Zoo plans to open nature-based preschool

The zoo will hire a preschool director to craft a curriculum and navigate state licensing requirements for the preschool, which will serve 16-20 students starting in fall 2020.

Ozzie the desert tortoise struts past the pavilion at the Lake Superior Zoo, which plans to repurpose the pavilion into a nature-based preschool with a planned fall 2020 opening. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Reflecting a recent trend, the Lake Superior Zoo plans to open a nature-based preschool in fall 2020.

The zoo is planning to hire a preschool director to lead program development and navigate state licensing requirements. The position will be funded largely through grants, according to Haley Hedstrom, the zoo’s director of marketing and development. A job posting currently is up on the zoo's website .

The zoo also will hire both full-time and part-time teachers as an opening date draws nearer, Hedstrom said.

While the final enrollment will depend on staffing, plans are for the full-day preschool to serve 16-20 children, either from ages 3-5 or 4-5, she said.

In a nature-based school setting, kids spend their days engaged in less-structured, exploratory time outdoors.


“Nature preschools have the same child development goals that more traditional schools have but accomplish those goals through experiences in and with nature and help children begin to develop care and concern for the natural world,” Hedstrom said. “By having our preschool students interact with and care for zoo animals, we also are uniquely positioned to offer a curriculum that fosters empathy for animals.”

There are eight nature-based preschools in the region, Hedstrom said, but none are in western Duluth, where the zoo is situated near 72nd Avenue West and Grand Avenue.

“(This is) what's needed in the community, when parents are working and looking for something beyond just the basic child care — they’re more into the nature playscape and the learning part of it,” she said.

The zoo will repurpose its historic bluestone pavilion to serve as the preschool, and zoo officials have met with other preschool directors and educators to discuss how the space might take shape, Hedstrom said.

“So, we have a good idea of what it needs to look like, and the (preschool director) would kind of make it their own and design the classroom space from there,” she said. “They have the framework, and they’ll get to put their own spin on it.”

The program is as much a benefit to the zoo as it is to the kids, Hedstrom said.

“Educational programming is one of the most effective ways our zoo fulfills its mission,” she said. “We give participants close-up experiences with animals to help them feel empathy, respect, and concern for that animal and others like it. Emotional engagement combined with conservation messages help inspire our audiences to improve the world for animals and their natural habitats.”

Adelie (Her name rhymes with "Natalie") is a former News Tribune reporter who continues to write the Northlandia column on a freelance basis. She's also an artist, photographer and fine-art model. She's a girl of the North with a love for Scandinavia, the Northern Lights, quirky films and anything mid-century.
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