and freedom allowed her young students. During a yoga retreat in India, deWolfe had an epiphany and returned to the United States to enter a teacher training program at Cedarsong, a nature school in Washington, and, in 2014, she started Honeybee Nature School in Ogden.

Preschool is not inexpensive ($370-$1,000/month), and the Honeybee Nature School is mid to that range ($120-300/month for one or three days/week). The school , which employs three teachers, has a waiting list.

By noon, the 21 Honeybees (ages 2-6) have played, eaten a snack, practiced yoga, stopped for lunch and are ready for story time. Then, it’s back to nature immersion and closing the day with circle time. Circle is deWolfe’s favorite moment in the day. It’s when she gets to hear about all the fun things her students learned and discovered.  — KP

This article was originally published on November 7, 2016.