Inequality in America Student Blogger Study USA

Alternative Learning Experiences: Play

Two students sitting in a boat on the ground covered in snow

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Ying Moua (she/her/hers) is HECUA’s student blogger for Inequality in America Spring 2021. She is student at The College of St. Scholastica majoring in Peace and Justice. Read on for her first post!

What can a group of preschoolers teach you? Actually they can teach quite a bit! On a chilly Wednesday morning of March 17th, Two HECUA programs (Inequality in America and Environmental Justice) had the great opportunity to meet a group of energetic children at the Minneapolis Nature Preschool.

We met with Sheila Williams Ridge, Board Chair of the Minneapolis Nature Preschool. She has degrees in early childhood education and biology. Ridge started working as a teacher naturalist in 2002 and is current director of the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School, who founded the Minneapolis Nature Preschool. She is passionate about nature based learning and outdoor learning and education, for children and adults alike. Believing that a healthy relationship with the Earth is essential to not only child development but also to sustain lifelong benefits. She co-authored Nature-Based Learning for Young Children which focuses on the development of children without the need for too many things or items and without restrictions. 

Ying standing beneath monkey bars on a playground covered in snow
Me under the monkey bars of a traditional playground – the birch branches are from a tree that was cut during construction, the kids used it to enhance it aesthetically and structurally so that they could better use the monkey bar.

In the time of COVID, young children are considered an at-risk group. However, Minneapolis Nature Preschool is able to combat some of these COVID concerns. The staff and children spend all day outside. This began in early September of 2020 and has been very successful. The staff makes sure to always keep the kids moving and takes short breaks inside, but other than that, most of their time at the school is spent outside. The families are always updated and the staff are well equipped with things to help the children. 

Having class outside alleviates many issues that usually occur in a traditional school setting. Many of the activities don’t require much, only nature’s resources, and whatever the children find or imagine. This allows for finances to be delegated elsewhere, such as healthier snacks. Another issue that being outside resolves is the stir craziness that young children often have when seated in a building all day. Being outside, there is always something to do or see. 

Right now the Nature Preschool is in the process of moving across the University of Minnesota. In its current area there is construction for a new building, and despite this invasive act on the children’s environment, they have learned to adapt and appreciate what they still have. The Nature preschool is a place where children are encouraged to play and grow without the restriction of things like boxes and labels found within traditional schooling. Ridge’s dream and goal is to encompass some form of movement or nature into higher education, because the more we value the environment around us, there is not only self improvement but also improvement of the world. 


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