Inform, Entertain, Inspire
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tech-free nature preschool ready for launch this fall in Mishawaka

Talia Schwartz, 2, examines nature with a toy magnifying glass Tuesday at The Res, a nature preserve in Mishawaka, with her mother, Kelley Schwartz of Edwardsburg, who is hold her son Caleb, six weeks old. Kelley has enrolled Talia in Wildsong, a new nature-based preschool opening this fall.
Jeff Parrott/WVPE
Talia Schwartz, 2, examines nature with a toy magnifying glass Tuesday at The Res, a nature preserve in Mishawaka, with her mother, Kelley Schwartz of Edwardsburg, who is hold her son Caleb, six weeks old. Kelley has enrolled Talia in Wildsong, a new nature-based preschool opening this fall.

If you enroll your children at a preschool newly opening this fall in Mishawaka, you’ll be asked to send lots of extra clothes each day but leave any digital devices at home.

By now the research has become clear. Too much screen time at too young of an age has been linked to obesity, behavior and attention problems, and even violence. But it can be tempting as a young parent, as technology advances exponentially, to familiarize kids with screens early so they aren’t left behind in tomorrow’s tech-driven job market.

Janelle Phillips says kids will have plenty of time for technology. Let them explore nature first.

Phillips this fall is launching Wildsong, a nature-based preschool where kids will spend most of the time outside. Playing in the mud. Studying plants and animals. Romping through the creek.

This will be Michiana’s first known nature preschool, but they’re on the rise nationally. The North American Association for Environmental Education says there were about 800 nature preschools in 2022, more than double the number that existed five years earlier.

"I feel like with society and kids increasingly moving inside and on screens, that it's important for children to have real and authentic experiences in nature so that they can understand what the real world is about," Phillips said.

While nature preschool as a stand-alone concept is new to the area, Janelle already has developed nature programming for kids at a Goshen preschool. At home, she’s seen outdoor play benefit her own children.

"I feel like watching my own kids I really learned that children have the ability to be fully themselves when they're outside," Phillips said. "If they need to move their bodies, it's just an open space for them to explore. They're free to be loud, they're free to be silly. But kids can also be quiet and find restful places in nature too."

For the first pilot year, Phillips will run the school at The Res, the nonprofit nature preserve northeast of Capital Avenue and Lincolnway East in Mishawaka. On Tuesday she invited the public to a free nature play day.

Kelley Schwartz of Edwardsburg, carrying her six-week-old son Caleb across her chest, was walking The Res nature trails with her two-year-old daughter Talia.

Schwartz has enrolled Talia for the first class that runs from late August through December.

"This is a way that she can really just learn that nature has its own classroom and it doesn't need to be bound by four walls and a ceiling," Schwartz said. "I think she needs to be outside and learn to discover things and learn to observe closer. That's something that you can't always learn in a classroom."

Keira Johns is ranger and director at The Res. She’s also excited about what Phillips is doing.

"It's an excellent opportunity just to get those kids at a young age, being able to use observational skills, looking at the world around them," Johns said. "

Johns hopes the program also spreads the word about The Res.

"It's been around a long time," Johns said. "The kids who came here as scouts got older. We lost that younger crowd. So this is really good exposure for us to bring back in young people because this place doesn't exist without community support. So it's really great that the parents are being exposed to it as well as the kids so that they can keep coming back."

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).