By Dr. Dustine Rey published in the January issue of Talega Life

A new concept in early childhood education is changing the way students in San Clemente, California, will interact with nature, express gratitude and learn the fundamentals of early math and literacy.

Dr. Dustine Rey, founder and executive director of The Gratitude Garden Preschool, is announcing the opening of a nature-based year-round preschool with a balanced focus on STEM-inspired curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), social and emotional influences, and artistic expression. The new school will open spring 2015.

The school’s design utilizes the rich teaching opportunities and discoveries of nature. The classrooms are both indoors and outdoors, allowing students to explore, play, and apply early concepts in math, engineering, physics, science, art, music and ecology.  Students will participate in martial arts, cooking, foreign languages, dance, and various forms of artistic expression. The curriculum is designed to instill a love for learning through nurturing children’s confidence to try new things and explore about the world around them.

“Children are naturally little scientists, curious about how the natural world works and why. Preschool is the perfect time to connect young curiosity to the foundations of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a fun and playful way” says Dr. Rey. “STEM is a perspective of connecting what children learn in a variety of settings to a range of materials for investigation, observation, inquiry, and creation. This is why the outdoor classroom is one of the greatest settings for learning.”

The school will provide full-day educational care for two through six-year-olds and offer monthly Kids’-Night-Out programs and quarterly parent educational workshops. “We aim to increase the well-being of our students, their families and the community. We do this by including parents in everything we do, including educational workshops that provide tools for creating and maintaining wellness in their home and relationships. Our technology connects parents to their child’s daily activities by sending them teacher-prepared pictures and videos of their child’s learning moments, which strengthens the connection between home and school. ”

The Gratitude Garden Preschool will serves students in environmentally-friendly classrooms designed to ignite the imagination. It supports local artists by using handmade and reclaimed wood furniture.

Another unique feature of the school includes the absence of poured rubber and concrete surfaces in the play area and typical playground structures. “We intentionally do not have prefabricated play equipment that confines how and where children play. Instead, we assist children in creatively designing a play scenario constructed from their imagination and developmental needs. These child-initiated projects allow young learners to let their curiosity drive the process of learning. At this age, play and learning are expressions of the same concept” says Dr. Rey.

The Gratitude Garden Preschool places great emphasis on gratitude. “We know that children with a grateful perception experience less negative emotions, bounce back more quickly from adversity and feel better connected to school and family. Therefore, the development of gratitude is a priority. Through the use of art, stories, songs and theater, students learn to appreciate the world and people around them” says Dr. Rey.